A critical analysis of the history, culture, literature and modes of discourse on the Third World countries in Africa, Asia, the Caribbean Islands and South America, postcolonialism concerns itself with the study of the colonization (which began as early as the Renaissance), the decolonization (which involves winning back and reconstituting the native cultures), and the neocolonising process (an aftermath of postmodernism and late capitalism, when multinational corporations control the world). Focussing on the omnipresent power struggles between cultures and the intersection of cultures which results in multiculturalism and poly-valency of culture, Postcolonialism analyses the metaphysical, ethical and political concerns about cultural identity, gender, nationality, race, ethnicity, subjectivity, language and power.
Influenced by the poststructuralist and postmodern idea of decentering, postcolonial literary criticism undermines the universalist claims of literature, identifies colonial sympathies in the canon, and replaces the colonial metanarratives with counter-narratives of resistance, by rewriting history and asserting cultural identities through strategies such as separatism, nativism, cultural syncretism, hybridity, mimicry, active participation and assimilation. Backed by an anti-essentialist notion of identity and culture, it critiques cultural hierarchies and the Eurocentrism of modernity. The major theoretical works in postcolonial theory include The Wretched of the Earth (1961) by Franz Fanon, Orientalism (1978) by Edward Said, In Other Worlds (1987) by Gayatri Spivak, The Empire Writes Back (1989) by Bill Ashcroft et al, Nation and Narration (1990) by Homi K Bhabha, and Culture and Imperialism (1993) by Edward Said. In literature, indigenous people from previously colonised and marginalised countries have increasingly found their voices, attempting to assert their own visions, tell their own stories and reclaim their experiences and histories.
With the objective of locating the modes of representation where Europeans constructed natives in politically prejudiced ways, post colonial criticism intends to unveil such literary figures, themes and representatives that have enforced imperial ideology, colonial domination and continuing Western hegemony. It endeavours to probe beneath the obvious and apparently universal/aesthetic/humanist themes in order to reveal their racial, gendered, imperial assumptions. Postcolonial critics reinterpret and examine the values of literary texts, by focussing on the contexts in which they were produced, and reveal the colonial ideologies that are concealed within. Such approaches are exemplified in Chinua Achebe’s rereading, of Conrad’s Heart of Darkness, Edward Said’s rereading of Jane Austen’s Mansfield Park, Sara Suleri‘s rereading of Kipling’s Kim, Homi K Bhabha’s rereading of Forster’s A Passage to India. They seek to identify the gaps and fissures within the discourse that provide the native with means of resistance and subversion, and the dissenting colonial with means of articulating opposition.
Key concepts in Postcolonialism
Othering: Othering involves two concepts — the “Exotic Other” and the “Demonic Other,” The Exotic Other represents a fascination with the inherent dignity and beauty of the primitive/undeveloped other, as delineated n Yeats‘ Byzantium poems; while the Demonic Other is represented as inferior, negative, savage and evil as is described in novels like Heart of Darkness and A Passage to India.
Diaspora: Diaspora refers to people who have been displaced or dispersed from their homelands, and who possess and share a collective memory and myth, and the nostalgic reminiscence of “home” (“imaginary homelands,” to use Rushdie’s term) or an inherited ideology of “home” becomes a personal identity as well as a collective identity of members of a particular community. They are not rooted in one location, and live in the memories of their “Imagined homelands.” In the new geographical location, they negotiate their culture and that of the host nation. Indian diasporic experience, for instance, has been extensively documented by authors like Bharati Mukherjee, Meena Alexander, Menon Marath, Dom Moraes, Farrukh Dhondy, Kiran Desai, Jhumpa Lahiri, and many others. Diasporic theorists such as Avtar Brah and Robin Cohen propose the idea of a home as a mythic one, a place of desire in the diasporic imagination, a place to which there can be no return, despite the possibilities of visiting the place that is seen as the place of origin.
Hybridity/ Syncretism: The Schizophrenic state of the migrant as s/he attempts to combine the culture of origin with that of the host country, without abandoning either is called ‘Hybridity” or “Syncretism”. The central theme in postcolonial diasporic literature is the negotiation of two identities — the split consciousness of being both, yet neither completely; the multiple identities or solidarities; or in extreme cases, reassertion of native cultural identity as manifest in cultural fundamentalism. Hybridity in postcolonial studies has been influenced by the work of political theorists like Will Kymlicka who posits a “multicultural citizenship” in the globalised world. This leads to the emergence of new identities where the original identity, historical experiences and memories are not abandoned but is constructively merged with the host culture, to move beyond the “constructed” limits of both, forging solidarities against essential racial oppression. Cultural theorists such as Stuart Hall have argued for “new ethnicities” that deny ideas of essential black or essential white identity, proposing a “real heterogeneity of interests and identities.”
Double Consciousness: A major concept formulated by W.E.B. Du Bois, double consciousness echoes Frantz Fanon‘s contention of the divided self in Black Skin, White Masks that the black always sees himself through the eyes of the white.Du Bois described double consciousness as “two souls, two thoughts…in one dark body”, which Meena Alexander later altered as “many souls, many thoughts… in one dark body”— pointing to the migrant’s experience in multiple subject positions — a recurrent theme in the writings of Ben Okri, Amitav Ghosh, Derek Walcott, Salman Rushdie, Caryl Phillips and others.
Subaltern: Subaltern is a term introduced by Antonio Gramsci to refer to the working class, and used and polpularized by Gayatri Spivak in the postcolonial context, in Can the Subaltern Speak?. In this essay, Spivak raises issues about the voice of the subaltern in rebellion against the colonizer, and the authenticity of the voice of the subaltern — whether s/he speaks or is spoken for? Thus Spivak ridicules the hypocrisy of postcolonial discourses that claim to raise the voices of hitherto unheard, while they inadvertently serve to perpetuate the marginality and the subalternity of the oppressed. Spivak’s essay was a critique of the work of the Subaltern Studies group including Ranajit Guha, Dipesh Chakrabarty, Shahid Amin and others.
