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Centre for Cultural, Literary and Postcolonial Studies (CCLPS)

Ambra Guarnieri


Ambra Guarnieri
Ambra Guarnieri
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Thesis title:
The native informant: the (im)possible perspective in postcolonial travel narratives
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PhD Research

My research will focus on the specific dynamics of the representation of encounters in India and the Middle East through the analysis of travel narratives produced by a series of classical authors of this genre (Naipaul, Ghosh, Dalrymple).

Considering as corpus of case studies a selection of travel narratives on India and the Middle East written by Indian and Anglo-Indian authors, I will question the presence (or absence) in them of the native informant.

The native informant is a figure, borrowed from ethnography, that can be configured in colonial and postcolonial discourse, providing and interesting context where to investigate problems of cultural representation and translation, cultural difference and symbolic interaction.

In A Critique of Postcolonial Reason, postmodern critic Gayatri Spivak intends the native informant as a figure (or trope) for the subaltern, tracking its appearance through different disciplines and historical periods.

Spivak uses a psychoanalytic category – that of foreclosure – to explain how the native informant is being “concealed” by the European perspective expressed by the three continental philosophers  Kant, Hegel and Marx.

If, in traditional ethnography, the native informant is the indigenous voice which is considered as a mere source of data to be interpreted by the ethnographer, the relationship between the ethnographer and the native (the relationship participant-observation) is often complex, ambivalent, and potentially counter-hegemonic.

Similarly, I want to show that, within the discoursive paradigm of travel writing, there are strategies of ellipsis, concealment, digression and partial disclosure similar to those determining the ethnographic relationship.

Ethnography and travel writing are basically tied to literary procedures of cultural representation.
As the discipline of ethnography takes into account, as James Clifford has argued, an open-ended series of contingent, power-laden encounters, the same can be said of travel writing as a fictional genre.

My research raises the question of whether is possible, through the text of these literary authors, to find evidence of an insider's voice, whether this is only narrated by the author – and therefore in  a   passive position – partially or totally foreclosed (as in the case of Spivak's thesis) – or if it is possible to find some elements of authenticity suggesting that this voice/perspective is in a more active/subjective position of narrating herself.  I am interested in contextualizing the relationship between the author and the characters he represents in a conceptual framework that draws on Baktin's distinction between monological and dialogical styles of narratives.