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Impossible Desires: Queer Diasporas and South Asian Public Cultures (Perverse Modernities: A Series Edited by Jack Halberstam and Lisa Lowe) [Paperback]

by Gayatri Gopinath
4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (5 customer reviews)

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Book Description

April 19, 2005 0822335131 978-0822335139
By bringing queer theory to bear on ideas of diaspora, Gayatri Gopinath produces both a more compelling queer theory and a more nuanced understanding of diaspora. Focusing on queer female diasporic subjectivity, Gopinath develops a theory of diaspora apart from the logic of blood, authenticity, and patrilineal descent that she argues invariably forms the core of conventional formulations. She examines South Asian diasporic literature, film, and music in order to suggest alternative ways of conceptualizing community and collectivity across disparate geographic locations. Her agile readings challenge nationalist ideologies by bringing to light that which has been rendered illegible or impossible within diaspora: the impure, inauthentic, and nonreproductive.

Gopinath juxtaposes diverse texts to indicate the range of oppositional practices, subjectivities, and visions of collectivity that fall outside not only mainstream narratives of diaspora, colonialism, and nationalism but also most projects of liberal feminism and gay and lesbian politics and theory. She considers British Asian music of the 1990s alongside alternative media and cultural practices. Among the fictional works she discusses are V. S. Naipaul’s classic novel A House for Mr. Biswas, Ismat Chughtai’s short story “The Quilt,” Monica Ali’s Brick Lane, Shyam Selvadurai’s Funny Boy, and Shani Mootoo’s Cereus Blooms at Night. Analyzing films including Deepa Mehta’s controversial Fire and Mira Nair’s Monsoon Wedding, she pays particular attention to how South Asian diasporic feminist filmmakers have reworked Bollywood’s strategies of queer representation and to what is lost or gained in this process of translation. Gopinath’s readings are dazzling, and her theoretical framework transformative and far-reaching.

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Impossible Desires: Queer Diasporas and South Asian Public Cultures (Perverse Modernities: A Series Edited by Jack Halberstam and Lisa Lowe) + Terrorist Assemblages: Homonationalism in Queer Times (Next Wave: New Directions in Women's Studies)
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Editorial Reviews


“Boldly spanning Hindi film, British Asian music, Urdu literature, diasporic postcolonial literature and film, U.S. queer activism, and feminist politics, Gayatri Gopinath argues that queer desire becomes central to the ways in which national and diasporic histories are told when the erotics of power is acknowledged. Impossible Desires is a deft demonstration of both queer theory’s dominant ethnocentrism and diaspora and postcolonial studies’ heteronormativity and androcentrism.”—Ranjana Khanna, author of Dark Continents: Psychoanalysis and Colonialism

“Gayatri Gopinath’s innovative book marks a new stage in queer and diasporic studies. Incisive, expansive, and nuanced, Gopinath’s analysis will surely be invoked by academics in the future. A landmark piece of scholarship!”—Martin F. Manalansan IV, author of Global Divas: Filipino Gay Men in the Diaspora

About the Author

Gayatri Gopinath is Assistant Professor of Women and Gender Studies at the University of California, Davis.

Product Details

  • Series: Perverse Modernities: A Series Edited by Jack Halberstam and Lisa Lowe
  • Paperback: 264 pages
  • Publisher: Duke University Press Books (April 19, 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0822335131
  • ISBN-13: 978-0822335139
  • Product Dimensions: 8.9 x 6.4 x 0.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (5 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #531,690 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

4.6 out of 5 stars
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars If only we could all write like this! December 9, 2006
This is one of those books that has wonderful "multi-tasking" powers! I taught it in two courses, one an undergraduate portal course for women's studies majors and an interdisciplinary graduate course on queers and theory. It worked very well in both courses, and as the teacher I learned so much myself using this book in both venues.

I also myself love this book!

For my own experience and pleasure I downloaded and watched as much of the music and as many of the films as I could get a hold of. I did play and show elements of these to my classes, and urged them with some success to connect with these materials themselves.

