Postcolonial Recycling of the Oriental Vampire in Habiby's Saraya, the Ghoul's Daughter and Mukherjee's Jasmine

By Gamal, Ahmed | Arab Studies Quarterly, Winter 2013 | Go to article overview

Postcolonial Recycling of the Oriental Vampire in Habiby's Saraya, the Ghoul's Daughter and Mukherjee's Jasmine


Gamal, Ahmed, Arab Studies Quarterly


Abstract:

This article examines Emile Habiby's Saraya, The Ghoul's Daughter (1991) and Bharati Mukherjee's Jasmine (1989) as two postcolonial novels seeking to rewrite the history of Palestinian and Indian diaspora according to their respective myths of Oriental vampires. Habiby's recycling of the Palestinian folktale of the ghoul and Mukherjee's recuperation of the Hindu myth of Lord Shiva aim to spotlight the classical vampirictopoi of otherness, unspeakableness, foreignness, and border existences in colonial and postcolonial contexts. Postcolonial Gothic writing is thus shown to foreground gender, nationality, and ethnicity as sites of both power conflict and cultural exchange. Adopting a counter-Orientalist approach, the study sheds light on the different strategies these two postcolonial texts employ to deconstruct the demonic and ghostly constructions of Arabs and Indians.

Keywords: postcolonial gothic, vampire, ghoul, Arabic folktale, Hindu myth, otherness

This article seeks to examine how postcolonial texts profit from the mythical narratives of vampires to problematize the power relations between the colonizer and the colonized. The vampire tradition is accordingly inscribed and recycled according to the collective Oriental heritage to articulate the untold stories of the muffled Eastern subject. Drawing on the mythical narratives of the ghoul (ogre) in classical Arabic culture and old Arabic folktales and of Lord Shiva in the Hindu myth, this article compares the rewritings of the vampire topoi of otherness, unspeakableness, foreignness, and border existences in both Emile Habiby's Saraya, The Ghoul 's Daughter (1991) and Bharati Mukherjee's Jasmine (1989). The metamorphosis of Saraya into a laughing muse and Jasmine into a potent goddess can be taken to represent the liminal state of Dracula between life and death on the one hand and the convergence of cultures on the other hand. Where these two works differ principally is in the geographic location of this site of cultural interaction. Whereas Habiby (1 922- 1 996), the Palestinian writer, traces the predicament of Arabs in Israel and the Palestinian diaspora, Mukherjee (1940-), the Indian American writer, writes of the potential synthesis of Indian and American culture in the context of globalization. The mythical nameless horror of both the Arabic ghoul and the Indian lord Shiva is thus rewritten to counter the taboo on speaking on behalf of the victim rather than the victimizer and the colonized rather than the colonizer. This article argues that the Western Gothic trope of the vampire is appropriated by the postcolonial texts under study to represent native subject matter and perspective without slipping into the dominant discourse. It, moreover, considers these two postcolonial works in terms of counter-Orientalist discourse that simultaneously deconstructs Orientalist exoticism and eroticism and constructs a counter-image of Oriental agency as put to use at different geopolitical and historical contexts.

The Oriental Vampire and the Postcolonial

The connection between the Gothic and the postcolonial is inescapable in a globalized culture governed by a hyperreal universe that presents itself as its own simulation. Popular Culture representations of otherness in relation to the ghostly and the demonic are intrinsically associated with an exquisite amalgam of the imagery of Eurocentrism, imperialism, and neocolonialism. Edward Said discusses the abnormality and extremism of "terrorism" and "fundamentalism" as basically grounded in "international or transnational imaginary made up of foreign devils," a typical simulacrum in which "Others' are finally seen as enemies, bent on destroying our civilization and way of life" (1993: 375-376). By comparison, in the realm of literary studies, the intermeshing of the Gothic and the postcolonial or rather the dominance of Gothic motifs in postcolonial fiction has been critically surveyed with special regard to the prevalence of Otherness, reverse-colonization, and the issue of identity politics. …

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