Research Proposal and Annotated Bibliography

December 3, 2016

I’m late with posting my research proposal so I kept the descriptions of my secondary sources in the annotated bibliography.

My primary text is the novel The God of Small Things, by Arundhati Roy. The book shifts in time a lot so the political climate in India from about the 70’s until present day is a big part of the book, although somewhat implicitly. The main characters are twins who have an almost psychic bond and one experiences a traumatic sexual encounter as a child. There is also a controversial sexual scene between the twins once they are older.

I’m interested in researching the political implications of this incestuous moment, as in what was Roy’s purpose in included it. A related question is how are surveillance and policing used to suppress communication or connections like the ones the twins share? Nature is also a big part of the book, namely how it’s sourced and the negative effects of globalization, so another question I have is where is, and isn’t it possible in the book, to separate the violence against people from the “violence” against their natural resources?

My research questions might seem to cover unrelated topics, so I hope the sources help connect the ideas. So far, my secondary sources deal with each topic mostly separate from one another. Also, they’re all books and I haven’t read them all fully yet. I’m hoping at the library meeting I can find a few more sources (shorter articles) that are interdisciplinary and can better relate to the literary aspects of the novel.

Annotated Bibliography

Foucault, Michel. Discipline & Punish: The Birth of the Prison. 1975. Translated by Alan Sheridan, 1977. Vintage-Random House, 1995.

I’m focusing mostly on the chapter about the Panopticon, a design of an ideal prison that relies on constant surveillance, rather than violence, to deter illegal behavior. This relates to my question about policing and surveillance, as there’s a Communist movement trying to be put down in Roy’s book (with violence of varying visibility). Foucault offers that modern society will internalize this public visibility, or a culture of spectacle, until they police and subject themselves in every aspect of their private lives.

The strategy I plan to use with this source is leap-frogging. I think applying Foucault’s ideas to the novel makes a strong case for how generations’ worth of learning has them arrive at a modern carceral culture that pervades their private lives (enforced in part by the hierarchy of the caste system). However, the idea that the Panopticon is an ideal and violence-free design is problematic because it still relies heavily on the potential for violence to be effective (an invisible, but implied violence). I’d leap frog with examples in Roy’s novel showing how resistance to the policing can be fostered in the secrecy and imagination of some of the personal relationships.

Nixon, Rob. Slow Violence and the Environmentalism of the Poor. Harvard University Press, 2011.

Nixon’s term slow violence is a concept that small acts can build up over time into large acts of violence against people and the environment. This slow accretion makes the violence hard to identify and Nixon deals with issues of representation and visibility of the poor that are affected most by it. This invisibility, brought on by a limited scope of time, is further aggravated by the speed of the digital age skewing our sense of time. Nixon supports both political and literary forms of resistance to neoliberalism, which ties in well with Roy’s writings.

I intend to piggy back on Nixon’s idea that if slow violence is thought of simply as an extension of structural violence, then it risks addressing only highly visible issues that happen quickly (sudden catastrophes). Nixon’s concept of slow violence actively avoids doing this. Roy also gives special attention to things on a smaller scale and touches on how technological connectivity prompted what feels like sudden Westernization in India. I want to apply Nixon’s ideas to the novel, to show that while the environmental violence that is present in the background of the novel is an extension of the more explicit violence in the story, we can’t disregard other factors. The novel’s temporal shifts, further distorted by a traumatized child’s memory is one factor to consider. Also, the role of the caste system in furthering the invisibility of the poor. Although Nixon deals with environmentalism, this ties in well with Foucault’s work because his modern discipline relies on a kind of invisible violence.

Roy, Arundhati. Walking with the Comrades. Penguin Books, 2001.

This book is a collection of essays combining reports on current affairs and Roy’s actual time spent in the forests, with the people continuing to lead the Maoist movement against the Indian government. I haven’t narrowed down which essays to cite, but she covers several topics relative to the novel.

I plan to “ride the scholar’s coattails” mostly on this source. Roy offers reasons as to why the Maoists are left with little choice but to arm themselves to protect their livelihoods. At the same time, she does not suggest that the solution lies in either the neoliberal agenda of the state, or the militant Communism of the Maoists. I hope to extend this viewpoint in answering the main question of this research project. Even though Roy is the author of the primary text I’m using, I also want to try to use these essays for the strategy of “crossbreeding with something new”. I think her non-fiction essays make a chase for how her fictional work adds something to what the other sources talk about.

Smith, Neil. Uneven Development: Nature, Capital, and the Production of Space. 1984. Afterword by Neil Smith, Foreword by David Harvey, 3rd edition, University of Georgia Press, 2008.

This is a book with a very wide range because it deals with social theory. The overarching concept of “uneven development” tries to explain why third world countries (which were expected to be fully integrated into the global market in a postcolonial economy) were only partially integrated as cheap resources for the rest of the market. Smith suggests that this uneven development is caused by the capitalist economy’s perpetual need to “produce” space (Smith was a geographer). I will focus of the parts about how nature is produced. Also, I plan to piggyback and show how producing space where space already exists, creates contradictions which have effects such as seen in Roy’s novel.

My motive for writing this paper is to keep continuing a scholarly conversation on postcolonial literature that deals with neocolonialism more than issues of identity. From the sources I have found so far, it seems as though scholars in other disciplines writing about these topics don’t believe that fictional literature has much to contribute to their social and historical theories. To a degree, I feel that that literary scholars do not either, when literary theory gets more and more abstracted on issues about identity.

I obviously haven’t finished my research for the paper yet, but I have general direction that I hope to reach in the conclusion. Regarding the production of space, I want to look into how this forces the erasure of old relationships to the land and people’s livelihood. Even in modern India, one’s livelihood is often inherited just as one’s blood is (under a caste system that still exists in some ways). I want to show how that suggests a consanguinity with “Mother earth”, which in turn make brothers of your neighbors. Within a postcolonial history, it’s impossible to ignore the complicated issues of inheritance, and it problematizes how neocolonialism deals with people unwilling to give up their yet “unproduced” land. The caste system helps to enforce the surveillance necessary to put down movements against the state, but at the same time it allows for this implied consanguinity with the land to continue. I want to show that in order to benefit from one aspect of caste, without condoning the other, the Indian state has criminalized the poor trying to keep their land. Roy’s literary choices show how a false narrative can turn the movement to stay linked to your land (through solidarity and love for your “brother”) into something as abhorrent as incest.

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