The field of Postcolonial Studies has been gaining prominence since the 1970s. Some would date its rise in the Western academy from the publication of Edward Said’s influential critique of Western constructions of the Orient in his 1978 book, Orientalism. The growing currency within the academy of the term “postcolonial” (sometimes hyphenated) was consolidated by the appearance in 1989 of The Empire Writes Back: Theory and Practice in Post-Colonial Literatures by Bill Ashcroft, Gareth Griffiths, and Helen Tiffin. Since then, the use of cognate terms “Commonwealth” and “Third World” that were used to describe the literature of Europe’s former colonies has become rarer. Although there is considerable debate over the precise parameters of the field and the definition of the term “postcolonial,” in a very general sense, it is the study of the interactions between European nations and the societies they colonized in the modern period. The European empire is said to have held sway over more than 85% of the rest of the globe by the time of the First World War, having consolidated its control over several centuries. The sheer extent and duration of the European empire and its disintegration after the Second World War have led to widespread interest in postcolonial literature and criticism in our own times.
The list of former colonies of European powers is a long one. They are divided into settler (eg. Australia, Canada) and non-settler countries (India, Jamaica, Nigeria, Senegal, Sri Lanka). Countries such as South Africa and Zimbabwe which were partially settled by colonial populations complicate even this simpledivision between settler and non-settler. The widely divergent experiences of these countries suggest that “postcolonial” is a very loose term. In strictly definitional terms, for instance, the United States might also be described as a postcolonial country, but it is not perceived as such because of its position of power in world politics in the present, its displacement of native American populations, and its annexation of other parts of the world in what may be seen as a form of colonization. For that matter, other settler countries such as Canada and Australia are sometimes omitted from the category “postcolonial” because of their relatively shorter struggle for independence, their loyalist tendencies toward the mother country which colonized them, and the absence of problems of racism or of the imposition of a foreign language. It could, however, be argued that the relationship between these countries to the mother country is often one of margin to center, making their experience relevant to a better understanding of colonialism. The debate surrounding the status of settler countries as postcolonial suggests that issues in Postcolonial Studies often transcend the boundaries of strict definition. In a literal sense, “postcolonial” is that which has been preceded by colonization. The second college edition of The American Heritage Dictionary defines it as “of, relating to, or being the time following the establishment of independence in a colony.” In practice, however, the term is used much more loosely. While the denotative definition suggests otherwise, it is not only the period after the departure of the imperial powers that concerns those in the field, but that before independence as well.
The formation of the colony through various mechanisms of control and the various stages in the development of anti-colonial nationalism interest many scholars in the field. By extension, sometimes temporal considerations give way to spatial ones (i.e. in an interest in the postcolony as a geographical space with a history prior or even external to the experience of colonization rather than in the postcolonial as a particular period) in that the cultural productions and social formations of the colony long before colonization are used to better understand the experience of colonization. Moreover, the “postcolonial” sometimes includes countries that have yet to achieve independence, or people in First World countries who are minorities, or even independent colonies that now contend with “neocolonial” forms of subjugation through expanding capitalism and globalization. In all of these senses, the “postcolonial,” rather than indicating only a specific and materially historical event, seems to describe the second half of the twentieth-century in general as a period in the aftermath of the heyday of colonialism. Even more generically, the “postcolonial” is used to signify a position against imperialism and Eurocentrism. Western ways of knowledge production and dissemination in the past and present then become objects of study for those seeking alternative means of expression. As the foregoing discussion suggests, the term thus yokes a diverse range of experiences, cultures, and problems; the resultant confusion is perhaps predictable.
The expansiveness of the “postcolonial” has given rise to lively debates. Even as some deplore its imprecision and lack of historical and material particularity, others argue that most former colonies are far from free of colonial infuence or domination and so cannot be postcolonial in any genuine sense. In other words, the overhasty celebration of independence masks the march of neocolonialism in the guise of modernization and development in an age of increasing globalization and transnationalism; meanwhile, there are colonized countries that are still under foreign control. The emphasis on colonizer/colonized relations, moreover, obscures the operation of internal oppression within the colonies. Still others berate the tendency in the Western academy to be more receptive to postcolonial literature and theory that is compatible with postmodern formulations of hybridity, syncretization, and pastiche while ignoring the critical realism of writers more interested in the specifics of social and racial oppression. The lionization of diasporic writers like Salman Rushdie, for instance, might be seen as a privileging of the transnational, migrant sensibility at the expense of more local struggles in the postcolony. Further, the rise of Postcolonial Studies at a time of growing transnational movements of capital, labor, and culture is viewed by some with suspicion in that it is thought to deflect attention away from the material realities of exploitation both in the First and the Third World.
Despite the reservations and debates, research in Postcolonial Studies is growing because postcolonial critique allows for a wide-ranging investigation into power relations in various contexts. The formation of empire, the impact of colonization on postcolonial history, economy, science, and culture, the cultural productions of colonized societies, feminism and postcolonialism, agency for marginalized people, and the state of the postcolony in contemporary economic and cultural contexts are some broad topics in the field.
The following questions suggest some of the major issues in the field:
How did the experience of colonization affect those who were colonized while also influencing the colonizers? How were colonial powers able to gain control over so large a portion of the non-Western world? What traces have been left by colonial education, science and technology in postcolonial societies? How do these traces affect decisions about development and modernization in postcolonies? What were the forms of resistance against colonial control? How did colonial education and language influence the culture and identity of the colonized? How did Western science, technology, and medicine change existing knowledge systems? What are the emergent forms of postcolonial identity after the departure of the colonizers? To what extent has decolonization (a reconstruction free from colonial influence) been possible? Are Western formulations of postcolonialism overemphasizing hybridity at the expense of material realities? Should decolonization proceed through an aggressive return to the pre-colonial past (related topic: Essentialism)? How do gender, race, and class function in colonial and postcolonial discourse? Are new forms of imperialism replacing colonization and how?
Along with these questions, there are some more that are particularly pertinent to postcolonial literature: Should the writer use a colonial language to reach a wider audience or return to a native language more relevant to groups in the postcolony? Which writers should be included in the postcolonial canon? How can texts in translation from non-colonial languages enrich our understanding of postcolonial issues? Has the preponderance of the postcolonial novel led to a neglect of other genres?
Some of the best known names in Postcolonial literature and theory are those of Chinua Achebe, Homi Bhabha, Buchi Emecheta, Frantz Fanon, Jamaica Kincaid, Salman Rushdie, Wole Soyinka, and Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak. A more comprehensive although by no means exhaustive list follows.
LITERATURE: Chinua Achebe, Ama Ata Aidoo, Peter Abrahams, Ayi Kwei Armah, Aime Cesaire, John Pepper Clark, Michelle Cliff, Jill Ker Conway, Tsitsi Dangarembga, Anita Desai, Assia Djebar, Marguerite Duras, Buchi Emecheta, Nuruddin Farah, Amitav Ghosh, Nadine Gordimer, Bessie Head, Merle Hodge, C.L.R. James, Ben Jelloun, Farida Karodia, Jamaica Kincaid, Hanif Kureishi, George Lamming, Dambudzo Marechera, Rohinton Mistry, Ezekiel Mphahlele, V. S. Naipaul, Taslima Nasrin, Ngugi Wa Thiong’o, Flora Nwapa, Grace Ogot, Molara Ogundipe-Leslie, Gabriel Okara, Ben Okri, Michael Ondaatje, Arundhati Roy, Salman Rushdie, Simone Schwarz-Bart, Allan Sealy, Shyam Selvadurai, Leopold Senghor, Vikram Seth, Bapsi Sidhwa, Wole Soyinka, Sara Suleri, M.G.Vassanji, Derek Walcott, etc.
FILM: Shyam Benegal, Gurinder Chadha, Claire Denis, Shekhar Kapoor, Srinivas Krishna, Farida Ben Lyazid, Ken Loach, Deepa Mehta, Ketan Mehta, Mira Nair, Peter Ormrod, Horace Ove, Pratibha Parmar, Satyajit Ray, Mrinal Sen, Ousmane Sembene, etc.
THEORY: Aijaz Ahmad, Kwame Anthony Appiah, Bill Ashcroft, Homi Bhabha, Amilcar Cabral, Partha Chatterjee, Rey Chow, Frantz Fanon, Gareth Griffiths, Ranajit Guha, Bob Hodge, Abdul JanMohamed, Ania Loomba, Trinh T. Minh-ha, Vijay Mishra, Chandra Talpade Mohanty, Arun Mukherjee, Ngugi Wa Thiong’o, Benita Parry, Edward Said, Kumkum Sangari, Jenny Sharpe, Stephen Slemon, Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak, Aruna Srivastava, Sara Suleri, Gauri Viswanathan, Helen Tiffin, etc.
Postcolonial and Transnational Theories
“Postcolonial” (or post-colonial) as a concept enters critical discourse in its current meanings in the late 1970s and early 1980s, but both the practice and the theory of postcolonial resistance go back much further (indeed to the origins of colonialism itself). Thus below I list a number of writers who were “postcolonial” avant la lettre, including figures like Frantz Fanon and Albert Memmi, the Caribbean “negritude” writers, and some US critics whose work also presages some of the positions now labeled postcolonial. The term means to suggest both resistance to the “colonial” and that the “colonial” and its discourses continue to shape cultures whose revolutions have overthrown formal ties to their former colonial rulers. This ambiguity owes a good deal to post-structuralist linguistic theory as it has influenced and been transformed by the three most influential postcolonial critics Edward Said, Gayatri Spivak, and Homi Bhabha. Many genealogists of postcolonial thought, including Bhabha himself, credit Said’s Orientalism as the founding work for the field. Said’s argument that “the Orient” was a fantastical, real material-discursive construct of “the West” that shaped the real and imagined existences of those subjected to the fantasy, set many of the terms for subsequent theoretical development, including the notion that, in turn, this “othering” process used the Orient to create, define, and solidify the “West.” This complex, mutually constitutive process, enacted with nuanced difference across the range of the colonized world(s), and through a variety of textual and other practices, is the object of postcolonial analysis.
Both the term and various theoretical formulations of the “postcolonial” have been controversial. I have included works below which take very different approaches to what broadly can be labeled postcolonial, and I have included works which offer strong critiques of some of the limits of the field as practiced by some of it most prominent figures.
