Author's School

Graduate School of Arts & Sciences

Author's Department/Program

English and American Literature


English (en)

Date of Award

Spring 4-26-2013

Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Chair and Committee

Miriam L. Bailin


Through Julia Kristeva's concept of abjection, this dissertation examines textual representations of the human body in contemporary South Asian fiction, arguing that such representations encode authorial responses to the incipient violence involved in the construction and assignment of subaltern subject positions within the modern imagined community. The study is particularly interested in depictions of the distressed body, which emerges both as a sign violence committed and as the ground of an insurgent subjectivity that claims agency and refuses subordination within the larger community. Chapter one considers Shauna Singh Baldwin'sWhat the Body Remembers, which depicts the experiences of Sikh women whose bodies are claimed by the patriarchal Sikh community of Partition-era Punjab. The novel offers a feminist rewriting of Partition from the point of view of Sikh women, and Baldwin's depictions of the abject female body facilitate her critical indictment of those constructions of embodied womanhood that result in the effacement and internal exile of women as subjects. Chapter two addresses Mahasweta Devi's politically interventionist short fiction, which deploys images of the abject body to illuminate the condition of temporal exile that defines tribal experience as Devi understands it. Devi suggests that rather than inhabit this distorted temporality passively, Indian tribals can and do use their bodies to resist their own consignment to modernity's margins.Animal's Peopleby Indra Sinha is the focus of the third chapter, which argues that the staging of the abject body in an attitude of spectacular protest becomes essential for victims of corporate crime who wish to claim their right to be protected as biological citizens of India. The final chapter of the dissertation discusses Aravind Adiga'sThe White Tigerand Vikas Swarup'sSlumdog Millionaire, two texts that treat the plight of the urban poor, but: in different ways and for different reasons) also use images of the body to problematize the project of self-emancipation for members of those groups. Salman Rushdie'sMidnight's Children, which sparked interest in this subject because of its central conceit of the microcosmic body, serves an important touchstone for the analysis of each text.


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