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Updated Up To 18/01/2017
Volume 12, Issue 2 (June 2014) : 375-387
Love and Figure/Ground
Reading Amitav Ghosh’s Sea of Poppies
Murray Baumgarten
Rubric A: Literature and Theories of Love
Rubric B: Twentieth-Century Novel

Abstract

 

Amitav Ghosh puts the history of the individualist love ethic of the western novel into dialogue with the “oceanic” sense of identity and love in Indian cultural traditions, pitting the idea of character against that of “life-force” and the idea of individual happiness against that of communal energy.

When romantic lovers embrace in this contemporary novel set in India in 1838 — at a turning point in the history of the English Empire of opium which is being forced on a China that has outlawed the poppy, we hear echoes of the great Victorian fictions: the storm of love remakes identities as it choreographs collisions across cultural, social, and class boundaries that undermine stable social arrangements.

The potential for cross-over encounters inheres in the heteroglossia created in the novel. The “chutnification of language” echoes the love jumble, as it invites a rethinking of the past, of culture, and identities, reframing the boundaries of the language of fiction in the exploration of literary form. Are we in a dialectical or a dialogical discourse? What is the figure and what the ground in this exploration of love within cultural multiplicity?


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