I have also included a separate section on North American postcolonial studies. This is meant both to suggest affinities and differences. In the context of American Studies the work of figures like C.L.R. James, and W.E.B. DuBois, and more recently H.L. Gates, Jr., Gloria Anzaldúa, Lisa Lowe, and José David Saldívar, to name only a few, have anticipated, drawn from, critiqued and applied postcolonial theory to this continent. Part of that work emerges out of traditions in US ethnic studies that have traced diasporic links between home countries and new worlds for several decades. Another part of that work has included decentering the “United States” from its claim on the term “America,” a move that connects the hemispheres, points toward the history of the US as an imperial power, and underscores the contemporary fact of intensified transnationalization and globalization of cultures. The term “transnationalism” is the most often used critical term to denote the complex new flow of culture (in all directions, though hardly equally) resulting from the current mobility of people, capital, and ideas across national boundaries. Strong efforts are underway within the American Studies community to locate the field-imaginary of American Studies within more complicated trans- and post-nationalisms, without underplaying the continuing power of nationalisms.
“Postcolonial Literature”: Problems with the Term
“Postcolonial Literature” is a hot commodity these days. On the one hand writers like Salman Rushdie and Arundhati Roy are best-selling authors; and on the other hand, no college English department worth its salt wants to be without a scholar who can knowledgeably discourse about postcolonial theory.
But there seems to be a great deal of uncertainty as to just what the term denotes. Many of the debates among postcolonial scholars center on which national literatures or authors can be justifiably included in the postcolonial canon. Much of the discussion among postcolonial scholars involves criticisms of the term “postcolonial” itself. In addition, it is seldom mentioned but quite striking that very few actual authors of the literature under discussion embrace and use the term to label their own writing.
It should be acknowledged that postcolonial theory functions as a subdivision within the even more misleadingly named field of “cultural studies”: the whole body of generally leftist radical literary theory and criticism which includes Marxist, Gramscian, Foucauldian, and various feminist schools of thought, among others. What all of these schools of thought have in common is a determination to analyze unjust power relationships as manifested in cultural products like literature (and film, art, etc.). Practitioners generally consider themselves politically engaged and committed to some variety or other of liberation process.
It is also important to understand that not all postcolonial scholars are literary scholars. Postcolonial theory is applied to political science, to history, and to other related fields. People who call themselves postcolonial scholars generally see themselves as part of a large (if poorly defined and disorganized) movement to expose and struggle against the influence of large, rich nations (mostly European, plus the U.S.) on poorer nations (mostly in the southern hemisphere).
Taken literally, the term “postcolonial literature” would seem to label literature written by people living in countries formerly colonized by other nations. This is undoubtedly what the term originally meant, but there are many problems with this definition.
First, literal colonization is not the exclusive object of postcolonial study. Lenin’s classic analysis of imperialism led to Antonio Gramisci’s concept of “hegemony” which distinguishes between literal political dominance and dominance through ideas and culture (what many critics of American influence call the “Coca-Colanization” of the world). Sixties thinkers developed the concept of neo-imperialism to label relationships like that between the U.S. and many Latin American countries which, while nominally independent, had economies dominated by American business interests, often backed up by American military forces. The term “banana republic” was originally a sarcastic label for such subjugated countries, ruled more by the influence of the United Fruit Corporation than by their own indigenous governments.
Second, among the works commonly studied under this label are novels like Claude McKay’s Banjo and Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart which were written while the nations in question (Jamaica and Nigeria) were still colonies. Some scholars attempt to solve this problem by arguing that the term should denote works written after colonization, not only those created after independence; but that would be “postcolonization” literature. Few people understand the term in this sense outside a small circle of scholars working in the field.
Third, some critics argue that the term misleadingly implies that colonialism is over when in fact most of the nations involved are still culturally and economically subordinated to the rich industrial states through various forms of neo-colonialism even though they are technically independent.
Fourth, it can be argued that this way of defining a whole era is Eurocentric, that it singles out the colonial experience as the most important fact about the countries involved. Surely that experience has had many powerful influences; but this is not necessarily the framework within which writers from–say–India, who have a long history of precolonial literature, wish to be viewed.
For instance, R. K. Narayan–one of the most popular and widely read of modern Indian writers–displays a remarkable indifference to the historical experience of colonialism, a fact which results in his being almost entirely ignored by postcolonial scholars. V. S. Naipaul is so fierce a critic of the postcolonial world despite his origins as a descendant of Indian indentured laborers in Trinidad that he is more often cited as an opponent than as an ally in the postcolonial struggle.
In fact, it is not uncommon for citizens of “postcolonial” countries to accuse Americans and Europeans of practicing a form of neocolonialism themselves in viewing their history through this particular lens. Postcolonial criticism could be compared to the tendency of Hollywood films set in such countries to focus on the problems of Americans and Europeans within those societies while marginalizing the views of their native peoples.
Fifth, many “postcolonial” authors do not share the general orientation of postcolonial scholars toward engaging in an ongoing critique of colonialism. Nigerian writers Chinua Achebe and Wole Soyinka, for instance, after writing powerful indictments of the British in their country, turned to exposing the deeds of native-born dictators and corrupt officials within their independent homeland. Although postcolonial scholars would explain this corruption as a by-product of colonialism, such authors commonly have little interest in pursuing this train of thought.
Although there has been sporadic agitation in some African quarters for reparations for the slavery era, most writers of fiction, drama, and poetry see little point in continually rehashing the past to solve today’s problems. It is striking how little modern fiction from formerly colonized nations highlights the colonial past. Non-fiction writers often point out that Hindu-Muslim conflicts in South Asia are in part the heritage of attempts by the British administration in India to play the two groups of against each other (not to mention the special role assigned to the Sikhs in the British army); yet Indian fiction about these conflicts rarely points to such colonial causes. A good example is Kushwant Singh’s Train to Pakistan (1956) which deals directly with the partition of India from an almost exclusively Indian perspective.
Indeed, “postcolonial” writers often move to England or North America (because they have been exiled, or because they find a more receptive audience there, or simply in search of a more comfortable mode of living) and even sometimes–like Soyinka–call upon the governments of these “neocolonialist” nations to come to the aid of freedom movements seeking to overthrow native tyrants.
Sixth, “postcolonialism” as a term lends itself to very broad use. Australians and Canadians sometimes claim to live in postcolonial societies, but many would refuse them the label because their literature is dominated by European immigrants, and is therefore a literature of privilege rather than of protest. According to the usual postcolonial paradigm only literature written by native peoples in Canada and Australia would truly qualify.
Similarly, the label is usually denied to U.S. literature, though America’s identity was formed in contradistinction to that of England, because the U.S. is usually viewed as the very epitome of a modern neo-colonial nation, imposing its values, economic pressures, and political interests on a wide range of weaker countries.
The Irish are often put forward as an instance of a postcolonial European people, and indeed many African writers have been inspired by Irish ones for that reason. Yet some of the more nationalist ones (like Yeats) tended toward distressingly conservative–even reactionary–politics, and James Joyce had the utmost contempt for Irish nationalism. It is not clear how many Irish authors would have accepted the term if they had known of it.
Although postcolonial theory generally confines itself to the past half-century, it can be argued that everyone has been colonized at some time or other. Five thousand years ago Sumer started the process by uniting formerly independent city-states, and Narmer similarly subjugated formerly independent Upper and Lower Egypt. Rushdie likes to point out that England itself is a postcolonial nation, having been conquered by Romans and Normans, among others.
Not only is the term “postcolonial” exceedingly fuzzy, it can also be argued that it is also often ineffective. A good deal of postcolonial debate has to do with rival claims to victimhood, with each side claiming the sympathies of right-thinking people because of their past sufferings. The conflicts between Bosnians and Serbs, Palestinians and Jews, Turks and Greeks, Hindu and Muslim Indians, and Catholic and Protestant Irish illustrate the problems with using historical suffering as justification for a political program. It is quite true that Europeans and Americans often arrogantly dismiss their own roles in creating the political messes of postcolonial nations around the world; but it is unclear how accusations against them promote the welfare of those nations. In addition, when they are made to feel guilty, countries–like individuals–are as likely to behave badly as they are to behave generously.
It may make American and European scholars feel better to disassociate themselves from the crimes of their ancestors (which are admittedly, enormously bloody and oppressive, and should be acknowledged and studied–see resources below), but people struggling for freedom in oppressed nations are more likely to draw inspiration from the quintessentially European Enlightenment concept of rights under natural law than they are to turn to postcolonial theory. Similarly, European capitalist market theory is far more attractive to most people struggling against poverty in these nations than are the varieties of socialism propounded by postcolonial theoreticians.
“Postcolonial” is also a troublesome term because it draws some very arbitrary lines. South African writers Athol Fugard and Nadine Gordimer are often excluded from postcolonial courses, although their works were powerful protests against apartheid and they have lived and worked far more in Africa than, say, Buchi Emicheta, who emigrated to England as a very young woman and has done all of her writing there–because they are white. A host of fine Indian writers is neglected simply because they do not write in English on the sensible grounds that India has a millennia-long tradition of writing which should not be arbitrarily linked to the British imperial episode.
Of those who write in English, Anita Desai is included, though she is half German. Ngugi wa Thiong’o is included even though he now writes primarily in Gikuyu. Bharati Mukherjee specifically rejects the label “Indian-American,” though she is an immigrant from India, and Rushdie prefers to be thought of as a sort of multinational hybrid (though he has, on occasion, used the label “postcolonial” in his own writing). Hanif Kureishi is more English than Pakistani in his outlook, and many Caribbean-born writers living in England are now classed as “Black British.” What determines when you are too acculturated to be counted as postcolonial: where you were born? how long you’ve lived abroad? your subject matter? These and similar questions are the object of constant debate.
In fact, postcolonial theoretician Homi Bhabha developed the term “hybridity” to capture the sense that many writers have of belonging to both cultures. More and more writers, like Rushdie, reject the older paradigm of “exile” which was meaningful to earlier generations of emigrants in favor of accepting their blend of cultures as a positive synthesis. This celebration of cultural considerably blurs the boundaries laid down by postcolonial theory.
In practice, postcolonial literary studies are often sharply divided along linguistic lines in a way which simply reinforces Eurocentric attitudes. Latin American postcolonial studies are seldom explored by those laboring in English departments. Francophone African literature is generally neglected by Anglophone African scholars. Because of these failures to cut across linguistic boundaries, the roles of England and France are exaggerated over those of the colonized regions.
It can even be asked whether the entire premise of postcolonial studies is valid: that examining these literatures can give voice to formerly suppressed peoples. This is the question asked by Gayatri Spivak in her famous essay, “Can the Subaltern Speak?” Using Antonio Gramsci’s arcane label for oppressed people, she points out that anyone who has achieved enough literacy and sophistication to produce a widely-read piece of fiction is almost certainly by that very fact disqualified from speaking for the people he or she is supposed to represent. The “Subaltern Group” of Indian scholars has tried to claim the term to support their own analyses (a similar project exists among Latin American scholars), but the nagging question raised by Spivak remains.
