Alessandra Marino’s paper ‘Acts of angry writing: ethics, subjectivity, agency’, presented at the third Oecumene symposium, examined the works of Devi and Roy as two sites of writing with different temporal and spatial dimensions and highlighted a triangular relationship of three main ways in which the project contributed to the overarching theme of ‘Citizenship after Orientalism. First, it looked at acts of certain subjects that don’t feature in usual representations and thinking about politics. Second, it counteracted two different types of orientalisations: the orientalisation of anger, which relates anger to a certain kind of irrationality and backwardness, and the feminization of anger. Third, it reconfigured literature as a field of struggle, taking into account speech act theory in order to examine the creation and performativity of literature beyond representation.
The paper looked at the sites of writing of Devi and Roy, examined how ‘affect’ is related to these sites, and explored writers as taking up the author function in specific contexts. Marino argued that looking at who writes reveals the stimuli and foundational motivations for the creation of a text. In the works of Devi and Roy in particular, ‘anger’ emerges as that which creates the stimuli for writing and bringing people together in action. The paper connected affect and anger more broadly to the question of citizenship. Anger, Marino argued, when expressed and translated in our vision of the future, can become liberating. Looking at feminist scholars such as Frye, Campbell and Lorde, anger can be seen as a speech act that, when expressed, creates the possibility of collective action. It is therefore not counterproductive to the notion of citizenship, but instead leads to action through its affective attachment.
Marino also explored the limits to being a writer, arguing that the process of writing as well as its outcome cannot be transparent; in contexts of struggle, writing is produced by the encounter of the author with people, stories and acts. The way the situation represents itself to the writer and the extent to which the writer relates to the context informs the position the writer takes on it and how s/he approaches it. Expressing anger blurs the boundary between the private and public, as well as the personal and societal. Marino argues that while this tension is often seen as counterproductive, it can become productive for critiquing the Cartesian subject.
Sumi Madhok (London School of Economics) responded to the paper by pointing out that the paper triggers important questions on authenticity, representation, experience, agency and sovereignty, and calls for a discussion on the double bind across all of these. She elaborated that sovereignty for example, is central to all kinds of exclusions and denials, yet it remains desired, while subjectivity as a marker of authenticity can also foreclose other ways of representing the postcolonial subject. Madhok added that the paper raises and goes further to answer the important and complex question of what is a postcolonial author responsible for?
Pablo Mukherjee (University of Warwick) pointed out three intertwined problems which Marino’s paper raised: the problem of authority, the embodiment of acts of writing, and the literary model and what it offers. In relation to the latter in particular, Mukherjee explains that one of the values and roles of narrative form is its resistance to the abstracting function of reports, and what literature can do (that non-literary genres cannot) is portraying the lived experiences that are animated by anger.
A further set of questions ensued by the rest of the participants. William Gallois (University of Exeter) asked about whether we could differentiate between ‘good’ anger and ‘bad’ anger, while Rahul Rao (SOAS, University of London) asked if there were different kinds of anger being produced as well as multiple voices in Roy’s work. Leticia Sabsay (Open University) asked about the limits of genres and modes of writing, and questioned the importance of the body and embodiment as the location of affect. Marie Beauchamps (University of Amsterdam) pointed to the tendency for people to ignore someone because they are angry, and asked how can you be angry and not be dismissed? Zaki Nahaboo (Open University) asked about the original points of anger in text; where does the anger in Devi and Roy’s work enter? And where does it come from? While Tara Atluri (Open University) asked further about anger that occurs on behalf of the global other and the popularity of these writers outside of their own context: do these texts have broader, international meaning or usefulness, or is their importance in their particular and narrow context?
Report by Dana Nassif