Postcolonial Literature and what it means to us today

By July 17, 2017 Cultural

“ Postcolonial Literature ” is a hot trade good these yearss. On the one manus authors like Salman Rushdie and Arundhati Roy are best-selling writers ; and on the other manus, no college English section worth its salt wants to be without a bookman who can knowledgeably talk about about postcolonial theory.

But at that place seems to be a great trade of uncertainness as to merely what the term denotes. Many of the arguments among postcolonial bookmans centre on which national literatures or writers can be justifiably included in the postcolonial canon. Much of the treatment among postcolonial bookmans involves unfavorable judgments of the term “ postcolonial ” itself. In add-on, it is rarely mentioned but rather dramatic that really few existent writers of the literature under treatment embracing and utilize the term to label their ain authorship.

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It should be acknowledged that postcolonial theory maps as a subdivision within the even more deceptively named field of “ cultural surveies ” : the whole organic structure of by and large left-of-center extremist literary theory and unfavorable judgment which includes Marxist, Gramscian, Foucauldian, and assorted feminist schools of idea, among others. What all of these schools of idea have in common is a finding to analyse unfair power relationships as manifested in cultural merchandises like literature ( and movie, art, etc. ) . Practitioners by and large consider themselves politically engaged and committed to some assortment or other of release procedure.

It is besides of import to understand that non all postcolonial bookmans are literary bookmans. Postcolonial theory is applied to political scientific discipline, to history, and to other related Fieldss. Peoples who call themselves postcolonial bookmans by and large see themselves as portion of a big ( if ill defined and disorganized ) motion to expose and fight against the influence of big, rich states ( largely European, plus the U.S. ) on poorer states ( largely in the southern hemisphere ) .

Taken literally, the term “ postcolonial literature ” would look to label literature written by people populating in states once colonized by other states. This is doubtless what the term originally meant, but there are many jobs with this definition.

First, actual colonisation is non the sole object of postcolonial survey. Lenin ‘s authoritative analysis of imperialism led to Antonio Gramisci ‘s construct of “ hegemony ” which distinguishes between actual political laterality and laterality through thoughts and civilization ( what many critics of American influence call the “ Coca-Colonization ” of the universe ) . Sixties minds developed the construct of neo-imperialism to label relationships like that between the U.S. and many Latin American states which, while nominally independent, had economic systems dominated by American concern involvements, frequently backed up by American military forces. The term “ banana democracy ” was originally a sarcastic label for such subjugated states, ruled more by the influence of the United Fruit Corporation than by their ain autochthonal authoritiess.

Second, among the plants normally studied under this label are novels like Claude McKay ‘s Banjo and Chinua Achebe ‘s Things Fall Apart which were written while the states in inquiry ( Jamaica and Nigeria ) were still settlements. Some bookmans attempt to work out this job by reasoning that the term should denote plants written after colonisation, non merely those created after independency ; but that would be “ postcolonization ” literature. Few people understand the term in this sense outside a little circle of bookmans working in the field.

Third, some critics argue that the term deceptively implies that colonialism is over when in fact most of the states involved are still culturally and economically subordinated to the rich industrial provinces through assorted signifiers of neo-colonialism even though they are technically independent.

Fourth, it can be argued that this manner of specifying a whole epoch is Eurocentric, that it singles out the colonial experience as the most of import fact about the states involved. Surely that experience has had many powerful influences ; but this is non needfully the model within which authors from, say India, who have a long history of precolonial literature, wish to be viewed.

For case, R. K. Narayan — one of the most popular and widely read of modern Indian authors — displays a singular indifference to the historical experience of colonialism, a fact which consequences in his being about wholly ignored by postcolonial bookmans. V. S. Naipaul is so ferocious a critic of the postcolonial universe despite his beginnings as a descendent of Indian apprenticed laborers in Trinidad that he is more frequently cited as an opposition than as an ally in the postcolonial battle.

In fact, it is non uncommon for citizens of “ postcolonial ” states to impeach Americans and Europeans of practising a signifier of neocolonialism themselves in sing their history through this peculiar lens. Postcolonial unfavorable judgment could be compared to the inclination of Hollywood movies set in such states to concentrate on the jobs of Americans and Europeans within those societies while marginalising the positions of their native peoples.

Fifth, many “ postcolonial ” writers do non portion the general orientation of postcolonial bookmans toward prosecuting in an on-going review of colonialism. Nigerian authors Chinua Achebe and Wole Soyinka, for case, after composing powerful indictments of the British in their state, turned to exposing the workss of native-born dictators and corrupt functionaries within their independent fatherland. Although postcolonial bookmans would explicate this corruptness as a byproduct of colonialism, such writers normally have small involvement in prosecuting this train of idea.

