Biopolitics, Race and Resistance in the Novels of Salman Rushdie
Twigg, George William
Thesis or dissertation
University of Exeter
Reason for embargo
I wish to publish my thesis as a monograph.
The twenty-first century has seen a resurgence of academic interest in biopolitics: the often oppressive political power over human biology, human bodies and their actions that emerges when political technologies concern themselves with and act upon a population as a species rather than as a group of individuals. The publication of new works by theorists including Michel Foucault, Giorgio Agamben, Roberto Esposito, Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri has furthered academic understanding of biopolitical attempts to ensure an orderly, productive society. Biopolitics bases these attempts upon optimising the majority population’s health and well-being while constructing simultaneously a subrace of unruly, unproductive bodies against which the majority requires securitising. However, despite the still-proliferating and increasingly diverse recent theoretical work on the subject, little material has appeared examining how literature represents biopolitics or how theories of biopolitics may inform literary criticism. This thesis argues for Salman Rushdie’s novels as an exemplary site of fictional engagement with biopower in their portrayal of the increasingly intense and pervasive biopolitical technologies used in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. Rushdie has been considered frequently as a novelist who explores political discourses of race and culture. However, analysis of the ways in which he depicts these discourses animating recent biopolitical practices has proven scarcer in Rushdie Studies. This thesis asserts that Rushdie’s novels affirm consistently the desirability of non-racialising polities, but almost always suggest little possibility of constructing such communities. In the process, it will reveal that he represents more numerous and varied forms of racialisation than has been supposed previously. This study considers how Rushdie describes biopolitical racialisation by state and superrace alike, the massacres of subraces that often ensue, how biopower operates and is resisted in space, and the discursive and practical forms this resistance takes. Contrasting Rushdie’s early fiction with his less-studied more recent works, this analysis deploys, critiques and augments canonical theories of biopower in order to chart his generally growing disinclination to depict this resistance’s potential success. This study thus works towards a new biopolitical literary criticism which argues that although the theories of Foucault and others illuminate the ways in which literature represents power and resistance in contemporary politics, narrative fiction indicates simultaneously the limitations of these theories and the practices of resistance they advocate.
Arts and Humanities Research Council
PhD in English