Old World Orders
Old World Orders
Amitav Ghosh and the Writing of Nostalgia
This chapter presents a close historical reading of Amitav Ghosh's In an Antique Land, one of the few literary texts concerned with the twelfth-century Indian Ocean trade between Egypt and India conducted by Jewish and Muslim traders and their slaves. Written as a “history in the guise of a traveler's tale,” the book is at once a travelogue, a detective story, a romance with a lost world, and an anthropologist's attempt to write a dialogic ethnography. The second half of the chapter attempts to draw attention to the political as well as aesthetic tensions in Ghosh's imaginative reconstruction of this older world, and especially to his attempts to link it with our own contemporaneity. The point is not to decry Ghosh's fidelity to the historical record but rather to understand the dynamics of what might be called the production of history in a nostalgic mode. The chapter suggests that the all-too-common structural affinity of such nostalgia with discourses of purity and authenticity is challenged in Ghosh's narrative, where cultural, racial, and economic hybridity, mixture, and exchange appear as privileged terms.
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