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Thread: Post-colonial Literature

  1. #1

    Post-colonial Literature

    How do people feel about the term? Do you believe it is a valid area of study, at least in English Literature? Is it patronising or liberating?

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    It is an almost completely useless term, and that study is an excellent example of people finding something because they wnt it to be there. That said, I think that The Flashman Chronicles are collection of literature that should be looked at through the lens of post-colonialism. In fact, I will suggest that as an area of study and article for an English professor I know. He needs to get some serious academic publishing credits.

  3. #3
    I'm not much of an expert, but I don't think it's useless; it's without a doubt present in a number of works, like Things Fall Apart and Cry, the Beloved Country, just to name two. It's in a way a valid criticism of how disturbingly Euro-centric Western educations are, completely ignoring the importance of works outside the Western umbrella such as Tale of Genji or The Sign of Śakuntalā.
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    Quote Originally Posted by dysfunctional-h View Post
    I'm not much of an expert, but I don't think it's useless; it's without a doubt present in a number of works, like Things Fall Apart and Cry, the Beloved Country, just to name two. It's in a way a valid criticism of how disturbingly Euro-centric Western educations are, completely ignoring the importance of works outside the Western umbrella such as Tale of Genji or The Sign of Śakuntalā.
    My God! You are right, my european education is compleatly european. The bastards. Why can't we be more like the rest of the world, which focuses on teaching everything and has no bias whatsoever to it's own culture. Why should we study our own cultures more than others, tis preposterous.

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    Dance Magic Dance OrphanPip's Avatar
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    Well post-colonialism is a very wide field.

    For one, you have the study of Western literary tradition being continued in non-Western cultures, and how this manifests itself in the works of those cultures. In this sense you get stuff like Indian and African literature in English.

    Another kind of post-colonial studies would look at how diaspora slave culture has dealt with the issue of colonialism in their cultural production. How do you express yourself when the cultural terms and forms available to you are from other cultures? This would include some Caribbean literature, and some African literature.

    Then you have the political use of the term, i.e. the thematic treatment of colonialism by post-colonial societies.
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    Quote Originally Posted by kelby_lake View Post
    How do people feel about the term? Do you believe it is a valid area of study, at least in English Literature? Is it patronising or liberating?
    Well, it seems kind of gimmicky. I think by now the only scholar who is actually advocating it is the worst of the lot, Spivak, who exemplifies all the flaws and crap that the bull**** half-discourse created.

    As for general ideas, they did not need a movement, and it just brought more nonsense and incomprehensibility to an already stagnating department. The seminal texts became distorted, and it moved to post-colonialism being what was discussed in discourse, rather than works, or artists. In short, it became an onanist exercise in futility, that neither helped the authors it claimed to be exposing, nor helped readers or political situations.

    Likewise, for us in area studies, it set things back maybe 20 years. It made it that instead of integrating specific studies into a wider discourse - Chinese literature as a form of world literature, Chinese painting as a form of world painting, etc., that things instead needed to be discussed as "how we are seeing things" rather than just seeing things. For anybody who is actually trained in any art related field, this is just an absolute headache, as anybody who learns anything knows the more literature you read, the more you become part of the discourse.

    Eventually even the whitest of people will begin to read like a Chinese person, the more they read. The same is true with an art scholars, literary critics, etc. There is no need for a separate feel bad aspect. What the colonial annoyances did was make everything about us and them, and stress how there is an us and them to feel sorry about. That historically is no more accurate than saying France is England's other, or Germany always looked at Italy as a colonial space to occupy - nonsense in the artistic sense, as anybody can tell.


    Thank god that movement is over. I once studied under a Spenser specialist who said the specialty became just discussing book 4 of the Faerie Queene, because that was the only part of the text Post-Colonializable. Everybody knows book 2 that plays with Ariosto is the best part of the whole text, with part 1 maybe a close second.

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    Quote Originally Posted by OrphanPip View Post
    Well post-colonialism is a very wide field.

    For one, you have the study of Western literary tradition being continued in non-Western cultures, and how this manifests itself in the works of those cultures. In this sense you get stuff like Indian and African literature in English.