Although there has been sporadic agitation in some African quarters for reparations for the bondage epoch, most authors of fiction, play, and poesy see small point in continually rehashing the past to work out today ‘s jobs. It is striking how small modern fiction from once colonized states highlights the colonial yesteryear. Non-fiction authors frequently point out that Hindu-Muslim struggles in South Asia are in portion the heritage of efforts by the British disposal in India to play the two groups of against each other ( non to advert the particular function assigned to the Sikhs in the British ground forces ) ; yet Indian fiction about these struggles seldom points to such colonial causes. A good illustration is Khushwant Singh ‘s Train to Pakistan ( 1956 ) which deals straight with the divider of India from an about entirely Indian position.

Indeed, “ postcolonial ” authors frequently move to England or North America ( because they have been exiled, or because they find a more receptive audience at that place, or merely in hunt of a more comfy manner of life ) and even sometimes — like Soyinka — name upon the authoritiess of these “ neocolonialist ” states to come to the assistance of freedom motions seeking to subvert native autocrats.

Sixth, “ postcolonialism ” as a term lends itself to really wide usage. Australians and Canadians sometimes claim to populate in postcolonial societies, but many would decline them the label because their literature is dominated by European immigrants, and is hence a literature of privilege instead than of protest. Harmonizing to the usual postcolonial paradigm merely literature written by native peoples in Canada and Australia would genuinely measure up.

Similarly, the label is normally denied to U.S. literature, though America ‘s individuality was formed in contradistinction to that of England, because the U.S. is normally viewed as the really prototype of a modern neo-colonial state, enforcing its values, economic force per unit areas, and political involvements on a broad scope of weaker states.

The Irish are frequently put frontward as an case of a postcolonial European people, and so many African authors have been inspired by Irish 1s for that ground. Yet some of the more nationalist 1s ( like Yeats ) tended toward painfully conservative — even reactionary — political relations, and James Joyce had the extreme disdain for Irish patriotism. It is non clear how many Irish writers would hold accepted the term if they had known of it.

Although postcolonial theory by and large confines itself to the past half-century, it can be argued that everyone has been colonized at some clip or other. Five thousand old ages ago Sumer started the procedure by unifying once independent city states, and Narmer likewise subjugated once independent Upper and Lower Egypt. Rushdie likes to indicate out that England itself is a postcolonial state, holding been conquered by Romans and Normans, among others.

Not merely is the term “ postcolonial ” extremely fuzzy, it can besides be argued that it is besides frequently uneffective. A good trade of postcolonial argument has to make with rival claims to victimhood, with each side claiming the understandings of right-thinking people because of their past agonies. The struggles between Bosnians and Serbs, Palestinians and Jews, Turks and Greeks, Hindu and Muslim Indians, and Catholic and Protestant Irish illustrate the jobs with utilizing historical agony as justification for a political plan. It is rather true that Europeans and Americans frequently arrogantly disregard their ain functions in making the political musss of postcolonial states around the universe ; but it is ill-defined how accusals against them promote the public assistance of those states. In add-on, when they are made to experience guilty, states — like persons — are as likely to act severely as they are to act liberally.

It may do American and European bookmans feel better to dissociate themselves from the offenses of their ascendants ( which are true, tremendously bloody and oppressive, and should be acknowledged and studied — see resources below ) , but people fighting for freedom in laden states are more likely to pull inspiration from the quintessentially European Enlightenment construct of rights under natural jurisprudence than they are to turn to postcolonial theory. Similarly, European capitalist market theory is far more attractive to most people fighting against poorness in these states than are the assortments of socialism propounded by postcolonial theorists.

“ Postcolonial ” is besides a troublesome term because it draws some really arbitrary lines. South African authors Athol Fugard and Nadine Gordimer are frequently excluded from postcolonial classs, although their plants were powerful protests against apartheid and they have lived and worked far more in Africa than, state, Buchi Emicheta, who emigrated to England as a really immature adult female and has done all of her authorship at that place — because they are white. A host of all right Indian authors is neglected merely because they do non compose in English on the reasonable evidences that India has a millennia-long tradition of composing which should non be randomly 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 chiefly 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 kind of transnational loanblend ( though he has, on juncture, used the label “ postcolonial ” in his ain authorship ) . Hanif Kureishi is more English than Pakistani in his mentality, and many Caribbean-born authors populating in England are now classed as “ Black British. ” What determines when you are excessively acculturated to be counted as postcolonial: where you were born? how long you ‘ve lived abroad? your capable affair? These and similar inquiries are the object of changeless argument.

