The Diasporic Itinerary: Literary and Cinematic Geographies of South Asian Diaspora
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This dissertation argues that the opposition between Britain and the United States molds South Asian cultural expression and is central to its interpretation. Examining the work of a diverse group of South Asian diasporic filmmakers and authors, including Gurinder Chadha, Mira Nair, Ian Iqbal Rashid, Hanif Kureishi, V.S. Naipaul, Salman Rushdie, Jhumpa Lahiri, and Kiran Desai, I show how they portray Britain and the U.S. quite differently: America as a site of refuge and emancipation and by contrast, Britain as a place burdened with racism and colonialism. The spatial imagination and the directional logic of cultural narratives engendered by this contrast constitute what I call the “diasporic itinerary,” which inscribes a yearning for America as the ultimate destination and functions as a technology of Americanization in South Asian literature and film. The comparative framework of the “diasporic itinerary” goes beyond a simple juxtaposition of differences between South Asians in Britain and the U.S. and traces instead the specific intersections of the two racial systems, especially how American multiculturalism functions as a resolution to the history of British colonialism in diaspora narratives. While diaspora is conventionally conceptualized as a space of unfettered mobility or as a set of random cultural flows, this project attends rigorously to the differences among specific national histories and racial geographies. Denaturalizing the dominant spatial concepts of diaspora theory such as placelessness or transcendence of national borders, The Diasporic Itinerary dispels the binaries between homeland and hostland, displacement and place, and reveals that empires are unevenly mapped on to the nation. The opposition between Britain and the U.S. reconfigures the diaspora by challenging the idea of an amorphous unity based on race and foregrounding other modes of subordination of class, nationality, religion, and gender as integral to South Asian cultural production. The anxieties precipitated by these hierarchies are often represented as divisions between South Asian men, divisions that are then assuaged by the objectification of South Asian women’s bodies as the space of home.
SubjectSouth Asian Diaspora