    Another kind of post-colonial studies would look at how diaspora slave culture has dealt with the issue of colonialism in their cultural production. How do you express yourself when the cultural terms and forms available to you are from other cultures? This would include some Caribbean literature, and some African literature.
    That definition is highly problematic, otherwise Wilde, Joyce and all other irish writers are part of the umbrella of post-colonialist literature. Far more than any Chinua Achebe or any other ex-colonial writer.

    Also all Italian and German literature post-napoleon should be considered post-colonial literature in light of the dramatic changes the empire produced in all their countries. Heck russian literature ought to be considered post-colonial literature considering that before the 1840's all of the russian nobility and bourgeoisie thought in french not russian, as that was their mother tongue.

    The problem with the concept of post-colonial literature, is that it is based on a ridiculous concept. That being part of a conquered nation is something completely radical unique, when in truth it is the standard of history. To be conquered and to conquer was and is completely normal. Am I saying that ones country being invaded by anothers, has no impact upon their culture; ofcourse not. What I am saying is that it is completley normal and continous throughout history. Just look at europe, it is thanks to the continous conquering and re-conquering that ideas and cultures spread build upon another and change, adopting the best of the old and the best of the new. I dont see the need to emphasize this with the whole "guilt" aspect.
    Last edited by Alexander III; 04-28-2012 at 04:22 PM.

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    I once studied under a Spenser specialist who said the specialty became just discussing book 4 of the Faerie Queene, because that was the only part of the text Post-Colonializable. Everybody knows book 2 that plays with Ariosto is the best part of the whole text, with part 1 maybe a close second.
    This is exactly the sort of thing I was getting at a few weeks ago when the ism becomes 'more important' than the work itself.

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  9. #9
    Quote Originally Posted by dysfunctional-h View Post
    It's in a way a valid criticism of how disturbingly Euro-centric Western educations are.
    It's still Euro-centric: we colonised them! By applying the term so broadly, English Literature professors are basically just saying that we can appropriate the literature from the people we colonised! It's defining cultures through their colonial past. Yes, some literature from the ex-colonies may be about colonialism, but the term seems like it can be attached to anything.

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    Dance Magic Dance OrphanPip's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Alexander III View Post
    That definition is highly problematic, otherwise Wilde, Joyce and all other irish writers are part of the umbrella of post-colonialist literature. Far more than any Chinua Achebe or any other ex-colonial writer.

    Also all Italian and German literature post-napoleon should be considered post-colonial literature in light of the dramatic changes the empire produced in all their countries. Heck russian literature ought to be considered post-colonial literature considering that before the 1840's all of the russian nobility and bourgeoisie thought in french not russian, as that was their mother tongue.
    That doesn't really present a problem for post-colonial literature if it can be broadly applied as a critical approach to many different literatures. However, I'd argue whether those examples are comparable to colonialism. For one, the cultural changes are much more radical, not simply along lines of language but of religion, technology, racial understanding, and such.

    Take a text like Things Fall Apart, it is incorporating a quote from Yeats in the title, it is full of Greek and Christian cultural allusions, but it is blended with Igbo culture and religion as well, you get a hybrid literature with much more distinct tensions than French fashions getting a little popular in Russia.

    Quote Originally Posted by Alexander III View Post
    The problem with the concept of post-colonial literature, is that it is based on a ridiculous concept. That being part of a conquered nation is something completely radical unique, when in truth it is the standard of history. To be conquered and to conquer was and is completely normal. Am I saying that ones country being invaded by anothers, has no impact upon their culture; ofcourse not. What I am saying is that it is completley normal and continous throughout history. Just look at europe, it is thanks to the continous conquering and re-conquering that ideas and cultures spread build upon another and change, adopting the best of the old and the best of the new. I dont see the need to emphasize this with the whole "guilt" aspect.
    No, I think you misunderstand what post-colonialism is about. It is not about condemning colonialism, it is about understanding how a culture responds to being colonized and then being post-colonized. It does not say anything about the situation being unique, the entire point of the movement is that it is not unique. The approaches of post-colonial studies can be applied in diverse historical (to Ireland in the case of the Faerie Queene), geographical (Asia, Africa, the Americas), and divergent histories (former slave cultures, African indigenous cultures, Native Americans, etc.).

    Chinua Achebe makes a similar point, that colonialism brought some good and some bad. The point isn't to condemn colonialism, but to read the text with a particular attention to the way colonialism shapes perceptions and experiences.

