Sexuality endures as an object of historical recovery through a poetics of melancholia, an irresolvable longing for loss that refuses all forms of consolation. My meditations call upon a historiography of sexuality in South Asia that pushes against the binding energies of such melancholic historicism. To fix sexuality primarily within such an arbitrary arsenal of loss (while politically exigent) is to refuse alternative histories of emergence. At its most ambitious, my essay ruminates instead on more imaginative histories of sexuality, full of intrepid archives and acts of invention. To do so, I engage the emergence of a Devadasi collectivity in Portuguese India and pose two broad and vulgar questions: What happens if we abandon the historical language of search and rescue and focus instead on sexuality as a site of radical abundance, even futurity? How do collectivities in South Asia wrestle with the evidentiary forms that such models of loss demand, and in doing so, how do they assemble historical archives that anticipate the compensatory gains that such losses should or will produce?
In the Absence of Reliable Ghosts: Sexuality, Historiography, South Asia
anjali arondekar is an associate professor of feminist studies and literature at the University of California, Santa Cruz. Her research engages the poetics and politics of sexuality, colonialism, and historiography, with a focus on South Asia. She is the author of For the Record: On Sexuality and the Colonial Archive in India (Duke University Press, 2009, and Orient Blackswan [India], 2010) and a winner of the Alan Bray Memorial Book Award for best book in lesbian, gay, or queer studies in literature and cultural studies, Modern Language Association, 2010. She is currently working on two book projects on sexuality, collectivity, and ethics in Portuguese India: “What More Remains: On Sexuality and Historiography” and “Lyrical Summonings: Sexuality and South Asia.”