Type / Thesis

Death∣Afterlife: Hanif Kureishi’s Life Writing

Jung Su

Page / 1-38


This essay starts with Jacques Derrida’s politics of mourning and interrogates how in the act of recounting the name and words (logos) of the dead the author of life writings is forced to confront her/his self and comes to realize the impossibility of representing the dead in his/her narrative act. Using Hanif Kureishi’s (re-)writing of his father’s (Shanoo) two unpublished novels and his early pre-diasporic life as an example, I try to graft my reading of Walter Benjamin’s discussion of the role of the translator and the storyteller with an emphasis on the trope of afterlife and the act of storytelling as artistry unto my reading of Kureishi’s life writing, which I see as a task of translating life and a work of mourning. In doing so, I hope to cast new light on the meaning of the memoir and to cultivate the productivity of the act (and the work) of mourning. I argue that the moment of the corporeal body’s decaying and perishing may be regarded as the interface (as is signified by the vertical line “∣” in the title) from which both sides—the past of the dead that comes to a halt at the very moment of dying and its ensuing afterlife—extend to the infinite. The crème de la crème of Kureishi’s life writing, therefore, consists in the process of his rewriting, translating, and periphrasing (here I am using Derrida’s term to indicate that the living can only write from the periphery.) the original (in a Benjaminian sense). Thus from this interface the afterlife of the original is ceaselessly unfolded. Through the never-ending germination and transformation, the force of the afterlife liberates Shanoo’s original works from the shackles of language and his diasporic predicament. It is through this art of storytelling (the [re-]writing of his-story) and the translation of Shanoo’s life that Kureishi turns over Shanoo’s diasporic robe and thus lays bare its bifurcate ambivalent (leftist socialist/anglophile) lining. Strangely clad in an embroidered garment with the many folds of Kureishi’s post-colonial storytelling, Shanoo’s original texts therefore assume the freshness of life and style. The life of his-story therefore keeps living on, with different faces which surface and transmogrify in the context of different histories in the course of its ongoing evolution.

Keywords : life writing, Hanif Kureishi, diaspora, translation, Walter Benjamin, afterlife, Derrida, death, My Ear at His Heart: Reading My Father
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