The empire writes back


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A supplementary presentation report for Eng251: New Literatures in English

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The empire writes back

  1. 1. The Empire Writes BackIntroductionPost-colonial literatures • Writings by those peoples formerly colonized by Britain and other European powers • Colonial – period before independence and a term indicating a national writing • Covering all the culture affected by the imperial process from the moment of colonization to the present dayLiteratures and English Studies • ‘institutionalisation and subsequent valorization of English literary study [to] a shape and an ideological content developed in the colonial context’ • ‘Privileged norm’ was enthroned at the heart of the formation of English Studies as a template for the denial of the value of the ‘peripheral,’ the marginal,’ the ‘uncanonized’ • Conscious affiliation proceeding under the guise of filiation; a mimicry of the centre proceeding from a desire not only to be accepted but to be adopted and absorbed • Development of the post-colonial literatures has necessitated a questioning of many of the assumptions on which the study of ‘English’ was basedDevelopment of post-colonial literatures 1. During the imperial period writing in the language of the imperial centre is inevitably, of course, produced by a literate elite whose primary identification is with the colonizing power (privileging the centre) 2. Literature produced ‘under imperial licence’ by ‘natives’ or ‘outcasts,’ for instance the large body of poetry and prose produced in the nineteenth century by the English educated Indian upper class, or African ‘missionary literature’ • Result: potential for subversion in their themes cannot be fully realized; prevented from fully exploring their anti-imperial potentialHegemony • The need for the empire to write back to a centre • British texts all too frequently act as a touchstone of taste and value • Result: the weight of antiquity continues to dominate cultural production in much of the post- colonial worldLanguage • Medium through which a hierarchical structure of power is perpetuated, and the medium through which conceptions of ‘truth,’ ‘order,’ and ‘reality’ become established • British English (Empire) and english (post-colonial countries)Place and Displacement • Dislocation, resulting from migration, the experience of enslavement, transportation, or ‘voluntary’ removal from indentured labour o The construction of ‘place’ – the gap which opens between the experience of place and the language available to describe it forms a classical and all-pervasive feature of post- colonial text
  2. 2. • Cultural denigration, the conscious and unconscious oppression of the indigenous personality and culture by a supposedly superior racial or cultural model o Pre-colonial culture is suppressed by military conquest or enslavement • Implication: Post-colonial cultures need to escape from the implicit body of assumptions to which English was attached, its aesthetic and social values, the formal and historically limited constraints of genre, and the oppressive political and cultural assertion of metropolitan dominance, of centre over margin; need to develop an ‘appropriate’ usage in order to do so (by becoming a distinct and unique form of english)Post-coloniality and theory • Emerges from the inability of European theory to deal adequately with the complexities and varied cultural provenance of post-colonial writing • Political and cultural monocentricism of the colonial enterprise was a natural result of the philosophical traditions of the European world and the systems of representation which this privileged. • Paradoxically, imperial expansion has had a radically destabilizing effect on its own preoccupations and power o The alienating process which initially served to relegate the post-colonial world to the ‘margin’ turned upon itself and acted to push that world through a kind of mental barrier into a position from which all experience could be viewed as uncentred, pluralistic, and multifariousRe-placing theory: post-colonial writing and literary theoryPost-colonial literatures and postmodernism • Groundwork o Avoid the assumption that post-colonial literatures supersede or replace the local and particular o European theories are mere ‘contexts’ for the recent developments in post-colonial theory o Danger of reincorporating post-colonial culture into a new internationalist and universalist paradismModernism and the colonial experience • The discovery of cultures forced Europeans to realize that their culture was only one amongst a plurality of ways of conceiving of reality and organizing its representations in art and social practice o The encounter of the Other inspired the legitimate search for the ‘origins’ of civilization from the frightening alternative of discovering in the ‘primitive’ its true and permanent face that threatens the European center o European art to universal validity are questioned, and in which the constructed and impermanent nature of ‘civilization’ is exposed
  3. 3. • Implication: The encounter of Europeans with the Other (non-Europeans) is crucial because the ‘discovery’ of cultures essentially different from Europe in their basis and development is a central factor in the production and reproduction of European art • The ‘discovery’ of Africa was the dominant paradigm for the self-discovery of the 20th century European world in all its self-contradiction, self-doubt, and self-destruction, for the European journey out of the light of Reason into the Heart of DarknessNew Criticism and post-colonial theory • Product of a post-colonial USA intent on establishing the legitimacy of its literary canon against the persistent domination of the English language • Emphasized on the individual work from the post-colonial world, thus allowing passage to post- colonial writers • Met with negativity: assimilation of post-colonial writers into a ‘metropolitan’ tradition retarded consideration of their works within an appropriate cultural context, and so seriously militated against the development of a ‘native’ or indigenous theory • Also due to New Criticism’s misleading claims to objectivity • Implication: Post-colonial criticism began to move towards the investigation of a set of theoretical ‘problematics,’ focusing on what was again perceived to be different from the Anglo- European modelPostmodernism and the post-colonial experience • Questioning of historical discourse and exposing its being culture specific rather than universal (decentralization); turned the question to the ‘Otherness’ • Solution: to control the Other • Americans also began to acknowledge its own post-coloniality, which may have provided ground for similarly subversive views of language and culture • Implication: the acceptance of post-coloniality as part of the American formation is then no longer a ‘badge of shame’ or immaturity • Criticism: Post-colonial (centered on older nationalist models of identity crisis and post- independence legitimacy) as the product of the ‘indirection, illegitimacy and emptiness of post- colonizing discourses’ • Shock of recognition – European theories mirror the plight of settler colonies and colonies of intervention in the direction of their literature and criticismPost-coloniality and contemporary European theory • Stresses the importance of ideological construction in social-textual relations find echoes in post-colonial texts • Lays stress on narrative as an alternative mode of knowledge to the scientific, and draws out the implications of this for our view of the relationship and privileging of contemporary scientific ideas of ‘competence’ over ‘customary knowledge’ • Criticism: Science opposes such self-legitimizing narrative statements; classified the narrative dominated oral world as ‘savage,’ ‘primitive,’ ‘underdeveloped’ • Refutes to entertain the possibility of an unproblematic recuperation of the traditional • Implication: attempts to articulate a weave of practices grounded in the particular and the localPost-coloniality and discourse theory
