Impossible Desires

Queer Diasporas and South Asian Public Cultures

Impossible Desires

Perverse Modernities: A Series Edited by Jack Halberstam and Lisa Lowe

More about this series

Book Pages: 264 Illustrations: 12 b&w photos Published: April 2005

Asian Studies > South Asia, Cultural Studies, Gender and Sexuality > LGBTQ Studies

By bringing queer theory to bear on ideas of diaspora, Gayatri Gopinath produces both a more compelling queer theory and a more nuanced understanding of diaspora. Focusing on queer female diasporic subjectivity, Gopinath develops a theory of diaspora apart from the logic of blood, authenticity, and patrilineal descent that she argues invariably forms the core of conventional formulations. She examines South Asian diasporic literature, film, and music in order to suggest alternative ways of conceptualizing community and collectivity across disparate geographic locations. Her agile readings challenge nationalist ideologies by bringing to light that which has been rendered illegible or impossible within diaspora: the impure, inauthentic, and nonreproductive.

Gopinath juxtaposes diverse texts to indicate the range of oppositional practices, subjectivities, and visions of collectivity that fall outside not only mainstream narratives of diaspora, colonialism, and nationalism but also most projects of liberal feminism and gay and lesbian politics and theory. She considers British Asian music of the 1990s alongside alternative media and cultural practices. Among the fictional works she discusses are V. S. Naipaul’s classic novel A House for Mr. Biswas, Ismat Chughtai’s short story “The Quilt,” Monica Ali’s Brick Lane, Shyam Selvadurai’s Funny Boy, and Shani Mootoo’s Cereus Blooms at Night. Analyzing films including Deepa Mehta’s controversial Fire and Mira Nair’s Monsoon Wedding, she pays particular attention to how South Asian diasporic feminist filmmakers have reworked Bollywood’s strategies of queer representation and to what is lost or gained in this process of translation. Gopinath’s readings are dazzling, and her theoretical framework transformative and far-reaching.


Impossible Desires is a fascinating and lively book that is lucidly written. It can be used equally well with committed undergraduate students as well as by more advanced scholarly readers to engage further with the queer female diasporic subject and the possibilities that she suggests.” — Rajinder Dudrah, GLQ

“[A] fascinating study of queer diasporas and South Asian public cultures. . . .” — Vijay Mishra, Year's Work in Critical and Cultural Theory

“[E]xcellent . . . [Gopinath’s study] productively expand[s] and complicate[s] the modes of critical knowledge production in Asian American literary/cultural studies against any presumptions of certain belonging within and across disciplinary and interdisciplinary borders.” — Laura Hyun Yi Kang, Feminist Studies

“[T]his smart and well-written book signals a sea change in the field. . . . Impossible Desires stands as a pathbreaking work, addressing persistent exclusions in both feminist and queer literatures on South Asian public culture and significantly reworking current conceptualizations of diaspora.” — Lawrence Cohen, Journal of Asian Studies

“By bringing queer theory to bear on ideas of diaspora, Gayatri Gopinath produces both a more compelling queer theory and a more nuanced understanding of diaspora. . . . Gopinath's readings are dazzling, and her theoretical framework transformative and far-reaching.” — Indologica blog

“Gopinath . . . boldly charts a history of the present in which heteronormativity and contemporary nationalisms are neither a natural nor
an inevitable result of neoliberal globalization marching across the world.” — David Eng, GLQ

“Her lively, accessible writing ranges from British-Asian music, through Bollywood/Hollywood to the work of Pakistani writer Ishmat Chugtai. Her analysis of films including Fire and Monsoon Wedding is a particular highlight.” — Diva

"Gopinath offers us tantalizing opportunities to forge a queer feminist diasporic critique that considers multiple forms of difference that compete, align, and are suspended in tension within South Asian diasporic cultures." — Amy Brandzel and Jigna Desai, Journal of the History of Sexuality

“Boldly spanning Hindi film, British Asian music, Urdu literature, diasporic postcolonial literature and film, U.S. queer activism, and feminist politics, Gayatri Gopinath argues that queer desire becomes central to the ways in which national and diasporic histories are told when the erotics of power is acknowledged. Impossible Desires is a deft demonstration of both queer theory’s dominant ethnocentrism and diaspora and postcolonial studies’ heteronormativity and androcentrism.” — Ranjana Khanna, author of Dark Continents: Psychoanalysis and Colonialism

“Gayatri Gopinath’s innovative book marks a new stage in queer and diasporic studies. Incisive, expansive, and nuanced, Gopinath’s analysis will surely be invoked by academics in the future. A landmark piece of scholarship!” — Martin F. Manalansan IV, author of Global Divas: Filipino Gay Men in the Diaspora


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Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

Gayatri Gopinath is Assistant Professor of Women and Gender Studies at the University of California, Davis.

Table of Contents Back to Top
Acknowledgments ix

1. Impossible Desires: An Introduction 1

2. Communities of Sound: Queering South Asian Popular Music in the Diaspora 29

3. Surviving Naipaul: Housing Masculinity in A House for Mr. Biswas, Surviving Sabu, and East Is East 63

4. Bollywood/Hollywood: Queer Cinematic Representation and the Perils of Translation 93

5. Local Sites/Global Contexts: The Transnational Trajectories of Fire and "The Quilt" 131

6. Nostalgia, Desire, and Diaspora: Funny Boy and Cereus Blooms at Night 161

7. Epilogue: Queer Homes in Diaspora 187

Notes 195

Bibliography 221

Filmography 235

Index 237
Sales/Territorial Rights: World

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Additional InformationBack to Top
Paper ISBN: 978-0-8223-3513-9 / Cloth ISBN: 978-0-8223-3501-6
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