It is notable that whenever writers from the postcolonial world like Soyinka, Derek Walcott, or Rushdie receive wide recognition they are denounced as unrepresentative and inferior to other, more obscure but more “legitimate” spokespeople.
This phenomenon is related to the question of “essentialism” which features so largely in contemporary political and literary theory. Usually the term is used negatively, to describe stereotypical ideas of–to take as an example my own ancestors–the Irish as drunken, irresponsible louts. However, protest movements built on self-esteem resort to essentialism in a positive sense, as in the many varieties of “black pride” movements which have emerged at various times, with the earliest perhaps being the concept of “négritude” developed by Caribbean and African writers living in Paris in the 1930s and 40s. However, each new attempt to create a positive group identity tends to be seen by at least some members of the group as restrictive, as a new form of oppressive essentialism.
Faced with the dilemma of wanting to make positive claims for certain ethnic groups or nationalities while simultaneously acknowledging individualism, some critics have put forward the concept of “strategic essentialism” in which one can speak in rather simplified forms of group identity for the purposes of struggle while debating within the group the finer shades of difference.
There are two major problems with this strategy, however. First, there are always dissenters within each group who speak out against the new corporate identity, and they are especially likely to be taken seriously by the very audiences targeted by strategic essentialism. Second, white conservatives have caught on to this strategy: they routinely denounce affirmative action, for instance, by quoting Martin Luther King, as if his only goal was “color blindness” rather than real economic and social equality. They snipe, fairly effectively, at any group which puts forward corporate claims for any ethnic group by calling them racist. Strategic essentialism envisions a world in which internal debates among oppressed people can be sealed off from public debates with oppressors. Such a world does not exist.
Similarly, “strategic postcolonialism” is likely to be a self-defeating strategy, since most writers on the subject publicly and endlessly debate the problems associated with the term. In addition, the label is too fuzzy to serve as a useful tool for long in any exchange of polemics. It lacks the sharp edge necessary to make it serve as a useful weapon.
However, those of us unwilling to adopt the label “postcolonial” are hard put to find an appropriate term for what we study. The old “Commonwealth literature” is obviously too confining and outdated as well as being extremely Eurocentric. “Anglophone literature” excludes the many rich literatures of Africa, for instance, written in European languages other than English, and taken in the literal sense, it does not distinguish between mainstream British and American writing and the material under discussion. “New literature written in English” (or “englishes” as some say) puts too much emphasis on newness (McKay is hardly new) and again excludes the non-English-speaking world. “Third-world” makes no sense since the collapse of the Soviet Union and the Communist “second world.” “Literature of developing nations” buys into an economic paradigm which most “postcolonial” scholars reject.
The more it is examined, the more the postcolonial sphere crumbles. Though Jamaican, Nigerian, and Indian writers have much to say to each other; it is not clear that they should be lumped together. We continue to use the term “postcolonial” as a pis aller, and to argue about it until something better comes along.
Edward Said’s evaluation and critique of the set of beliefs known as Orientalism forms an important background for postcolonial studies. His work highlights the inaccuracies of a wide variety of assumptions as it questions various paradigms of thought which are accepted on individual, academic, and political levels.
The Orient signifies a system of representations framed by political forces that brought the Orient into Western learning, Western consciousness, and Western empire. The Orient exists for the West, and is constructed by and in relation to the West. It is a mirror image of what is inferior and alien (“Other”) to the West.
Orientalism is “a manner of regularized (or Orientalized) writing, vision, and study, dominated by imperatives, perspectives, and ideological biases ostensibly suited to the Orient.” It is the image of the ‘Orient’ expressed as an entire system of thought and scholarship.
The Oriental is the person represented by such thinking. The man is depicted as feminine, weak, yet strangely dangerous because poses a threat to white, Western women. The woman is both eager to be dominated and strikingly exotic. The Oriental is a single image, a sweeping generalization, a stereotype that crosses countless cultural and national boundaries.
Latent Orientalism is the unconscious, untouchable certainty about what the Orient is. Its basic content is static and unanimous. The Orient is seen as separate, eccentric, backward, silently different, sensual, and passive. It has a tendency towards despotism and away from progress. It displays feminine penetrability and supine malleability. Its progress and value are judged in terms of, and in comparison to, the West, so it is always the Other, the conquerable, and the inferior.
Manifest Orientalism is what is spoken and acted upon. It includes information and changes in knowledge about the Orient as well as policy decisions founded in Orientalist thinking. It is the expression in words and actions of Latent Orientalism.
The first ‘Orientalists’ were 19th century scholars who translated the writings of ‘the Orient’ into English, based on the assumption that a truly effective colonial conquest required knowledge of the conquered peoples. This idea of knowledge as power is present throughout Said’s critique. By knowing the Orient, the West came to own it. The Orient became the studied, the seen, the observed, the object; Orientalist scholars were the students, the seers, the observers, the subject. The Orient was passive; the West was active.
Image: French harem fantasy with a black eunuch servant. The link between popularized orientalism and libidinization is obvious. “Les petits voyages de Paris-Plaisirs.”–Paris Plaisir, Feb. 1930. (Image and text from Jan Nederveen Pieterse’s White on Black: Images of Africa and Blacks in Western Popular Culture. New Haven: Yale UP, 1992)
One of the most significant constructions of Orientalist scholars is that of the Orient itself. What is considered the Orient is a vast region, one that spreads across a myriad of cultures and countries. It includes most of Asia as well as the Middle East. The depiction of this single ‘Orient’ which can be studied as a cohesive whole is one of the most powerful accomplishments of Orientalist scholars. It essentializes an image of a prototypical Oriental–a biological inferior that is culturally backward, peculiar, and unchanging–to be depicted in dominating and sexual terms. The discourse and visual imagery of Orientalism is laced with notions of power and superiority, formulated initially to facilitate a colonizing mission on the part of the West and perpetuated through a wide variety of discourses and policies. The language is critical to the construction. The feminine and weak Orient awaits the dominance of the West; it is a defenseless and unintelligent whole that exists for, and in terms of, its Western counterpart. The importance of such a construction is that it creates a single subject matter where none existed, a compilation of previously unspoken notions of the Other. Since the notion of the Orient is created by the Orientalist, it exists solely for him or her. Its identity is defined by the scholar who gives it life.
Said argues that Orientalism can be found in current Western depictions of “Arab” cultures. The depictions of “the Arab” as irrational, menacing, untrustworthy, anti-Western, dishonest, and–perhaps most importantly–prototypical, are ideas into which Orientalist scholarship has evolved. These notions are trusted as foundations for both ideologies and policies developed by the Occident. Said writes: “The hold these instruments have on the mind is increased by the institutions built around them. For every Orientalist, quite literally, there is a support system of staggering power, considering the ephemerality of the myths that Orientalism propagates. The system now culminates into the very institutions of the state. To write about the Arab Oriental world, therefore, is to write with the authority of a nation, and not with the affirmation of a strident ideology but with the unquestioning certainty of absolute truth backed by absolute force.” He continues, “One would find this kind of procedure less objectionable as political propaganda–which is what it is, of course–were it not accompanied by sermons on the objectivity, the fairness, the impartiality of a real historian, the implication always being that Muslims and Arabs cannot be objective but that Orientalists. . .writing about Muslims are, by definition, by training, by the mere fact of their Westernness. This is the culmination of Orientalism as a dogma that not only degrades its subject matter but also blinds its practitioners.”
Said’s Project Said calls into question the underlying assumptions that form the foundation of Orientalist thinking. A rejection of Orientalism entails a rejection of biological generalizations, cultural constructions, and racial and religious prejudices. It is a rejection of greed as a primary motivating factor in intellectual pursuit. It is an erasure of the line between ‘the West’ and ‘the Other.’ Said argues for the use of “narrative” rather than “vision” in interpreting the geographical landscape known as the Orient, meaning that a historian and a scholar would turn not to a panoramic view of half of the globe, but rather to a focused and complex type of history that allows space for the dynamic variety of human experience. Rejection of Orientalist thinking does not entail a denial of the differences between ‘the West’ and ‘the Orient,’ but rather an evaluation of such differences in a more critical and objective fashion. ‘The Orient’ cannot be studied in a non-Orientalist manner; rather, the scholar is obliged to study more focused and smaller culturally consistent regions. The person who has until now been known as ‘the Oriental’ must be given a voice. Scholarship from afar and second-hand representation must take a back seat to narrative and self-representation on the part of the ‘Oriental.’
Post-colonial literature From Wikipedia,
Postcolonial literature is a branch of Postmodern literature concerned with the political and cultural independence of peoples formerly subjugated in colonial empires.
Post-colonial literary critics re-examine classic literature with a particular focus on the social “discourse” that shaped it. For instance, in Orientalism, Edward Said analyzes the works of Honoré de Balzac, Charles Baudelaire and Lautréamont, exploring how they were both influenced by and helped to shape a societal fantasy of European racial superiority. Post-colonial fictional writers interact with the traditional colonial discourse, but modify or subvert it; for instance by retelling a familiar story from the perspective of an oppressed minor character in the story.
Other important authors in postcolonial theory
Joseph Conrad and Charlotte Brontë are not “post-colonial” authors per se, but are of specific interest within postcolonial theory in part because postcolonial authors such as Chinua Achebe and Jean Rhys (among others) engage and rework their novels. Shakespeare’s The Tempest has a colonial setting and his Othello has a racial dynamic, and both of these are frequent points of reference for post-colonial authors.
Post-colonialism (also known as post-colonial theory) refers to a set of theories in philosophy and literature that grapple with the legacy of colonial rule. As a literary theory or critical approach it deals with literature produced in countries that were once, or are now, colonies of other countries. It may also deal with literature written in or by citizens of colonizing countries that takes colonies or their peoples as its subject matter. Postcolonial theory became part of the critical toolbox in the 1970s, and many practitioners take Edward Said’s book Orientalism to be the theory’s founding work.
Post-colonialism deals with many issues for societies that have undergone colonialism: the dilemmas of developing a national identity in the wake of colonial rule; the ways in which writers from colonized countries attempt to articulate and even celebrate their cultural identities and reclaim them from the colonizers; the ways knowledge of colonized people have served the interests of colonizers, and how knowledge of subordinate people is produced and used; and the ways in which the literature of the colonial powers is used to justify colonialism through the perpetuation of images of the colonized as inferior. The creation of binary oppositions structure the way we view others. In the case of colonialism, distinctions were made between the oriental and the westerner (one being emotional, the other rational). This opposition was used to justify a destiny to rule on behalf of the colonizer, or ‘white man’s burden’.
Colonized peoples responded to the colonial legacy by writing back to the center. This came about as indigenous peoples became educated, and began to write their own histories, their own legacy, using the colonizers’ language (usually English) for their own purposes. .
