Rigmarole English: Mufti, Desani, and the Literary-Philological Field

“I write rigmarole English” (Desani, All About Hatter 37)

This sentence struck me as strange, and after reading the novel, I was surprised that Hatter’s English, not his narrative, was declared rigmarole—”incoherent; rambling; unduly elaborate, protracted, or diffuse” or “a long, involved, or tedious procedure” (Oxford English Dictionary). 

Aamir R. Mufti’s “Orientalism and the Institution of World Literatures” argues that most articulations of the global literary field neglect the “extended literary-philological moment, in which often-overlapping bodies of writing came to acquire, through a process of historicization, distinct personalities as literature along national lines” (466). According to Mufti, failing to acknowledge and understand the “relations of force and powers of assimilation” (493) that constitute the “language field” (480) creates inaccurate narratives non-Western literatures’ “emergence” (like Casanova’s The World Republic of Letters) and faulty understandings of “world literature”.  

Mufti’s description of Orientalism—“the set of processes for the reorganization of language, literature, and culture on a planetary scale” (488)—invokes Desani’s characterization of Hatter’s English. In Mufti’s words, “[t]he process of linguistic differentiation and realignment was thus a gradual and laborious one and by no means linear” (485). It’s rigamarole. If one accepts Mufti’s literary-philological field, Orientalism makes it impossible for colonized or post-colonial literatures to have any other relationship to Western languages. Rigmarole English is the only English available to Hatter. 

This raises questions we began to discuss last week: How should we read language in All About Hatter? How does an assumed alternative relationship to English necessitate this sort of declaration? In what ways does Mufti’s explanation of the language field increase the difficulty of McKay’s literary task in Banjo? Could some of McKay’s literary choices be read as attempts to juggle Orientalism and characters’ rigmarole English and French? 

Leave a Reply