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Ayelet Ben-Yishai

University of Haifa, Israel

Curriculum Vitae


Emergency Fictions is a full-length study of the literature produced in English during and about the turbulent years of Indira Gandhi’s Emergency government (1975-1977). My readings establish the Emergency as an important interpretative site: an exceptionally corrupt and violent episode that also functions as a catalyst for a long-term renegotiation of a modern Indian polity and culture.

The monograph is structured in two parts. Part I combines a study of fiction, journalism, memoir, and scholarship to construct a cultural study of the Emergency, contending that the politics and representations of the Emergency are structured on a tension between a discourse of crisis, excess, and anomaly, and a concomitant rhetoric of cohesion and historical continuity. This tension – extending from the colonial past into the political present – is predicated on a rhetoric of authoritarianism and corruption which characterizes both sides of the political divide. Part II, “Realism and Beyond: Literary Genres of Emergency,” focuses on the diverse forms – innovative and conventional, local and global – in which Emergency fiction appeared. I argue that while fiction was central to comprehending the Emergency and its legacy, the Emergency was also an important site for the renegotiation of Anglophone Indian literature in the late twentieth century. I identify the Emergency as a watershed cultural moment – with repercussions still resonant today – that gave rise to a period of rapid and radical postmodern literary innovation, while simultaneously provoking writers to hone and renegotiate more conventional realist literary forms. The corruption that characterized the era’s politics seeped into the literary field. Moreover, “corruption” became a key metaphor in literary debates on genre, used to denounce both more conservative, “colonial” realist forms as derivative, as well to deride post-modern, hybrid forms as playing fast and loose with literary propriety. .

Ayelet Ben-Yishai is a Senior Lecturer (Associate Professor) in the English Department at the University of Haifa. She specializes in Victorian and postcolonial literature and culture, and in the history and theory of the novel, with particular focus on questions of realism, literary epistemology, and the novel. A comparatist by training, she has degrees in both law and literature and has written extensively on their intersections. Her more recent research and teaching interests include narrative theory, Indian Anglophone writing, and world literature. She is the author of a book, Common Precedents: The Presentness of the Past in Victorian Fiction and Law (Oxford, 2013) and articles in NOVEL, Modern Fiction Studies, and the Journal of Commonwealth Literature, among others. She has been an Honorary Fellow at the IRH at UW-Madison, a recipient of an Israel Science Foundation grant for her research on realism in the postcolonial novel, and is the organizer of an interdisciplinary and comparative research group entitled, "Twentieth-century Partitions: Legacies of British Rule." In addition to her book on the Emergency, she is in the early stages of research of another on the ethical, political, and discursive problem of complicity.

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