The Violence of Memory: Renarrating Partition Violence in Shauna Singh Baldwin's What the Body Remembers

This article explores how Shauna Singh Baldwin's novel What the Body Remembers builds on Partition feminist historiography in order to exhume and retell the story of family violence against women during India's Partition, intended to “save their honor” from rioting mobs. While feminist historiographies have restored Partition survivors' memories of violence to the historical archive, Baldwin's novel explicitly foregrounds the role of gendered bodies in and as the archive of communal memories of violence. I begin with Baldwin's exploration of the embodied character of Sikh subject-formation in a pre-Partition border community, and close in, like the novel itself, on a key moment of embodied violence: the cutting up and reassembling of a woman's body, whose manner of death is later reconstructed by her male family members, in the presence of a female family member. My analysis shows how the text's layering of perspectives around this body encodes a feminist hermeneutics of doubt and models a critical practice of “reading between the lines” in order to recover the violence suppressed in the text of patriarchal memory. Furthermore, I argue, the woman's dismembered, re-membered body in the text allegorizes the processes of disfigurement through which women's bodies are routinely produced as “dead metaphors” for patriarchal honor; as well as the project of remembering violence differently, which the novel itself endorses.

Deepti Misri
Meridians, Duke University Press