Attempts at coming up with a single definition of postcolonial theory have proved controversial, and some writers have strongly critiqued the concept, which is embedded in identity politics.
As suggested by its name, postcolonialism is about dealing with the legacy of colonialism. Perhaps somewhat surprisingly the most prominent form this has taken to date has been in the cultural realm, especially with respect to identity politics and literary studies. Thus, the most common way the term has been used is in reference to a genre of writing and cultural politics, usually by the authors from the countries which were previously colonised. All postcolonialist theorists admit that colonialism continues to affect the former colonies after political independence.
Some relevant British writers
Conrad, Joseph Dinesen, Isak (Karen Blixen) Forster, E.M. Kipling, Rudyard
• Homi Bhabha
• Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o
• Edward Said
• Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak Abiola Irele
• Chinua Achebe
• Mariama Ba
• Dionne Brand
• Michelle Cliff
• J.M. Coetzee
• Maryse Condé
• Hamid Dabashi
• Tsitsi Dangarembga
• Anita Desai
• Buchi Emecheta
• Brian Friel
• Athol Fugard
• Edouard Glissant
• Jorge Majfud
• Nadine Gordimer
• Patricia Grace
• Mohsin Hamid
• Jamaica Kincaid
• Rudyard Kipling
• Ahmadou Kourouma
• Hanif Kureishi
• Earl Lovelace
• Gabriel García Márquez
• Rohinton Mistry
• Bharati Mukherjee
• V. S. Naipaul
• R. K. Narayan
• Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o
• Pramoedya Ananta Toer
• Jean Rhys
• Arundhati Roy
• Salman Rushdie
• Shyam Selvadurai
• Léopold Senghor
• Bapsi Sidhwa
• Zadie Smith
• Derek Walcott
• Sam Selvon
• Akin Adesokan
• Martin Espada
• Wole Soyinka
• Wilbur Smith
• Margaret Atwood
• James Joyce
• Kareen Fleur Adcock
• Meena Alexander
• Isabel Allende
• Julia Alvarez
• Yehuda Amichai
• Anita Rau Badami
• Karen Blixen/Isak Dinesen
• Eavan Boland
• Aime Cesaire
• Vikram Chandra
• Michelle Cliff
• J. M. Coetzee
• Jill Ker Conway
o The Road from Coorain
• David Dabydeen
• Leon Damas
• Tsitsi Dangarembga
o Zimbabwe’s Struggle for Liberation
• Edwidge Danticat
• Ruben Dario
• Kamala Das
• Assia Djebar
• Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni
• Roddy Doyle
• Buchi Emecheta
o Yoruba Women and Gelede
• Brian Friel
• Amitav Ghosh
• Yasmine Gooneratne
• Romesh Gunesekera
o The Politics of Sri Lanka and Reef
o Reef as a Bildungroman
• Bessie Head
• Merle Hodge
• Rokeya Sakhawat Hossain
• Vincente Huidobro
• Keri Hulme
o Maori Culture and Myths
• Tahar Ben Jelloun
• Raj Kamal Jha
• Sahar Khalifeh
• Ayub Khan-Din
• Abbas Kiarostami
• Jamaica Kincaid
• Hanif Kureishi
• Jhumpa Lahiri
• George Lamming
• Lee Young Lee
• Audre Lorde
• Mahasweta Devi
• J. Nozipo Maraire
• Ian McEwan
• Medbh McGuckian
• Deepa Mehta
• Rohinton Mistry
• Shani Mootoo
• Bharati Mukherjee
• Ngugi wa Thiongo
• V. S. Naipaul
• Mira Nair
o Salaam Bombay!
• Taslima Nasrin
• Pablo Neruda
• Flora Nwapa
• Michael Ondaatje
• Ruperake Petaia
• Charles Portis
• Attipat Krishnaswami Ramanujan
• Arundhati Roy
o Caste & The God of Small Things
o Christianity in India
o Communism in India
o Divorce in The God of Small Things
• Salman Rushdie–Biography
o Rushdie’s Female Characters
o Glossary to The Moor’s Last Sigh
• Nawal el Saadawi
• Olive Schreiner
• Simone Schwarz-Bart
• Shyam Selvadurai
o Funny Boy
• Ousmane Sembene
• Vikram Seth
• Huda Shaarawi
• Bapsi Sidhwa
• Leslie Marmon Silko
• Zadie Smith
• Wole Soyinka
• Shashi Tharoor
• Mario Vargas Llosa
• M. G. Vassanji
• Abraham Verghese
• Derek Walcott
• Albert Wendt
• William Butler Yeats & Postcolonialism
• Theodor Adorno
• Benedict Anderson
• Partha Chatterjee
o On women and the Indian Nation
• Kuan-Hsing Chen
• Rey Chow
• Frantz Fanon
• Murray Gell-Mann
• Paul Gilroy
• Chen Kaige
• Octave Mannoni
• Albert Memmi
• Ashis Nandy
• Rex Nettleford
• Cecil Rhodes
• Nawal el Saadawi
• Renata Salecl
• Mrinalini Sinha
• Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak
• Ngugi wa Thiongo
• Slavoj Zizek
Terms & Issues
• African American Studies and Postcolonialism
• Apartheid Literature
• Arranged Marriages, Matchmakers, and Dowries in India
• Art, Postcolonial
o Jean-Michel Basquiat
• The Booker Prize
o See also, The Nobel Prize in Literature
• The Caste System in India
• Chicana Feminism
• Christianity in India
• Colonial & Postcolonial Architecture
• Colonial Education
• Communism in India
• Divorce in India
• Field Day Theatre Company
• Filipino-American Literature
• Gandhi’s March to Dandi
• Gender and Nation
• A Glossary of Key Terms in Gayatri Spivak’s Work
• Hegemony in Gramsci
• Hindi Film & Women
• Homophobia and Postcolonialism
• Hybridity & Postcolonial Music
• The Ilbert Bill
• Jews in India
o Indian Languages
• Magical Realism
• Maps and Colonialism
• Mimicry, Ambivalence & Hybridity
• Museums and Colonial Exhibitions
o Human Exhibitions
• Myths of the Native
o Banal Nationalism and the Internet
o Theories of Nationalism
• The Nobel Prize in Literature
• The Novel
• Nuclear Proliferation in the Third World
• Partition, Indian subcontinent
• Performance & Installation Art
• Public and Private Realms
• Sepoy Mutiny (1857)
• Spice Trade in India
• Third World/Third World Women
• The Veil, Hijab
• Victorian Women Travelers in the 19th Century
• Writers from the Indian Subcontinent
• Yeats & Postcolonialism
• Yoruba Women and Gelede
• Zimbabwe’s Struggle for Liberation
Oscar Zeta Acosta
Lorna Dee Cervantes
Angela De Hoyos
Erlinda Gonzales Berry
Rudolfo “Corky” Gonzales
Maria Herrera Sobek
Mary Helen Ponce
Estela Portillo Trambley
Tey Diana Rebolledo
The Empire Writes Back: Theory and Practice in Post-Colonial Literatures
Bill Ashcroft, School of English, University of New South Wales; Gareth Griffiths, Department of English, University of Western Australia; Helen Tiffin, Department of English, University of Queensland
What are post-colonial literatures?
We use the term ‘post-colonial’… to cover all the culture affected by the imperial process from the moment of colonization to the present day. This is because there is a continuity of preoccupations throughout the historical process initiated by European imperial aggression. We also suggest that it is most appropriate as the term for the new cross-cultural criticism which has emerged in recent years and for the discourse through which this is constituted. In this sense this book is concerned with the world as it exists during and after the period of European imperial domination and the effects of this on contemporary literatures.
So the literatures of African countries, Australia, Bangladesh, Canada, Caribbean countries, India, Malaysia, Malta, New Zealand, Pakistan, Singapore, South Pacific Island countries, and Sri Lanka are all post-colonial literatures. The literature or the USA should also be placed in this category. Perhaps because of its current position of power, and the neo-colonizing role it has played, its post-colonial nature has not been generally recognized. But its relationship with the metropolitan centre as it evolved over the last two centuries has been paradigmatic for Post-colonial literatures everywhere. What each of these literatures has in common beyond their special and distinctive regional characteristics is that they emerged in their present form out of the experience of colonization and asserted themselves by foregrounding the tension with the imperial power, and by emphasizing their differences from the assumptions of the imperial centre. It is this which makes them distinctively post-colonial.
Ngugi wa Thiong’oWikipedia, the free
Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o signs copies of his new book ‘Wizard of the Crow’. In London at the Congress Centre in central London. A first book in 20 years following 22 years of exile due to his highly political work (including the bestselling novel Petals of Blood).
Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o (born January 5, 1938) is a Kenyan author, formerly working in English and now working in Gĩkũyũ. His work includes novels, plays, short stories, essays and scholarship, criticism and children’s literature. He is the founder and editor of the Gikuyu-language journal, Mutiiri. Ngugi went into self-imposed exile following his release from a Kenyan prison in 1977; living in the United States, he taught at Yale University for some years, and since has also taught at New York University, where he was the Erich Maria Remarque Professor of Languages, with a dual professorship in Comparative Literature and Performance Studies.
Ngũgĩ was born in Kamiriithu, near Limuru in Kiambu district, of Kĩkũyũ descent, and baptised James Ngugi. His family was caught up in the Mau Mau rebellion; he lost his stepbrother, and his mother was tortured. While attending mission school, he became a devout Christian. He received a B.A. in English from Makerere University College in Kampala, Uganda, in 1963; during his education, a play of his, The Black Hermit, was produced in Kampala in 1962.
He published his first novel, Weep Not, Child, in 1964, which he wrote while attending Leeds University in England. It was the first novel in English to be published by an East African. His second novel, The River Between (1965), has as its background the Mau Mau rebellion, and described an unhappy romance between Christians and non-Christians.
His novel A Grain of Wheat marked his embrace of Fanonist Marxism. He subsequently renounced English, Christianity, and the name James Ngugi as colonialist; he changed his name to Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o, and began to write in his native Gĩkũyũ and Swahili. The uncensored political message of his 1977 play Ngaahika Ndeenda (I Will Marry When I Want) provoked then Vice President Daniel arap Moi to order his arrest. While detained in the Kamiti Maximum Security Prison, he wrote the first modern novel in Gĩkũyũ, Caitaani mũtharaba-Inĩ (Devil on the Cross), on prison-issued toilet paper.
After his release, he was not reinstated to his job as professor at Nairobi University, and his family was harassed. He left Kenya on June 5, 1982, to live in self-imposed exile in London.
