A Literary Journey into Consciousness

March 9th, 2017

Critical Context-Postcolonialism

Posted by Krystal Dillon in Uncategorized

I hope that the following is helpful for everyone in studying for the exam. I have listed below the theorists mentioned in the Parker section on Postcolonialism and Race Studies with a brief overview of their ideas and how they relate to Homi K. Bhabha’s ideas offered in The Location of Culture. 

Postcolonialism as a field of discourse did not really gain traction until the mid 20th century following an increase of independent, autonomous nations following resistance to colonial powers. The aim of postcolonial studies in part tries to answer the question of how we speak about formerly colonised subjects and investigating the legacy of colonialism in nations formerly under its control. These aims cause critics to analyze the cultural, political, and economic relationship between more and less powerful nations/peoples. The three prominent critics of postcolonial studies are: Gayatri Spivak, Edward Said, and Homi Bhabha. However each of these critics have been influenced by theorists that came before them. The following have laid the groundwork for postcolonial studies.

Aimé Césaire (1913-2008)

Aimé Césaire, a Martinician poet, was one of the founders of the Négritude movements, along with Léopold Senghor a Senagalese poet. This movement (1930s) was akin to, and inspired by, the Harlem Renaissance movement in the U.S., but instead was a movement within francophone countries. The movement advocated for a “collective black identity” and a renewal of black pride. Césaire argued that black culture was distinct from white cultures, and also advocated for a return to our  shared African cultural origin. His idea that black culture was distinct from white culture reinforces the idea that blackness and whiteness exists in binary opposition. This idea of a binary is later critiqued by Homi Bhabha and his idea of multiplicity. To argue that black culture is distinct implies that all black people are homogeneous and does not take into account variations within the black community. It also implies that there is an “essence” to blackness that all black people share and Homi Bhabha is very critical of any essentialist ideas of identity. Lastly, Césaire’s idea that we should return to our shared African past, implies that culture is fixed and that we can trace the origin of one’s culture. However Bhabha’s idea of cultural hybridity shows that cultures are amalgamations of other cultures. No culture is distinct because it will always have been influenced by interactions with other cultures.

(Found in Parker, pg 289)

Franz Fanon (1925-1961)

Fanon was a Martinician psychiatrist who spent a lot of time in Algeria and was supportive of their fight for independence from French rule. As a psychiatrist he was preoccupied with the psychological effects of colonization and the process of decolonizing the nation as well as the mind. He is famous for his texts: The Wretched of the Earth and Black Skins, White Masks. He was a prominent theorist in the discourse surrounding resistance to colonial rule and outlining the necessary steps for a revolution. He believed that the process of decolonization needed to be violent. He argued that because colonization was a violent event, in order for colonized people to be liberated they needed to enact violence against their oppressors. He also argued that the person to speak on behalf of the colonized subject should not be those he titled “native intellectuals”. The native intellectual is apart of the colonized population but has been educated in Western institutions and therefore is to some extent brainwashed by the colonizing nation. He argued that having the elite or native intellectual speak on behalf of the larger group allows for them to work in their own interest instead of the benefit of the collective which can lead to neocolonialism. He was critical of the Négritude movement because it capitulates to essentialist notions of identity. He argued that there is no essence to blackness, however he understood why the Négritude movement was appealing to a community who had not developed positive self-concepts under colonial rule. He also critiqued the aspect of Négritude which called for a “going back” to their cultural African origin. Fanon believed that there was no origin to culture, and that we cannot discover or ancestral past. Fanon’s conclusions clearly influenced Bhabha’s idea of cultural hybridity in that he believed cultures are constantly changing and mixing so we cannot pinpoint its origin.

(Find more on Fanon in Parker, pg 290-291)

Ngugi wa Thiong’o (1938-)

Thiong’o is a Kenyan novelist who contributed to the conversation surrounding language and colonization. He called for African writers to write in their native languages and to reject writing in European languages. He saw European languages as the language of their oppressors and as a result called for the creation of a distinct ‘African literature’ which would be measured by a return to the native tongue. He was criticized by many other African novelists for his conclusion mainly Chinua Achebe (1930-2013). Achebe, who is a Nigerian novelist, often wrote in English (Things Fall Apart). He argued that it is problematic to say that all Western languages (specifically English) are the languages of the oppressor, because English (in the context of Nigeria) had been changed by the African people and transformed in ways that make it unique. Achebe’s idea that language evolves when it encounters other populations echoes Bhabha’s idea of mimicry and hybridity, in that through processes like the former (Where an encounter between British and Nigerian peoples, where latter mimics the language of the former) can lead to hybridity or a transformation of ones culture through interactions with another.

(More on Ngugi and Achebe found in Parker, pg 292)

Edward Said (1935-2003)

Edward Said was a Palestinian American academic who is credited with the “bang” of postcolonial studies with the publication of his 1978 piece Orientalism. In this piece, Said argues that the “West” has essentially produced the “East” through discursive practices during the period of colonisation such as (travel journals, scholarship, language, etc). Said uses discourse in the Foucauldian sense of the word. Through these discursive practices the West characterized the East in negative terms such as “lazy, sensual, exotic, irrational, cruel, dishonest, etc”. Through this characterization they established the West/East binary. In true binary fashion, the West (in creating the East) also created itself, making it everything the East was not. Therefore the West was “rational, moral, modern, kind, hardworking, democratic, etc”. These two entities were also gendered with the West being masculinized and the East feminized. Said’s piece was highly influential because Orienatlism as a process “continues to shape political, economic, and military relationships between the East and West today. As Said posits, this binary continues to be reinforced given that the West treats its cultural products and its ways of thinking as universal. Bhabha, who takes a true deconstructionist approach to postcolonial studies is critical of binaries and he states that Said’s piece is “overly binarized”. Also, Bhabha and his ideas of multiplicity and cultural hybridity imply that East and West are not fixed entities (as Said argues) and that there are variations within each of these concepts. Bhabha argues that these entities are not in opposition but are continuously feeding off of one another. Overall, Bhabha sees Said as contributing to the idea that there is an essence to cultural identities, and that culture is fixed.

(Found in Parker pg 293-295)

Gayatri Spivak (1942-)

Spivak is a theorist in postcolonial studies famous for translating Jacques Derrida’s piece Of Grammatology, and her seminal work is ‘Can The Sub-altern Speak?’ (1985). In this piece she poses the question of whether or not the subtlern can speak (she takes the term subaltern from Antonio Gramsci meaning people with less power). She uses the term subtler to refer specifically to Indian women in her piece. She uses the example of women who suffered under the controversial hindu practice of sati which is widow burning. She argues that when women would agree to sati (which also means ‘good wife’) they were put in a precarious position because to deny to be burned would also be denying that you were a good wife. Overall she poses the question that if when women speak in this instance are they speaking for themselves or for larger oppressive ideologies (in this case patriarchy). She also poses the question of whether or not anyone truly speaks for themselves or if we are always shaped by social practices and if we always speak for hegemonic power structures. She (in Derridean fashion) argues that no one has an “essence” and that we are all in fact speaking for oppressive ideologies even when we are not aware. Her critique of essentialism is in line with Bhabha. She also aligns with his ideas about stereotyping and she critiques the ways in which people approach speaking about the Third World solely in positive lights (ignoring patriarchal violence in order to not negatively portray formerly colonized cultures). Overall, Spivak and Bhabha fall in sync on many issues, however her approach to postcolonial studies is a little more nuanced in that she takes a feminist perspective. As Parker states “feminism and postcolonialism must depend on each other if they want to pursue their mutual commitments to recognition and justice” (308).

(Found in Parker pg 301-308)



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