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Representing partition : anxious witnessing and trauma in India and the former Yugoslavia Tomsky, Teresa Maria

Abstract

“Representing Partition,” a comparative study on state division in India and the former Yugoslavia, investigates the way partition literatures, that body of texts covering the violent impact of state-partitioning, register their anxieties in a bid to alter political landscapes. The thesis argues that traumatic affects play a critical role in initiating an antipartitionist consciousness, a vital awareness which is key to the imagining, transformation, and enabling of political communities. My focus on different affects – including anxiety, melancholia, and nostalgia – and their ability to fuel forms of communal solidarity extends current work by postcolonial scholars. “Representing Partition” breaks with the theoretical focus on the nation-state by exploring how partition functions materially as well as symbolically in the generation of new political identities, at the levels of the individual, the regional, the diasporic, and in the creation of new institutions. In representing partition’s traumas, writers seek to perturb and provoke their audience, with a view to reshaping the subjectivities of the reading classes. In four chapters, I examine the way literary narratives insistently return to partition as a site of multiple traumas and suggest new modes of commemoration, that are linked to political praxis. In naming partition’s heterogeneous traumatic effects, such discourses present an alternative to the ethno-national rhetoric of independence proclaimed by the post-partitioned state and gesture towards the formation of future communities. Chapter One analyses the important role of cosmopolitanism and affect in galvanising a form of commemorative ethics that responds to communal, class, and caste violence in novels by diasporic Indian writer Amitav Ghosh. Chapter Two examines the genre of the Indian partition anthology as a vehicle for articulating and, ultimately, institutionalising various collective traumas engendered by partition. Chapter Three concerns questions of recovery, retribution, and restitution as it investigates the break-up of Yugoslavia and its repercussions on self-avowed and traumatised Yugoslavs in the novels of Dubravka Ugresic. Chapter Four looks at testimonies to the 1992-1995 Bosnian war in the comic books of Joe Sacco. Sacco’s visual, self-reflexive strategies and his focus on the international media industry provide a critique of the way trauma is mediated, (re)produced, and commodified.

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