In fact, postcolonial theoretician Homi Bhabha developed the term “ hybridity ” to capture the sense that many authors have of belonging to both civilizations. More and more authors, like Rushdie, reject the older paradigm of “ expatriate ” which was meaningful to earlier coevalss of emigres in favor of accepting their blend of civilizations as a positive synthesis. This jubilation of cultural blending well blurs the boundaries laid down by postcolonial theory.

In pattern, postcolonial literary surveies are frequently aggressively divided along lingual lines in a manner which merely reinforces Eurocentric attitudes. Latin American postcolonial surveies are rarely explored by those laboring in English sections. Francophone African literature is by and large neglected by Anglophone African bookmans. Because of these failures to cut across lingual boundaries, the functions of England and France are exaggerated over those of the colonised parts.

It can even be asked whether the full premiss of postcolonial surveies is valid: that analyzing these literatures can give voice to once suppressed peoples. This is the inquiry asked by Gayatri Spivak in her celebrated essay, “ Can the Subaltern Speak? ” Using Antonio Gramsci ‘s arcane label for laden people, she points out that anyone who has achieved adequate literacy and edification to bring forth a widely-read piece of fiction is about surely by that really fact disqualified from talking for the people he or she is supposed to stand for. The “ Subaltern Group ” of Indian bookmans has tried to claim the term to back up their ain analyses ( a similar undertaking exists among Latin American bookmans ) , but the shrewish inquiry raised by Spivak remains.

It is noteworthy that whenever authors from the postcolonial universe like Soyinka, Derek Walcott, or Rushdie receive broad acknowledgment they are denounced as unrepresentative and inferior to other, more vague but more “ legitimate ” spokespeople.

This phenomenon is related to the inquiry of “ essentialism ” which features so mostly in modern-day political and literary theory. Normally the term is used negatively, to depict stereotyped thoughts of — to take as an illustration my ain ascendants — the Irish as drunken, irresponsible clods. However, protest motions built on self-esteem resort to essentialism in a positive sense, as in the many assortments of “ black pride ” motions which have emerged at assorted times, with the earliest possibly being the construct of “ negritude ” developed by Caribbean and African authors populating in Paris in the 1930s and 40s. However, each new effort to make a positive group individuality tends to be seen by at least some members of the group as restrictive, as a new signifier of oppressive essentialism.

Faced with the quandary of desiring to do positive claims for certain cultural groups or nationalities while at the same time admiting individuality, some critics have put frontward the construct of “ strategic essentialism ” in which 1 can talk in instead simplified signifiers of group individuality for the intents of battle while debating within the group the finer sunglassess of difference.

There are two major jobs with this scheme, nevertheless. First, there are ever dissidents within each group who speak out against the new corporate individuality, and they are particularly likely to be taken earnestly by the really audiences targeted by strategic essentialism. Second, white conservativists have caught on to this scheme: they routinely denounce affirmatory action, for case, by citing Martin Luther King, as if his lone end was “ colour sightlessness ” instead than existent economic and societal equality. They snipe, reasonably efficaciously, at any group which puts frontward corporate claims for any cultural group by naming them racialist. Strategic essentialism envisions a universe in which internal arguments among laden people can be sealed off from public arguments with oppressors. Such a universe does non be.

Similarly, “ strategic postcolonialism ” is likely to be a self-defeating scheme, since most authors on the topic publically and infinitely debate the jobs associated with the term. In add-on, the label is excessively fuzzed to function as a utile tool for long in any exchange of polemics. It lacks the crisp border necessary to do it function as a utile arm.

However, those of us unwilling to follow the label “ postcolonial ” are difficult put to happen an appropriate term for what we study. The old “ Commonwealth literature ” is evidently excessively restricting and outdated every bit good as being highly Eurocentric. “ Anglophone literature ” excludes the many rich literatures of Africa, for case, written in European linguistic communications other than English, and taken in the actual sense, it does non separate between mainstream British and American authorship and the stuff under treatment. “ New literature written in English ” ( or “ Englishs ” as some say ) puts excessively much accent on newness ( McKay is barely new ) and once more excludes the non-English-speaking universe. “ Third-world ” makes no sense since the prostration of the Soviet Union and the Communist “ 2nd universe. ” “ Literature of developing states ” buys into an economic paradigm which most “ postcolonial ” bookmans reject.

The more it is examined, the more the postcolonial sphere crumbles. Though Jamaican, Nigerian, and Indian authors have much to state to each other ; it is non clear that they should be lumped together. We continue to utilize the term “ postcolonial ” as a pis aller, and to reason about it until something better comes along.

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