Date of Degree
English Language and Literature | Literature in English, Anglophone outside British Isles and North America
rogue literature, picaresque novel, postcolonial, India, anglophone, memento mori
Rogues in the Postcolony looks at Indian picaresque novels that respond to and productively complicate dominant historical narratives by adapting formal conventions of the picaresque novel and by foregrounding the experiences of historically obscured figures, or “rogues.” The project is structured in such a way as to read colonial and postcolonial India through the lens of marginalized persons such as poppy farmers and, more recently, the citizens of Bhopal who continue to struggle with the toxic legacy of the Union Carbide fertilizer factory in their city. I argue that the unreliable narration and non-teleological structure of the picaresque form parody the developmentalist pretenses of the Bildungsroman, or coming of age novel. These itinerant and episodic narratives instead constitute an aesthetics of indigence that bring into sharp focus what critic Giancarlo Maiorino calls the “low life” of the working-class protagonist, or Micheal Serres’s “tactician of the quotidian.”
I first read Amitav Ghosh’s Ibis Trilogy, which is set during the Opium Wars in the Bay of Bengal, as (in many respects) a response to and refutation of Thomas De Quincey’s notorious opium essays—both the memoirs and his political essays on India and China—as well as the work that John Stuart Mill would publish during his tenure with the East India Company. Ghosh’s rogues, I argue, body forth the vast elisions in the colonial archive, and even in more progressive histories of the region published in the last century. I then turn to narratives of the nation and its formation. I read Salman Rushdie’s Midnight’s Children as a satirical critique of India’s 1947 “tryst with destiny”—Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru’s famous characterization of Indian independence; and I also consider Aravind Adiga’s similarly scathing The White Tiger as an indictment of the 1991 tryst in which the “new India” is envisaged as a sort of neoliberal utopia. Both novels, I argue, respond to Partha Chatterjee’s call for a means of attending not merely to the narrowly imagined community of the nation-state, but to its many fragments. In the final section, I turn to this “new India”—a phenomenon read by many as a model of democracy and the merits of the free market. I read Indra Sinha’s Animal’s People as both a picaresque indictment of the development logic that subtends popular globalization narratives, and also as a postcolonial memento mori tale owing to Sinha’s grotesque pícaro. Sinha’s novel illustrates the human costs of free trade and enclosure across the Global South.
Balkan, Stacey, "Rogues in the Postcolony: The New Picaresque and the Making of Modern India" (2016). CUNY Academic Works.