His later works include Detained, his prison diary (1981); Decolonizing the Mind: The Politics of Language in African Literature (1986), an essay arguing for African writers’ expression in their native languages, rather than European languages, in order to renounce lingering colonial ties and to build and authentic African literature; and Matigari (1987), one of his most famous works, a satire based on a Gĩkũyũ folktale.
In 1992 he became a professor of Comparative Literature and Performance Studies at New York University, where he held the Erich Maria Remarque Chair. He is currently a Distinguished Professor of English and Comparative Literature as well as the Director of the International Center for Writing and Translation at the University of California, Irvine.
On August 8, 2004, Ngũgĩ ended his exile to return to Kenya as part of a month-long tour of East Africa. On August 11, robbers broke into his apartment: they stole money and a computer, brutalised the professor, and raped his wife.
Since then, Ngũgĩ has returned to America, and in the summer 2006 the American publishing firm Random House published his first new novel in nearly two decades, “Wizard of the Crow,” translated to English from Gĩkũyũ by the author. Bibliography
• The Black Hermit, 1963 (play)
• Weep Not, Child, 1964, Heinemann 1987, McMillan 2005, ISBN 1405073314
• The River Between, Heinemann 1965, Heinemann 1989, ISBN 0435905481
• A Grain of Wheat, 1967 (1992) ISBN 0141186992
• This Time Tomorrow (three plays, including the title play, “The Reels,” and “The Wound in the Heart”), c. 1970
• Homecoming: Essays on African and Caribbean Literature, Culture, and Politics, Heinemann 1972, ISBN 0435185802
• Secret Lives, and Other Stories, 1976, Heinemann 1992 ISBN 0435909754
• The Trial of Dedan Kimathi, 1976, ISBN 0435901915, African Publishing Group, ISBN 0949932450 (with Micere Githae Mugo)
• Ngaahika ndeenda: Ithaako ria ngerekano (I Will Marry When I Want), 1977 (play; with Ngugi wa Mirii), Heinemann Educational Books (1980)
• Petals of Blood, (1977) Penguin 2002, ISBN 0141187026
• Caitaani mutharaba-Ini (Devil on the Cross), 1980
• Writers in Politics: Essays, 1981
• Education for a National Culture, 1981
• Detained: A Writer’s Prison Diary, 1981
• Barrel of a Pen: Resistance to Repression in Neo-Colonial Kenya, 1983
• Decolonising the Mind: The Politics of Language in African Literature, 1986
• Mother, Sing For Me, 1986
• Writing against Neo-Colonialism, 1986
• Njamba Nene and the Flying Bus (Njamba Nene na Mbaathi i Mathagu),1986 (children’s book)
• Matigari ma Njiruungi, 1986
• Devil on the Cross (English translation of Caitaani mutharaba-Ini), Heinemann, 1987, ISBN 0435908448
• Njamba Nene and the Cruel Chief (Njamba Nene na Chibu King’ang’i), 1988 (children’s book)
• Matigari,(translated into English by Wangui wa Goro), Heinemann 1989, Africa World Press 1994, ISBN 0435905465
• Njamba Nene’s Pistol (Bathitoora ya Njamba Nene), (children’s book), 1990, Africa World Press, ISBN 0865430810
• Moving the Centre: The Struggle for Cultural Freedom, Heinemann, 1993, ISBN 0435080792
• Penpoints, Gunpoints and Dreams: The Performance of Literature and Power in Post-Colonial Africa, (The Clarendon Lectures in English Literature 1996), Oxford University Press, 1998. ISBN 0198183909
• Mũrogi was Kagogo(Wizard of the Crow), 2004, East African Educational Publishers, ISBN 996625162-6
• Wizard of the Crow, 2006, Secker, ISBN 1846550343
Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak Introduction
While she is best known as a postcolonial theorist, Gayatri Spivak describes herself as a “para-disciplinary, ethical philosopher” though her shingle could just as well read: “Applied Deconstruction.” Her reputation was first made for her translation and preface to Derrida’s Of Grammatology (1976) and she has since applied deconstructive strategies to various theoretical engagements and textual analyses: from Feminism, Marxism, and Literary Criticism to, most recently, Postcolonialism.
My position is generally a reactive one. I am viewed by Marxists as too codic, by feminists as too male-identified, by indigenous theorists as too committed to Western Theory. I am uneasily pleased about this. (Post-Colonial Critic).
Despite her outsider status — or partly, perhaps, because of it — Spivak is widely cited in a range of disciplines. Her work is nearly evenly split between dense theoretical writing peppered with flashes of compelling insight and published interviews in which she wrestles with many of the same issues in a more personable and immediate manner. What Edward Said calls a “contrapuntal” reading strategy is recommended as her ideas are continually evolving and resist, in true deconstructive fashion, a straight textual analysis. She has said that she prefers the teaching environment where ideas are continually in motion and development. Nonetheless, the glossary of key terms and motifs that is available on this site may serve as a kind of legend to a map of her work. It is not intended as a “bluffer’s guide to Spivakism” (to cite the introduction to The Spivak Reader) but rather blazes on a trail into this difficult and important body of work. Biography
Gayatri Chakravorty was born in Calcutta, West Bengal, 24 February 1942 to “solidly metropolitan middle class” parents (PCC). She thus belonged to the “first generation of Indian intellectuals after independence,” a more interesting perspective she claims, than that of the Midnight’s Children, who were “born free by chronological accident” (Arteaga interview). She did her undergraduate in English at the University of Calcutta (1959), graduating with first class honours. She borrowed money to go to the US in the early 1960′s to do graduate work at Cornell, which she chose because she “knew the names of Harvard, Yale and Cornell, and thought half of them were too good for me. (I’m intellectually a very insecure person . . . to an extent I still feel that way)” (de Kock interview 33). She “fell into comparative literature” because it was the only department that offered her money (Ibid.). She received her MA in English from Cornell and taught at the University of Iowa while working on her Ph.D. Her dissertation was on Yeats (published as Myself Must I Remake: The Life and Poetry of W.B. Yeats [1974)]) and was directed by Paul de Man. Of her work with de Man she says, “I wasn’t groomed for anything. I learnt from him. I took good notes and slowly sort of understood” (de Kock interview). “When I
was de Man’s student,” she adds, “he had not read Derrida yet. I went to teach at Iowa in 1965 and did not know about the famous Hopkins conference on the Structuralists Controversy in 1966″ (E-mail communication). She ordered _de la grammatologie_ out of a catalogue in 1967 and began working on the translation some time after that (E-mail communication). During this time she married and divorced an American, Talbot Spivak. Her translator’s introduction to Derrida’s Of Grammatology has been variously described as “setting a new standard for self-reflexivity in prefaces” (editor’s introduction to The Spivak Reader) and “absolutely unreadable, its only virtue being that it makes Derrida that much more enjoyable.” Her subsequent work consists in post-structuralist literary criticism, deconstructivist readings of Marxism, Feminism and Postcolonialism (including work with the Subaltern Studies group and a critical reading of American cultural studies in Outside in the Teaching Machine ), and translations of the Bengali writer Mahasweta Devi. She is currently an Avalon Foundation professor at Columbia. Major Publications
Translation of and introduction to Derrida’s Of Grammatology (Baltimore: John’s Hopkins, 1976).
“Displacement and the Discourse of Woman” in Mark Krupnik, ed. Displacement: Derrida and After. (Bloomington: Indiana UP, 1983) p.169-95.
In Other Worlds: Essays in Cultural Politics (London: Methuen, 1987).
“Can the Subaltern Speak?” in Cary Nelson and Larry Grossberg, eds. Marxism and the interpretation of Culture. (Chicago: Uni of Illinois Press, 1988) p.271-313.
Selected Subaltern Studies. Ed. with Ranajit Guha (Oxford: Oxford UP, 1988).
The Post-Colonial Critic: Interviews, Strategies, Dialogues. Ed. Sarah Harasym. (London: Routledge, 1990).
Outside In the Teaching Machine (London: Routledge, 1993).
The Spivak Reader. Ed. Donna Landry and Gerald MacLean. (New York and London: Routledge, 1996) This book includes an extensive list of publications, including many interviews.
A Critique of Post-Colonial Reason: Toward a History of the Vanishing Present (Harvard UP, 1999).
Death of a Discipline. New York, Columbia University Press, 2003.
Sir Vidiadhar Surajprasad Naipaul, T.C. (born August 17, 1932, in Chaguanas, Trinidad and Tobago), better known as V. S. Naipaul, is a Trinidadian-born British novelist of Hindu Bhumihar Brahmin heritage from Gorakhpur in Eastern U.P. and Indo-Trinidadian ethnicity. Naipaul lives in Wiltshire, England. He was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 2001 and knighted by Queen Elizabeth II in 1990. His current wife is Nadira Naipaul, a former journalist. A scion of the politically powerful Capildeo family of Trinidad, Sir Vidia is the son, older brother, uncle, and cousin of published authors Seepersad Naipaul, Shiva Naipaul, Neil Bissoondath, and Vahni Capildeo, respectively. His life and work were written about in 2002 by his long-time editor Diana Athill. Life and work
In awarding Naipaul the Nobel Prize for Literature, the Swedish Academy praised his work “for having united perceptive narrative and incorruptible scrutiny in works that compel us to see the presence of suppressed histories.” The Committee added, “Naipaul is a modern philosopher, carrying on the tradition that started originally with Lettres persanes and Candide. In a vigilant style, which has been deservedly admired, he transforms rage into precision and allows events to speak with their own inherent irony.” The Committee also noted Naipaul’s affinity with the Polish-born British author of Heart of Darkness, Joseph Conrad: “Naipaul is Conrad’s heir as the annalist of the destinies of empires in the moral sense: what they do to human beings. His authority as a narrator is grounded in the memory of what others have forgotten, the history of the vanquished.”
His fiction and especially his travel writing have been criticised for their allegedly unsympathetic portrayal of the Third World. Edward Said, for example, has argued that he “allowed himself quite consciously to be turned into a witness for the Western prosecution”, promoting “colonial mythologies about wogs and darkies” (53). This perspective is most salient in The Middle Passage, which Naipaul composed after returning to the Caribbean after ten years of self-exile in England, and An Area of Darkness, a stark condemnation on his ancestral homeland of India. His supporters argue that he is actually an advocate for a more realistic development of the Third World, that he is motivated by a passionate desire for the improvement of the countries which he writes about, and that the assumptions of the likes of Said actually hold these emerging nations back. That said, Naipaul’s contempt for many aspects of liberal orthodoxy is uncompromising, yet he has exhibited an open-mindedness toward some Third World leaders and cultures that isn’t found in western writers. His works have become required reading in many schools within the Third World.
