“The author’s position may reflect an ideology, a moral choice, or a political philosophy, but the choices are not unlimited. A madman’s narrative is not history. Nor can a preference that is arbitrary or just personal – based on sheer taste, say can give us rationally defensible principles for narration (at best it will count as fiction and not history).”
Dipesh Chakrabarty, Provincializing Europe
“History, like any other verdict, is not a matter of fact but a point of view. To be honest, I am tired of history. It has been going on for a long time.” Shivanathan, The Hamilton Case
Keeping in mind the above quotes from Chakrabarty and the character of Shivanathan, what are we to make of the singular narrative that Michelle de Kretser gives us in The Hamilton Case? The majority of the novel is told from the point of view of Sam Obeysekere, a Ceylonese lawyer working within the British imperial structure, and gives us the history of his life, and death, during and after the British control of Ceylon. Yet, as the other perspectives that are provided in the novel demonstrate, Sam’s narrative is not entirely to be trusted as fact, at least not entirely. Indeed, Sam’s account of the events of his life partake, to a degree, of Charkrabarty’s notion of the madman’s narrative – which is not to be trusted. As the character of Shivanathan notes, however, history is not a matter of fact but of point of view – so, should not the madman’s narrative also count as valid? What we have to deal with, then, is the problematic that Chakrabarty argues is central to the question of modern historical writing: the relation between the universalizing narrative that is modern history and the particularity of the singular that resists and contests this narrative. In effect, what are we to make of a particular life that has been shaped and warped by the modern discourse and reality of Western imperialism and colonialism? How can Sam’s story help us to better understand and make sense of what the consequences of this discourse and reality have been?
As a way of thinking about the meaning of the novel, you will need to think about therelationship between de Kretser’s narrative and the readings we have been doing from Hughes-Warrington, Chakrabarty, Breisach, Condorcet and Spengler. These readings have both made manifest the manner in which the modern discourse of history has been constructed from the 1700s forward and raised questions about how this discourse needs to be both questioned and subverted. How does de Kretser’s novel exemplify and make concrete the issues that have been raised, both theoretically and historically, in these other readings? What does her narrative have to tell us about both the possibilities and dangers of this modern discourse of history?
A note of caution: the point of the paper is to think about the connections between the novel and the theoretical and historical questions we have been pursuing in class. I do not want you to merely describe the novel or evaluate its aesthetic merits (or faults), I want you to analyze the relationships between the internal structure and contents of the novel and what lays outside its boundaries. In this regard, how can we use this novel to better comprehend what it might mean to write a truly universal human narrative in the modern period? How can we fit together the individually particular with the collectively universal?
FORMAL REQUIREMENTS: 6-8 pages; word-processed; double-spaced; one-inch margins; footnotes/endnotes are to be formatted according to The Chicago Manual of Style
*de Kretser’s and John Mandeville books are on iCloud reader online( I will provide the username and pass below) The rest of the books are to be looked up for an online summary of the books below:
-Marnie Hughes-Warrington, ed., World Histories
-Ernst Breisach, Historiography: Ancient, Medieval, Modern (Third Edition)
– Dipesh Chakrabarty, Provincializing Europe: Postcolonial Thought and Historical Difference
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