  4. 4. • Discourse as a system of possibility for knowledge (Foucault) • Useful in locating the series of ‘rules’ which determine post-coloniality • Invoke certain ways of thinking about language, about truth, about power, and about the interrelationships between all three • Implication: a struggle for power – that power focused in the control of the metropolitan languageCounter-discourse: Richard Terdiman • Notion of language functioning in practice and usage, thus fully acknowledging the material site of the text’s production • Echoes the concerns of post-colonial linguistics with the practical orientation of language • Discourses come into being in a structure of counter-discursive practices • Implication: Post-colonialism appropriates the idea that the sign obtains its meaning in conflict and contradiction and apply it to post-colonial texts and societiesPost-coloniality and theories of ideology • Subjects are interpellated (called into being) within ideologies and that this is inescapable; that is, that we become conscious under the power of construction resident in imaginary subjection: ‘Ideology interpellates individuals in imaginary subjection’ • Different modes by which in our culture, human being as made subject (Pecheux) o ‘Good’ subjects who result from ‘Identification’ – freely consenting to the discursive which determines them o ‘Bad’ subjects who result from ‘counter-identification’ – they refuse the image offered and turn it back on the offerer o ‘Disidentification’ – product of political and discursive practices which work ‘on and against’ the dominant ideologies • Useful features of post-colonial studies o Permits an understanding of the ‘subjective appropriation of knowledges’ (as well as politics to which they give rise) o Displaces a concern for the constituting subject to lay its stress on meaning and discourse as formed in and through material struggle • Narratives as a socially symbolic act (Jameson)Marxism, anthropology, and post-colonial society • Limited in its dealings with these societies by its own conscious Eurocentricity • Recently, sensitive adaptation in arguing that such categories as ‘class’ are applicable to all societies • Implication: understand social and historical phenomena not in their ‘own terms’ but in terms of ‘an underlying system of structural relations, which because it contains within it internal mechanisms tensions and contradictions, is of course of historical transformation’Feminism and post-colonialism • Women in many societies have been relegated to the position of ‘Other,’ marginalized and, in a metaphorical sense, ‘colonized’
  5. 5. • Movement away from the biological stances toward more complex subversive positions and towards increasing recognition that the principle of ‘difference,’ lying as it does at the very heart of their construction of ‘Other,’ is basic to any contemporary feminist theory • Implications: Parallelism between women and colonized races; the intimate experience of the politics of oppression and repression, and like them have been forced to articulate their experiences in the language of their oppressorsThe politics of theory: decolonizing colonialist discourse • Objective is to offer ways of dismantling colonialism’s signifying system and exposing its operation in the silencing and oppressing of the colonial subject • Colonized is constructed within a disabling master discourse of colonialism which specifies a degenerate native population to justify its conquest and subsequent rule • Criticism: questioning whether or not the models which stress the inescapability of the discourse which constitutes colonizer-post-colonized are not in fact only a sophisticated mask over the face of a continued, neo-colonial domination of which colonialism was only one historical stage • Syncretism – condition within which post-colonial societies operate, and accepting this does not, in any simple sense, involve hiding the role culture plays in the continuing neo-colonial hegemonic formation of the day-to-day experience of those societies (hybridity)Post-colonial reconstructions: literature, meaning, value • Objective: identify the importance of the ‘variant’ (post-colonial culture) over the ‘standard’ (Eurocentricism) through a non-Eurocentric perspective • Literature o Radically questioned easy assumptions about the characteristics of the genres we usually employ as structuring and categorizing definitives o Our sense of the name ‘literature’ has been altered by writers incorporating and adapting traditional forms of imaginative expression to the exigencies of an inherited english language o Writer incorporating forms from other traditions within acceptable boundaries articulate clearly the constant adjustments we make to our perceptions of ‘literature’ o Pre-colonial syncretism – develops a renewed sense of identity and self-value in the independence period (i.e. music) o Criticism: risk of being accused of plagiarism • Meaning o Meaning in its Eurocentric concept – the struggle of language, utterer/writer, and meaning exchanged for power o Post-colonial – all three ‘functions’ participate in the ‘social’ situation of the written text o Therefore, meaning is a social accomplishment characterized by the participation of the writer and reader functions within the ‘event’ of the particular discourse o Criticism: the absence of experience necessary to fully comprehend the social discourse  To a more extent, it is the problem in the phenomenon of distance – mental dislocation  Result: giving language its permanent and volatility at the same time  However, post-colonial text does not wish to create meaning, but indicate a shifting horizon of possible meanings • Value
  6. 6. o Even though imitative in structure and form, post-colonial texts are judges with a different set of standards in its success that render them ‘original’Post-colonialism as a reading strategy • Subversion of a canon = set of reading principles • Movement away from Eurocentricism to alternative reading practice that fits the context in order to bestow value upon the text