Though a regular visitor to India since the 1960s, he has always “analyzed” India from an arms-length distance, initially with considerable distaste (as in An Area of Darkness), later with ‘grudging affection’ (as in A Million Mutinies Now), and of late perhaps even with ‘ungrudging affection’ (most manifestly in his view that the rise of Hindutva embodies the welcome, broader civilizational resurgence of India). He has also made attempts over the decades to identify his ancestral village in India, or at least to locate the general area where his ancestors may have travelled. The greater frequency of his visits to India in recent years may, according to Naipaul-watchers, also signifies, at least in part, a yearning for ‘identity’.
Writing in the New York Review of Books about Naipaul, Joan Didion said:
The actual world has for Naipaul a radiance that diminishes all ideas of it. The pink haze of the bauxite dust on the first page of Guerrillas tells us what we need to know about the history and social organization of the unnamed island on which the action takes place, tells us in one image who runs the island and for whose profit the island is run and at what cost to the life of the island this profit has historically been obtained, but all of this implicit information pales in the presence of the physical fact, the dust itself… The world Naipaul sees is of course no void at all: it is a world dense with physical and social phenomena, brutally alive with the complications and contradictions of actual human endeavor… This world of Naipaul’s is in fact charged with what can only be described as a romantic view of reality, an almost unbearable tension between the idea and the physical fact…
In several of his books Naipaul has discussed Islam, and he has been criticised for dwelling on negative aspects, e.g. nihilism among fundamentalists. Naipaul’s support for Hindutva has also been controversial. He has been quoted describing the destruction of the Babri Mosque as a “creative passion”, and the invasion of Babur in the 16th century as a “mortal wound.” He views Vijayanagar, which fell in 1565, as the last bastion of native Hindu civilisation. He remains a somewhat reviled figure in Pakistan, which he bitingly condemned in Among the Believers.
In 1998 a controversial memoir by Naipaul’s sometime protegé Paul Theroux was published. The book provides a personal, though occasionally caustic portrait of the Nobel Laureate. The memoir, entitled Sir Vidia’s Shadow, was precipitated by a falling-out between the two men a few years earlier.
In 1971, he became the first Person of Indian origin to win a Booker Prize for his book In a Free State. Fiction
• The Mystic Masseur – (1957)
• The Suffrage of Elvira – (1958)
• Miguel Street – (1959)
• A House for Mr Biswas – (1961)
• Mr. Stone and the Knights Companion – (1963)
• A Flag on the Island – (1967)
• The Mimic Men – (1967)
• In a Free State – (1971)
• Guerillas – (1975)
• A Bend in the River – (1979)
• Finding the Centre – (1984)
• The Enigma of Arrival – (1987)
• A Way in the World – (1994)
• Half a Life – (2001)
• Magic Seeds – (2004)
• The Middle Passage: Impressions of Five Societies – British, French and Dutch in the West Indies and South America (1962)
• An Area of Darkness (1964)
• The Loss of El Dorado – (1969)
• The Overcrowded Barracoon and Other Articles (1972)
• India: A Wounded Civilization (1977)
• A Congo Diary (1980)
• The Return of Eva Perón and the Killings in Trinidad (1980)
• Among the Believers: An Islamic Journey (1981)
• Finding the Centre (1984)
• A Turn in the South (1989)
• India: A Million Mutinies Now (1990)
• Homeless by Choice (1992, with R. Jhabvala and S. Rushdie)
• Bombay (1994, with Raghubir Singh)
• Beyond Belief: Islamic Excursions among the Converted Peoples (1998)
• Between Father and Son: Family Letters (1999, edited by Gillon Aitken)
• Literary Occasions: Essays (2003, by Pankaj Mishra)
Frantz Fanon’s relatively short life yielded two potent and influential statements of anti-colonial revolutionary thought, Black Skin, White Masks (1952) and The Wretched of the Earth (1961), works which have made Fanon a prominent contributor to postcolonial studies.
Fanon was born in 1925, to a middle-class family in the French colony of Martinique. He left Martinique in 1943, when he volunteered to fight with the Free French in World War II, and he remained in France after the war to study medicine and psychiatry on scholarship in Lyon. Here he began writing political essays and plays, and he married a Frenchwoman, Jose Duble. Before he left France, Fanon had already published his first analysis of the effects of racism and colonization, Black Skin, White Masks (BSWM), originally titled “An Essay for the Disalienation of Blacks,” in part based on his lectures and experiences in Lyon.
BSWM is part manifesto, part analysis; it both presents Fanon’s personal experience as a black intellectual in a whitened world and elaborates the ways in which the colonizer/colonized relationship is normalized as psychology. Because of his schooling and cultural background, the young Fanon conceived of himself as French, and the disorientation he felt after his initial encounter with French racism decisively shaped his psychological theories about culture. Fanon inflects his medical and psychological practice with the understanding that racism generates harmful psychological constructs that both blind the black man to his subjection to a universalized white norm and alienate his consciousness. A racist culture prohibits psychological health in the black man.
For Fanon, being colonized by a language has larger implications for one’s consciousness: “To speak . . . means above all to assume a culture, to support the weight of a civilization” (17-18). Speaking French means that one accepts, or is coerced into accepting, the collective consciousness of the French, which identifies blackness with evil and sin. In an attempt to escape the association of blackness with evil, the black man dons a white mask, or thinks of himself as a universal subject equally participating in a society that advocates an equality supposedly abstracted from personal appearance. Cultural values are internalized, or “epidermalized” into consciousness, creating a fundamental disjuncture between the black man’s consciousness and his body. Under these conditions, the black man is necessarily alienated from himself.
Fanon insists, however, that the category “white” depends for its stability on its negation, “black.” Neither exists without the other, and both come into being at the moment of imperial conquest. Thus, Fanon locates the historical point at which certain psychological formations became possible, and he provides an important analysis of how historically-bound cultural systems, such as the Orientalist discourse Edward Said describes, can perpetuate themselves as psychology. While Fanon charts the psychological oppression of black men, his book should not be taken as an accurate portrait of the oppression of black women under similar conditions. The work of feminists in postcolonial studies undercuts Fanon’s simplistic and unsympathetic portrait of the black woman’s complicity in colonization.
In 1953, Fanon became Head of the Psychiatry Department at the Blida-Joinville Hospital in Algeria, where he instituted reform in patient care and desegregated the wards. During his tenure in Blida, the war for Algerian independence broke out, and Fanon was horrified by the stories of torture his patients — both French torturers and Algerian torture victims — told him. The Algerian War consolidated Fanon’s alienation from the French imperial viewpoint, and in 1956 he formally resigned his post with the French government to work for the Algerian cause. His letter of resignation encapsulates his theory of the psychology of colonial domination, and pronounces the colonial mission incompatible with ethical psychiatric practice: “If psychiatry is the medical technique that aims to enable man no longer to be a stranger to his environment, I owe it to myself to affirm that the Arab, permanently an alien in his own country, lives in a state of absolute depersonalization. . . . The events in Algeria are the logical consequence of an abortive attempt to decerebralize a people” (Toward the African Revolution 53).
Following his resignation, Fanon fled to Tunisia and began working openly with the Algerian independence movement. In addition to seeing patients, Fanon wrote about the movement for a number of publications, including Sartre’s Les Temps Modernes, Presence Africaine, and the FLN newspaper el Moudjahid; some of his work from this period was collected posthumously as Toward the African Revolution (1964). But Fanon’s work for Algerian independence was not confined to writing. During his tenure as Ambassador to Ghana for the Provisional Algerian Government, he worked to establish a southern supply route for the Algerian army.
While in Ghana, Fanon developed leukemia, and though encouraged by friends to rest, he refused. He completed his final and most fiery indictment of the colonial condition, The Wretched of the Earth, in 10 months, and the book was published by Jean-Paul Sartre in the year of his death. Fanon died at the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Maryland, where he had sought treatment for his cancer, on December 6, 1961. At his request, his body was returned to Algeria and buried with honors by the Algerian National Army of Liberation.
In The Wretched of the Earth, Fanon develops the Manichean perspective implicit in BSWM. To overcome the binary system in which black is bad and white is good, Fanon argues that an entirely new world must come into being. This utopian desire, to be absolutely free of the past, requires total revolution, “absolute violence” (37). Violence purifies, destroying not only the category of white, but that of black too. According to Fanon, true revolution in Africa can only come from the peasants, or “fellaheen.” Putting peasants at the vanguard of the revolution reveals the influence of the FLN, who based their operations in the countryside, on Fanon’s thinking. Furthermore, this emphasis on the rural underclass highlights Fanon’s disgust with the greed and politicking of the comprador bourgeoisie in new African nations. The brand of nationalism espoused by these classes, and even by the urban proletariat, is insufficient for total revolution because such classes benefit from the economic structures of imperialism. Fanon claims that non-agrarian revolutions end when urban classes consolidate their own power, without remaking the entire system. In his faith in the African peasantry as well as his emphasis on language, Fanon anticipates the work of Ngugi Wa Thiong’o, who finds revolutionary artistic power among the peasants.
Given Fanon’s importance to postcolonial studies, the obituaries marking his death were small; the two inches of type offered by The New York Times and Le Monde inadequately describe his achievements and role. He has been influential in both leftist and anti-racist political movements, and all of his works were translated into English in the decade following his death. His work stands as an important influence on current postcolonial theorists, notably Homi Bhabha and Edward Said.
British director Isaac Julien’s Frantz Fanon: Black Skin, White Mask (1996) has recently been released by California Newsreel. Weaving together interviews with family members and friends, documentary footage, readings from Fanon’s work, and dramatizations of crucial moments in his life, the film reveals not just the facts of Fanon’s brief and remarkably eventful life but his long and tortuous journey as well. In the course of the film, critics Stuart Hall and Françoise Verges position Fanon’s work in his own time and draw out its implications for our own. Works by Frantz Fanon
Black Skin, White Masks. New York: Grove, 1967. Reprint of Peau noire, masques blancs. Paris, 1952.
Studies in a Dying Colonialism, or A Dying Colonialism. New York, 1965. Reprint of L’an cinq de la revolution algerienne. Paris, 1959.
The Wretched of the Earth. New York, 1965. Reprint of Les damnes de la terre. Paris, 1961.
Toward the African Revolution. New York, 1967. Reprint of Pour la revolution africaine. Paris, 1964.
Mimicry, Mimicry, Ambivalence and Hybridity
When Robinson Crusoe set foot on the island and declared it his own, a new page was inscribed in the history of colonialism. The shipwreck becomes a historical moment in this history. Defoe is able to create a textual plantation with the undaunted Robinson at its center, involved in a double (d) divine action of invention and original self-invention. The footprint, however, will unsettle his undisturbed tranquility, and fear enters the stage. Neither the bible nor his guns will bring him peace. Crusoe will undergo the painful experience of recurrent traumatic nightmares before the event. The silence is broken. The Other has already inhabited the Self prior to the uncanny encounter: anxiety invades the body and mind of the stranded hero. The “textual empire” is shaken by the unknown: “The island is full of noises.” The captured absent/present utterances are therefore unbounded; authority is de-authorized (is it?), and writing hybridized.
