Parallel panels, session 2

Thursday, May 13, 2:50 pm (UTC+2)

Setup phase for presenters starts at 2:30 am.

2.1 – Extraction, Expropriation, Resistance

Rajani Sudan, Southern Methodist University:
Mines, Minerals, Mimesis, and Memory

I will address the relationship between transnational electronic technology and its contemporary mining practices to an early modern moment when mining and technology coincided with such force that it altered the landscape of global economy. Much of the language generated by transnational corporations celebrates electronic technology as a “greener” system for exchanging knowledge. I claim that this language duplicates the language of earlier colonial and imperial resource extractions and knowledge exchanges. I examine four themes in this linguistic nexus: extraction, inflation, ecology, and work. Eighteenth-century Britain fantasized about inexhaustible troves of bullion in the Americas in spite of the fact that scarcity, not abundance, creates value. Ideologies of scarcity and abundance led to technological development and managerial reorganization, established a new expertise of extraction, promoted the fiction of wealth in excess of labor, and displaced an aristocratic ethos onto a putatively sustainable venture capitalist economy. In the face of Spain’s command of New World bullion—pieces of eight, fashioned from bullion mined in their holdings in New Spain and Peru, were the first example of global currency—Britain created the South Sea Company that gambled on the false reports of limitless troves of gold and silver, and that eventually collapsed as a bubble. Imperial ideologies of mining and its language of scarcity and abundance–for example, lode, extraction, and work–also define global electronic technology, particularly computers and other forms of wireless exchange that by circulating knowledge and wealth, including Bitcoin, also create it. Rare earth minerals, for example, are in fact quite abundant on earth and in every computer, as one can learn by Googling the term. But they are difficult to isolate, used in minimal amounts, and are thus rare, controlled by a few nations and corporations at great human and environmental cost. Notions of scarce and abundant minerals, vital to wireless technologies are largely responsible for the many civil wars waged in Africa and labor abuses in Asia, much as were gold, diamonds, and oil in past colonial settings. While we think the ecological solutions to global problems like climate change rest in more and better digital and computer technology just as earlier societies believed that more gold would solve their problems, our technology comes out of the earth with all the material and ecological implications of the past.

 

Rajani Sudan holds a PhD from Cornell University and is now professor of English at Dedman College, SMU. Trained as a romanticist, her work focusses on the global encounters of the first British Empire. Her first book, Fair Exotics: Xenophobic Subjects in English Literature traces the simultaneous fascination with and fear of foreign people, a twin sensibility that underpinned Romantic subjectivity. Her second book, The Alchemy of Empire: Abject Materials and the Technologies of Colonialism, examines the non-European origins of that quintessential European era, the Enlightenment. Currently, she is working on her third book, The Dirt in the Machine: A Place History of the Internet.

 
Rebecca Macklin, University of Leeds/University of Pennsylvania:
“Seeing through the end of the world”: Storytelling and Environmental Crisis in the Fiction of Leanne Betasamosake Simpson

Following Kyle Powys Whyte, who argues that climate change must be understood as an intensification of colonialism, this paper considers Indigenous North American responses to the threats posed by rising waters. When ways of life are dependent on enduring connections to specific landscapes, changing waterscapes can result in changing forms of community, disrupting how peoples relate to water, lands and local ecosystems. In the fiction of Anishinaabe author Leanne Betasamosake Simpson, waterscapes are centred in terms of the connection they provide to Indigenous traditions and forms of knowledge. In order to contemplate the rising waters caused by anthropogenic climate change, Simpson’s collection This Accident of Being Lost draws on Anishinaabe origin stories that begin with the image of a flood. These stories tell of a world being brought into existence through the combined efforts of non-human creatures.

