Postnational Feminism in the Postmodern Novels of Transnational Women Writers

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2016-05

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Abstract

While the modern European novel can reconcile nationalist sentiment with feminist concerns, the contemporary literature of globalization often represents new subjectivities that ultimately privilege either postcolonial nationalism or Western feminism, resulting in debates between postcolonial nationalists and feminists. This dissertation intervenes in these debates by considering how both nationalist and Western feminist discourses rely on a Western Enlightenment “self”/“Other” binary opposition that constructs identity around a single characteristic, like nationality or gender, and marginalizes others.
Because transnationalism often intensifies nationalist sentiments, transnational women can feel particularly conflicted by these concerns. Thus, I consider how some transnational women writers avail themselves of a postmodern understanding of multiple subjectivities, new conceptions of time and space, and the possibilities of nonstandard language and experimental forms to reconfigure nationalism and feminism, destabilizing this “self”/ “Other” binary and creating a space of “postnational feminism.” Chapter Two compares the modern novel Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre to Mohja Kahf’s The Girl in the Tangerine Scarf and considers how the notion of a unified, centered subject, based on a “self”/ “Other” binary, leads to conflicting nationalist and feminist sentiments in the contemporary era of globalization. However, the multiple subjectivities in Kahf’s novel deconstruct this binary and present Islam as a postnational feminist alternative to nationalism. Chapter Three then considers how a Western Enlightenment sense of time and space creates the modern nation and excludes all kinds of differences, like those of gender and sexuality. While Salman Rushdie’s postmodern destabilization of “the nation” maintains the “self”/ “Other” binary in gender construction, Ameena Meer’s Bombay Talkie dismantles it in terms of nation and gender, depicting what the time and space of postnational feminism looks like. Chapter Four analyzes how language and form affect this binary by comparing two memoirs, Bharati Mukherjee’s Days and Nights in Calcutta and Theresa Hak Kyung Cha’s Dictee. While Mukherjee’s realistic narrative employs standard form and language and repeats Orientalist depictions of Indian women, Cha regards standard language and literary form as hostile to difference. In her use of nonstandard language and experimental forms, she merges “self” with “Other” and illustrates how it enables postnational feminism.

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Keywords

Postnational Feminism, Feminism, Nationalism, Transnational Women, Postmodern Novel

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