Review of Gayatri Gopinath (2005) Impossible Desires: Queer Diasporas and South Asian Public, Duke Unvirsity Press.
Welcome to Gayatri World, a place of many myriad shining surfaces in which the globe is shrunk wrap into theoretically dazzling snippets of books, films and music. Like the infamous, ‘Its a Small World Ride’ at Disney World, Gopinath’s book collapses all geography under the guise of public culture.
Familiarity is central to the figurines representing each country of the dominant world in the Disney ride and for Euro-American readers of books on diaspora, Gopinath goes over well known texts such as ‘My Beautiful Laundrette,’; Hanif Kureshi; Bollywood and Bhangra. Each is placed under a critical overarching dazzling gaze of literature. As the boat that carries the viewers, in the ‘Small World’ ride, meanders its way around the various representations of the world you are greeted by dolls dressed in the national garb from different countries, sonic and visual pleasures abound. In ‘Impossible Desires’ the reader is taken on a similar journey over seven chapters each with their own set of representations, but just like the sets of the Small World ride, the spectator/reader is asked to suspend their existing knowledge of the subject in hand.
One of my frustrations with the ‘It’s a Small World Ride’ resides in the choice of countries that are displayed and the need to work out why a country might be present or absent. A similar feeling arises when reading ‘Impossible Desires.’ As the book is ostensibly about making visible the previously ignored female queer diasporic subject, why is so little of this group’s actual cultural products not taken into account. Indeed, if choice of country is an issue perhaps another aspect of the Disney ride can help. One of the consistent aspects of the ‘Small World’ ride is though it encompasses over twenty countries all of the figurines are singing the same song: ‘It’s a Small World’. In that sense, Gopinath does smooth over geographical distinction with a set of textual continuities, the contexts are different but the song is the same. Yet, just as the ‘Small World’ and Disney more generally refers to a more positive time for American imperialism (of the 1950s in particular), the question asks why this book at this time. In what senses does the queer female identity do anything different than any other identity marker other than give us the opportunity to go on the ride for one more time. Perhaps it is the aesthetic that is to be admired. Once you have entered into Gayatri World, the show and the music are all put together in a sophisticated and critical manner, the problem is the ride itself.