March 31, 2014
Poststructuralist theory interrogates systems of thought and discursive regimes of knowledge in order to locate the underlying historical assumptions that shape and inform human subjectivity. Nowhere is this epistemological excavation more complex than in representations of the postcolonial self. Arun Joshi’s The Strange Case of Billy Biswas can be read as a representation of the hybrid self, one produced by transcultural processes of colonisation. Yet, if we read the novel through Paul Ricoeur’s hermeneutic phenomenology, we find that Joshi’s narrative representation of self is not confined to the postcolonial dialectic of self and other. For Ricoeur, self and other than self reside in a circle of sameness-identity; it is constitutive of selfhood. While critical work on Joshi’s novel has distinguished between the narrator, Romi, and the protagonist as two mutually exclusive entities, the primary focus being the existential experience of Billy, this paper suggests that the narrator himself is intimately implicated in this experience. Indeed, they can be read as two parts of a whole being, a ‘double consciousness’ that inhabits the dialectic self and its other. Ultimately, this reading will attempt to access an understanding of the hierarchy of significations that inform our hermeneutic experience of narrative self-identity.