The author argues that Zia Haider Rahman’s In the Light of What We Know (2014) is an encyclopedic narrative that encourages and interrogates the pursuit of knowledge. Rahman achieves this feat by creating a deceptive dialogue revolving around knowledge and narrative. While his characters’ analysis of everything from America’s intervention in Afghanistan to Gödel’s incompleteness theorem illustrates the ways in which the light of history, metaphor, and narrative (mis) shape the pursuit of knowledge, our own knowledge is limited by the history and metaphors of our twin narrators. The conflict between the search for knowledge and the inadequacies of narrative would appear to doom the encyclopedism of Rahman’s characters and readers alike, but the novel complicates this conclusion. Rather than refuting or embracing the pursuit of knowledge, In the Light fosters a uniquely postcolonial approach to encyclopedism that is simultaneously curious and cautious, polymathic and prudent, wide-reaching and reflective. This “postcolonial encyclopedism,” as he calls it, helps us recognize that encyclopedic narrative, a genre long associated with the giants of European and American literature, may be a potentially empowering, if ambivalent, mode of inquiry for postcolonial and global authors in the twenty-first century.
The “Pursuit of Knowledge” and the Paradoxes of Postcolonial Encyclopedism in Zia Haider Rahman’s In the Light of What We Know
Benjamin Bergholtz is assistant professor of English at Louisiana Tech University. His book project, from which the present article is excerpted, focuses on literary encyclopedism in twentieth- and twenty-first-century global anglophone fiction. His work has appeared in Contemporary Literature, Film International, and Mississippi Quarterly.
Benjamin Bergholtz; The “Pursuit of Knowledge” and the Paradoxes of Postcolonial Encyclopedism in Zia Haider Rahman’s In the Light of What We Know. Genre 1 April 2020; 53 (1): 79–103. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/00166928-8210776
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