On Grafting the Vernacular: The Consequences of Postcolonial
Ghosh, Bishnupriya.
boundary 2, Volume 31, Number 2, Summer 2004, pp. 197-218 (Article)
Published by Duke University Press
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On Grafting the Vernacular: The Consequences
of Postcolonial Spectrology
Bishnupriya Ghosh
The literary icon Amitav Ghosh has lately acquired the status of elder
statesman among South Asian writers, a political designation bestowed on
him following his withdrawal of The Glass Palace from the Commonwealth
Writers Prize ‘‘Best Book’’ nomination in 2001. In a modulated letter, Ghosh
writes, ‘‘As a literary or cultural grouping however, it seems to me that ‘the
Commonwealth’ can only be a misnomer so long as it excludes the many
languages that sustain the cultural and literary lives of these countries.’’ 1 His
abrogation of the cultural currency of English in the postcolonial world, and
his consequent focus on the vernaculars of that world, hones my perception
of a certain quality in his oeuvre: the stalking of the novel in English by vernacular
Indian fiction. This ‘‘other’’ archive—a phrase I use deliberately to
capture Ghosh’s ongoing historiographic projects—that shadows his novels
generates what can only be called a hauntological literary oeuvre.
Here I speak to the contours of Ghosh’s literary haunting through
the pursuit of a particular spectacular example, The Calcutta Chromosome
1. See ‘‘Letter to the Administrators of the Commonwealth Prize,’’ posted on Amitav
Ghosh’s Web site,; my emphasis.
boundary 2 31:2, 2004. Copyright © 2004 by Duke University Press.
198 boundary 2 / Summer 2004
(1996).2 It is in this novel that Ghosh most elaborately deploys the tropology
of the specter through his ethical spectrology (ghosting) and epistemological...