I hope all is well, and that everyone is having a nice summer vacation thus far. My name is Josh, I’m a rising senior, and for the past 6-7 weeks, I have been working with Professor Raji Mohan. Professor Mohan is currently working on a book that analyzes narratives of female militancy in the postcolonial world, and this summer I have been helping her generate annotated bibliographies for a chapter that will read Franz Fanon’s The Wretched of the Earth alongside Gillo Pontecorvo’s The Battle of Algiers, Assia Djebar’s Fantasia: An Algerian Cavalcade, and Fanon’s essay, “Algeria Unveiled.” Though Wretched is often written off as a polemical critique of the West, as well as fetishization of violence aimed at the colonizer—and, in a way, it is—this chapter, we hope, will complicate Fanon’s assessment of postcolonial violence.
More recently, though, she has been working on a paper that theorizes the importance of riot scenes in Salman Rushdie’s Satanic Verses (1988), Zadie
Smith’s White Teeth (2000), and Hanif Kureishi’s Sammy and Rosie Get Laid (1988) – a paper that Professor Mohan will present at this summer’s Literary London conference. In each of these three works (all of which are definitely worth reading/watching if you have the time), physical space (in this context, the London cityscape) becomes invested with cultural narratives that then work on – and, according to some, shape the identity of – the space’s inhabitants. If, for instance, a city becomes tied to narratives of national identity, the city’s occupants might then think themselves characters within this story, doing all they can to bring about its projected “end” (i.e. “national unity”), marginalizing those who don’t fit the mold. But what would it mean to trouble the narrative of national unity? What would we stake to gain and/or lose by contextualizing national identity as a cultural–an artificial–fiction, though naturalized through repetition? What happens when immigrants occupy a foreign land, bringing with them stories that do not fit tidily alongside those of the nationalist?
With these questions as pivot-points, Professor Mohan’s paper uses these 3 texts to think through the emancipatory potential of riot scenes–scenes whose violence, confusion, and instability make visible the unstable ground on which concepts like national and personal identity stand. If the riot is a site of contending significance–where one can no longer articulate what it means to be English, what it means to be an immigrant–what new roles are available for the English? What new roles are available for the immigrant?
But more on this to come!
For now, I would like to thank both Professor Mohan and the Hurford Center for giving me a project that has allowed me to explore the exciting potentials of a research project, as well as the real-world “stakes” of narrative.
‘Till next time,