National Seminar on The Imaginary Homelands of Salman Rushdie

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Department of English, Gauhati University
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“It may be that writers in my position, exiles or emigrants or expatriates are haunted by some sense of loss, some urge to reclaim, to look back, even at the risk of being mutated into pillars of salt. But if we do look back, we must also do so in the knowledge – which gives rise to profound uncertainties – that our physical alienation from India almost inevitably means that we will not be capable of reclaiming precisely the thing that was lost; that we will, in short, create fictions, not actual cities or villages, but invisible ones, imaginary homelands, Indias of the mind.”(“Imaginary Homelands”)

The imagination of homelands, their loss and recovery, and consequent historical distortions, have been fashionable expatriate / diasporic conditions and disturbing and disruptive political positions within the postcolonial nation state. While the first has become a cultural phenomenon and the subject of sophisticated inquiry, the second, seen as potentially destructive of national unity has been left in the netherworld of disciplines and over time pushed into eruptions of violence.

The porosity of borders in a globalized world is a source of material advancement and intellectual adventure. And yet there is a corresponding phenomenon worldwide of homeland aspirations - visible political and socio-cultural expressions of identity and cultural threat perceptions, fears of ethno-cultural erasure and therefore an increasingly assertive discourse about national boundaries, ways of belonging in designated spaces and a complex majority/minority tussle. In our part of the country (India’s north eastern region), separatist and autonomy movements, and the spectre of breached borders, makes it imperative that we address from this location, the fashionable issues of homelands as imagined, constructed by a wishful memory, and the weight given to a term like “excess of belongings”. This questioning is as much a political necessity as it is a cultural issue, and Rushdie’s exploration of the ideas of homeland, belonging and unbelonging is an entry point into this area in contemporary thought that we believe will allow us to interrogate both the works of Rushdie and the complexities of our own situations. Against ideas of transnationalism, globalization, and the porosity of borders, the idea of homeland offers a curious and intellectually challenging situation of crisis.
And yet the two conditions – the charm of the diasporic and the fears of territorial displacement and invisibility - are closely enmeshed. So while Rushdie’s comment acquire acceptance and legitimacy as speaking of a universal state, the limitations of its universalist intent are apparent in his own work.
A novel like Midnight’s Children which offered a critique of the ‘nation as integrated’ through its metaphors of fragmentation, is in that sense an interstitial text standing between the cultural and the political, between the desired and the feared, questioning the choice of a national imaginary and seeing the centrifugal impulse of constituent states that are unsatisfactorily and uncomfortably contained by the national idea. It provides an occasion to reflect on majority discourses and masternarratives, - indispensable ingredients of the nation state - and the resulting angst of minorities and others caught in its web. Texts that deal in the imagination of homelands, we submit, are inbetween texts, that cater to the cultural fashions spawned by the migrant’s ways of remembering a home left behind, and play on the inside/outside dilemma of the migrant perspective, offering critiques of postcolonial political formations.
Rushdie’s work therefore can be taken as the site where the imagination of homelands is expressed and critiqued and this seminar on “The Imaginary Homelands of Salman Rushdie” seeks to address the changing and shifting nature of this issue, explore myriad themes relating to imagined communities, migration, and myths of nationhood, and examine how the fictional and the political are uniquely and mutually productive in the postcolonial world.
The popularity of Rushdie’s work has not only spawned a minor critical industry; it has also led to sweeping generalizations that ignore the historical and geographical specificities of his fiction. This seminar will revisit some of the stock areas of Rushdie critique – nation, home, migration, exile, memory and identity, fragmentation and hybridity – using the current and increasing complexity of the discourse of the ‘homeland’ as a point of perspective to examine Rushdie’s use of specific geographical/political locations.

Some of the possible and predictable areas for papers of course would be the following:
• Migration/Migrant Experience
• Exile
• Myths of Nationhood / Revisionist ideas of Nation and Homeland
• The Indian Nation, Separatist Crises and Narrative Reparations
• Memory, History, Narrative
• Home/not-home
• Fantasy and Reality
• Space and Time
• Narrative and Politics
• Place and Displacement/ Cultural dislocation/Fragmentation/Disintegration
• Geography and Fiction
• Cultural Encounters
• New and Old Subjectivities
• Magic Realism

However papers that address any one (or more) of these issues are expected to use the prism of the ‘homeland’ in developing and exploring the idea(s) in Rushdie’s writing. Papers should take into account actual locations and autonomy/homeland movements to enter the Rushdie oeuvre.

Paper presenters are requested to write their papers keeping in mind that they will be allocated a maximum reading time of 15 minutes each to be followed by 5 minutes interaction time. However, they should carry the longer version of the paper, if ready, and submit to the organizers for consideration for publication. The paper presenters must follow the MLA handbook format and are to submit a soft copy of the paper at the time of registration.

A 300-word abstract should be sent to

The registration fee for the participants is Rs. 400/- which will take care of seminar kit and hospitality. Accommodation will be made available on request depending on the availability of rooms in the University Guest House.

Important Dates:
Last date of submitting abstract (300 words) 20 th September, 2010
Completed papers to reach the organizers by 20 October, 2010

For further details contact:

Dr. Manasi Bora (9864034773)
Dr. Anjali Daimari (9435084461)
Department of English
Gauhati University

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