I was excited when both classes used these contacts to then enlarge their own interests along new lines having once seen or played songs, music, films, literatures. References to more of this stuff were especially common in the undergraduate course for the rest of the semester. Interestingly enough it was students from former republics of the former soviet union who were especially interested in some of this South Asian diasporic cultural work.

I was quite envious of the straightforward and yet elaborated structure of argument of this book: it centers around, although extends beyond the film Fire and all the ramifications and contextualizations one needs to grasp in order to engage queer diasporic female subjectivities. I was able to outline this structure carefully in the undergraduate course, and the students were able to follow it pretty well; I was pleased with the sophistication it helped them develop.

But when I took for granted the graduate students would themselves see and analyze this structure - it seemed obvious in the nicest way - I found I had misunderstood what they would focus upon.
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14 of 19 people found the following review helpful
I have been following Gopinath's work for many years now -- from her lucid essay in Russell Leong's "Asian American Sexualities," to her review of Deepa Mehta's "Fire" and her brilliant and lucid analysis of Shyam Selvadurai's "Funny Boy." Not only is Gopinath a brilliant scholar with urgently insightful readings, but she writes with an exemplary prose that is worthy of worldwide applause. Her studies of music, film, literature, and social events coagulate to form a powerful and cogent argument for thinking about race and sexuality in what she calls a "South Asian diasporic" sensibility. What is the use of such an interpretational tool? It immediately highlights weaknesses in both feminist and postcolonial scholarship while simultaneously bringing these fields' insights to assist in her readings. "Impossible Desires" sparkles with sagacious scholarship, and makes clear the cultural stakes for all who see the identity politics of gender and sexuality as inextricable from South Asian cultural production. I am thankful that this book exists, although I am not yet finished with it. I have waited many, many years for something like this, and can say with much gratitude that it will continue to inform my own studies for many years to come. Anyone who wishes to think outside of the box of what they consider their most radical thinking should not only seriously consider purchasing this book, but should also gift a few copies to others they know who are passionate about the cultural politics of women, queers, and South Asian diasporic culture around the globe.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Fantastic queer scholarship May 17, 2011
By Tim H
I learnt so much from the way Gopinath intervenes in cultural studies of diaspora and queer studies. Her readings are beautifully framed and precise, and very attuned to the gaps and silences in given approaches. But Gopinath does much more than identify these gaps and silences, she makes a compelling case for why queer feminism is a necessary intervention that will enrich diasporic studies and interrupt its tendencies towards nostalgic nationalism. Her conception of queer desire in the diaspora is profound, and serves as a model for connecting desires to histories
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5 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Review Summary Ch.1-3 April 8, 2007
University of California Davis's Women's Studies Professor Gayatri Gopinath, has written an impressive academic text entitled, Impossible Desires: Queer Diasporas and South Asian Public Cultures. Gopinath combines her knowledge of women's studies with her interests in a variety of academic fields on popular culture, race-sexuality, migration and South Asian cultural literature. She introduces several ways of identity formation and mediation of the "racialized" and Queer South Asian body by incorporating both feminist and queer theory within her analysis. In critical theory, the term "Queer" is a signifier of a complex defiant attitude that destabilizes any and all traditional notions of identity. It works to disrupt anything that appears too heteronormative, too "commonsensical," and too constructed. Gopinath explains that it "works to name the alternative reading of the diaspora and to dislodge it from its adherence and loyalty to nationalist ideologies that are fully aligned with the interests of transnational capitalism" (11). As a South Asian Queer feminist, Gopinath not only possess valuable critical insight, her identity gives Impossible Desires its authenticity.

The first chapter is an introduction in which Gopinath immediately brings the reader into a specific moment during the film entitled, "My Beautiful Launderette" (1985) a controversial and "groundbreaking" movie about two gay men in an interracial relationship; one male is white, Johnny and the other, Omar, is Pakistani. The movie's representation of Omar's body reverses the spectators gaze by re-situating Omar into a position of the subject and Johnny becomes the object of the spectators gaze.
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