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Title:"Who speaks for me, with and to me?" Subalternity and representation in the works of Mahasweta Devi, Bessie Head, and Assia Djebar
Author(s):Mukherjee, Reshmi
Director of Research:Hassan, Wail S.
Doctoral Committee Chair(s):Hassan, Wail S.
Doctoral Committee Member(s):Ngo, Fiona; Basu, Anustup; Blake, Nancy; Pandharipande, Rajeshwari V.
Department / Program:Comparative & World Literature
Discipline:Comparative Literature
Degree Granting Institution:University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
comparative literature.
Abstract:“Who Speaks for, with and to Me?” study how the gendered subaltern subjects of the global South are represented in the fictional works of three writers: Mahasweta Devi, Bessie Head, and Assia Djebar. Devi, Head, and Djebar write about disenfranchised groups of people whose ontological existences are marginalized and silenced by mainstream social and national discourses of postcolonial nation-states such as India, South Africa, and Algeria. The three chapters demonstrate the retrieval of subaltern agency by Devi, Head, and Djebar through their strategic and rhetorical shifting of attention from the spoken words of the gendered subaltern to the female subaltern’s body-in-pain, their experiences of living as social and political outcastes, and their relationships with lived spaces (home, nation, harem, prison). Devi represents female subaltern bodies as spaces exploited for the exertion of power and also as sites for resistance against gendered, class, and caste violence. I read Mahasweta’s use of pain as a narrative strategy to regard the female subject-in-pain as a dynamic being and not a passive victim. Bessie Head’s representations of subaltern agency relate subalternity to social and political conditions of living in exile. I contend that it is this lived experience that leads Head to articulate a completely new perspective for examining the elite-subaltern relationship, namely the subaltern’s inability to understand the elite. She turns the question —“can the subaltern speak?” — around to ask if the elite can speak (to the subaltern)? I explore the issue of lived experience further in Assia Djebar’s works. I focus on Djebar’s representations of subaltern agency through the marginalized space of the harem in postcolonial Algeria. Effectively, this dissertation problematizes Gayatri Spivak’s assertion that the subaltern cannot be authentically represented.
Issue Date:2013-02-03
Rights Information:Copyright 2012 Reshmi Mukherjee
Date Available in IDEALS:2013-02-03
Date Deposited:2012-12

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