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Postcolonial Theory

The cultural analysis of colonialism in literary studies.

Daniel Floyd

on 29 November 2012

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Transcript of Postcolonial Theory

Postcolonial Theory The cultural analysis of colonialism Edward Said Homi K Bhabha Frantz Fanon Gayatri Spivak Gayatri Spivak Homi K. Bhabha [B]ecause postcolonial criticism defines formerly
colonized peoples as any population that has been
subjected to the political domination of another
population, you may see postcolonial critics draw
examples from . . . African Americans as well as
from . . . aboriginal Australians or the formerly
colonized population of India (Tyson 417). What groups are encompassed by postcolonial criticism? Okay. So, in these terms, who are the dominant groups? European domination of the New World began in the late
fifteenth century. Spain, France, England, Portugal, and the Netherlands were the main contenders for the plunder
of natural and human resources, and over the next few
centuries European empires extended themselves around
the globe (Tyson 417). What does postcolonialism look at? "As a subject matter, postcolonial criticism analyzes
literature produced by cultures that developed in
response to colonial domination, from the first point
of contact to the present" (Tyson 418). "[As] a theoretical framework . . . postcolonial
criticism seeks to understand the operations--
politically, socially, culturally, and
psychologically--of colonialist and anticolonialist
ideologies" (Tyson 418). Can you think of any ideologies that have been thrust
upon colonized groups? "[T]he dynamic psychological and social interplay between what ex-colonial populations consider their native, indigenous, precolonial cultures and the British culture that was imposed on them constitutes a large portion of the field of study for postcolonial critics" (Tyson 419). What is meant by "cultural colonization?" The inculcation of a colonizer's culture,
which includes systems of government,
beliefs, values and even appearance. - Perceived superiority
- Perception of the "other"
- "Othering" This creates a binary sense of identity: Western/Other.
In this binary (as in all binaries), there is preferential treatment given to one side (Western). Furthermore, the identities inhere in one another: Western identity is created as the opposite of the "other;" the other's identity is forcibly created as a replication of the West. The cultures become a distorted reflection
of each other. This relates to Eurocentrism, which is "the use
of European culture as the standard to which all
other cultures are negatively contrasted"
(Tyson 420). Eurocentrism is also related to "universalism,"
which is "the assumption . . . that European ideas,
ideals, and experience were universal, that is, the
standard for all humankind" (Tyson 420). According to Said, the purpose of "othering" by the west is
"to produce a positive national self-definition for Western
nations by contrast with Eastern nations on which the West projects all the negative characteristics it doesn't want to believe exist among its own people" (Tyson 420). Mimicry: Colonized attempts to seem like the colonizers.

Double consciousness/vision: Colonized perception of the
world that is divided between the two cultures (W.E.B. Dubois). Because the colonized has to belong to two separate
worlds at the same time, s/he is never comfortably "at
home," which is the idea behind Bhabha's
"unhomeliness" (Tyson 421). What is the conflict regarding the use of English by
postcolonial writers? What is
syncretism? Some people feel a need to rediscover the lost
culture of the past by getting rid of all Western
influence; this practice is called "nativism." Tyson calls attention to the struggles of postcolonial women. As discussed in the Feminist Criticism and African American Criticism chapters, women in postcolonial societies continue to struggle under their own nations patriarchy. I would add to this the notion of gender identity in postcolonial nations. This is the subject of Tahar Ben Jelloun's book The Sand Child. Postcolonial Debates What are white settler colonies and what is the
debate surrounding them? Which side do you agree with and why? Neocolonialism: A form of colonialism that still
exists today. Corporations in the US, Europe and
Japan that use exploitative manufacturing in
developing countries are an example. Another example of postcolonial debates is about cultural imperialism, which is when the culture "of the economically dominant culture increasingly replace[s] [that] of the economically vulnerable culture" (Tyson 425). Think of American movies. This becomes a debate because some would argue that the field of postcolonialism is itself a kind of cultural imperialism. Finally, there is fear that postcolonial readings will simply become a new way of reading the same authors from the Eurocentric literary canon. However, several authors have dispelled this notion to some degree (Achebe, Rushdie, Coetzee, Morrison, etc.). Postcolonialism and Literature Examines:
1. The Native people's initial encounter with the colonizers and the disruption of indigenous culture.
2. The journey of the European outsider through an unfamiliar wilderness with a native guide.
3. Othering (the colonizers' treatment of members of the indigenous culture as less than fully human) and colonial oppression in all its forms.
4. Mimicry (the attempt of the colonized to be accepted by imitating the dress, behavior, speech, and lifestyle of the colonizers).
5. Exile (the experience of being an "outsider" in one's own land or a foreign wanderer in Britain).
6. Post-independence exuberance followed by disillusionment.
7. The struggle for individual and collective cultural identity and the related themes of alienation, unhomeliness, . . . double consciousness, . . . and hybridity.
8. The need for continuity with a precolonial past and self-definition of the political future (Tyson 427).
Postcolonialists also examine whether a text is colonialist or anti-colonialist in its agenda. What does that mean? Think of the Heart of Darkness example. The text is anticolonialist because of its representation of the colonizers, but, as Achebe points out, it is colonialist in its representation of the Africans. Furthermore, Bhabha, Tiffin and Said suggest alternative methods of examining literature:

Bhabha suggest global orientation shifts.

Tiffin suggests canonical counter-discourse.

Said suggests moving the "margins" of works.

What do each of these mean? Questions asked by postcolonialists can be found on p.431 of the Tyson text.

Her reading of The Great Gatsby "focuses on what [she] will argue is the work's colonialist ideology, an ideology that can subjugate minority populations within a nation's borders as well as colonized populations elsewhere on the globe" (432). Furthermore, she discusses how "colonialist ideology is also a psychological state" (432).

Questions for further practice can be found on p.445 of the Tyson text. Finally, I would like to leave off with the trailer for an anticolonialist Algerian movie, The Battle of Algiers. Questions?
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