South Asia

Organized Panel Session

3 - The Many Fictions of the Document: Writing Life and Death Queerly

Friday, July 6
12:10 PM - 1:40 PM
Location: Juniper, New Building

How do we write about subjects whose historical condition is often defined by the violence or the ambiguity of their deaths? How do we ensure that such representations do not perform more violence in the act of reading these lives? Feminist scholars like Saidiya Hartman and Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak have written about the paradox of such an exercise - both the impossibility of representing without performing violence but also the political urgency of writing about lives lost to violence as a structure.  This paper centers the question of remembering queer death using two texts at the center of which is Mona Ahmed, a transgender woman who died in September 2017 in India. The first text is a photobook collaboratively authored by Dayanita Singh and Mona herself and the second text is the novel, The Ministry of Utmost Happiness by Arundhati Roy whose protagonist is based on Mona. While the former text documents Mona’s life, her dreams, hopes, loves, failures and losses, the latter fictionalizes the same. Yet, is there no fiction in the document and no document in the fiction? This paper seeks to closely read the two texts to interrogate what possibilities of memory making and writing about queer death in India are produced when the binaries between fact and fiction collapse.


Sayan Bhattacharya

University of Minnesota, United States

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