Implicit within Simpson’s fiction is the suggestion that the apocalypse has already happened for Indigenous peoples, placing the ‘event’ of anthropogenic climate change on a continuum of colonial violence. Yet, her stories assert the resilience of Indigenous peoples and cultures, conveying how traditions have survived and adapted over centuries. At the “last big flood”, Simpson writes, “we danced a new world into existence”. While many people are now looking to Indigenous communities in the hope that Traditional Ecological Knowledge (TEK) can help humanity to respond to the climate crisis, Simpson’s work crucially rejects the extractive and exoticising dynamic that characterizes the way that Indigenous groups are frequently incorporated into settler society. Further, I suggest that Simpson’s recovery of Anishinaabe stories and ways of knowing refutes colonial definitions of science, instead locating storytelling as central to environmental adaptation behaviours.

 

Rebecca Macklin is Mellon Postdoctoral Fellow at the Penn Program in Environmental Humanities, University of Pennsylvania, having completed her PhD at the University of Leeds in 2020. Her current research project examines literary and cultural engagements with gender, indigeneity and environmental justice. She has published work in ariel, Interventions and The British Journal of Canadian Studies, and in 2019 co-edited a special issue of Transmotion on Native American Narratives in a Global Context.

 
Eduardo Erazo Acosta, Universidad de Nariño, Colombia:
The Power of the Ancestral Philosophy of Alli Kawsay (Buen Vivir) in the Indigenous Movements of Colombia – Ecuador vs. the Exclusion by the Big Mining Development, Contribution to the Rights of Mother Nature from the Global South

The purpose of this paper is to demonstrate the urgency of listening to the indigenous epistemologies of Sumak Kawsay (in kichwa language: Buen vivir-Good Living) and also to support the care/defense of the biodiversity-rich indigenous territories of the Andean region. As a research question: How is the Anthropocene affecting indigenous territories and with it the threats of the epistemologies of the Sumak Kawsay/Buen vivir? This paper draws on ethnographic research that has been carried out in the last 7 years, in the Republics of Colombia and Ecuador, in the Indigenous Regional Council of Cauca CRIC, and The Indigenous Confederation of Ecuador CONAIE. The ethnographic methods used include interviews, participant observation, and documentary analysis. Theoretical references are the epistemologies of indigenous communities and the work of indigenous intellectuals. The Anthropocene considerably affects the flora and fauna in the Pan-Amazonas region, the glaciers, water reserves, and the páramos – places where the water is born for the species. These changes strongly affect the cosmovision of native communities: Due to its high impact in high mountain areas, climate change causes the melting of glaciers, strong droughts, seasonal changes for food production, and water shortages; the resulting displacement of animals and indigenous people affects indigenous traditions and cosmovisions due to geographical relocation and spatial socio-cultural changes. Key to comment how from the epistemologies, their spirituality’s, indigenous cosmovision, the elders (grandparents and grandmothers) announce that if there is no respect for the species on earth, catastrophe comes, which is already evident from modern science. Sumak Kawsay is considered by decolonial theory as an alternative to development or alternative development on the epistemological basis of the indigenous movement, the basis of current governments/states. Without a doubt Sumak Kawsay is difficult to implement or to live in praxis in the midst of individualistic societies with accelerated urban growth or in societies structured by fossil fuels; in addition, there is a radical reactionary anti-movement indigenous right that watches over environmental care. Sumak Kawsay is part of the alternatives to development suggested by the indigenous cosmovision. Its dimensions include cosmovision, solidary economies, individual rights, individual health, individual education and a strong spiritual base of respect to the mother earth. As an epistemology of respect for life, Sumak Kawsay is linked to “The Rights of Nature”, which has already been included in articles 70 to 74 of the Political Constitution of the Republic of Ecuador in 2008. In the midst of the great destruction by mining and resource extraction at a global level, indigenous communities are more affected because it is precisely in their territories where there is mineral wealth that great mining increases, putting the animal and plant species that live in indigenous territories at greater risk, as well as the ancestral knowledge/indigenous worldview. In this way, when indigenous communities defend Mother Nature (Pachamama) politically, they also take care of the biological chain in terms of wealth and biodiversity or geostrategic areas, life reserves at a global level.

