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Subjectivities in Decolonisation: The Post-Independence Film and Novel in Africa and South Asia



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This thesis investigates post-independence African and South Asian film and literatures for their attention to the fraught relationship between subjectivity and historic decolonisation. Amidst social, political and economic obstacles in the 1950s–80s, a pioneering generation of novels and films emerged. Although they were in many ways “literatures of disillusionment”, they also exposed neocolonialism to ask if, and how, resistance was possible. I propose the conceptual node of subjectivity as a polytonal but comprehensive means to read and interpret African and South Asian post-independence novels and films. Offering a materialist approach to the treatment of subjectivity via the thought of Frantz Fanon, I elucidate the dialectical relation between the self and the world that he gestures towards. In an interdisciplinary and comparative approach, I then consider eight texts via this Fanonian approach to subjectivity, pairing one novel and film in each chapter by their common historic critiques. Chapter two considers the problem that women’s subjectivities pose to Kenyan and Indian projects of anti-colonial nationalism in A Grain of Wheat (1967) by Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o and Home and the World (1984) by Satyajit Ray respectively; chapter three, how postcolonial elites’ crises of subjectivity entrench neocolonial material conditions in Ayi Kwei Armah’s The Beautyful Ones Are Not Yet Born (1968) and Ousmane Sembène’s Xala (1975); chapter four examines how Ritwik Ghatak’s The Cloud-Capped Star (1960) and Buchi Emecheta’s Destination Biafra (1982) situate subjective experience as an intervention into Partition and Nigerian Civil War historiographies respectively; and chapter five discusses the relationship between subjectivity and place in Kamala Markandaya’s Nectar In A Sieve (1954) and Souleymane Cissé’s Work (1978). Demonstrating how paying critical attention to the mutually effectual and co-constitutive relationship between subjectivities and their lived conditions surfaces the structures and effects of the diverse contexts of arrested decolonisation in these texts, this thesis affirms that a materialist approach yields rich inroads into how, and why, structural decolonisation and the “decolonising of minds" are intertwined.





Gopal, Priyamvada


Frantz Fanon, postcolonial literature, subjectivity, decolonisation, African literature, African cinema, Indian cinema, Anglophone Indian literature, postcolonial theory, Ngugi wa Thiong'o, Satyajit Ray, Buchi Emecheta, Souleymane Cissé, Ousmane Sembène, Kamala Markandaya, Ayi Kwei Armah, Ritwik Ghatak, Marxist literary criticism, Realism, Comparative literature, neocolonialism, postcolonial studies


Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Awarding Institution

University of Cambridge
AHRC; Isaac Newton Trust; King's College, Cambridge; Faculty of English, Cambridge.