What is hybridization?, Bakhtin asks:
It is a mixture of two social languages within the limits of a single utterance, an encounter, within the arena of an utterance, between two different linguistic consiousnesses, separated from one another by an epoch, by social differentiation, or by some other factor. (358)
When on a certain Friday, the encounter actually happens, Crusoe will demonstrate to the highest degree of perfection the noble qualities of an English tradesman-Gentleman: those of making and self-making, prowess and determination. Driven by an instinctive sense of a charitable concern for the meek, he rescues a young criolos cannibal from being devoured by other cannibals. Faithful to the already-established Spanish tradition, he names him Friday, teaches him English, the words of God, and above all, the basics of humanity; in other words, he has driven him out of utter darkness to an overwhelming whitening light.
Under these conditions, however, Crusoe paradoxically is more isolated than ever since the words he hears are his words –the very words he wanted Friday to say, to repeat. Crusoe is blinded by his narcissism. He seems, Brantlinger states, “almost to will his isolation, and to cling to it even when it is being invaded” (Brantlinger 3). Friday does not exist. Friday is a lie, an illusion created by a mad masterly imagination. He is an ever incomplete, insubstantial image, a mere inorganic shadow, a dark spot on the ground, an image. Friday is filling an empty space cynically prepared and strategically organized by the colonizer as a speaking subject. The mirror-image that Friday is striving to see reflected will be a distorted one, a neither-nor : one that is ambivalent, doubled. “It was one of the tragedies of slavery and of the conditions under which creolization had to take place,” Kamau Brathwaite states,
that it should have produced this kind of mimicry; should have procduced such “mimic-men.” But in the circumstances this was the only kind of white imitation that would have been accepted, given the terms in which the slaves were seen .
Nevertheless, some postcolonial critics argue that it is precisely this kind of mimicry that disrupts the colonial discourse by doubling it. For them, the simple presence of the colonized Other within the textual structure is enough evidence of the ambivalence of the colonial text, an ambivalence that destabilizes its claim for absolute authority or unquestionable authenticity. Hence, today, the term hybridity has become one of the most recurrent conceptual leitmotivs in postcolonial cultural criticism. It is meant to foreclose the diverse forms of purity encompassed within essentialist theories. Homi Bhabha is the leading contemporary critic who has tried to disclose the contradictions inherent in colonial discourse in order to highlight the colonizer’s ambivalence in respect to his position toward the colonized Other.
Along with Tom Nairn, Homi Bhabha considers the confusion and hollowness that resistance produces in the minds of such imperialist authors as Rider Haggard, Rudyard Kipling, and E. M. Forster. But while Nairn sees their colonialist grandiose rhetoric as disproportionate to the real decadent economic and political situation of late Victorian England, Bhabha goes as far as to see this imperial delirium forming gaps within the English text, gaps which are
the signs of a discontinuous history, an estrangement of the English book.They mark the disturbance of its authoritative representations by the uncanny forces of race, sexuality, violence, cultural and even climatic differnces which emerge in the colonial discource as the mixed and split texts of hybridity. If the English book is read as a production of hybridity, then it no longer simply commands authority.
His analysis, which is largely based on the Lacanian conceptualization of mimicry as camouflage focuses on colonial ambivalence. On the one hand, he sees the colonizer as a snake in the grass who, speaks in “a tongue that is forked,” and produces a mimetic representation that “… emerges as one of the most elusive and effective strategies of colonial power and knowledge ” (Bhabha 85). Bhabha recognizes then that colonial power carefully establishes highly-sophisticated strategies of control and dominance; that, while it is aware of its ephemerality, it is also anxious to create the means that guarantee its economic, political and cultural endurance, through the conception, in Macaulay’s words in his “Minute on Indian Education” (1835),”of a class of interpreters between us and the millions whom we govern –a class of persons Indian in blood and colour but English in taste, in opinions, in morals and in intellect”–that is through the reformation of that category of people referred to by Frantz Fanon in the phrase, “black skin/white masks,” or as “mimic men” by V.S.Naipaul.
On the other hand, Bhabha immediately diverts his pertinent analysis by shifting the superlative certainty of the colonizer and the strategic effectiveness of his political intentions into an alarming uncertainty. Macaulay’s Indian interpreters along with Naipaul’s mimic men, he asserts, by the very fact that they are authorized versions of otherness, “part-objects of a metonymy of colonial desire, end up emerging as inappropriate colonial subjects…[who], by now producing a partial vision of the colonizer’s presence (88), de-stabilize the colonial subjectivity, unsettle its authoritative centrality, and corrupt its discursive purity. Actually, he adds, mimicry repeats rather than re-presents….(author’s emphases ), and in that very act of repetition, originality is lost, and centrality de-centred. What is left, according to Bhabha, is the trace, the impure, the artificial, the second-hand. Bhabha analyses the slippages in colonial political discourse, and reveals that the janus-faced attitudes towards the colonized lead to the production of a mimicry that presents itself more in the form of a “menace ” than “resemblance”; more in the form of a rupture than consolidation.
Hybridity, Bhabha argues, subverts the narratives of colonial power and dominant cultures. The series of inclusions and exclusions on which a dominant culture is premised are deconstructed by the very entry of the formerly-excluded subjects into the mainstream discourse. The dominant culture is contaminated by the linguistic and racial differences of the native self. Hybridity can thus be seen, in Bhabha’s interpretation, as a counter-narrative, a critique of the canon and its exclusion of other narratives. In other words, the hybridity-acclaimers want to suggest first, that the colonialist discourse’s ambivalence is a conspicuous illustration of its uncertainty; and second, that the migration of yesterday’s “savages” from their peripheral spaces to the homes of their “masters” underlies a blessing invasion that, by “Third-Worlding”the center, creates “fissures” within the very structures that sustain it.
Gayatri Chakravorty SpivakWikipedia,
Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak (born February 24, 1942) is a literary critic and theorist. She is best-known for the article “Can the Subaltern Speak?”, which is considered a founding text of postcolonialism, and also for her translation of Jacques Derrida’s Of Grammatology. Spivak currently teaches at Columbia University in addition to giving lectures around the world.
Spivak was born Gayatri Chakravorty, in Calcutta, India, 24 February 1942, to a middle class family. She received an undergraduate degree in English at the University of Calcutta (1959), graduating with first class honours. After this, she completed her Master’s in English from Cornell University, and then pursued her Ph.D. while teaching at University of Iowa. Her dissertation was on W.B. Yeats, directed by Paul de Man, titled Myself Must I Remake: The Life and Poetry of W.B. Yeats. At Cornell, she was the first woman elected to membership in the Telluride Association.
It was her subsequent translation of Derrida’s Of Grammatology which brought her to prominence, after which she carried out a series of historical studies (as a member of the “Subaltern Studies Collective”) and literary critiques of imperialism and international feminism. She has often referred to herself as a “Marxist-feminist-deconstructionist”, seeing each of these fields as necessary but insufficient by themselves, yet productive together. Her overriding ethico-political concern has been the tendency of institutional and cultural discourses/practices to exclude and marginalize the subaltern, especially subaltern women.
Her recent work, A Critique of Postcolonial Reason, published in 1999, explores how major works of European metaphysics (e.g., Kant, Hegel) not only tend to exclude the subaltern from their discussions, but actively prevent non-Europeans from occupying positions as fully human subjects.
Spivak coined the term “strategic essentialism”, which refers to a sort of temporary solidarity for the purpose of social action. For example, the attitude that women’s groups have many different agendas makes it difficult for feminists to work for common causes. “Strategic essentialism” is about the need to temporarily accept an “essentialist” position in order to be able to act.
• Myself, I Must Remake: The Life and Poetry of W.B. Yeats (1974).
• Of Grammatology (translation, with critical introduction, of Derrida’s text) (1976)
• In Other Worlds: Essays in Cultural Politics (1987).
• Selected Subaltern Studies (edited with Ranajit Guha) (1988)
• The Post-Colonial Critic (1990)
• Outside in the Teaching Machine (1993).
• The Spivak Reader (1995).
• A Critique of Postcolonial Reason: Towards a History of the Vanishing Present (1999).
• Death of a Discipline (2005).
• Other Asias (2007).
• Imaginary Maps (translation with critical introduction of three stories by Mahasweta Devi) (1994)
• Breast Stories (translation with critical introduction of three stories by Mahasweta Devi) (1997)
• Old Women (translation with critical introduction of two stories by Mahasweta Devi) (1999)
• Song for Kali: A Cycle (translation with introduction of story by Ramproshad Sen) (2000)
• Chotti Munda and His Arrow (translation with critical introduction of the novel by Mahasweta Devi) (2002)
• Red Thread (forthcoming)
Homi BhabhaWikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Homi K. Bhabha (born 1949) is a postcolonial theorist, currently teaching at Harvard University, where he is the Anne F. Rothenberg Professor of English and American Literature and Language.
Bhabha was born into a Parsi family from Mumbai, India. He is an alumnus of St. Mary’s High School (ISC,1967-68), Mazagoan, Mumbai . He graduated with a B.A. from the University of Mumbai (Elphinstone College) and a M.A. and D.Phil. from Christ Church, Oxford. After lecturing in the Department of English at the University of Sussex for over ten years, he received a senior fellowship at Princeton University where he was also made Old Dominion Visiting Professor. He was Steinberg Visiting Professor at the University of Pennsylvania where he delivered the Richard Wright Lecture Series. At Dartmouth College he was a faculty fellow at the School of Criticism and Theory. From 1997 to 2001 he served as Chester D. Tripp Professor in the Humanities at the University of Chicago. He has been the Anne F. Rothenberg Professor of English and American Literature at Harvard University since 2001.
While at Oxford, he met his wife, Jacqueline Bhabha; they have three children: Ishan, Satya and Leah.
He was featured in David Lauer’s Newsweek article “100 people for the new century”.
Bhabha was key note speaker at the UNESCO Forum on Higher Education, Research and Knowledge Colloquium on Research and Higher Education Policy, Paris, France, 1-3 December 2004
In 2001-02, he served as a Distinguished Visiting Professor at University College, London. He has been invited to deliver lectures around the world, including the Clarendon Lectures at the University of London, 2001-2002; the Presidential Lecture at Stanford University, 2000; the W.E.B. Du Bois Lectures at Harvard, 1999; the Annual Interdisciplinary Lecture at the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), University of London, 1995.
