A Postcolonial Aesthetic: Repeating upon the Present
Elleke Boehmer (BA(Hons), MPhil (Oxon), DPhil (Oxon)) is Professor of World Literature in English in the English Faculty, University of Oxford, and currently Director of the Oxford Research Centre in the Humanities (TORCH). She is a founding figure in the field of colonial and postcolonial studies, and internationally known for her research in anglophone literatures of empire and anti-empire. She is an acclaimed novelist and short story writer, most recently of The Shouting in the Dark (2015).
Elleke Boehmer's creative work like her critical and historical research explores issues of migration, identity, friendship, diaspora, race and gender representation, nationalism, and the global, in particular relating to sub-Saharan Africa, South Asia and contemporary Britain. Elleke Boehmer's most recent monograph is Indian Arrivals 1870-1915: Networks of British Empire, a critical historical investigation of South Asian contributions to British literary, social, cultural and political life in the period 1870-1915, which won the ESSE 2016 prize for Literature in English. Her most recent novel The Shouting in the Dark was long-listed for the Sunday Times Barry Ronge Award 2016. For more on Elleke Boehmer's fiction please visit www.ellekeboehmer.com
Elleke Boehmer is Director of TORCH, The Oxford Research Centre in the Humanities. A Rhodes Scholar (1985-88), she is also a Professorial Governing Body Fellow at Wolfson College, and Deputy Director of the Oxford Centre for Life-Writing at Wolfson. Her most recent research project was the Leverhulme funded International Network Planned Violence: Post/colonial Urban Infrastructures and Literature (2014-16), on which she served as PI. The project investigated the shifting relationship between urban planning, violence and literary representation from colonial into postcolonial times, and will lead to several essay based publications. Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi; King’s College, London; the OU; the University of Warwick; and WISER at the University of the Witwatersrand were all collaborators on the project: further details can be found at www.plannedviolence.org or email firstname.lastname@example.org
For details of Elleke Boehmer's other research involvements, please see the TORCH website http://torch.ox.ac.uk/ (especially the research Programme 'Race and Resistance in the Long Twentieth Century'); the Marie Curie funded ITN 'CoHaB' project http://www.itn-cohab.eu; and the AHRC funded ‘Making Britain' project.
Left: Elleke's monograph Indian Arrivals discusses the Modernist friends and collaborators, William Rothenstein and Rabindranath Tagore, here seen meeting on 7 July 1912.
In the longer term Elleke Boehmer, a native speaker of Netherlands, is developing a comparative project looking at inter-relations between colonial, postcolonial and migrant writing in English and Dutch in the long nineteenth century. Her novel The Shouting in the Dark (2015) also considers questions of how we deal with legacies of colonialism and race, in this case in the Netherlands and South Africa. Her other new project 'Postcolonial Text, World Form' will investigate how contemporary postcolonial British novels shape our understanding of migration, race and terror.
Elleke Boehmer is the General Editor of the successful Series, Oxford Studies in Postcolonial Literatures (OUP). Series titles include: Postcolonial Poetry in English by Rajeev Patke (2006), West African Literatures by Stephanie Newell (2006), Pacific Islands Writing by Michelle Keown (2007), Australian Literature by Graham Huggan (2010), and the recent Postcolonial Life Writing by Gillian Whitlock.
On her particular perspective on colonial and postcolonial research, Elleke Boehmer has commented: "My work in postcolonial or international literature in English has looked in particular at how selves and lives are articulated by those who do not have authoritative languages and modes of self-description to hand. The postcolonial authors I have written on include J.M. Coetzee, Peter Carey, Tsitsi Dangarembga and Amitav Ghosh. Across the past ten years or so, however, apart from a short biography of Nelson Mandela, I have worked mainly in the colonial period, the time of ‘high empire’, around 1870-1930, focussing on a range of literary and cultural issues not unrelated to these postcolonial concerns: resistance, identity, cultural translation, international modernism, split belonging, and imagining community, amongst others. Against the grain of much imperial historiography to date, which tends still to privilege the hierarchical relationship of colonizer and colonized, my research has been consistently directed to less conventional or less predictable colonial relations, be they lateral, co-operative or ‘cross border’, that is, surprising proximities rather than situations of conflict, shared rather than divided histories.'
