Genres of Superfluity: Land (Dis)possession and Literary Form in the Tricontinental Historical Novel

Ashwin Bajaj
Comparative Literature
UC Irvine

My dissertation is based on two premises. The first is that the horizon of contemporary anti-establishment politics on both a local and global scale rests on the control of land—a theorization shared by paradigms as wide ranging as Indigenous Critique, Contemporary Marxism, and Postcolonial Theory. Secondly, I argue that the distinctive thematic horizon of the genre of the postcolonial historical novel, which distinguishes it from others such as “realism,” is its implicit concern with land dispossession and the consequent creation of a global condition and experience of exile. To illustrate this problematic, which transcends the limits of the nation-state, I take up the work of novelists from four different continents. The Somalian Nuruddin Farah’s Maps (1986) and the South Asian Amitav Ghosh’s Ibis Trilogy (2008-2015) situate the contemporary problems of land dispossession and deterritorialization in the long durée of colonization. Building off of that problematic, the Paraguayan Augustos Bastos’ Yo, el Supremo (1986) and the indigenous author Leslie Silko’s Almanac of the Dead (1992) also begin to explore seemingly “impossible” utopian (re)solutions; in Bastos’ case, the delinking from the depredations wrought by globalized economy, and in Silko’s work, the reclamation of stolen land.