Work, Play and Linguistic Hybridity in Postcolonial India: (De)Forming the Indian Middle Class in Ray's Kanchenjungha (Satyajit Ray) (Critical Essay)

Work, Play and Linguistic Hybridity in Postcolonial India: (De)Forming the Indian Middle Class in Ray's Kanchenjungha (Satyajit Ray) (Critical Essay)

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  • Release Date: 2006-06-22
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Work, Play and Linguistic Hybridity in Postcolonial India: (De)Forming the Indian Middle Class in Ray's Kanchenjungha (Satyajit Ray) (Critical Essay) Details

Increasingly in the era of globalism, we are unsurprised by the linguistic-cultural hybridity of much of the postcolonial cinematic output from India. This is true of the kind of characters, storylines, language use, cinematic style, music, affective and cultural referents, to name only a few, in short the entire cinematic linguistic-cultural machinery of representation brought to the screen by a vast majority of filmmakers. Yet "hybridity" is one of the most popular as well as contested terms in postcolonial cultural theory. The term is commonly understood to mean "the creation of new transcultural forms within the contact zone produced by colonization" (Ashcroft et. al 118). Homi K. Bhabha has elaborated the term to suggest on the one hand the interdependence and mutual construction of the colonizer/colonized subjectivities; on the other to refer to the ambivalent "Third Space of enunciation" which makes the claim to a hierarchical purity of cultures untenable. Bhabha suggests that the notion of hybridity helps to overcome the exoticism of cultural diversity with the more difficult notion of cultural difference. For Bhabha hybridity "open[s] the way to conceptualizing an international culture" (Bhabha 156). Hybridity has come in for its share of criticism as part of the poststructuralist vocabulary that erases unequal power relations for an assimilationist politics and neglects specific histories, locations and local differences in favor of textualist and idealist analysis. (Cf Ahmad, In Theory) Such a tendency can be discerned in the hybridity depicted in much of the current cinematic output: it seems to celebrate the processes of middle-class upward mobility, unrestricted consumption, and globalization. At such an impasse it is instructive to recall an inaugural cinematic moment in the discourse of hybridity from Satyajit Ray's film corpus. Such a moment is Kanchenjungha (1962). In what follows I attempt to show how one of Ray's most overlooked films avoids most of the pitfalls associated with the concept of hybridity by refusing to celebrate it as an unconscious process which participates in the colonialist discourse of racism in an uncritical manner. Instead, I will argue that in Kanchenjungha Ray is prescient for the way in which he explores the subversive mode of resistance implicit in postcolonial linguistic hybridity through juxtaposition with an ambivalent imperialist mode of linguistic hybridity.

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