Electronic Thesis and Dissertation Repository

Degree

Doctor of Philosophy

Program

Comparative Literature

Supervisor

Calin-Andrei Mihailescu

Abstract

How should the relationship between literary texts and nationalism be explained? What is the difference between texts that resist nationalism’s logic aesthetically and those that do so discursively? The answers to these questions form the core of this study whose central inquiry focuses on how the internal operations of fictional narrative handle the persistent depositories of national culture represented by a visceral bond between individual and nation. Most crucially, the potential of unraveling this resilient bond is located in the narrative’s aesthetic operations, not in its discursive pronouncements, irrespective of how critical such pronouncements may be.

Rather than promoting or rejecting the bond while leaving intact its guiding premise of representational identity, the narratives considered in this study unravel this bond by pushing its logic to its breaking point so as to expose the fault line at its heart—its pure difference. This study delineates how this narrative-based critique deals with the debilitating problematics of national identity by rethinking its operation so that it becomes possible to envisage a non-rhetorical resistance to national identity.

The literary analysis of Elias Khoury’s Little Mountain and Salman Rushdie’s Midnight’s Children demonstrates that although following different trajectories, both novels ultimately deploy the resources of fictional narrative to advance such a critique of national identity. The narrative styles of these two novels speak a language through which a current is created, a current resisting the assumptions of conventional national identity. Little Mountain isolates the symptoms of national identity through a circular narrative movement fuelled by repetition. Repetition then shakes the foundation of all continuities—the necessary component of temporally solid identity. Midnight’s Children’s narrative movement begins by deploying the body of nationalism’s central metaphor of nation as individual—a body extracted from the depositories of national culture—and ends by obliterating that body into pieces out of which neither the ghost nor the body could be resurrected.

This study’s final chapter contains a reflection on the broader consequences of this rethinking of national identity through an exploration of the connections between modernity and nationalism.


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