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Cultural Diversities East and West: Postcommunism, Postcolonialism and Ethnicity

Central European University, 22 July-2 August 2002

Fellow profile

Name

Thangam RAVINDRANATHAN

Country INDIA
Residence Bangalore, India / Philadelphia, USA
Nationality Indian
Sex Female
Age 24
Educational background
  • Maîtrise de lettres modernes, option littérature comparée, Paris VIIIeme, Saint Denis-Vincennes (1999).
  • M.A. in Comparative literature and literary theory, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, USA (2001).
Present position PhD student
Teaching assistant.

Teaches: The Devil's Pact in Literature, Music and Film; Literary Theory, Structuralism and Post-structuralism.

Employer University of Pennsylvania

Formerly worked as a French Language Instructor with the Alliance Française à Hyderabad, India

Research interests 20th century novel in French, Francophone and Postcolonial Literatures; Post-structuralist and Post-colonial theory. Postcolonial. Multiculturalism. Postmodern literature. Body-text. African cinema.
Current research  —
Conferences, colloquia...
  • 2002, April — University of Connecticut — 20th-21st century French Studies — paper: "L'écriture et la perte dans le carnet de Sabine Macher"
  • 2002, April  — Commonwealth literatures and lagnuages — University of Santa Clara — paper: "Strategies of Unreadability in Upamanyu Chatterjee's Mammaries of the Welfare State".
Professional affiliation  —
Publications [Unpublished papers]

2000 term paper on Age of Iron by South African writer J.M. Coetzee

Thesis for the Maîtrise de Lettre Modernes, Université de Paris VIIIe, Saint-Dennis-Vincennes

Excerpts from publications Thesis for the Maîtrise de Lettres Modernes, Université de Paris VIIIe, Saint-Dennis-Vincennes (excerpt)

The thesis examines two principal aspects of Salman Rushdie's Midnight's Children: namely, the body and death. The protagonist-narrator, Saleem Sinai, writes his autobiography as his body is  — literally  — engaged in a process of gradual disintegration. As the narrative enfolds, it is frequently interrupted by metatextual passages that write the dissolution of the body that is its sourse. An intriguing phenomenon that sheds light on the deeper significance of writing the self, wherein the body becomes text, progressively reified by the writing process. Later, the intimate link between writing and death is examined. Saleem knows himself to be close to death. Hence the awareness of death is the origin of the autobiographical stance assumed. The Schecherezade precedent will be significant here: but in Saleem's case writing cannot forestall death and becomes, on the contrary, a kind of inhumation ritual, whereby the life material of the narrator is transcribed as dead time. The work of Maurice Blanchot on the relationship between writing and voluntary death is helpfu here in unravelling how death is structurally inscribed within the autobiographical enterprise.

2000 term paper on Age of Iron by South African writer J.M. Coetzee (fragment of summary)

[...] The growing disfunctionality of the maternal function as suggested in the novel comes to a stand in an ambiguous relationship to the iron age, a time of social breakdown in post-Apartheid South Africa, where parents and older values are severely endangered. Mrs. Curren's imaginary return to the matricial (her anticipatory mourning uncannily merges with a refuge in memories of her own mother, and in images of the matricial space) is, in the final analysis, what comes closest to representing a certain countervoice to the eponymic voice of iron. Using Julia Kristeva's notions of the semiotic and the chora, the paper concludes by analysing some key passages of the novel as revealing a newly reclaimed maternal voice that works to undermine the age's chauvinist rhetoric.

2001 term paper on Comfort Woman by Asian American writer N.O. Keller

Comfort Woman is a novel which raises particularly complex questions regarding the claim to memory or to history, as it presents through a fictional mode a singularly sensitive episode from Korean history, that of the Japanese occupation of Korea and of the 'recreation camps' where hundreds of 'comfort women' were detained for the leisure of Japanese soldiers. The text claims to give voice to Akiko/Soon Hyo, ex-comfort woman alternates with that of her daughter. The latter, towards the end of the novel, arrives at a point where she is supposedly able to piece together her mother's life, in an improbable moment of truth that appears at best problematic. [...]. Memory and representation are shown in Comfort woman to be similarly paradoxical, any instance of recovery always accompanied by a gesture toward the impossibility of total memory — that would have to be infinite and seamless.
Case study for the summer course  —
Statement of interest [...] Readings and research for courses taken at the University of pennsylvania in the last three semesters, as well as extre-curricular opportunities ofr further research and exposure have brought me to a point where I can clearly identify a few areas of special interest, which [Cultural] Diversities East and West promises to engage in hihly challenging ways.

In the last year and a half I have attended courses that have allowed me to further probe questions that had first engaged my interest when I wrote my 1999 'maîtrise' thesis on Slaman Rushdie's Midnight's Children [...] a paradigmatic postcolonial novel of the latter half of the century, [that] brought me to confront questions such as language, history and memory, insofar as these are enabled, disabled, problematized by the postcolonial condition. At Penn last year, I took a course on South African Literature with Dr. Rita Barnard, for which I was able to write on Anthony Sampson's Drum, Zakes Mda's Ways of Dying and J.M. Coetzee's Age of iron. All raised the crucial question of how to write about a violent social history, about ehtnicity and memory. Courses with Dr. Lydie Moudileno on Francophone African Cinema and Francophone Caribean Literature were a space to further investigate these questions. For the latter, I wrote a paper on Patrick Chamoiseau's novel L'esclave vieil homme et le molosse, a remarcable narrative where the highly problematic subjectivity attributed to the protagonist (a slave escaping from the plantation where he works) serves to write the precariousness of memory (and the ambiguous nature of any attempt at recovering memory) in the colonial/postcolonial situation.

In the summer of 2001, I was selected to participate in the Dual Intellectual Citizenship Summer School program in Dakar, Senegal, sponsored by the African Studies program at my university. [...] Indiscussing issues such as polygamy, which is widely practised in Senegal and rationalized by means of various discourses, I became sensitive to those zones of profound ambiguity that separate cultural perspectives, those forms of difference that most undermine facile expectations of interaction across cultural divides and that may persist as elements of dynamic undecidability in the reading of textual forms that are culturally other.

Although I have not yet studied postcommunist textual forms in any detail, my interest in postcommunism stems partly from an intriguing history of communism in Kerala, my home state in India (a rare interface of the problematics of postcolonialism and postcommunism) and, more generally, from an intuition that in its averred transitionality, as well as in its modes of wrioting on but also over a history that is necessarily problematic, whether assumed or disavowed, postcommunism engages several structures and dilemmas common to postcolonialism. I should like to explore the spaces of possible interaction as well as the différends between the two, and for this to be a fruitful conversation.

Personal message  —
Experience abroad Ireland — 2 years. Australia — 2 years. France — 2 years. USA — 2 years.
Plans for the future Planing to teach: Post-colonial literature: especially contemporary Indian literature; French language.
Language proficiency fluent in English, Bengali, French and Spanish.
Hobbies  —
Contact E-mail to: thangam_r@lycos.com

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