Academic journal article The Comparatist

The Ghost Story in Mexican, Turkish and Bengali Fiction Bhut, Fantasma, Hayalet

Academic journal article The Comparatist

The Ghost Story in Mexican, Turkish and Bengali Fiction Bhut, Fantasma, Hayalet

Article excerpt

Whatever one understands by the term "World Literature"--whether it is a pedagogy (Damrosch), a new period of fiction, a school of theory (Moretti 55) or a global franchise (Apter 17)--the allegations of Eurocentrism or an overtly Western-centered approach leveled against it continue to grow. As far as anthologies go, these allegations are difficult to deny. Past anthologies are disappointing: Queneau's three-volume history of literature (1958), which gave India and China two hundred and seventy pages in the final volume, or Hans Meyer's Weltliteratur, which made no mention of non-European literature at all (Fokkema 1290-91). Present anthologies provide an even more bitter taste: the 2013 edition of Norton Anthology of World Literature allots just over 500 of its 1800 pages to non-Western literatures (in a world where non-Western countries make up 90% of the planet). Goethe receives as much space as Africa. (1)

This essay suggests a South-South-South approach as one possible means of redressing this imbalance, and structures of haunting and spectrality as an ideal lens through which to embark upon a re-centered comparativism. The fact that for many Western specialists, a center-periphery approach (where the Western tradition is used to anchor comparative forays into the non-Western) still enjoys a degree of primacy (2) underlines the value of reading across non-Western cultures without necessarily having to travel through London, Paris or New York. Without denying that some consideration of Europe will have to be involved in any treatment of imperialism or parallel modernities--even Chakrabarty's Provincializing Europe devotes its first four chapters to a discussion of Marx--trying to look at what a certain kind of ghost story means in Mexican, Turkish and Bengali fiction might help to re-configure a different set of parameters from those at present. (3)

A ghost story is usually about an interruption. One reality interrupts another, one musical performance disturbs another already in play. Two worlds, two times, bump into one another, sometimes antagonistically, sometimes collaboratively. In some texts, a struggle takes place as two different temporalities vye for control of the same building or person; in others, the two worlds merge and overlap harmoniously, content to mirror one another without intruding to the point of primacy.

In this essay, we are going to examine a very specific formula of ghost story, one which appears and re-appears across all three literatures. Each of the six stories we are looking at involve a haunted structure or place, and a male protagonist who either has a relationship with the ghost or becomes a ghost himself. In almost all of these stories, the protagonist is eventually absorbed into his haunted environment. The texts, by writers as diverse as Tagore, Fuentes, Rulfo and Tanpinar, vary enormously in all sorts of ways: some are comic, others bleak and tragic; some of the fictional ghosts try to help, others are malevolent; in some texts a rational observer is visible and assertive, in others they are almost absent. Taken together, the texts span a period of over sixty years (the oldest story was published in 1895, the most recent in 1962). However, the theme of the ruin which connects with, and eventually appropriates and consumes whoever steps inside it, remains a constant.

In this article, I argue that there is something about spectrality--and the relationship of both haunter and haunted to a variety of different themes (race, property, history, sex)--that can be discerned in stories with provenances as far apart as Calcutta, Mexico City and Istanbul, and that such an approach can tell us something valuable about what it means to read comparatively without reading Eurocentrically.

This critical interest in the spectral has a fairly long historical background. Long before Derrida's Spectres of Marx (which for many constituted a "spectral turn" [Blanco and Pereen 2]), figures such as Adorno were already speculating on the relationship between Occultism and commodification ("the Occultist draws the ultimate conclusion from the fetish character of commodities" wrote Adorno in 1951--with the occultist forgetting that a world obsessed by products are produced by men, and "mis-remembering" such energies as a "being-in-itself" [Adorno 288]). …

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