Agape and Emancipation: The Common Good in Recent Postcolonial Fiction

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McIndoe, Holly
English Literature , social critique , liberalism , postcolonial studies
In this dissertation, I argue that there is a tendency in postcolonial studies to equate injustice with a lack of knowledge. The political task for postcolonial studies is then framed in pedagogical terms: to provide the missing or invisible knowledge that is the catalyst for political change, or the critical element that makes redress for injustice possible. This tendency is a part of a Marxist tradition of social critique that aims to expose and thus undo the hidden workings of domination, but it also has something in common with liberal thought, which assumes that education will improve those who are not already free to participate in market relations. For both these liberal and Marxist traditions, ignorance is tantamount to un-freedom, and ignorant people, though they may have the capacity for autonomy and critical thought, are un-emancipated. The literary works that I consider here are Jhumpa Lahiri's \Hema and Kaushik" (2009), Kiran Desai's The Inheritance of Loss (2008), Mohsin Hamid's How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia (2014), Wayne Macauley's The Cook (2012), Indra Sinha's Animal's People (2009), and Richard Flanagan's Gould's Book of Fish (2001). Though their authors may be interested to some degree in making injustice visible, these texts do not lend themselves in a fully satisfying way to the aims of either social critique or liberal political reason. They show that education can perpetuate injustice and inequality. They suggest that knowledge alone is not su cient to ameliorate injustice, and that representing injustice may compound as well as mitigate it. They contain characters who knowingly perpetuate injustice. These literary works show that knowledge is not the only factor required for political change at a societal level or for the development of free, autonomous individuals. Through my readings of these works of literature, I develop a multifaceted understanding of the problem of the political. I argue that politics is an on-going project without end, rather than a decisive moment of transformation. Similarly, freedom is not an ontological state, but a process which is always possible but never guaranteed, and individuality itself is constitutively relational. Beyond knowledge of injustice, individuals need universalisable principles and a reason to work with others to secure their rights in common. These writers suggest agape as this motivating reason, and foster a sense of agape in their readers.
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