 

Eduardo Erazo Acosta is a sociologist working in the research group “Curriculum and University” attached to the Colombian Department of Science, Technology and Innovation at the Universidad de Nariño, Nariño, Colombia. He has 14 years of research experience on social movements, politics and violence in the Andean region. His research interests include decoloniality, migration, human rights, Andean ancestral thought, social movements and philosophy of Buen Vivir.

 

2.2 – Science in Speculative Fiction II: SF and Indigenous Epistemologies

Alessandra Boller, University of Siegen:
“I’m a patented new fucking life form”- Material Practices of Knowing and Becoming in Larissa Lai’s Speculative Fiction

Employing a new materialist approach, my proposed talk reads storytelling and experimenting as material practices and discursive performances that imbue reality with meaning and thus have tangible effects on discourses and practices in a material-semiotic world. Hence, instead of adhering to Anthropocene discourse, which is informed by western grand narratives and the paradigm of modernity with its ideas of progress and of knowledge production as being effected by neutral scientific research, I follow Karen Barad, who regards knowing as a matter of responsiveness and intra-acting, an ongoing performance of the world that always involves diverse practices. On this basis, I argue that speculative fiction narratives incorporate the potential to contribute to epistemological reconfigurings and thus re-worlding by imagining a form of knowing that entangles culture and bio-scientific technologies. Read through a new materialist lens, such narratives challenge and transcend the optimistic eco-modernist mentality of Anthropocene discourse and experiment with ideas of how to re(al)locate agency, dissolving boundary-making practices that produce grievable and agential subjects on the one hand, and exploitable, ‘bare’ lives on the other. I will approach Larissa Lai’s speculative fiction, particularly her novel Salt Fish Girl, as narratives that engender a reflection on the trajectories of neo-/bio-colonialism and on knowledge-making practices that are neither neutral nor independent from discursive practices. Despite its bleak scenario, which centres on the impact of capitalist and neo-/bio-colonialist discourse and practice on lives produced as not sufficiently human, the novel points towards u(s)topian possibilities of re-worlding, providing strategies for narrating non-anthropocentric and non-Eurocentric realities. By foregrounding material practices of knowing and becoming, it joins commonly separated discourses in a speculative fiction contact zone and thereby imagines how a collaboration of the disenfranchised tells big-enough, sympoietic stories of de-colonisation.

 

Dr. Alessandra Boller is the author of Rethinking ‘the Human’ in Dystopian Times (2017) as well as co-editor of Dystopia, Science Fiction, Post-Apocalypse: Classics – New Tendencies – Model Interpretations (2016) and Canadian Ecologies Beyond Environmentalism – Culture, Media, Art, Ethnicities (2020). She is currently working as a researcher and lecturer at the University of Siegen, Germany. Her research interests include ecocriticism, biotechnology and bioethics, post-colonial narratives, dystopian narratives, gender studies and feminism, Irish and British short fiction. She has published articles and book chapters on speculative fiction, dystopian novels and drama, and contemporary Irish literature. She is currently working on a project tentatively titled “‘New Narratives’: Feminism, Posthumanism and Speculative Fiction” and on a study that analyses the intertwined developments and dynamics of an emerging Irish literary market, nationalist discourses and the beginnings of the Irish short story in the 1820s and 30s..

 
Julia Gatermann, University of Hamburg:
Bodies of Knowledge – Discredited Sciences and Technologies of Resistance in Larissa Lai’s The Tiger Flu

