Spaces of Melancholia, Melancholias of Space: Shifting Structures of Feeling in Post-Independence Karachi

This paper draws upon Henri Lefebvre and Fredric Jameson to trace the shifting coordinates of social and spatial experience through novels set in Karachi (Pakistan). I bring Lefebvre’s understanding of the “concrete abstraction” of space under capitalism together with Jameson’s insights on the content and form of narratives to develop an understanding of “space” as constitutive to literary fiction. I then draw upon three major novels to trace the shifting “structure of feeling” in post-Independence Karachi: Khuda Ki Basti [God’s Own Land] by Shaukat Siddiqui, Chakiwara Mein Visaal [Love in Chakiwara] by Khalid Akhtar, and Aagay Samandar Hai [The Sea Lies Ahead] by Intizar Husain. I show how developing rhythms of the urban question in Karachi – and the concomitant fragmentations of space, politics, and consciousness – were lived through a melancholic structure of feeling. In turn, I also show how such a melancholic structure of feeling is not only about loss and eclipse, but also harbours a Utopian impulse i.e. openings for practices of solidarity, creativity, and unalienated forms of social life. The article therefore elaborates a critical literary geography which elucidates the internalisation of spatial rhythms within literary fiction, including the constitutive contradictions and potentials embedded therein.