Voicing and Silencing in the Representation of Minority Experience in Hanif Kureishi’s Early Work (working title)
Representation is an important instrument both of domination and of resistance. Part of the oppression of marginalised groups consists in their lack of power over their own representation. They experience being silenced and being represented – often negatively – by other, more powerful groups. Metaphorically speaking, they have no voice of their own. Finding a voice, i.e. finding a way to express oneself and to make oneself heard, and then using that voice for contesting dominant representations, is therefore an important political strategy of social activism that aims at empowering such groups.
In 1980’s Great Britain, traditional mono-cultural conceptions of British society were being challenged in this manner by various social movements. An important figure in this process was British-born playwright, screenwriter, novelist, storyteller and essayist of English and Pakistani descent Hanif Kureishi. He has often been credited with making visible the lives and experiences of Asians in Britain, which had been largely absent from mainstream popular culture before.
However, in this context new problems relating to the concept of representation became evident. One of them has been called the “burden of representation” (Kobena Mercer) and describes the fact that artists who are members of a marginalised group are often expected to act as representatives of that group, meaning that they are viewed as speaking for, or on behalf of, that group. Another difficulty is the so-called “problem of speaking for others” (Linda Alcoff) and is concerned with the questions whether it is epistemologically possible and/or ethically legitimate to speak for a social group and how such groups can be defined and demarcated, given that social identities are complex and many people simultaneously belong to different, sometimes conflicting groups.
The purpose of this dissertation is an in-depth analysis of Kureishi’s early works that investigates whether and in what ways they articulate these two specific theoretical issues. The research project is based on the thesis that literary devices such as unreliable narration, unstable irony and the juxtaposition of different narrative voices (polyphony) allow Kureishi’s fictional texts to address and creatively engage with these problematic aspects of representation, thereby also critically reflecting on the authority and legitimacy of their own representations.