Academic journal article Cross / Cultures

"Bubbles into the Bottle" of Postcolonialism: Ritornellos and Screen-Memories in Arundhati Roy's the God of Small Things

Academic journal article Cross / Cultures

"Bubbles into the Bottle" of Postcolonialism: Ritornellos and Screen-Memories in Arundhati Roy's the God of Small Things

Article excerpt

ARUNDHATi Roy is sometimes said to be one of those 'onenovel authors' whose literary success was a fluke unlikely to be repeated. Yet, after her one novel, Roy has kept on publishing quite a number of political and ecological studies and pamphlets which testify to the depth of her commitment to the cause of anti-globalization and to the new forms of militancy accompanying this movement all around the world. Interestingly, her non-literary production makes it clear that she has a profound distrust of systematized theories, such as economic liberalism, the effect of which is to crush individual lives because of its inability to take local specificities into account. Could it be said, then, that The God of Small Things originated in the same distrust of totalizing regimes of thought, and that she inscribed herself in both the aesthetic and the ideology of postcolonialism, the better to delineate some of its potential limits? It is certainly the case that Roy wrote, with The God of Small Things, the paradigmatic postcolonial novel, which is probably why the critics were so swift to seize upon it from a variety of well-tried angles, bringing to light the nature of the author's concern with language, history, intertextuality. However, I would like to show that all of this coexists in the text with an uneasy awareness of what cannot be captured or explained straightforwardly by means of the explicative routines of postcolonialism.

There is nothing new or original, of course, in this outlook on postcolonialism - many a conference, scholar, and writer has pointed to a need, a desire or a potential for change within postcolonial studies.1 One might contend that, if postcolonialism can or ought to be transformed, this is possibly on account of what it cannot contain, or, indeed, as an attempt to gesture towards whatever it is that it cannot (yet) apprehend. Postcolonialism undoubtedly provides a unique approach to literature through the complex and significant impact achieved by critics and writers as they invest, and often dismantle from within, the discourse associated with imperialism, which makes it possible to circumscribe the socio-political, historical, and cultural conditions in which the literary text was produced, and therefore to pursue the link that exists between literature and the real world. But the flip-side of this is possibly that the nagging preoccupation with a collective articulation of identity sometimes elides, or is at risk of eliding, a more private dimension of experience, a subjectivity which, by virtue of being private, could elude containment within the usual (political) postcolonial protocols of knowledge.

Is it possible, then, for us to identify an 'Other' of postcolonialism, which could be equivalent with what it leaves out in the very texts that it seeks to illuminate? And could it be that the transformations so often evoked may stem not so much from the re-modelling or re-routing of the approach involved in postcolonial readings as, rather, from the actual content of postcolonial texts? It seems to me that Roy's The God of Small Things is a novel that allows, if not demands and generates, a reading that points to this mysterious 'Other' of postcolonialism which is inseparable from the enigma of human life, and which is a driving force that traverses the novel in all of its aspects.

The God of Small Things explicitly links the personal excavation of the past history undertaken by the twin children, with History at large:

Estha and Rahel learned how history negotiates its terms and collects its due from those who break its laws. They heard its sickening thud. They smelled its smell and never forgot it.

As such, the novel is perfectly in keeping with some of the traditional strategies underlying a number of postcolonial literary texts, and which may variously consist of searching the warehouse of personal memories and histories to map out the past and History at large, of cross-translating the personal and the general and, ultimately, of reinscribing a postcolonial identity through the trope of reclaiming. …

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