Date of Degree

9-2019

Document Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Ph.D.

Program

English

Advisor

Peter Hitchcock

Committee Members

Kandice Chuh

Eric Lott

Subject Categories

Literature in English, Anglophone outside British Isles and North America

Keywords

Neoliberalism, Nationalism, Sovereignty, Self-determination, South Asia, Sri Lanka, Diaspora, Culture

Abstract

Being Together is a critical inquiry into selected writings that produce a counter-hegemonic imagination of pluralism, coexistence and cultural resistance to the violence, dispossession and exclusions perpetuated by nationalist, racist and neoliberal forces in South Asian and South Asian diasporic contexts, primarily spaces within or associated with Sri Lanka. Due to the historical role the nation, homelands, native culture, sovereignty, and self-determination have played in liberating South Asia from the clutches of British colonialism in the mid-twentieth century, these ideas have enormous political valence to the socio-political lives of the communities that consider the region their homeland today. While this history, albeit fraught with contradictions and exclusions, cannot be trivialized or underplayed, in postcolonial times, these very concepts have been mobilized in divisive ways by reactionary nationalists and the neoliberal elite to create internal tensions in different parts of this region. On the other hand, South Asian communities that are at the receiving end of nationalist violence and neoliberal dispossession, such as the Kashmiris and the Tamils in Sri Lanka who are resisting colonizing or dominant states, and tribal populations that are struggling against corporatization of their resources continue to see in these concepts avenues for liberation and justice.

This dissertation sheds light on the paradoxical status of these concepts and ideas in contemporary Sri Lankan and South Asian politics and activism and how literary writers from South Asia re-configure or invite us to re-imagine them in ways that bring communities divided along lines of ethnicity, religion, culture and nation close to one another, promoting a vision of coexistence that does not sidestep the question of justice. The writings that this study focuses upon challenge and respond to discourses that revolve around cultural, linguistic and ethnic essentialisms and territorial foundationalisms. Zooming in on the iterations of land as homeland, host-land, nation, territory, province and environment and how ‘native,’ ‘non-native’ and diasporic communities in and from South Asia relate to them, this dissertation in its various chapters argues that the literary kindles a cosmopolitical or socio-ecological imagination about land, community and resistance that regards coexistence as a central condition of postcoloniality.

The literary and human rights narratives that are examined in this study also suggest that coexistence is a messy, ambivalent process that is refracted by the effects of violence that the communities faced in the past and guided by a commitment on their part to live, act and resist together in the present and the future. Foregrounding resistant, liminal, hybrid and cosmopolitan socio-cultural formations that nationalisms and neoliberalism try to ignore and obliterate, these texts, I argue, behoove us to theorize self-determination and resistance as processes that can be re-conceived in terms of routes, entanglements, translation, inter-dependency, cultural cross-pollination and inter-ethnic solidarity, instead of upon exclusivist theories of origins, roots, essence and unencumbered selfhood.

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