The relationship between knowledge and power in the work of Amitav Ghosh
To date no single critic has yet published a monograph charting the development of Amitav Ghosh's fiction. Yet Ghosh is one of the most distinctive and influential writers to come out of India since Rushdie and, with five novels already published at the age of forty-seven, his fiction is continuing to develop in ambition and scope. This thesis is an attempt to fill the critical gap by providing a sustained account of Ghosh's writing. I contend that at the heart of his corpus is the argument that knowledge is produced by structures of dominance, particularly the military, economic, and epistemic strategies of colonialism. In the Introduction I set out my methodological parameters, tracing the debate about knowledge and power through Foucault's conceptualization of power as a pervasive set of social relations; Said's recognition that contemporary thought has been crucially shaped by colonialism; and arriving at Bhabha's insight that, colonial models of power and knowledge are ambivalent, split, and self-contradictory. Threaded through this discussion I provide tangible examples, from colonial texts and art, which cast new light on the theories. The Introduction then turns to Ghosh's writing, particularly focusing on the way in which his interrogation of borderlines - between nations, discursive fields, and genres - sends out a challenge to the compartmentalization of much Western thought. I discuss Ghosh's novels in chronological order, suggesting that in each of them he examines the imbrication of at least one specific form of knowledge in colonial power structures. In Chapter One, I discuss representations of science in The Circle of Reason. I argue that science has often been regarded as a legitimate and legitimizing form of knowledge that is disinterested, culturally neutral, benevolent in intention, and allowing access to objective 'truth'. Recent theorists, however, have indicated that science is culturally located, with its own biases and interests. Western science and technology helped both to establish and consolidate power in an active way in colonized countries, and also provided a moral justification for imperial nations to continue their exploitation of Asia and Africa. Yet, through the character of Balaram, Ghosh demonstrates that science was reshaped in the Indian context. Chapter Two focuses on Ghosh's treatment of space in The Shadow Lines. Dramatized here is the notion that space is not simply a given, but is socially constructed and imagined. The novel suggests that the Western obsession with defining nations and firm boundaries on maps has reified a view of space as a territory to be owned, measured and divided. Chapter Three argues that in In an Antique Land, Ghosh turns his attention to prevailing perceptions of time. As well as exploring Ghosh's rewriting of conventional history, this chapter also considers the whole problem of representing the historical or ethnic Other. Ghosh rejects any single historical or anthropological account's claim to provide an authentic and complete version of the Other. He suggests that to provide a non-coercive description of alterity, the text should be multifaceted, imaginative, and open-ended. In Chapter Four, I return to Ghosh's discussion of scientific and technological discourse. The Calcutta Chromosome, I suggest, is another attempt at problematizing the boundaries between science and pseudoscience, and challenging the 'claim to know' (CC, 103) of Western scientists such as Ross. My argument concludes with a summary of the thesis's main concerns and a brief adumbration of the ways in which Ghosh's most recent novel, The Glass Palace, fits into Ghosh's argument about knowledge and power.