Speaking Havoc: Social Suffering & South Asian Narratives

51lmorbwcxlBy Ramu Nagappan

University of Washington Press, 2005

Who has the right to speak about trauma? As cultural products, narratives of social suffering paradoxically release us from responsibility while demanding that we examine our own connectedness to the circumstances that produce suffering. As a result, the text’s act of “speaking havoc” rebounds in unsettling ways.Speaking Havoc investigates how literary and cinematic fictions intervene in the politics and reception of social suffering. Amitav Ghosh’s modernist novel The Shadow Lines (1988), A Fine Balance (1995) by Rohinton Mistry, the short stories of Saadat Hasan Manto, Salman Rushdie’s postmodernist novel Shame (1983), and the “spectacular” films of Maniratnam: each bears witness to social violence in South Asia. These works confront squarely a number of ethical dilemmas in representations of social suffering – the catastrophes and innumerable minor tragedies that arise from clashes among religious and ethnic communities.

Focusing on central events such as the Partition of 1947, the assassination of Indira Gandhi in 1984, and more recent religious conflicts between India and Pakistan, Nagappan demonstrates the differing ways that narratives engage – often in ambiguous and problematic ways – the political violence that has marked the last fifty years of South Asian history. Is it possible to tell fully the stories of those who have died and those who have survived? Can writing really act as a counter to silence? In his compassionate engagement with these concerns, Nagappan demonstrates the relevance of literature and literary studies to fundamental sociological, anthropological, and political issues. (Publisher’s description)

Ramu Nagappan is an instructor and coordinator of Interdisciplinary Studies in Medicine and the Humanities in the School of Medicine, University of California, San Francisco.

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