Seminar: "Maritime Transmodernities and the Ibis Trilogy"
Speaker: Anupama Mohan
Abstract: Amitav Ghosh remains an atypical member of the postcolonial club (as it were) because of his insistent focus upon the sea (rather than land) as the locus for viewing/understanding the historical and cultural encounters between the West and the non-West. Indeed, where much postcolonial writing remains centred on issues of land, dispossession, and diaspora, Ghosh has shown, in some of his recent works, a remarkable dissidence in his interests in the sea and, in what I, adapting the Latin American philosopher Enrique Dussel, call, “maritimetransmodernities” in order to launch his critique of both Eurocentrism and its equally problematic ‘agon’, critical post-colonialism.
Through a close reading of the coastal, littoral, and maritime in the three novels that comprise the Ibis Trilogy, I hope to show the ways in which Ghosh’s interest has subtly shifted from land and territorial structures for articulating and critiquing contemporary political events (*The Calcutta Chromosome*, 1995; *The Shadow Lines*, 1998) to the sea and to maritime frameworks for understanding the deeper, more genealogically complex currents of human interaction across time and space, a move that marks such works as *The Hungry Tide*, 2004 and the Ibis Trilogy, 2008-15. Such a move entails the transformation of the "postmodern" novel into what one might call the "transmodern" novel and my structuralist reading of the changing dynamics of the21st century novel will, I hope, help draw new frames for understanding the genre, even as if we remain aware of intersections and overlaps.
What does such a shift from the postmodern to the transmodern signify for postcolonial studies, which remains, in important ways, focused upon (and encumbered by) land movements for territorial justice? How do the twin foci – on land and sea – come together in the novels of the Ibis Trilogy in terms of contemporary “problems” such as “refugeeism” while also being the bulwark of a certain kind of celebratory humanism in the form of “multiculturalism”? Indeed, how can the novel respond to the call recently made by geographers Jean-Marie Kowalski and David Bodenhamer "to re-think our historical imagination and envisage new spatialities via a water history of the world"? These are some questions that I will explore in my paper in order to decentre Eurocentric conceptions of modernity that continue to firmly undergird the postmodern and the postcolonial. In counterpoint, this paper presents through a reading of the Ibis Trilogy as an illustration of the transmodern, a way to understand how the world and the region have been integrally shaped by the "thicker" and historically complex patterns of maritime interconnections among global communities.