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Time, Space, and National Belonging in The Namesake: Redrawing South Asian American Citizenship in the Shadow of 9/11

Abstract

The terms of national belonging after 9/11 for South Asian Americans have taken shape through a vague and depoliticized discourse around ethnic identity, one in which the clichés of multiculturalism and melting-pot nationalism stand in for the specific socioeconomic and historical conditions that helped form the South Asian diaspora in the US. This paper explores the ways in which Jhumpa Lahiri’s novel The Namesake and its cinematic adaptation by filmmaker Mira Nair challenge the erasure of South Asian American citizenship following 9/11. Recounting the journey of a young Bengali graduate student and his wife migrating to the US in the late 1960s, each text speaks back to the erasure of South Asian American citizenship through the materialization of time in space: while Lahiri foregrounds the state itself in producing the rhythms through which immigrants are assimilated into the nation, Nair creates a narrative world in which filmic space materializes many, and often competing, histories, unifying multiple temporalities and histories through the representations of space. I argue that the cinematic adaptation of The Namesake generates a new spatiotemporal state of affairs, one in which the iconography of 9/11 both challenges post-9/11 racial logics and destabilizes the singular, progressive, and institutionalized temporality through which Lahiri writes South Asian American immigrants back into nation.

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