Academic journal article ARIEL

Re-Orienting the Gothic Romance: Jean Rhys, Tayeb Salih, and Strategies of Representation in the Postcolonial Gothic

Academic journal article ARIEL

Re-Orienting the Gothic Romance: Jean Rhys, Tayeb Salih, and Strategies of Representation in the Postcolonial Gothic

Article excerpt

 
"Is there another side?" I said. 
"There is always the other side, always." 
(Jean Rhys Wide Sargasso Sea) 

At first glance, the sensationalism and cheap thrills of Gothic romances might seem irreconcilably dissonant to the politicized discourses of postcolonial theory. (1) How could postcolonial texts conceivably benefit from an engagement with vampires, doppelgangers, madwomen or haunted castles? This rudimentary delineation of Gothic commonplaces might indeed seem irrelevant to discussions of the Orientalist theory propounded by Edward Said, but my claim in this article is that the reclamation of Gothic topoi for representational purposes is precisely what occurs in what I will refer to as Postcolonial Gothic texts. (2) At the heart of the Gothic is an engagement with the unrepresented Other, usually a monster or a madwoman, in the same way that at the heart of post-colonial writings is an attempt to represent the Other, often depicted as subaltern or female. Indeed the two genres bear many points of comparison. In particular, the quintessential Gothic fear of the foreign, usually embodied by Catholic Italy or Spain, fear of reverse-colonization by foreigners, and the anxiety over issues of identity (the figure of the double) or the struggle to describe the ineffably terrifying threats to society (the vampire figure) anticipate postcolonial engagements with the Other. So too the Gothic preoccupation with boundaries and liminal states (Dracula, for example, is neither dead nor alive, but "undead") has obvious resonances with writing which is concerned with the convergence of cultures (the colonizer and the colonized) and specifically the site of this cultural interaction and exchange.

Where these two modes of writing differ principally is in the perspective they privilege; for whilst the Gothic primarily addresses and feeds upon the anxieties of English encounters with Others, postcolonial works tend to counter the privileged imperialist perspective by writing back to the empire from the perspective of the unrepresented or misrepresented Other. What we find in Postcolonial Gothics then, is a remarkable alienation effect of writing the Gothic from the perspective of the so-called barbarous south, with England repositioned as the foreign land. The role of terror is related to this dislocation of geographical setting. Although it initially seems incongruous or misplaced, there is an appropriate and useful role for Gothic terror in the postcolonial project. The terror generated by Gothic romances stems primarily from the realization that what was previously accepted as safe, such as the domestic sphere, a metaphor for the security and reliability of the narrative, is actually dangerously unstable. This revelation of instability undermines the security of the established order. The gaps, once discerned, enable intrusions and threats. An example of this is the monsters in the Gothic, which are somatic personifications of the ineffable menace, and are mirrred by the Other in postcolonial texts. Both Jean Rhys's Wide Sargasso Sea and Tayeb Salih's Season of Migration to the North are interested in breaking the master narrative of English imperialism. They fracture the oppressive structures that emphazise the privileged perspective of the colonizers and deny representation to the colonized Other. Common to both is the multiplicity of perspectives in the narrative: a Gothic pastiche of voices vamped together, which are only loosely organized by chronology. In Wide Sargasso Sea, the burden of the narrative is shared between Antoinette and her unnamed husband, and the voices of other characters are frequently reproduced in the narration. Similarly, in Season of Migration, Salih's narrator "repeats the stories of others in their own words, thereby undermining the notion of a stable truth embodied by a single perspective"(Caminero-Santangelo 10). This shift in perspectives enables intrusions and poses questions about narrative reliability. …

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