Academic journal article ARIEL

Resisting the Event: Aesthetics of the Non-Event in the Contemporary South Asian Novel

Academic journal article ARIEL

Resisting the Event: Aesthetics of the Non-Event in the Contemporary South Asian Novel

Article excerpt

Abstract: This essay interrogates the ways in which contemporary fiction from the subcontinent responds to the preoccupation with the spectacular event in Western philosophy, historiography, and popular media discourse. Today, this seemingly unanimous and all-pervasive fixation with colossal moments--revolutionary, politically progressive, or apocalyptic, terroristic ones--grips our collective global imaginary like never before. The collapse of the twin towers and the post-9/11 context of the war on terror have produced dominant discourses that accept, willy-nilly, the cloying power of event-centric narratives. In this context I study Vikram Chandra's Sacred Games, Arundhati Roy's The God of Small Things, and Mohsin Hamid's The Reluctant Fundamentalist to suggest that contemporary literary experimentation emerging from South Asia proactively resists the catastrophic event's magnetic power to create an inescapable force field that keeps everything constantly aligned in relation to it.

Keywords: event, 9/11, war on terror, subaltern studies, mourning

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This essay interrogates the way in which modernity's history is mapped and formally structured via a certain shaping macro-trope--that of the cataclysmic, all-determining event. In modernity's self-narrative, the event is suffused by an economy of excess in which the individual specific moment comes to exceed its local possibilities so as to take its grandstand place as that one nominal referent around and through which our age might define itself comprehensively. It is, after all, modernity's entanglement with the event that makes possible, for instance, the declaration that we live in a post-9/11 world. In this sense, the surplus values of the event derive from its daedal position as an imagined, or claimed, cause of causes.

I begin, in section one, by theorizing the event as it is encapsulated in Western philosophy, and consider some of the discursive-political implications of what I call modernity's "event fetishism." In section two I examine the principles of Subaltern Studies historiography that actively challenge traditional, hegemonic forms of history writing that are oriented around and navigated through dramatic moments. Next, I suggest that contemporary literary experimentation emerging from South Asia moves the Subaltern Studies project forward by proactively resisting the event's magnetic power to create an inescapable force field that keeps everything constantly aligned in relation to it. Finally, I undertake a detailed analysis of three novels--Vikram Chandra's Sacred Games (2006), Arundhati Roy's The God Of Small Things (1997), and Mohsin Hamid's The Reluctant Fundamentalist (2007)--to explicate the intricate manoeuvres by which they execute their radical critiques of "eventalism."

I. Theorizing the Event

What is an event and how do we define it? Francoise Dastur conceives of the event in two primary ways: first, the event is that which "arrives unexpectedly" and strikes "without warning" (182), as in the case of a true surprise or an accident. It is thus divorced from the familiar and the mundane. At the same time, the event not only parts from the well-known and recognisable but marks a radical break in the predictable and imaginable: it is the "excess to expectation" (Dastur 183) or an internal contradiction. It is the "impossible which happens in spite of everything" (183). The event, then, is fundamentally characterised by the "unpredictability of what might just as well not have occurred" (Bensai'd). Concomitantly, therefore, this radical disruption plays out in the dimension of time. The event ruptures temporality and "dislocates time"; it "puts the flow of time out of joint" and divides the world into a before and after, a past and an "unanticipated future" (Dastur 182). It is non-integrative and hence "does not happen in a world--it is, on the contrary, as if a new world opens up through its happening" (182). …

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