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The Politics of the Female Body

The Politics of the Female Body: Postcolonial Women Writers

Ketu H. Katrak
Copyright Date: 2006
Published by: Rutgers University Press
Pages: 328
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  • Book Info
    The Politics of the Female Body
    Book Description:

    Is it possible to simultaneously belong to and be exiled from a community? In Politics of the Female Body, Ketu H. Katrak argues that it is not only possible, but common, especially for women who have been subjects of colonial empires. Through her careful analysis of postcolonial literary texts, Katrak uncovers the ways that the female body becomes a site of both oppression and resistance. She examines writers working in the English language, including Anita Desai from India, Ama Ata Aidoo from Ghana, and Merle Hodge from Trinidad, among others. The writers share colonial histories, a sense of solidarity, and resistance strategies in the on-going struggles of decolonization that center on the body. Bringing together a rich selection of primary texts, Katrak examines published novels, poems, stories, and essays, as well as activist materials, oral histories, and pamphlets-forms that push against the boundaries of what is considered strictly literary. In these varied materials, she reveals common political and feminist alliances across geographic boundaries. A unique comparative look at women's literary work and its relationship to the body in third world societies, this text will be of interest to literary scholars and to those working in the fields of postcolonial studies and women's studies.

    eISBN: 978-0-8135-3930-0
    Subjects: Sociology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Preface Bodies of Imagination in Postcolonial Cultures
    (pp. ix-xxvi)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xxvii-xxxii)
  5. Chapter 1 Theorizing a Politics of the Female Body: Language and Resistance
    (pp. 1-55)

    This book creates a theoretical framework for a study of postcolonial women writers by giving primary attention to literary and cultural productions that participate in the process of decolonizing from indigenous and colonial patriarchy and other forms of domination. Nyasha’s words in the opening epigraph from Zimbabwean Tsitsi Dangarembga’s novel,Nervous Conditionsevoke two of the most significant concerns for postcolonial women writers: the uses of English (over indigenous languages, in this case, Shona) imposed by colonialism and how linguistic choices encode cultural belonging or alienation, and second, the female body and gendered inequities in patriarchal postcolonial society. Dangarembga among...

  6. Chapter 2 Indigenous Third World Female Traditions of Resistance: A Recuperation of Herstories
    (pp. 56-91)

    Contemporary women writers’ representations of female protagonists’ exile from their bodies and resistances to such bodily disempowerments are rooted in indigenous female traditions during pre-colonial, colonial, and postcolonial historical times. Such struggles against bodily and mental oppression often have to be recuperated from the margins of history. I excavate selected pre-colonial traditions of resistance that use the female body—via voice, silence, reproductive abilities, and militancy—to counter domination; second, I cite examples of women’s opposition to British colonial practices such as taxation. Anticolonial theorists, usually male, such as Martiniquan Frantz Fanon, or India’s Mohandas K. Gandhi, recognize the need...

  7. Chapter 3 English Education Socializing the Female Body: Cultural Alienations within the Parameters of Race, Class, and Color
    (pp. 92-155)

    Colonial power was consolidated with the chalk and blackboard, more crucial ideological tools than military might. The telling comment in Chiekh Hamidou Kane’s novel,Ambiguous Adventure, notes: “school fascinates the soul.”¹ The inculcation of English language and literature affect mental colonizations through the consent of the colonized. In a colonial structure, there are complex interconnections between the knowledge of English and raising one’s social and economic status. The colonized subject acquires a sense of power by learning, even “mimicking,” to use Homi Bhabha’s evocative analysis of how the colonized assert subjectivity, via knowledge about the colonizers’ world—their history, geography,...

  8. Chapter 4 Cultural “Traditions” Exiling the Female Body
    (pp. 156-208)

    Postcolonial women have to deal with multilayered traditions rooted in indigenous custom with overlays of colonial influence. Resisting tradition, such as “refusing to be Sitas” is an important aspect of my study. Traditions exile the body especially when, as Mani indicates, tradition itself is made more important than women. Ironically, such attitudes buttressed by indigenous and colonial impacts continue to haunt women—during pre-colonial times, as well as during nationalist struggles when women are required to carry the additional burden of being the guardians of tradition, particularly against the colonizer, and into the postcolonial era. In women writers’ representations, there...

  9. Chapter 5 Motherhood Demystified
    (pp. 209-243)

    Control of female sexuality is legitimized, even effectively mystified under the name of “tradition.” Motherhood is a key tradition venerated and glorified often outside of its realistic parameters in terms of mothers’ actual struggles of feeding and rearing children. Women writers contest such mystification, especially the equation of womanhood with motherhood. In many traditional societies, a woman’s sole purpose is to bear children; motherhood is her sole and only identity. As a mother, her outsiderness to patriarchal power is slightly ameliorated especially if she bears sons who will preserve male authority. In most traditional societies, infertility is considered a woman’s...

  10. Conclusion
    (pp. 244-250)

    This study establishes a field of literary study on postcolonial women writers and gives serious scholarly attention to postcolonial women writers such as Ama Ata Aidoo, Bessie Head, Erna Brodber, Eunice de Souza among others. They are pioneers in this field, and serve as models for younger writers such as Tsitsi Dangarembga, Lorna Goodison, and Merle Hodge among others.

    Politics of the Female Bodymakes an important scholarly contribution in analyzing postcolonial women writers’ representations of female exile from the body and community, and resistance via speech and silence, and the outcome that may be fatal or positive such as...

  11. Notes
    (pp. 251-278)
  12. Index
    (pp. 279-292)
  13. Back Matter
    (pp. 293-294)