ECSAS 2023 – Turin 26-29 July

Caste and the Uncanny


Brueck Laura - Northwestern University, Dept. of Asian Languages and Cultures, Evanston, United States


35 – Postmodern Narratives of Caste and Indigeneity


A man lies suspended in the sallow glow of a tubelight as dusk spreads around his middle-class urban apartment, unable to disentangle his consciousness from the embodied brutality of casteism experienced by his ancestors. A grandfather, his eyes clouded by cataracts, stares mutely at the assault on his granddaughter that he witnesses but cannot see. An Indian tourist in Greece experiences a mounting sense of unease as he hears voices and recounts conversations that never happened…

In this paper I explore the ways in which contemporary anti-caste writers employ the uncanny as a way of highlighting the unstable and conditional character of caste identity. Reading through the lens of Aniket Jaaware’s phenomenological approach to understanding (and resisting) caste in Practicing Caste (2019), this paper proposes an analysis of the role of the uncanny in destabilizing historical and political constructions of caste identity and demanding a focus instead on its experiential and embodied dimensions. How do authors such as Ajay Navaria, Uday Prakash, Perumal Murugan, Gogu Shyamala and others employ the uncanny through narrative explorations of the malevolence of the built environment, liminal states between sleeping and waking, and the pervasive, almost material fear of discovery? How does the affective power of the uncanny render caste as such illegible/unseeable, but also viscerally felt?