Sisters to Scheherazade : revisioned histories of gender and nation in postcolonial African and Asian women's literature
Traversing geographical boundaries and cultural locations, and using a comparative, crosscultural framework, this thesis examines and critiques a selected range of women's writings from postcolonial Africa and Asia. It foregrounds the works of Assia Djebar, Mariama Ba, Ama Ata Aidoo, Nayantara Sahgal and Attia Hosain and outlines the processes through which women writers decentre imperialist, patriarchal underpinnings of the grand recit, defy conventions of autobiographical practice, make sense of a feminized past and revision a different collective personal history that has emancipatory potential for women and other oppressed groups. Referring to Eurocentric "male-stream" histories that have systematically thrust women to the margins, the study illustrates through a variety of literary texts and genres the complex ways in which past histories have obliterated women's presence and voiceconsciousness. While appraising diverse textual strategies of narratives, it discusses the "fictional" nature of historical work and the underlying ideologies framing supposedly "truthful" archival records; the ambivalent role of the historian; the gaps and fissures in historical memory; and the significance of history as a palimpsest. By excavating subsumed histories and "spectres" of the past, the study assesses the way specific texts reconstruct totalizing masculinist chronicles and counterpoise them with alternative feminine inscriptions that are multi-layered and polyphonic, and sometimes also fragmented, "silent" and inconclusive. Additionally, the thesis demonstrates how the process of overwriting the palimpsest has situated women in pivotal positions to articulate issues relevant to a dialogue between gender and nation/atism. The strategic role women have undertaken in decolonization processes worldwide, the ambivalent attitude of male nationalists to women's concerns after independence, and the multiple dilemmas confronting women in a globalized neoimperial world scenario are central to this discussion. Here, the thesis also probes the implications of veiling for Muslim women of contemporary times, sex-segregation based on an antiquated ideology of purdah, women's (limited) access to public space, and the question of agency and women's voice-consciousness. The study highlights current global conditions (such as modern migrations and economic transnationalism) and multiple categories of race, class, gender and ethnicity that intersect in complex ways to represent the Otherized identities of women.