Diaspora’s “Dark Room”: Photography and the vision of loss in Jhumpa Lahiri’s “Hema and Kaushik”

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Abstract

In the long story “Hema and Kaushik” that comprises Part II of Jhumpa Lahiri’s most recent collection Unaccustomed Earth (2008), we find the recurrent trope of photographs and photography. Kaushik, the child of immigrants, becomes a photojournalist who visits war-torn areas documenting the destruction with his camera. The loss of homeland for second-generation immigrants like Kaushik is a phantom loss, since they cannot access the originary moment of departure in their memories. I argue that photography allows Kaushik to counter his unrootedness by providing him with a sense of presence. However, given photography’s double edge — its ability to capture a moment and preserve it for posterity and, conversely, its inalienable connection with absence, loss and even death — it ultimately renders his efforts false and exacerbates his sense of phantom loss and diaspora mourning. Using writings on photography theory by Roland Barthes, Susan Sontag and others, I posit a relation between the desire to photograph and the immigrant condition. Copyright © 2010 The Author(s).
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)443-456
JournalThe Journal of Commonwealth Literature
Volume45
Issue number3
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - Sep 2010

Citation

Banerjee, B. (2010). Diaspora’s “Dark Room”: Photography and the vision of loss in Jhumpa Lahiri’s “Hema and Kaushik”. The Journal of Commonwealth Literature, 45(3), 443-456. doi: 10.1177/0021989410377393

Keywords

  • Jhumpa Lahiri photography
  • Diaspora
  • The impossibility of mourning
  • Second-generation immigrants
  • Identity
  • Phantom loss

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