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Postcolonial Criticism Has Embraced Cultural Studies Essay

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Cultural Studies
Wordcount: 1545 words Published: 1st Jan 2015

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After the end of World War II, there occurred a large-scale process of decolonization of the territories subjugated by most of the imperial powers (Britain, France, the Netherlands, Belgium). Postcolonial literature and criticism arose both during and after the struggles of many nations in Africa, Asia, Latin America, and elsewhere for independence from colonial rule. The 1950s and 1960s saw the publication of seminal texts of postcolonialism: Aimé Césaire’s Discours sur le colonialisme, and Frantz Fanon’s Black Skin, White Masks. In 1958, Chinua Achebe published his novel Things Fall Apart. George Lamming’s The Pleasures of Exile appeared in 1960 and Fanon’s The Wretched of the Earth followed in 1961. In his book Postclonialism: A Very Short Introduction, Robert Young regarded that the “founding moment” of postcolonial theory was the journal the Tricontinental, which “initiated the first global alliance of the peoples of the three continents against imperialism” (Young 16-17).

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E. ii. Main aims of the theory

Postcolonial criticism has embraced a number of aims: most fundamentally, to re-examine the history of colonialism from the perspective of the colonized; to determine the economic, political, and cultural impact of colonialism on both the colonized peoples and the colonizing powers; to analyze the process of decolonization; and above all, the contestation of forms of hegemony, and the articulation of political and cultural identities (Young, White Mythologies, 11). Early voices of anti-imperialism stressed the need to develop or return to indigenous literary traditions so as to restore their cultural heritage eclipsed by the imperial domination [1] . Other prominent voices, such as Said and Spivak, have advocated a deconstructive critique of Western discursive formation of knowledge in order to attain their own political and Acultural ends. However, recent voices, led by Homi Bhabha, have embraced the notion of hybridity as a space of cultural articulation and negotiation.

E. iii. Scope and projects

The scope of postcolonial discourse extends over the domains of gender, race, ethnicity, and class. Indeed, it might be an oversimplification to treat either the colonizer or the colonized as homogeneous entities, which can somehow be mutually opposed. Such a rigid division undermines the fact that both class exploitation and gender oppression function in both the West and in colonized nations (Young 8-9). Hence, postcolonial discourse has been associated with ethnic studies of various minorities in Western societies such as African-American, Native American, Latin American, and women’s studies. All of these discourses have challenged the main streams of Western philosophy, literature, and ideology. In this respect, it has become a common project to question and revaluate the literary and cultural canon in Western institutions. The 1960’s saw left-wing uprisings against the elements of liberal humanism: Western democracy, the Enlightenment rationalism, objectivity, and individual autonomy. This reaction against the Western mainstream tradition was fostered largely by the emergence of French literary theory, which insisted that the text was an indirect expression and often a justification of the prevailing power structure. This structure was inevitably a hierarchy in which the voices of minorities, women, and the working classes were suppressed. In fact, the appeal to timeless truths in the Western literature, which is presumably claimed as universal in its scope and purpose, has always transcended historical, economic, and political contexts. Such claim reveals the extent to which Eurocentric representations of the Self, resting on the Enlightenment project of rationality, progress, civilization, and moral agency, were constructed on a binary opposition to various forms of Otherness, which are founded on polarized images such as superstition, backwardness, barbarism, and moral incapacity.

E. iv. Recent developments in the postcolonial theory

Said’s landmark work Orientalism appeared in 1978. More recent works include The Empire Writes Back (1989) by Bill Ashcroft, Gareth Griffiths, and Helen Tiffin and Gayatri Spivak’s The Post-Colonial Critic (1990), as well as work by Abdul JanMohamed, Benita Parry and most importantly Homi Bhabha’s The Location of Culture (1994). In his book White Mythologies, Robert Young sees postcolonialism as continuing to derive its inspiration from the anti-colonial struggles of the colonial era. Anti-colonialism had many of the characteristics commonly associated with postcolonialism such as diaspora, transnational migration and transcultural identities. Ashcroft, Griffiths, and Tiffin also use the term postcolonialism in a comprehensive sense to cover all the history impacted by imperialism from the moment of colonization to the present day, which is a form of continuity between the colonial and postcolonial periods.

Most of the exponents of postcolonialism have regarded the trio: Said, Spivak and Bhabha, as the most influential theorists of what has become known as postcolonialism [2] . Their works have largely been at the center of various contemporary postcolonial debates. Said’s Orientalism is generally regarded as having inaugurated the field of explicitly postcolonial criticism in the West. He argues that the Western representation of the Orient was produced by the imaginative geography of Western scholarship and has been instrumental in the colonization and domination of non-Western societies. Postcolonial theory reverses the historical center/margin direction of cultural studies. Critiques of the metropolis and capital now emanate from the former colonies. Moreover, Homi K. Bhabha has questioned the binary thought that produces the dichotomies-center/margin, white/black, and colonizer/colonized-by which colonial practices are justified. The work of Gayatri C. Spivak has focused attention on the question of who speaks for the colonial “Other” and the relation of the ownership of discourse and representation to the development of the postcolonial subjectivity. Nowadays, postcolonialism offers a fundamental critique of the ideology of colonial domination and at the same time seeks to subvert the essentialist thought that produced conceptual as well as economic divides between West and East, civilized and uncivilized, First and Third Worlds. In this respect, postcolonial theory has brought fresh perspectives to the role of colonized peoples- their wealth, labor, and culture- in the development of modern European nation states. While postcolonial criticism emerged in the historical moment following the collapse of the modern colonial empires, the increasing globalization of culture, including the imperialism of multinational capitalism, suggests a continued relevance for this field of study.

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E. v. Delimitation of postcolonial theory

Postcolonial theory, as any other theoretical approach, has conceptual boundaries and limitations. Although it offers a theoretical approach that highlights the importance of examining the present colonial legacies, most of the early literature in postcolonial theory has emerged from the decolonized world of the twentieth century that theorizes mostly from the British imperial discourse. Thus, for the most part, it has not only overlooked the (post)colonial texts written in native languages, but also created a kind of postcolonial canon that has so far reinforced and maintained the supremacy of the colonizer’s language that has served as a tool for colonialism and imperialism. According to Wail Hassan and Rebecca Saunders, Anglophone postcolonial studies have sustained British literature as a “frame of reference” (18). Therefore, only Commonwealth Anglophone writers are introduced to English departments, while writers who write in their native languages are neglected. As a result, Anglophone postcolonial literature is a “highly selective field […] [that consolidates] the argument that Anglophone postcolonialism has become a mimic canon that functions effectively to reinforce neocolonial hegemony (Hassan and Saunders 18).

Nevertheless, the use of english [3] as the language of expression makes the postcolonial works available to a wider audience and, thus, gives voice to ex-colonial subjects (Subaltern/Other) to speak for themselves and restitute the agency of self-representation. According to Ashcroft, through using E/english, colonized people “have subverted the tropes by which they have habitually been marginalized, and, ultimately, have permanently influenced even the educational disciplines by which those tropes were perpetuated” (Ashcroft, On Postcolonial Futures, 2).


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