208 pages | 1 B/W Illus.
This book demonstrates the epic genre’s enduring relevance to the Global South. It identifies a contemporary avatar of classical epic, the ‘postcolonial epic’, ushered in by Herman Melville’s Moby Dick, a foundational text of North America, and exemplified by Derek Walcott’s Caribbean masterpiece Omeros and Amitav Ghosh’s South Asian saga, the Ibis trilogy.
The work focuses on the epic genre’s rich potential to articulate postimperial concerns with nation and migration across the Global North/South divide. It foregrounds postcolonial developments in the genre including a shift from politics to political economy, subaltern reconfigurations of capitalist and imperial temporalities, and the poststructuralist preoccupation with language and representation. In addition to bringing to light hitherto unexamined North/South affiliations between Melville, Walcott and Ghosh, the book proposes a fresh approach to epic through the comparative concept of ‘political epic’, where an avowed national politics promoting a culture’s ‘pure’ origins coexists uneasily with a disavowed poetics of intertextual borrowing from ‘other’ cultures.
An important intervention in literary studies, this volume will interest scholars and researchers of postcolonial studies, especially South Asian and Caribbean literature, Global South studies, transnational studies and cultural studies.
‘A brilliant cross-cultural reading of epic, which wrests the genre from its classical origins to demonstrate how its contemporary postcolonial incarnations unsettle the essentialist notions of nation inherent in earlier conceptions of the form. Roy’s study is also a major contribution to scholarship on Melville, Walcott and Ghosh.’
John Thieme, Professor, School of Literature, Drama and Creative Writing, University of East Anglia, UK
‘The Postcolonial Epic makes an essential contribution to the study of world literature but more than that its careful and in-depth presentation of the sea-borne epic, ancient and modern, American, Caribbean, and Indian, imperial, national, and postcolonial, in theory and in practice, increases our understanding of literature itself, how it works and what it can do.’
Neil Ten Kortenaar, Professor and Director, Centre for Comparative Literature, University of Toronto, Canada
Introduction: From Classical to Postcolonial Epic
Recent years have seen challenging new formulations of the flows of influence in transnational cultural configurations and developments. In the wake of the end of the Cold War, the notion of the ‘Global South’ has arguably succeeded the demise of the tripartite conceptual division of the First, Second and Third Worlds. This notion is a flexible one referring to the developing nations of the once-colonized sections of the globe. The concept does not merely indicate shifts in geopolitics and in the respective affiliations of nations, and the economic transformations that have occurred, but also registers an emergent perception of a new set of relationships between nations of the Global South as their respective connections to nations of the north (either USA/USSR or the old colonial powers) diminish in significance. New social and cultural connections have become evident. This book series explores the literary manifestations (in their often intermedial, networked forms) of those south–south cultural connections together with academic leaders from those societies and cultures concerned.
The ‘Global South’ as an analytical term functions, in John Comaroff’s turn of phrase, as a ‘shifter’, taking on different inflections in varying disciplinary contexts — as a mere geographical descriptor, denoting a network of geopolitical regions, primarily in the southern hemisphere, with a common history of colonization; driven by processes of transformation (the Global South has and continues to be the site of an ongoing neo-colonial economic legacy as also of a number of emergent global economies such as India, China, Brazil and South Africa); as an index of a condition of economic and social precarity which, though primarily manifest in the ‘global south’, is also increasingly visible in the North (thus producing a ‘global south’); and, finally, as a utopian marker, signifying a fabric of economic exchanges that are beginning to bypass the Northern economies, and, gradually, a framework for political cooperations, especially from ‘below’ (Sandbrook, Prashad) which may offer alternatives to the hitherto hegemony of the Euro-American ‘North’.
Literary cultures are a particularly pregnant site of south–south cultural analysis as they represent the intersection of traditional and modern cultural forms, of south–south (and north–south) cultural exchange, particularly via modes of translation and interlingual hybridization, and refract various discourses of knowledge in a highly self-reflexive and critical fashion, thereby demanding and enabling an interdisciplinary dialogue with literary studies at its core. Hallowed connections between literary production and the postcolonial nation notwithstanding, transnational south–south literary connections have usually marked the (anti-)colonial, postcolonial and indeed contemporary digital epochs. Thus, literary cultures form one of the central historical and contemporary networked sites of intercultural self-articulation in the Global South.
This series intervenes in the process and pre-empts the sort of bland institutionalization which has forestalled much of the intellectual force of postcolonial studies or the more recent world literature studies. It proposes wide-ranging interventions into the study of the literary cultures of the Global South that will establish an innovative paradigm for literary studies on the disciplinary terrain up until now occupied by the increasingly problematized areas of postcolonial studies or non-European national literary studies.
This series contributes to the re-writing of cultural and literary history in the specific domain of the literary cultures of the Global South. It attempts to fill in the many gaps left by Euro-American-dominated but ultimately ‘provincial’ Northern cultural histories. The study of the literary cultures of the Global South ‘swivels’ the axis of literary interrelations from the colonizer–colonized interface which, for instance, has preoccupied postcolonial literary studies since its inception (and which inevitably informed the ‘national’ compartmentalization of postcolonial literary study even when it averted its gaze from the colonizer), to a set of ‘lateral’ relationships which have always existed but until now largely ignored — and which, in an age of digital communication and online cultural production have begun to emerge, once again, into their properly prominent position.