Transnational Dutt
submitted by Chris Foss (University of Mary Washington) on Sat, 2010-11-20 20:16

Here are a couple of paragraphs from the concluding section to my Critical Introduction for the Ancient Ballads wiki that may be of interest to readers of this blog:

--A pair of 2003 PMLA articles by Paul Giles and John Carlos Rowe on transnationalism and nineteenth-century American literature suggest yet another possibility when it comes to positioning Dutt and Ancient Ballads.  Rowe argues for a comparative transnationalism for nineteenth-century American studies that would “extend[] transnationality [back] to the heyday of United States nationalism.”  For Rowe, “if we identify transnationalism only with postmodern forces of globalization or with resistances to them, such as creolization and hybridization, then we are likely to forget the roots of these postmodern economic and cultural practices in modernization.”  His elaboration on his comparative transnationalism that follows not only involves re-thinking and re-presenting works by canonical figures such as Nathaniel Hawthorne, Harriet Jacobs, and Harriet Beecher Stowe, but also involves expanding our conceptions of the American canon to include lesser-known writers such as Native American John Rollin Ridge and Asian-American Lee Yan Phou.  For Giles, American literature is “interwoven systematically with transversals between national territory and intercontinental space.”  “To problematize the geographical integrity of America” is thus to “challenge circular, self-fulfilling definitions of American literature” by “seek[ing] various points of intersection . . . where cultural conflict is lived out experientially.”

--In discussing Li Xiaojiang’s articulation of “an ethics of transnational encounter,” Shu-mei Shih suggests that “the key to transnational communication is the ability and willingness to situate oneself in both one’s own position and the Other’s position, whether on the plane of gender, historical contexts, or discursive paradigms,” and that transvaluation “is the result of such transpositionality, since to position oneself in the history of the Other is to be given the opportunity to see how a given system of value production works and thus to be exposed to the mechanisms of value-coding and knowledge production as political, material, and affective acts.”  Ancient Ballads is potentially the result of a similar sort of transpositionality.  I would thus suggest that one may posit Dutt as a writer who, to some extent, already has fulfilled Shih’s concluding charge to “border-crossing intellectuals and scholars,” that they “must use their radically multiple positions to destabilize the production and circulation of value from any one given locational standpoint as preparation for transpositional dialogues in transnational encounters.”  That is, Dutt’s “ability and willingness” to speak from the multi-locational spaces present in Ancient Ballads allows one to explore how Indian and European “value-coding and knowledge production” work (separately, as well as in conflict or in dialogue with one another), which in turn allows one to read her poetics as effecting the sort of transpositional dialogue that seems one of the more hopeful possibilities transnationalism contains.

--D. N. Rodowick’s discussion of a new cosmopolitanism sees the mobility associated with transnationalism as “by no means qualitatively positive” owing to the all-too-evident negative effects of dis-location and exclusion, but he also feels it “opens possibilities for contestation and critique.”  For Rodowick, “The mobility of deterritorialized transnationals must be characterized across several levels”--including “the transformation of identity as a set of complex cultural and political allegiances that unite as well as divide local communities subnationally, nationally, and transnationally.”  One arguably may find such a transformation of identity, again, in Ancient Ballads.  This is not to claim, with K. R. Ramachandran Nair, that Dutt effects a rapprochement between East and West; instead, it is to suggest that her poetry fosters an awareness of regional (subnational), national, and global (international and/or transnational) spaces--and to suggest that this awareness, in containing possibilities for both new unity and the same old (and/or further) division, above all productively foregrounds rather than forecloses the question of space(s) in both nineteenth-century Indian and nineteenth-century British literatures.