Real and Imagined Women: Gender, Culture, and Postcolonialism

Real and Imagined Women: Gender, Culture, and Postcolonialism

Real and Imagined Women: Gender, Culture, and Postcolonialism

Real and Imagined Women: Gender, Culture, and Postcolonialism

Synopsis

Real and Imagined Women explores a number of fascinating and important theoretical questions for feminists by offering a challenging mode of 'reading resistance', set against the stereotyped and sensationalist image of the 'third world woman' as victim. Real and Imagined Women reconceptualizes this overdetermined subjectivity in separate but related essays that explore the practice and representation of sati, the issues around rape and wife-murder, and the official and media construction of the 'new' woman in colonial and post-Independence India. In addition, an essay on the 'case' of Indira Gandhi identifies, at the other end, the elite female subject, the woman-as-leader, and seeks to reclaim her for a feminist politics. The central and repeated concern of these essays thus emerges as the (re)construction of female subjectivity in the interests of a feminist praxis.Rajeswari Sunder Rajan reads the cultural representations of women through a wide and varied range of texts - from the classical Tamil epic Silapaddikaram to recent film, popular fiction, commercial advertisements, legal texts and journalism - and by this means raises the issue of how the postcolonial situation frames the context between 'real' and 'imagined' women.

Excerpt

This collection of feminist critical essays is an attempt to map the space of the postcolonial female subject. Written over the past three years, largely in response to suggestions and invitations from US feminist colleagues in the academy editing journals and anthologies, but from within the physical and intellectual space of the Indian university-with all that this implies of the material conditions and the political affiliations of such a location-these essays are already hybrid in their genealogy and address. There is the further hybridity of matter (history, issues, themes) and method (theory, language) that is a function of postcolonial intellectual production. Negotiating with this hybridity as both a historical determinant and an intellectual identity, I have sought to reach through to an understanding, which I think of as 'theoretical', about issues of gender in the contemporary Indian nation-state.

Intellectual work produced under the sign of global feminism and theory but over the signature of the postcolonial academic is open to charges of inauthenticity, dubiousness of politics, academic mileage, alienated modernism and native informancy. The activity of reading 'under western eyes' becomes a fraught and almost disablingly self-conscious exercise. Nevertheless, the dialogue with western feminists that such writing seeks to initiate, while it acknowledges our similarity of political motivation, also stresses the differences in the questions confronting us. Thus the comparative perspective both feeds into and provokes the articulation of sameness and difference that is such a necessary function of contemporary critical enquiry. It may also be argued that the sole allegiance we have heretofore acknowledged to historicist or culturalist explanations and empirical 'case'-studies has needlessly inhibited the scope of postcolonial intellectual work. The attempt to be politically correct without sterility, and to intervene creatively into the situation of theory without being irresponsible, is admittedly an enterprise that risks failure in both directions. But theoretical endeavour and speculation would still be worth undertaking even if-at the very least-they only set off theoretical quarrels, thus reclaiming questions of theory and method as integral to our politics.

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