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Title: Disability, normalcy, and the failures of the nation : a reading of selected fiction by Salman Rushdie, Rohinton Mistry, Indra Sinha, and Firdaus Kanga
Author: Yorke, Stephanie
ISNI:       0000 0004 6062 0586
Awarding Body: University of Oxford
Current Institution: University of Oxford
Date of Award: 2015
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This thesis is a study of representations of disability in a selection of Anglophone Indian literature written between 1981 and 2006. In this thesis, I argue that, in fiction by Salman Rushdie, Rohinton Mistry, Indra Sinha, and Firdaus Kanga, disability often takes on positive symbolic value as it represents the potential for the postcolonial polis to survive and thrive, but that the ultimate death or medical normalisation of disabled characters in many of these narratives is tied to a loss of political optimism. While these texts in many instances disturb norms surrounding able-bodiedness and disability, they often ultimately narrate a pessimistic conformity to scripts of normalization, and in so doing, map the unjust triumph of a prescriptive national or international politics onto a prescriptive politics of the body. As disability is eliminated, so is the potential for resistance to latent colonial or hegemonic forms. On the other hand, those fictions that narrate a sustainable disabled presence suggest the potential for the community or nation to emerge from oppressive social structures unscathed. I focus on applying literary disability scholarship to Indian novels which demand scrutiny through a disability studies lens, given their dependence upon the disabled body as a metaphoric object and the continuities in their disability representation and the representation of history. While the focus of my work is upon the nuances of disability representation as it is used to parallel the rise (and sometimes fall) of political optimism in these examples of Anglophone Indian literature, I also read toward an understanding of how the postcolonial perspective of these fictions may inflect and complicate disability representations, and investigate Western notions of normalcy as they are represented as intruding upon this literature and as disciplining the body in these texts. This disciplining is further explored through an ancillary reading of how medical apparatus and infrastructure, such as hospitals, ambulances, and especially doctors, are represented in this group of novels, as it is often in conjunction with the medical establishment that disabled characters are subjected to (neo) colonial violence. In the first chapter, which takes the form of a critical introduction, I discuss the terms of my argument within the development of disability studies, and position myself within the debates and concerns of literary disability studies in particular. I consider the antecedents and development of what is now called the cultural model of disability, and discuss how literary disability scholarship, which began its development with a focus on Western texts and contexts, has begun to extend its range of inquiry to become global in scope. I consider examples of the interplay of contemporary Indian history with biopolitical ideals and the paradigm of normalcy as it has been articulated by Lennard Davis and his intellectual predecessors including Canguillheim and Foucault. In the second chapter, which is entitled "The Medical and the Monstrous: Disability in Salman Rushdie's Midnight's Children, Shame, and The Moor's Last Sigh," I consider how the disabled body is created as an object of competition in an ideological agon between a violent, globalized modernity and a sometimes-idealized fictive past. While Rushdie often represents the disabled body in a very simplified and rather bigoted register, he also to some extent engages with the more complex potentialities of disability to represent the failure of the state. The normalizing perpetration of a Westernized medical apparatus against disabled people becomes the proof and of political disintegration and the dissolution of hope for the emergent nation, whether in Rushdie's fictional version of India or Pakistan. In the third chapter, "Disability and the Realization of Metaphor in Rohinton Mistry's Such a Long Journey and A Fine Balance," I consider Rohinton Mistry's disability representations in relation to his engagement with the tradition of European realism. While Mistry attempts to re-locate the normal type articulated by the European novel, and subverts the conventions of European fiction even as he employs them, he still depends upon a largely uncontested tradition of disability representation. While he re-locates the norm in many demographic respects, he does not fully manage to rescue disability from an ancillary and symbolic role in the fiction. Mistry uses disabled characters symbolically to imagine political upheaval from a disadvantaged and sometimes from a subaltern position, creating in disabled characters their symbolic correlates. In my fourth chapter, "Collective Disability and the Dis-located Norm in Indra Sinha's Animal's People," I consider the ways in which this novel effaces paradigms of normalcy by imagining an environment in which disability is the unifying commonality of community life. While Mistry and Rushdie ultimately write disability as narrative anomaly in the ways described by Mitchell and Snyder, Sinha inverts the paradigm of the anomalous body in his fictional representation of the Bhopal disaster. The failure of the Indian state to protect its citizenry results in collective disability identification, while those able-bodied individuals who might be treated as normal in another fiction become suspicious outsiders. In my fifth chapter, "Unaccommodating Fictions: Disability, Authorship, and the Politics of Failure in Firdaus Kanga's Trying to Grow," I consider the ways in which gay, disabled, Parsi writer Firdaus Kanga represents failure and dependency as character weakness. Kanga validates neoliberal competition by re-imagining the potential for economic and social attainment as properties of mind at the exclusion of the body, and, in so doing, inaugurates an adaption of paradigms of normalcy. Kanga's imaginary valorises the economically competitive individual, but simply removes the constraint of bodily normalcy from this ideal marketable man. For Kanga, economic freedom from parental, societal, or governmental intervention is edifying, as masculinity is achieved through uninhibited competition. In my conclusion, "Good Doctors and Bad Doctors in Rushdie, Mistry, Sinha, and Kanga," I consider the representation of the clinic and of physicians in addition to the representation of disabled people in the novels included in this thesis. Doctors and medical apparatus become symbolic correlates for different political impositions and political strategies, often representing the abuses and failures of government or of public policy. I will frame my discussion within Foucault's concept of the clinic, and will consider the ways in which traditional and Western medicine take on symbolic meaning in these fictions of India.
Supervisor: Mukherjee, Ankhi Sponsor: Commonwealth Scholarship
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available
Keywords: Indic literature (English)--20th century--History and criticism ; Postcolonialism in literature ; Disabilities in literature ; Literature and society--India ; India--In literature