"Perceiving [...] in one's own body" the Violence of History, Politics and Writing: Anil's Ghost and Witness Writing

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Marinkova, Milena (2009)

This article discusses Michael Ondaatje’s novel Anil’s Ghost as a form of witness writing, which does not become a redemptive spectacle of, or a cure-all solution to, the civil war context of the text. Resisting transparent representation and absolute cognitive mechanisms, Ondaatje’s work bears witness to the irreducibility and opacity of difference through its emphasis on the corporeal and the tangible. Intimate and affectionate, witnessing emerges in the novel as a gesture of micropolitical empowerment whereby unwitnessed stories and unacknowledged witnesses are recognized and validated. Engendering anxiety rather than relief, however, the intimate and disturbing scope of Anil’s Ghost does not redeem history through art; instead, by unsettling the fundamentals of optical transparency and absolute knowledge, this act of witness writing exposes historical whitewashings and excisions, and offers affectionate caress in the irreparable sutures of macropolitical pressures.
  • References (12)
    12 references, page 1 of 2

    1 Shoshana Felman and Dori Laub, Testimony: Crises of Witnessing in Literature, Psychoanalysis, and History, London and New York: Routledge, 1992, p.108.

    2 Cathy Caruth, Unclaimed Experience: Trauma, Narrative and History, Baltimore and London: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1996; Cathy Caruth (ed.), Trauma: Explorations in Memory, introduction Cathy Caruth, London: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1995; and Elaine Scarry, The Body in Pain: The Making and Unmaking of the World, New York and Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1987.

    3 Cathy Caruth, “Recapturing the Past”, in Explorations in Memory, pp.151-7, p.153.

    21 See Julia Kristeva, Powers of Horror: An Essay on Abjection, trans. Leon S. Roudiez, New York: Columbia University Press, 1982, p.17.

    22 Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari, Kafka: Towards a Minor Literature, trans. Dana Polan, foreword Réda Bensmaïa, Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1986; and Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari, On the Line, trans. John Johnston, New York: Semiotext(e), 1983.

    23 For critiques of Ondaatje's representation of nationalist thought, see Qadri Ismail, in “A Flippant Gesture towards Sri Lanka: A Review of Michael Ondaatje's Anil's Ghost”, Pravada 6.9 (2000), 24-9; and Pradeep Jeganathan, in “Discovery: Anthropology, Nationalist Thought, Thamotharampillai Shanaathanan, and an Uncertain Descent into the Ordinary”, Lines (2002), retrieved 18 June 2007 at <http://www.lines-magazine.org>.

    24 The complicity of Western Christianity in Sri Lankan identity politics is exemplified in the Theosophical Society of Colonel Henry Olcott and Madame Helena Blavatsky, which gave rise to nineteenth-century Protestant Buddhism. See Stanley Jeyaraja Tambiah, Buddhism Betrayed? Religion, Politics, and Violence in Sri Lanka, foreword Lal Jayawardena, Chicago and London: The University of Chicago Press, 1992; and Kevin Trainor, Relics, Ritual and Representations in Buddhism: Rematerializing the Sri Lankan Theravāda Tradition, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1997. Satchi Ponnambalam and Richard Gombrich, on the other hand, attribute the rise of Sinhala-Buddhist nationalism to the embourgeoisement and urbanisation of the Buddhist faith. See The National Question and Tamil Liberation Struggle; and Richard Gombrich, Theravāda Buddhism: A Social History from Ancient Benares to Modern Colombo, London and New York: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1988.

    25 Ananda K. Coomaraswamy, Medieval Sinhalese Art, 2nd edition, New York: Pantheon Books, 1956, pp.70-5.

    26 Michel Foucault, Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison, trans. Alan Sheridan, London: Penguin books, 1991, p.136.

    27 The Body in Pain, p.14.

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