Martina Cullen

Dividing an ‘audience’

Dividing an ‘audience’: the role of reader as a geographically grounded subject in Postcolonial literature

The word ‘audience’, when examined with the use of a dependable thesaurus or dictionary does not so much lead us to an explanation of the term itself, but gives us a fine example of the diversification of meaning within this term.  On the one hand, w e encounter words like ‘crowd’, ‘congregation’ (words that seemingly represent the collective experience of the audience), on the other hand, we encounter words like ‘hearers’ and ‘witnesses’ (which distinguish the sensory acts of a particular audience).   From a Postcolonial perspective, the issue of this particular audience, or in other words, for whom the Postcolonial artist is writing for, also leads to an identifiable diversification of readership, or as I have previously termed it, the ‘audience’[1].  Shaija Sharma has observed, with distinct reference to Salman Rushdie, that his readers are prone to segregation in terms of their particular response to the same text.  For the East, his use of word play and political satire are more important than any other element of his literature. For the West, his use of Magic Realism[2] is somewhat more enhancing.  Using the work of Arundhati Roy, Rohinton Mistry and Salman Rushdie, I will examine how reader response to these particular authors coagulates in relation to geographical placement, and how the Postcolonial artist, being fully aware of the fact that they write for not one but for multiple audiences, uses several different devices so that their literature can be absorbed by the multitude rather than the singular or secular. In one text then, we could say that both East and West prioritise different meanings.  I will also examine the issue of language within a Postcolonial framework in this paper.  Roy, Mistry and Rushdie are all writers of Indian origin, but are also part of a wider cultural identity.  With particular reference to Rushdie, he is constantly aggravated by the attempt of the media and others to categorise his own identity: ‘[S]o what now?  ‘British-resident Indo-Pakistani writer?’’ (Imaginary Homelands 67).  In this paper, I hope to prove that the postcolonial writer has the ability to provoke two very different reader reactions from their work, and that this is dependent on the readers’ geographical placement.

[1] Although I may seem to jump between definitions of ‘audience’ and ‘readership’ in a somewhat lucid manner, I will clarify my own definitions and distinctions between the two in due time.

[2] Magic Realism: the combination of the magnificent and the mundane.  A common literary device used by the postcolonial artist, most famously Gabriel Garcia Marquez among others, in an effort to portray the imaginary capabilities of the human being in a realistic, everyday setting.

Making Books, Shaping Readers

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