Academic journal article Interactions

Reconceptualizing the Second-Generation Diasporic Subjectivity through Gogol: A Reappraisal of Jhumpa Lahiri's the Namesake"/ Gogol'a Gore Ikinci Nesil Diyasporik Oznelligin Kavramlastirilmasi: Jhumpa Lahiri'nin the Namesake Adli Eserinin Yeniden Degerlendirilmesi

Academic journal article Interactions

Reconceptualizing the Second-Generation Diasporic Subjectivity through Gogol: A Reappraisal of Jhumpa Lahiri's the Namesake"/ Gogol'a Gore Ikinci Nesil Diyasporik Oznelligin Kavramlastirilmasi: Jhumpa Lahiri'nin the Namesake Adli Eserinin Yeniden Degerlendirilmesi

Article excerpt

Engaging with Jhumpa Lahiri's three books--Interpreters of Maladies (1999), The Namesake (2003), and Unaccustomed Earth (2008)--is not as straightforward as one might think. This is not only because Lahiri's work is categorized as belonging to the much idealized and equally demonized category of the "new" Indian diaspora, (1) one that seems to have effortlessly produced one best-seller after the other over the last past decade, causing critics such as Amitava Kumar to sarcastically wonder "what's so hot about Indian writing?" (80). Nor is it because the sudden canonization of her work, following on Lahiri having been awarded the Pulitzer Prize in 2000, ushered her overnight into the apparently irreconcilable position of an "ethnic" mainstream figure, thus inviting inevitable sarcasm about the "not too spicy" (2) character of her Indian-American narratives of cultural and psychological disorientation. Rather, the difficulty in writing about Lahiri lies in the fact that her hyper-visibility, her having been promoted to the status of celebrity author so soon, has wrapped her work in an odd form of paradoxical invisibility, as if close analyses of her novel and two collection of short stories had been rendered instantly irrelevant by the mass of presuppositions relating to her second-generation Indian-American hyphenated cultural identity. By and large, Lahiri's work appears to be buried alive beneath the apparently unmovable stone of "hybridity talk", or alternatively, beneath the never-possible mandate of being "Indian enough", even as it primordially deals with the second-generation Indian-American experience. Only Julia Leyda refreshingly begins her 2010 interview with Lahiri by insisting on the decisive role played by marketers, readers and reviewers in shaping, sometimes in disfiguring, the image of writers and their works. Leyda's introductory remarks include the paradox that "much of the marketing and reviewing of Lahiri's books, along with books by writers born in India, depicts her work as mysterious and sensual, even when the writing itself does not seem to fit such characterization" (2).

Taking as its premise the suggestion that what is passed on from one generation to the next organizes itself less around positive, than negative entities-i.e. the gap, the absent, the unsaid-this article sets out to examine how, in The Namesake, Lahiri may well redefine the notions of belonging and arrival as regards the Indian-American second generation not in terms of cultural assimilation-which would hardly make sense for characters who were born in the U.S. in the first place-but in terms of a re-symbolization of the gaps in the parents' migrant narratives. My overall aim here is to propose an alternative reading of The Namesake, one that presents Gogol, the second-generation protagonist of Lahiri's 2003 novel, as being haunted by his own belatedness in relation to the first generation's experience. In the first part of this essay, I will highlight some of the blind spots that can be seen to be intrinsic to today's critical reception of Lahiri's books, notably by elaborating on the ways in which an overemphasis on "culture" and ethnic questions might obstruct the perception of crucial aspects of her work. Before doing so, however, I want to situate my attempt to emphasize the importance of the negative in Lahiri's 2003 novel in relation to Vijay Mishra's critical output.

Any analysis of the negative and of its importance as far as diasporic literature is concerned cannot ignore Mishra's groundbreaking work. Mishra's The Literature of the Indian Diaspora has indeed constituted a major influence in my determination to re-read The Namesake at a slight angle from any American or Indian "cultural" perspective. As will become clear further, I tend to find many points (or rather omissions) in Mishra's reading of Lahiri's novel debatable, so my indebtedness to his critical output does not stem from his insights into Lahiri per se. …

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