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Towards a new geographical consciousness: a study of place in the novels of V. S. Naipaul and J. M. Coetzee

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posted on 2023-06-07, 16:02 authored by Taraneh Borbor
Focusing on approaches to place in selected novels by J. M. Coetzee and V. S. Naipaul, this thesis explores how postcolonial literature can be read as contributing to the reimagining of decolonised, decentred or multi-centred geographies. I will examine the ways in which selected novels by Naipaul and Coetzee engage with the sense of displacement and marginalization generated by imperial mappings of the colonial space. My chosen texts contribute to the decentralizing tendencies of postcolonialism by deconstructing the tropes of boundaries from the perspective of those who have been marginalized on the basis of their race, gender or geographical origins. The work of Edward Said, bell hooks, Edward Soja, Gillian Rose and Homi Bhabha provide a means for me to explain how the displaced subjects relate to places in the postcolonial context. Accordingly, Coetzee’s and Naipaul’s visions of place and geography are examined in this study in relation to the situational complexity of their habitats. Naipaul’s view of place in terms of the binary oppositions between the colonial and metropolitan places is discussed in relation to the sense of displacement that is generated by his colonial upbringing. On the other hand, Coetzee’s view of place as the product of imperialist divisive discourses is also interpreted against the historical contest over land and belonging in South Africa. It is argued that both writers contribute to the decentralizing mission of postcolonialism by locating themselves in the margins and advocating sensitivity towards the tropes of boundaries that subject people to displacement and marginalization. Part I discusses A House for Mr Biswas, The Enigma of Arrival, Half a Life and Magic Seeds. I will explore how Naipaul’s sense of marginality results in his view of the world in terms of a binarism between the centre and the margin. However, I will argue that among these novels, the last three acknowledge that the longing for homeliness is an unlikely quest for a displaced subject, and that the imperative of the postcolonial world requires the displaced to see the world as unhomely, changing and hybrid. Part II interprets Coetzee’s experience of apartheid in South Africa as a legitimate reason for resisting the ways in which the dominant powers in the social and cultural spheres implement marginality. In Waiting for the Barbarians, and Life and Times of Michael K and Foe, Coetzee deconstructs boundaries and asserts the entitlement of the displaced and the marginalized to the land and its representation. The distinctive approaches taken by these two canonical writers remind us of the increasing necessity, yet the complexity, of moving towards a decentralised and dynamic view of the world.


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