Anthony R. Guneratne (National University of Singapore), 'The Virtual Spaces of Postcoloniality'
The early novels of some of the best-known post-colonial writers in English appear to share one unusual characteristic: the inclusion of an authorial presence, frequently referred to as I, whose very instability calls into question the seemingly objective narrative mode summoned by such a representational strategy. This instability is not unconnected with the imaginary spaces which the characters of these novels inhabit, spaces which while being fictional creations and acknowledged as such by the authors, are clearly contiguous with the spaces of their personal experience, spaces most often left behind as a result of their adoption of a quasi foreign tongue and their immigration to the centers of the English-speaking world.
One of the writers most sensitive to the use of space in the novel has been Mikhail Bakhtin, whose largely neglected essay on the chronotope occupied a disproportionately large part of his critical endeavors (having written it in the thirties, he resurrected the manuscript and refashioned it in the sixites). As it stands, the essay seems rather rigid and formulaic, but in relation to his other writings it is rich with implication. Never more so than when we consider the use of space and time in the early prose works of such postcolonial writers as V.S. Naipaul, Salman Rushdie, and Michael Ondaatje. As Bakhtin himself suggests, the novel is an indeterminate form which thrives on what he terms polyglossia. This latter condition often shapes the particular indeterminacies which seem common to much of the literature we think of as being postcolonial. Indeed, as I argue here at length, Bakhtin and postcolonial literature are sources of mutual illumination.
Certainly, the study of the relationship of Bakhtin's theories to postcolonial literature can spead over vast fields of endeavor. Because of the novelty of the conference medium we have adopted, and because my contribution to these issues should be only one of many, I intend to limit the present project to a discussion of a few of the salient issues concerning the idea of displacement: the conscious creation of imaginary (and sometimes impossible) spaces, the role of the I character who inhabits some of these spaces, and the relevance of the internet to a project such as the present one. True to the spirit of Bakhtin, The Virtual Spaces of Postcoloniality is intended as a starting point rather than the last word.
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