The hegemonic discourse of Western science, supposedly neutral and value free, has increasingly come under scrutiny – not only in academia by interdisciplinary fields such as postcolonial science and technology studies but also in a larger public through cultural artifacts that open up the topic to a wider societal negotiation. In my contribution, I analyze how Lai’s novel The Tiger Flu (2018) critically engages with (neo-)colonial oppression and a science discourse instrumentalized to aid in this process. In her dystopian world, the reign of Western science, blinded by notions of its own exceptionalism and superiority and too fraught with neoliberal capitalist interests, has come to an end. In order to survive in her dystopian world, rendered inhospitable by climate change, scarcity, and a global pandemic called the tiger flu that has brought humanity close to extinction, adaptability becomes key, and new and dynamic solutions are needed. These solutions, the novel suggests, can be found in alternative, indigenous knowledge traditions that, by creatively adapting Western science and technology to its own, more holistic approach, can make life sustainable again. Lai unsettles and upends the pervasive trope of techno-Orientalism in her novel and employs it to suggest creative postcolonial processes of a syncretization of different knowledge traditions and transgressive ways to re-think human identity as the way towards a more equal and egalitarian future. What is striking here is that a successful resistance against neo-colonial oppression seems to require a profound transformation, a hybridity that Lai envisions on a level deeper than the skin, a transcendence of the human as we know it which is closely tied to alternative (scientific) knowledge traditions.

 

Julia Gatermann is a PhD candidate in American Studies at the University of Hamburg where she is currently writing her dissertation with the working title “Representations of Fluid Sexuality and Gender Identity in Contemporary American Culture.” She works as a researcher at the University of Bremen for the interdisciplinary research project “Fiction Meets Science II” with the subproject “Science in Postcolonial Speculative Fiction: Nature/Politics/Economies Re-imagined.” From its inception in 2010 to 2020, she served as a member on the board of the Gesellschaft für Fantastikforschung (German research association for the fantastic in the arts).

 
Christina Slopek, Heinrich-Heine-University Düsseldorf:
Specious Species Taxonomies: Porosity and Interspecies Constellations in Nalo Hopkinson’s Midnight Robber

Cogito ergo sum, 17th century French philosopher Descartes famously proclaimed. By anchoring being in thinking, he placed emphasis on sentience and reason. Reason became one of the central pillars of Western science (cf. Stengers 1993, 21). As a consequence, the thrust of Western notions of science devalued non-Western systems of meaning-making or sciences (and continues to do so) (cf. 24). Furthermore, the emphasis on narrowly defined sentience as a criterion of being contributes greatly to anthropocentrism (cf. Oppermann and Iovino 2017, 12). Especially in the last few decades, theorists have questioned the Cartesian legacy. To name but a few: Haraway’s cyborg, “a hybrid of machine and organism” (1985, 65), serves as a foil for more parity in an ideal world, undoing distinctions between organic and digital being(s) in its stride. In the same vein, Haraway’s later “oddkin” (2016, 2) as a rally cry for interspecies connections and Derrida’s revision of the animal as category (cf. 2006, 8) demand greater recognition of other(ed) species. Nalo Hopkinson’s Afrofuturist novel Midnight Robber (2000) is a stellar example of postcolonial science fiction which imagines such productively unconventional connections between “humans and other animals” (Wolfe 2013) as well as between humans and digital entities. I argue that the ties that develop between species in tandem with the novel’s cyborg characters showcase the “porosity” (Stein 2017, 140) of boundaries between forms of being and thus revise anthropocentrism from a postcolonial perspective, affirming non-Eurocentric and non-anthropocentric forms of knowing the world. The novel’s entanglements of the human and the more-than-human powerfully deconstruct the otherness of animals, incorporating interspecies connections within the frame of porosity. Moreover, in Midnight Robber, one of the more-than-human species takes on the role of the colonized (cf. Langer 2011, 67). Therefore, the novel’s negotiation of species taxonomies is indissolubly tied to postcolonial criticism.

 

Christina Slopek has recently finished her master’s program at Heinrich Heine University Düsseldorf with a thesis on queerness and porosity in contemporary transcultural novels. She is a soon-to-be postgraduate assistant and PhD student in the department of Anglophone Studies and Literary Translation at HHU Düsseldorf, where she is currently employed as a graduate assistant and lecturer. Prominent among her research interests are postcolonial, queer and trauma studies. At the moment, she is teaching a bachelor seminar on non-human influences in anglophone fiction and co-authoring an article on psychiatry in the anglophone novel.