Mimicry: Mimicry demonstrates an ambivalent relationship between the colonizer and the colonized. The colonized subject mimics the colonizer by adopting the colonizer’s cultural habits, language, attire, values etc. In doing so, he mocks and parodies the colonizer. Mimicry therefore locates a crack in the certainty of colonial dominance, an uncertainty in its control of the behaviour of the colonized. Homi Bhabha notes that mimicry is the process by which the colonized subject is reproduced “as almost the same, but not quite” — it contains both mockery and a menace; it reveals the limitations in the authority of the colonial discourse, almost as though the colonial authority inevitably embodies the seeds of its own destruction.
History: Writing in the wake of decolonization, after long years of imperial suppression and effacement of identity, the writers of the Third World nations are increasingly interested and keen on writing about their native histories, problems of colonization; they have written case studies of cultural colonization, native identity and anti-colonial resistance. Anti-colonial writing of the first phase is thus of the culturalist nationalist variety — embodied in movements like Negritude, Africanite, and African Aesthetic. These struggles were aimed at liberating themselves at the individual as well as the colonial level, from colonial attitudes and forms of thinking. The postcolonia obsession with history, closely linked with the overarching goal of decolonization, addresses issues such as 1) interrogating the effects of colonialism, especially in terms of cultural alienation; 2) the anti-colonial struggles of the Third World and the rise of nationalism; 3) the creation of mimic men in the colonial culture; 4) the appropriation of history by the colonial master; 5) attempts to retrieve and re-write their own histories by the formerly colonized cultures; and 6) modes of representations. Retrieving history for a postcolonial culture invariably includes an intense awareness that native history without colonial contamination is not possible. The Subaltern Studies project seeks to discover, beneath the layers of colonial historiography, the local resistance to colonialism. It is a history from below, utilizing resources in native languages and non-colonial forms of history-recording such as folksongs, ballads etc.
Nation: The postcolonial writers are conscious of their role in nation-building. In postcolonial literature, the nation-building project seeks to erase the colonial past by rejecting and resisting the Western constructions of the “other” as primitive, savage, demonic etc. and by seeking to retrieve a pre-colonial past that would help them redefine a nation and project a destiny and future. However, the postcolonial methodologies and epistemologies are almost always mediated and manipulated by Western ones, and the native realizes that the destiny of the postcolony is not as ideal as had been dreamt of earlier. Postcolonialism brings with it a new process of exclusion, marginalization and “subalternisation”, as Gyanendra Pandey argues, “minorities. are constituted along with the nation”, and a continuation of colonialism through the formation of elites. Literature of postcoloniality that constitutes nationhood emphasizes the modes of constructing, imagining and representing the nation, the role of locality, space, community, religion, spirituality, cultural identity and the politics of nativism in the making of a national identity.
Race: According to Michael Banton, race is a concept that has been the basis of discrimination and disempowerment. Race has become a central category in social, political and cultural theory. Critical race studies, which includes studies of race in literature and culture, ethnicity studies, studies of minority literatures, and specific traditions in literature and philosophy, explicitly addresses questions of race and racial discrimination. Issues of race and ethnicity lead to collective, communal identities and have a larger political and social significance. The political reading/ critical practice of racial studies has had significant impact within Cultural Studies, Media Studies, Black British Studies, Asian American Studies etc. The race turn has also been instrumental in the development of cultural movements like Black Arts and Harlem Renaissance. W.E.B, Du Bois in his writings like The Souls of Black Folk criticizes the scientific racism — Eugenics, Social Darwinism and Nazism — which gives rise to “biological discrimination”. He also argued that racism was socially constructed, that it emerged through social discourses and practices and was not scientifically demonstrable.
Gender: Postcolonial gender discourse discusses the double colonization of women by both imperialism and patriarchy. In postcolonial literature, gender and sexuality have become prominent themes in the last decades of the 20th century. Gender and the role of women in the postcolonial countries have been the focus in the writings of Anita Desai, Ama Ata Aidoo, Suniti Namjoshi, Buchi Emecheta, and Nawal El Saasdawi. The linkage between gender and the racial/ethnic identities has been the subject of numerous autobiographical writings by native Canadian and African-American women like Gloria Anzaldua and Maria Campbell. Postcolonial gender studies examine how class, caste, economy, political empowerment and literacy have contributed to the condition of women in the Third World countries, Another interesting area of study is the impact of “First World Feminism” on Third World writers while exploring the possibilities of Third World Feminism.
Black Feminism: The domination of the black male in the civil rights movement and the white woman in the feminist propaganda necessitated the emergence of Black Feminism detailing the inextricable connection between sexism and racism. Alice Walker‘s Womanism, Angela Davis‘ Women, Race and Class and Kimberle Crenshaw‘s Identity Politics discusses the marginalized, intersectional plight of the Black women. The Black feminist lesbian organisation, Combahee River Collective, started by activists like Barbara Smith, is ideologically separated from “white feminism.” The CRC questions conventional social hierarchy with the white man at the centre and began creating theory which spoke of the combination of problems, sexism, racism etc. that they had been battling.
Neocolonialism: Neocolonialism refers to the continuing economic dominance and exploitation of the “politically-free” Third World countries by the European imperial powers. Neocolonialism is most often achieved not merely through state control by Euro-American powers, but by a nexus between politicians, bankers, generals, and the Chief Executive officers. International aid and developmental initiatives are very often aligned with economic policy diktats that disable Third World economies. Neocolonialism, therefore, is a more dangerous form of colonialism.