ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Beyond Alterity

Beyond Alterity Vinay Lal The Rhetoric of English India by Sara Suleri; University of Chicago Press, Chicago; 1992; pp ix + 230.
IT is with a frontal assault that Sara Suleri, who established her reputation of few years ago as a formidable writer of English and a major voice in the literature of the south Asian diaspora with a finely nuanced memoir entitled Meatless Days, begins her new study of "English India", a work that she locates "within the discourse of colonial cultural studies" while questioning some of the assumptions which have governed that discursive field. Suleri argues that the study of colonial discourse has been too bound to the idea of otherness, to the binarism of east and west, female and male, colonised and coloniser, to allow the decent ring of master-narratives to which it aspires and which has been so critical for the arguments now associated with postmodernism and post-coloniality. No doubt the idea of alterity was indispensable to the formulation of a critique of the ideology and epistemological imperatives of the coloniser, and as Suleri would hardly deny, the brunt of historical and literary scholarship before the advent of 'colonial cultural studies' did not have the political edge that most sensitive readings of colonialism are able to furnish today. Nonetheless, the binarism in the study of colonial discourse has obfuscated the "necessary intimacies that obtain[edj between ruler and ruled", which created a "counter-culture not always explicable in terms of an allegory of otherness", much as it has occluded an awareness of the fact that 'colonial cultural studies' is beset by its own binarisms, such as "the assignation of "cultures' to colonialism; of 'nation' to post-colonialism" (pp 3-7). Suleri maintains that "to interpret the configurations of colonialism in the idiom of such ineluctable divisions" is to overlook and deny the "impact of narrative on a productive disordering of binary dichotomies"; the overdetermination of difference hides the "anxiety of empire" found in colonial and post-colonial imaginations (pp 4-5).

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