'Indian Arrivals, for example' she said, 'considers the lived lives and cultural contributions of early Indian immigrants to Britain (1870-1915)—how they were perceived and how they perceived themselves as ‘travellers in the west’ (Ghosh). The book suggests that the period of high imperialism and Indian migration it covers was distinguished in particular by acts of cultural exchange operating in both directions between India and Britain, expressed as one-on-one interactions between Indian and British individuals (Dadabhai Naoroji and his British hosts; M Ghose and L Binyon; Sarojini Naidu and the 1890s poets around Yeats; Rothenstein and Tagore); within groups such as the National Indian Association, the Theosophical Society, and the India Society, all of which involved Indian and British members; and also, importantly, within literary texts including novels and poems, such as by Naidu, Yeats, Tagore, Mansfield, Conan Doyle, and Wilkie Collins. Looking beyond Indian Arrivals I hope in the next year or so to loop back to the later twentieth century period, and to work more comparatively on certain formal questions raised by international writing in English, to date little addressed in the field: for example, can we speak of certain distinguishing figures, symbols, structures, generic concerns which link international writings in English in a cross-border way, be they elegiac, ‘hybrid’, mimicked, creolized, etc.? Does it make sense to speak of a postcolonial aesthetic, or of postcolonial texts as ways not only of representing but of thinking through postcolonial identities?"
Professor Boehmer currently supervises DPhil/PhD students working on transnationalism; globalization and postcolonial literature; postcolonial ethics; nineteenth-century South Asian writing; colonial nostalgia; Linton Kwesi Johnson; and South East Asian writing.
Elleke Boehmer has published five monographs and five novels to date, as well as many edited and co-edited collections, interviews, critical creative responses, and essays in refereed journals.
Among her best-known publications are the internationally cited Colonial and Postcolonial Literature: Migrant Metaphors (Oxford UP, 1995; 2nd edn 2005), and an acclaimed monograph investigating transnational links between anti-colonial movements, Empire, the National, and the Postcolonial, 1890-1920 (Oxford UP, 2002; paperback 2004).
In 2005 she published a study of the influential intersections between nationalist, postcolonial and feminist thought Stories of Women: Gender and Narrative in the Postcolonial Nation (Manchester UP). The monograph appeared from Manchester UP in paperback in the summer of 2009.
In the summer of 2008 she published the cultural history, Nelson Mandela: A Very Short Introduction (OUP). See also 'Beyond the icon: Mandela in his 90th year', Open Democracy, November 2008.
She has edited the anthology Empire Writing, 1870-1918 and the British bestseller Scouting for Boys, Robert Baden-Powell's primer of the Scout movement (2004; pb 2005), as well as Cornelia Sorabji's 1934 India Calling (with Naella Grew: Trent Editions, 2004).
She has co-edited collections of essays on transnationalism, the new South Africa (1990 and 2005), and on questions in postcolonial aesthetics. A collection of critical essays on Terror and the Postcolonial, co-edited with Dr Stephen Morton, appeared from Wiley-Blackwell in 2009. Further details.
A collection, J.M. Coetzee in Context and Theory, co-edited with Robert Eaglestone and Katy Iddiols, was out from Continuum in 2009, and a critical reader looking at postcolonial theorizations of India, that pre-eminent 'post-colonial' nation, The Indian Postcolonial, edited with Rosinka Chaudhuri, in 2011.
Elleke Boehmer has published five widely acclaimed novels, Screens Against the Sky (1990: shortlisted David Higham Prize); An Immaculate Figure (1993), Bloodlines (2000: shortlisted Sanlam Prize), Nile Baby (Ayebia, 2008), and The Shouting in the Dark, as well as a number of short stories in journals, magazines, and anthologies. Sharmilla, and Other Portraits (Jacana, 2010) is her first collection of short stories and was praised for its mix of 'intelligence' and 'engagement' by Andre Brink.
Elleke Boehmer holds an honorary doctorate from Linnaeus University, Sweden.
Elleke is the co-convenor with Professor Ankhi Mukherjee of the lively Oxford Postcolonial Seminar. Recent speakers include Emily Apter, Pheng Cheah, Hisham Mattar, and Malachi McIntosh.
'Exploring the In-Between: Elleke Boehmer, Writer, Critic & Long Distance Friend' by Karina Magdalena Szczurek