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The Journal of English Language and Literature , Vol.67, No.1, 67 ~ 84, 2021
Politico-aesthetics and the Ethical Significance of Touch in Michael Ondaatje’s Anil’s Ghost
Dae-joong Kim
This article aims to examine the meanings of politico-aesthetics and the ethical significance of tactile experience in Anil’s Ghost written by Michael Ondaatje, a Sri Lankan-born Canadian writer. Although most reviewers until now have focused on postcolonialism, testimony, experimental form or political ambiguity, critics have disagreed on whether the novel is political and on whether the writer presents a one-sided perspective on the Sri Lankan civil war. In this essay I argue that Anil’s Ghost is aesthetically political and deeply historical and that truth and death are the cruxes of the novel. In the story, Anil Tissera, a cosmopolitan forensic pathologist working on the behalf of a U.N. human rights agency, and Sarath Diyasena, an archeologist, cooperate to investigate a skeleton, “Sailor,” because they suspect that the person represented by the skeleton was recently killed by the Sri Lankan Government. Ondaatje presents graphic descriptions of bloody carnage ethically in that the novel visualizes suffering human beings and their bodies through unreconciled and refracted images and a fragmentary and ambiguous structure. This article focuses on the representational linkage between an ethico-ontological perspective and a politico-historical understanding of human suffering. In Anil’s Ghost, truth and justice are buried together with dead bodies that possess petrified object signs which makes the novel ethico-political. Death, alongside petrified object signs and body part signs, demands a moment of ethical epiphany. Also those signs become tactile, and their final function possesses healing. Care and tactile experience, in terms of Buddhism, are presented as the moment of Dharma, the true law, that resonates with ethico-politco-aesthetic truth.
Key Words
Michael Ondaatje, Anil`s Ghost, Politico-aesthetics, Jacque Rancière, Ethics
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