 

2.3 – Science, Technology, and Postcolonial Nationalism

Luz-Maria Gasser, University of Potsdam:
Reaching for the Stars: Postcolonial ‘Science’, Progress and Irony

Scholars have long acknowledged the imbrication of scientific discourse with the violence of colonialism (Mudimbe 1991). The emergence of science fiction is similarly interwoven with such discourses, and embedded in histories of imperialist expansionism (Rieder 2004). Narratives of progress are a significant feature of the confluence of colonialism and science fiction. Scientific discourse enabled the construction of the colonial Other as primitive and in need of the “progress” (scientific and otherwise) brought by colonisers, serving the violent erasure of Indigenous epistemologies rendered untenable by the civilising mission’s will to exclusivity. An investment in progress (often technological) is also crucial to the envisioning of futures and alternative presents common to science fiction narratives. The linearity of these progress narratives produces a particular temporality. In science fiction narratives, the present is often rendered as the past of a prefigured future. In the figuration of traditional colonial anthropology, the colonised Other’s present is the coloniser’s past. In 1964, anticolonial struggle fighter Edward Mukuka Nkoloso was the self-appointed head of the Zambia National Academy of Science, Space Research and Philosophy’s space programme. Zambia’s space programme, much-ridiculed at the time, is an ambivalent phenomenon, refracted in contemporary newspaper reports, later photo and video installations, and most recently in Namwali Serpell’s The Old Drift (2019). In contrast to the colonial-racist framing of many early responses to it, the space programme can also be read as canny instrumentalisation by Zambians of the “science” taught by colonisers, in an anticolonial feint mobilised to mimic a desire to participate in a prescriptive trajectory of progress – deemed out of their league – while in fact animated in the name of a different “progressive” goal. In this paper, I consider the Zambian space programme at the nexus of scientific discourse, narratives of progress, and irony.

 

Lucy Gasser is lecturer in Anglophone literatures at the University of Potsdam. She was a doctoral fellow with the Research Training Group Minor Cosmopolitanisms from 2016 to 2019, and a visiting researcher at Delhi University in 2017. She completed her undergraduate and master’s degrees at the University of Cape Town, South Africa. Lucy has published on world literature, South-South relations, and postcolonial perspectives on the Cold War, and is co-founder of pocolit.com, a bilingual platform for postcolonial literatures. Her book East and South: Mapping Other Europes is forthcoming with Routledge in July 2021.

 
Fabian Hempel, Forschungszentrum Ungleichheit und Sozialpolitik; Krutika Patri, University of Bremen:
Manu Joseph’s Serious Men as a Subaltern Prism on Modern Science and Indian Society

In our presentation we propose an intersectional reading of Manu Joseph’s Serious Men to explore the relationship between modern science and contemporary Indian Society. Cast in the realist aesthetics of modern Dalit literature, we consider the novel as a critical narrative representation of the institution of science in India that allows to rethink the multi-layered role of science in postcolonial settings, especially with regard to the cultural understanding of the autonomy of science and against the standard account of science as a pure social force that triggers and sustains the social development of societies in the Global South. The novel reflects, among other aspects, on the Janus-faced impact of the institutionalization of science in modern India from a subaltern perspective. In that regard, Joseph’s story about the co-dependency of a lower-class, Dalit assistant and an upper-class, Brahmin director of a fundamental research institute in Mumbai offers two interpretative angles: 1. A hegemonic position of collision avoidance as indigenous forces re-direct the organization of science to preserve/entrench the traditional social order. 2. A subaltern position that attempts to break the wheel of conservative and contemporary social stratification as characters excluded from institutional positions of power exercise their agency to manipulate the political strife within their workplace. In the first reading, the autonomy of science degrades into social irresponsibility; in the second, the autonomy of science is used, for right or for wrong, as a weapon against multiple structures of oppression. Based on both angles, the novel sheds new light on the conventional view of an autonomous science as a self-evident component of the “package” of (apparently postcolonial) modernities.

