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Tracking modernity: Writing the rails of empire
This dissertation explores the experience of modernity outside of Europe by considering the portrayal of the railway in selected literature of Africa, the Middle East, and South Asia. I examine what I see as a mutually constitutive process: the way subjectivity is constructed within modernity, and the way modernity, in turn, transforms as it travels to the “periphery.” My dissertation explores these transformations by looking at the way people inhabit, resist and remake the spaces in and around the railway. Using literary works by Senegalese writer Sembène Ousmane, Turkish poet Nâzim Hikmet, and selected South Asian writers, I consider the place of aesthetics and representation in this process. I argue that all these authors contribute to a genre that might be called postcolonial modernism, literature from the Third World that is both creating and responding to the advent of modernity. ^ Chapter One provides an overview of theories of modernity. My discussion brings together those critics who theorize modernity primarily within the Western context and those who have opened a discussion of alternative modernities. Chapter Two introduces contemporary theories of space as a way to explore how modernity travels. Looking specifically at spaces of the railway, I consider how modernity is realized through material and imaginative practices. Chapter Three focuses on Sembène Ousmane's God's Bits of Wood (1960), and demonstrates how the novel's conflict between generations during the colonial period reveals two relationships to modernity that coexist in the colonial setting. My fourth chapter brings the discussion to the context of South Asia and the literature of partition, including Khushwant Singh's novel Train to Pakistan (1956). I argue that these Indian and Pakistani writers represent the railway as a contradictory space traversing a geography fragmented by communal allegiances. Chapter Five analyzes Turkish poet Nâzim Hikmet's epic poem Human Landscapes (1950), written during a period of intense national modernization. I present Hikmet's view of modernity as an ambivalent one, representing the altered modes of perception brought by modern technology at the same time underscoring, through his portrayal of the Turkish peasantry, the fact that modernity has not fulfilled its promise of emancipation. ^
Literature, Comparative|Literature, Modern|Literature, Asian|Literature, African
Marian Ida Aguiar,
"Tracking modernity: Writing the rails of empire"
(January 1, 2000).
Electronic Doctoral Dissertations for UMass Amherst.