Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



Document Type



In this project, through a closer examination of the controversies over Monica Ali’s Brick Lane (2003), Khaled Hosseini’s The Kite Runner (2003) and Azar Nafisi’s Reading Lolita in Tehran (2003), I seek to identify the elements of a defensible postcolonial vision. While postcolonialism is afflicted with many problematic assumptions, the exclusively liberal perspective which these authors seek to reaffirm in its place has its own plethora of defects. Ali, Hosseini and Nafisi merit a closer attention not only for their exposing some of the flawed views underlying postcolonialism but also for their demonstrating why an unqualified reversion to liberalism may not still be the best way of dealing with and understanding the non-Western world. The liberal perspective employed by Ali, Hosseini and Nafisi is particularly good at illuminating the problems entailed by postcolonialism and multiculturalism. The political and culturally relativistic views espoused by the latter not only distort the realities of the cultures they purport to defend but also mystify and thus help perpetuate the plight of many who are oppressed under the reign of traditional cultures. In the criticisms elicited by these narratives, however, we can see why completely dismissing the cultural and political insights of postcolonialism in favor of an exclusively liberal perspective may not be advisable. Conceiving of human beings as autonomous individuals first and foremost, liberalism either reduces cultures to superficial differences or opposes them as oppressive burdens; with such premises, liberalism can help us understand neither the attachments people have to their ethnic and religious cultures nor the sacrifices they are ready to make for their sake. Liberalism can expose the negative consequences of cultural forms of nationalism but cannot help us understand the important collective motives of cultural survival and economic modernization which underpin nationalism. We cannot properly understand these sentiments, attachments and aspirations unless we have recourse to the problematic concept of cultures promoted by postcolonialism. A viable postcolonial vision will thus acknowledge the superiority of liberalism as a political system, while criticizing its drawbacks as a universal and individualistic conception of human nature.



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Committee Chair

Berman, Jacob