 

Fabian Hempel is a sociological research fellow at the University of the Armed Forces Munich and a PhD student in Sociology at the University of Bremen. A graduate in Modern South Asian Studies with a focus on Science Studies from Humboldt University of Berlin, his dissertation project examines the cultural differences in the conceptions of the autonomy of science. Both are associated with the Fiction Meets Science research program that explores sociocultural and literary aspects of novels and other forms of storytelling about science, paying particular attention to narratives that reflect the global dimensions and diverse regional contexts of science.

 

Krutika Patri is a doctoral researcher in English Studies at the University of Bremen. Her master’s was acquired in European Studies with an area focus of European Literature and Culture from Manipal University, India. Her PhD project concentrates on the multimodal representation of the ‘genius’ scientist in television serials.

 
Souvik Kar, Indian Institute of Technology Hyderabad:
The Empire Bombs Back: The Indian Nuclear Tests of 1998 and the Curious Case of Parmanu: The Story of Pokhran (2018)

Few technologies lend themselves to visual imagination as much as nuclear weapons. Nuclear testing, during the Cold War, concretized the idea of the mushroom cloud as an icon of technocratic mastery, correspondingly translated into political capital in Western cinema as Joyce A. Evans (1998) showed. While nuclear weapons have been celebrated as part of Indian postcolonial recovery, Raminder Kaur (2013) showed that the usual formula for depicting nuclear issues in Indian cinema has been nuclear terrorism and the Indian state’s successful countering of such. Otherwise expansive, this analysis requires to be updated with respect to renewed cultural interest in India, (in the wake of the return to power of the right-wing Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), who had originally overseen the 1998 tests) about a different nuclear theme-nuclear tests. I will argue that the Bollywood movie Parmanu: The Story of Pokhran (2018), dramatizing the 1998 Pokhran-II nuclear tests, stages a new direction for Indian nuclear culture in its historiographic, avowedly nationalist exercise, locating the bomb as a valorized object at the heart of its project of “bombing back to the empire”, in a postcolonial game of evading (and thereby defeating) American satellite surveillance (and non-proliferation coercion). Parmanu’s showcasing of the intriguing entanglements of the discourses of family, Hindu mythology and postcolonial science with the cultural discourse of the Bomb call for critical attention to the gaps and fissures that mark these entanglements and the way they disintegrate under tensions generated by the Bomb. Decolonizing what is still a largely US, Europe and Japan-centric nuclear criticism, my paper will also thus critically analyse the way the movie occludes the Indian state’s internalization of a “nuclear neocolonialism”, with respect to both local narratives of ecological disruption and radiation poisoning (such as of the Bishnoi tribes indigenous to the area of the tests) and other critical cinematic depictions of the tests (such as Anand Patwardhan’s documentary Jung aur Aman (War and Peace, 2002)).

 

Souvik Kar is a PhD Scholar in the Discipline of English, Department of Liberal Arts, at Indian Institute of Technology Hyderabad, India. He writes and performs his poetry, and is interested in nuclear studies, apocalyptic literature and postcolonial Indian science fiction.

 

2.4 – Under Construction II

Fabienne Blaser, University of Berne:
Trouble in Paradise: The Beach as the Site of Disaster. Coastal Disaster Representations in Contemporary Anglophone Fiction