    Like any approach it can be applied lazily by bad critics, but that doesn't make it invalid.
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    Why read in such a way, why is it justified? Post-Colonial labelling automatically appropriates experience, and then cages it, in the sense that saying an English novel from Singapore is fundamentally the same as one from Nigeria, given that they are both Post-Colonial in makeup, is just plain stupid, and stresses the most meaningless features of the two places and experiences.

    Now, if there could be a proven quality and experience worth discussing amongst the group, then there would be some justification, but there isn't. Canada is not South Africa, no more than Korea is Afghanistan. The term can be applied almost everywhere, and has been, to the point where it is just sounding like nonsense, which it is.

    Orientalism as a book was an interesting book. Homi Bhabha had some cute points (once you get through the Lacanian bullsh[i]t), but neither of them are actually trying to keep the discourse together.

    We can look at certain features, such as nation, identity, and marginalization, but we do not need an umbrella term, or a specific lens - one shouldn't be looking into a text with any sort of lens primarily, that in itself is a form of marginalization.

    It's like saying all works that come from places with a colonial past are fundamentally working the same way. How is that any different than assuming all Jews are cheap?

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    Dance Magic Dance OrphanPip's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by JBI View Post
    It's like saying all works that come from places with a colonial past are fundamentally working the same way. How is that any different than assuming all Jews are cheap?
    I'm not sure it is saying they work fundamentally the same. It is perhaps saying that the way any two cultures interact creates common dynamics that can inform a general methodology that holds the approach together. Having a general theory for a certain artificially generated group of texts doesn't mean ignoring the differences within that group.

    I take your point that the same subjects can be addressed without recourse to any specific lens, and that post-colonial studies tend to dominate critical discourses about certain texts to the exclusion of other worthwhile readings. However, I don't think there's really a fundamental problem to an approach that attempts to focus readings on a certain kind of experience.
    "If the national mental illness of the United States is megalomania, that of Canada is paranoid schizophrenia."
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  13. #13
    I can understand that post-colonialism provides a dynamic- how does a colony appropriated by a coloniser begin to shape an identity for itself?- but one could argue that the conflict of identity would have been present in some of the colonial literature. Attributing that conflict solely to post-colonialism is a bit like the attitudes to feminism- "You people have had quite a bad time of it from us dead white men so now we will study your recovery".

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    Quote Originally Posted by kelby_lake View Post
    I can understand that post-colonialism provides a dynamic- how does a colony appropriated by a coloniser begin to shape an identity for itself?- but one could argue that the conflict of identity would have been present in some of the colonial literature. Attributing that conflict solely to post-colonialism is a bit like the attitudes to feminism- "You people have had quite a bad time of it from us dead white men so now we will study your recovery".
    It's just a bad idea to assume 1) there is a similar process across colonies, and 2) that this is informative of the art, and by extension, is worth discussing. It just ends up causing people to only read texts that fit their theoretical lenses, rather than seeing the complexity and the subjectivity of individual situations.

  15. #15
    Quote Originally Posted by kelby_lake View Post
    It's still Euro-centric: we colonised them! By applying the term so broadly, English Literature professors are basically just saying that we can appropriate the literature from the people we colonised! It's defining cultures through their colonial past. Yes, some literature from the ex-colonies may be about colonialism, but the term seems like it can be attached to anything.
    I frankly had no idea what post-colonialism is before reading Achebe. XD I'll gladly excise myself from the conversation because I AM BY NO MEANS AN ACADEMIC, SO I HAD NO IDEA HOW IT AFFECTED ACADEMIC POLITICS ETC. SO SUE ME.

    trolololol

    I actually think it is more learning to appreciate what affect being colonized had on their culture. What was missing from Europeans "colonizing" each other was the level of extreme racism and bitterness with which they colonized Africa and America (except obviously in the 20th century's world wars, Ireland, etc). The British didn't divide people into impoverished ghettos based upon race in 16th century France. To ignore that element is to ignore quite a bit.

    Not gonna deny it, I'm a derp. But I still think there's much to be said about the effects of colonization on a society. It's in no way Euro-centric to try to understand that... and we could still use more teaching of The Tale of Genji etc in our schools. It's in no way "appropriating" credit for the work. they're still Japanese, African, etc works, not English works. ;P
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