Bhabha’s work in postcolonial theory is heavily influenced by poststructuralism, most notably the writings of Jacques Derrida, Jacques Lacan and Michel Foucault. In his book Nation and Narration (1990) Bhabha challenges the tendency to treat post-colonial countries as a homogeneous block. This leads, he argues, to the assumption that there is/was a shared identity amongst ex-colonial states.
Bhabha argues that our sense of nationhood is discursively constructed: it is narrativized. One of his contributions to postcolonial studies is the identification of ambivalence in colonial dominance. In Location of Culture (1994), Bhabha deploys concepts — mimicry, interstice, hybridity — influenced by semiotics and Lacanian psychoanalysis. He argues that cultural production is most productive when it is also most ambivalent.
In The Location of Culture, Bhabha argues for a fundamental realignment of the methodology of cultural analysis away from ontology toward the “performative” and “enunciatory present” (p.178). Such a shift, he claims, provides a basis for the negotiation of cultural difference rather than its automatic repression or negation in the face of irreconcilable oppositions. Bhabha’s emphasis on the enunciative production of meaning places the emphasis of critical inquiry on issues of representation or signification, thereby producing “a temporality that makes it possible to conceive of the articulation of antagonistic or contradictory elements” (p.25).
This argument attacks the Western production of binary oppositions, traditionally defined in terms of centre and margin, civilised and savage, enlightened and ignorant. Bhabha questions the easy recourse to consolidated dualisms by repudiating fixed and authentic centres of truth, suggesting that cultures interact, transgress and transform each other in a much more complex manner than typical binary oppositions allow.
According to Bhabha, hybridity and “linguistic multivocality” have the potential to intervene and dislocate the process of domination through the re-interpretation and re-deployment of received discourse, thus re-focusing critical attention towards the “agonistic space” (181) which exists on the borders of difference, along the edges of alterity, where cultures meet. Bhabha celebrates cultural heterogeneity and the “subversive effects of hybridisation”.
Bhabha has been criticized for using “indecipherable jargon” and dense prose. In 1998 the journal, Philosophy and Literature, awarded Bhabha second prize in its “Bad Writing Competition”, which “celebrates bad writing from the most stylistically lamentable passages found in scholarly books and articles”. Bhabha was awarded the prize for a sentence in his the Location of Culture (Routledge, 1994), which reads:
If, for a while, the ruse of desire is calculable for the uses of discipline soon the repetition of guilt, justification, pseudo-scientific theories, superstition, spurious authorities, and classifications can be seen as the desperate effort to “normalize” formally the disturbance of a discourse of splitting that violates the rational, enlightened claims of its enunciatory modality.
The sentence prompted the National Post to ask “Why do so many academics write such gobbledegook? In part, it’s snobbery. By writing in a complex language only specialists can understand, they exclude the rest of us. Some of it is mental laziness. These writers haven’t worked their own ideas through, but by dressing up weak arguments in bombast and scholarly jargon, they hide the fact that they don’t know what they mean, either.”
Bhabha and his fellow postcolonial critics (e.g., Gayatri Spivak) have countered that the “postcolonial condition” requires novel concepts and formulations to capture the increasingly complex postcolonial world we live in. Bhabha is a popular lecturer, and is regularly invited to speak at universities across North America, Europe and Asia.
• Nation and Narration (1990) ISBN 0-415-01483-2
• Edward Said Continuing the Conversation [edited] (2005) ISBN 0-226-53203-8
• The Location of Culture (1994) ISBN 0-415-05406-0
• Identity: The Real Me ISBN 0-905263-46-4
Black Skin White Masks — Orality as a Function of Both Domination and Resistance
Itself an assemblage of angry polemic and experiental, mytho-poetic personal vignettes, Frantz Fanon’s Black Skin White Masks situates language and the body at the center of the black predicament of marginalization, pathologization, and servitude. “A man who has a language,” Fanon suggests, “consequently possesses the world expressed and implied by that language.” Foreshadowing somewhat Michel Foucault’s coupling of knowledge and power, Fanon argues that language becomes an index of both cultural difference and power imbalance. “What we are getting at becomes plain: Mastery of language affords remarkable power” (18) In the context of the French-Algierian war, Fanon laments the fact that the French language assumed a certain privilege over the “jabber” of native dialects. The native bourgeoisie, as Fanon argues, undermines the workings of revolution by covetting the agency or subjectivity ensured by the ability to speak the language of the colonial bourgeoisie. “We are trying to understand,” Fanon asks, “why the Antilles Negro is so fond of speaking French” (27). To Fanon the assimilation and valorization of the french language underscores the native intellectual’s complicity with the “mother” country that uses language as a discursive instrument to subordinate colonized subjects and legitimate its comparative privilege.
And yet, in The Post-colonial Studies Reader, Bill Ashcroft, Gareth Griffiths, and Helen Tiffin suggest the possibility that “orality” empowers the colonial subject with a mode of resistance. As they argue in the passage below, despite the subordination of “oral traditions” in Western modernity, spoken performances often reject the discursive subordination as a result not only of colonization but academic conceptualizations of colonization:
In ‘modern’ societies the oral and the performative continues to exist alongside the written but is largely ignored or relegated to the condition of pretext in many accounts, represented as only the beginning or origin of the written. Yet in many postcolonial societies oral, performative events may be the principle present and modern means of continuity for the pre-colonial culture and may also be the tools by which the dominant social institutions and discourses can be subverted or repositioned, shown that is to be constructions naturalised within a hierarchised politics of difference. (322)
How, as Randall Bass asks in terms of Kazuo Ishiguro’s Remains of the Day, might these competing notions of “orality” bear upon the function of language and utterance in liturature? With regards to Fanon’s investment in the Algiers-France conflict, how might depictions of language articulate themselves in relation to each other along the lines of race and gender? Consider Camus, for instance, not forgetting Gide or Genet — all of whom might be considered to challenge, in different ways, the status quo that shapes colonial dominance and coercion in Algierian literature.
Edward Wadie Said (November 1, 1935 – September 25, 2003; Arabic: إدوارد سعيد) was a well-known Palestinian-American literary theorist, critic, and outspoken Palestinian activist. He was a University Professor of English and Comparative Literature at Columbia University, and is regarded as a founding figure in post-colonial theory.
Said was born in Jerusalem (then in the British Mandate of Palestine) on November 1, 1935. His father was a wealthy Christian Palestinian businessman and an American citizen, while his mother was born in Nazareth of Christian Lebanese and Palestinian descent. His sister was the historian and writer Rosemarie Said Zahlan. According to Said’s autobiographical memoir, Out of Place (excerpted in London Review of Books article “Between Worlds”), Said lived “between worlds” in both Cairo and Jerusalem until the age of 12. In 1947, he attended the Anglican St. George’s Academy when he was in Jerusalem, but his extended family (“my entire family”) became (in his word) “refugees” in 1948 during the 1948 Arab-Israeli War because that family home was in the affluent quarter of Talbiya in the western part of Jerusalem that was annexed by Israel:
I was born in Jerusalem and had spent most of my formative years there and, after 1948, when my entire family became refugees, in Egypt. All my early education had, however, been in élite colonial schools, English public schools designed by the British to bring up a generation of Arabs with natural ties to Britain. The last one I went to before I left the Middle East to go to the United States was Victoria College in Cairo, a school in effect created to educate those ruling-class Arabs and Levantines who were going to take over after the British left. My contemporaries and classmates included King Hussein of Jordan, several Jordanian, Egyptian, Syrian and Saudi boys who were to become ministers, prime ministers and leading businessmen, as well as such glamorous figures as Michel Shalhoub, head prefect of the school and chief tormentor when I was a relatively junior boy, whom everyone has seen on screen as Omar Sharif.
In “early September 1951,” when he was fifteen years old, his parents (who immediately returned to the Middle East) “deposited him” in the Mount Hermon School, a private preparatory high school, in Massachusetts, where he recalls a “miserable year” feeling “out of place” (“Between Worlds”).
Said earned a B.A. from Princeton University and an M.A. and a Ph.D. from Harvard University, where he won the Bowdoin Prize. He joined the faculty of Columbia University in 1963 and served as a professor of English and Comparative Literature for several decades. In 1977 Said became the Parr Professor of English and Comparative Literature at Columbia and subsequently became the Old Dominion Foundation Professor in the Humanities. In 1992 he attained the rank of University Professor, Columbia’s most prestigious academic position. Professor Said also taught at Harvard, Johns Hopkins, and Yale universities. He was fluent in Arabic, English and French. In 1999, after his earlier election to second vice president and following its succession policy, Said served as president of the Modern Language Association.
Said was bestowed with numerous honorary doctorates from universities around the world and twice received Columbia’s Trilling Award and the Wellek Prize of the American Comparative Literature Association. His autobiographical memoir Out of Place won the 1999 New Yorker Prize for non-fiction. He was also a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, the American Academy of Arts and Letters, the Royal Society of Literature, and the American Philosophical Society.
Said’s writing regularly appeared in The Nation, The Guardian, the London Review of Books, Le Monde Diplomatique, Counterpunch, Al Ahram, and the pan-Arab daily al-Hayat. He gave interviews alongside his good friend, fellow political activist, and colleague Noam Chomsky regarding U.S. foreign policy for various independent radio programs.
Said also contributed music criticism to The Nation for many years. In 1999, he jointly founded the West-East Divan Orchestra with the Argentine-Israeli conductor and close friend Daniel Barenboim.
In January 2006, anthropologist David Price obtained 147 pages of Said’s 238-page FBI file through a Freedom of Information Act request. The records reveal that Said was under surveillance starting in 1971. Most of his records are marked as related to “IS Middle East” (“IS” = Israel) and significant portions remain “Classified Secrets.”
Edward Said died at the age of 67 in the early morning of September 25, 2003, in New York City, after a decade-long battle with chronic myelogenous leukemia.
In November 2004, Birzeit University renamed its music school as the Edward Said National Conservatory of Music in his honor.
Controversy over Said’s early life
In 1999, Justus Reid Weiner, a scholar at the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, conducted a study in which he asserts that Edward Said’s family did not permanently reside in Talbiya and did not live there during the final months of the British mandate, and thus they could not be considered refugees. Said’s parents never owned a house in Jerusalem, says Weiner, the house in Talbiya belonged to Edward Said’s aunt, and Edward Said’s family visited Jerusalem only occasionally. “On his [Edward Said's] birth certificate, prepared by the ministry of health of the British Mandate,” Weiner further states, “his parents specified their permanent address as Cairo, and, indicating that they maintained no residence in Palestine, left blank the space for a local address.” According to Weiner, Said grew up in Cairo and attended Gezira Preparatory School there and probably never attended the St. George’s Academy in Jerusalem except during his family’s brief stays in that city.