Current disaster research in the humanities has largely ignored the significance of the coast even though these areas are disproportionately affected by disasters and are inhabited by half the earth’s population (Gillis 2012, 1). While many scholars include what I would call coastal disaster representations (e.g. Rigby 2020; Rastogi 2020; O’Loughlin 2015), they do so from a cause-related point of view, as examples of one kind of “natural” disaster (e.g. flood, tsunami). Contrarily, I propose “coastal disaster” as a category that allows us to categorise and analyse literary disaster representations differently, namely from a spatial perspective. Such an approach allows for a more fluid definition of disaster, which emphasises connections rather than separations. Drawing on theories of ecocriticism, disaster studies and postcolonial studies, I aim to focus on the multiple meanings and effects the coastal setting has on postcolonial disaster narratives. The coast is prone to many different disasters: particularly in the Global South, oil spills, tsunamis, cyclones and flooding affect communities repeatedly. Often, these disasters interconnect, making it hard to disentangle “natural” or “human” causes. The examined texts underline the multi-layered impact and long-lasting consequences of disasters. The categorisation into a presupposed normality (“before”) and a return to everyday life (“after”) is questioned: pre-existing vulnerabilities blur the lines of the beginning of the disaster, while grief and ongoing destruction question the disaster’s end. By using recurring places to reconcile the timelines of “before” and “after”, disaster narratives depict disaster as a process rather than a rupture, as entangled rather than isolated. Thus, focusing on coastal disaster representations is an opportunity to address intersecting vulnerabilities, and expand and question extant disaster definitions.

 

Fabienne Blaser is a PhD student and Directors’ Assistant at the University of Bern. She was selected as one of two doctoral students to be part of the SNSF-funded project The Beach in the Long Twentieth Century, under the supervision of Prof. Dr. Virginia Richter and PD Dr. Ursula Kluwick. Fabienne Blaser is working on her dissertation, which examines representations of coastal disaster in contemporary anglophone literature and is methodologically situated at the intersection of disaster studies, ecocriticism and littoral studies. She previously completed her MA in English at the University of Bern. Her research interests are contemporary anglophone literature, postcolonial literatures, ecocriticism, disaster studies, blue humanities, the beach in literature and spatial studies.

 
Indrani Karmakar, TU Chemnitz:
Mother in the Making: Commercial Surrogacy and the Politics of Motherhood in the Fictions of Two Indian Women Writers

A contested terrain within feminist discourse, motherhood has garnered wide critical attention lately, owing to the flourishing of Artificial Reproductive Technology (ART). On the one hand liberal, pro-choice discourse advocates for surrogacy on the basis of choice and agency, and on the other hand the feminist ‘ethnographic approach’ brings to the fore the often-abject lived experiences of surrogate mothers of the Global South. This paper considers this increasingly contentious concern through the lens of fiction by two contemporary Indian women writers, Kishwar Desai and Meera Syal. As such, through their fictions, the paper investigates how the politics of motherhood shapes and is reshaped by ART in the context of a staggeringly unequal, class-and-caste-ridden India. While Desai’s novel, Origins of Love (2013) uses the generic conventions of a crime thriller to focus intensely on uncovering the complex web of criminality surrounding commercial surrogacy in India, Meera Syal’s The House of Hidden Mothers (2015) comes closer to domestic fiction in its delineation of ageing, female body and the reconfigured colonizer/colonized relationship in the surrogacy industry. Both the novels present many of the pressing concerns which accompany such a booming and exploitative industry operating within a capitalist market, while also excavating the affective aspects of individual choices. Drawing on such feminist thinkers as Banu Subramanian and Alison Bailey, the paper first examines the issues raised in the novels in the light of the feminist debates around commercial surrogacy. Second, I explore the ways in which the fictions illustrate a contingent nature of agency in relation to motherhood and the appropriation of the maternal body. The paper concludes with the argument that the literary representations of surrogacy suggest a constructedness of notions of motherhood, an idea that has profound and ambivalent implications in the Indian context.

 

Dr Indrani Karmakar has recently joined Chemnitz University of Technology as an Alexander von Humboldt Postdoctoral Fellow. Her research project focuses on non-normative mothering modes in South Asian women’s writing. Her research interests include postcolonial literature; motherhood; gender and sexuality; migration and diaspora. She is the social media editor of the Journal of Commonwealth Literature.