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Postcolonial and Feminist Grotesque

Texts of Contemporary Excess

Maria Sofia Pimentel Biscaia

Based on a dialogical premise, this book provides a comparative analysis of two interrelated literary fields: postcolonial and women’s/feminist, viewed through the ideological and aesthetic prism of the grotesque. The author examines the work of novelists such as Githa Hariharan, Salman Rushdie, Gabriel García Márquez, Robert Coover and Ben Okri, selected to reveal the range and intensity of the grotesque in contemporary fiction through their de/constructions of gender and postcolonial politics.
Complementary fields with the grotesque are considered through theorisations of Mary Russo, Julia Kristeva, Martha Reineke, René Girard and other intellectuals. Various literary formulations/frameworks are discussed to supplement views presented in the canonical texts of Mikhail Bakhtin and Wolfgang Kayser: post-colonial feminine identity/alterity/exoticism; postcolonial national identity; female grotesqueness and animal metamorphosis; abjectification; the principle of sacrificial economy; mythologisations of feminine martyrdom and motherhood; religious and political tyranny associated with imperialism and re-appropriation of carnivalesque-grotesque types in postmodernity.


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Cultural and Literary Criticism: Locations of the Grotesque


1. Introduction If I seem a little bizarre, remember the wild pro- fusion of my inheritance… perhaps, if one wishes to remain an individual in the midst of the teem- ing multitude, one must make oneself grotesque. Salman Rushdie, Midnight’s Children, 109 The passage in The Satanic Verses (1988) describing the metamorphosis of an Indian man into a giant goat arises in the reader conflicting feelings ranging from repulsion to amusement. Saladin Chamcha himself giggles at the sight of his hairy legs, hoofs and horns, incredulous at his new self. At the same time he is made to personify evil. The scene has convinc- ingly been discussed as a metaphor for animalisation, a sort of objectifi- cation to which immigrants from former colonies are submitted on their arrival to England1. Gibreel Farishta and Saladin Chamcha, the two Indi- ans who contend throughout The Satanic Verses, go through manifest physical changes after treading on English ground: Gibreel exhibits a halo and Saladin metamorphoses into a bleating goat. The latter is di- rected to a sanatorium where he encounters all sorts of zoological hu- mans: a manticore, a water-buffalo woman, Nigerian men with sturdy tails, Senegalese snake-men, a wolf-man, giraffe-necked women, rhinoc- eros-men and individuals partially plant, giant insect, brick and stone, and even glass-skinned. It could be argued that these metamorphoses make visible the type of strangeness and sense of estrangement caused by foreigness and particularly by immigration. They are marks of their difference. However, when goatish Saladin enquiries about all...

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