Saturday, June 18, 2016

The postcolonial turn

Postcolonial literature is a very broad category; it includes African writers such as Tsitsi Dangarembga, Ama Ata Aidoo, Wole Soyinka, and Chinua Achebe; Indian-British and Indian-American writers such as Salman Rushdie, Bharati Mukherjee, and Jhumpa Lahiri, and Caribbean writers such as Maryse Condé, Marlene Nourbese Philip, and Michelle Cliff, among many others. They are part of a movement in which, to quote one critical assessment, the "Empire Writes Back" -- the former subjects of Colonialism send their rich and sharply-tones missives back towards that center which cannot hold. There are even some "white" writers (in the sense in which that term has been employed, deployed, and invoked) on the fringes of the former empire whose works may belong here as well: Michael Ondaatje, Nadine Gordimer, and J.M. Coetzee.

Postcolonial literature has its own particular power, and particular problems. Should a po-co writer use the language of the colonizer in his or her work? Or is it true that, as Audre Lorde argued, "the master's tools will never dismantle the master's house"? Should postcolonial writers embody the vernacular literature of their home countries, as did (for example) Amos Tutuola? Or should they garner laurels by embracing highly contemporary, international forms and genres, as did Wole Soyinka or Chinua Achebe? Or does "literature" itself, as a category, constitute an artificial boundary left over from the colonial era; why shouldn't postcolonial "writing include" (for example) the lyrics of Bob Marley or the oral poetry of griots? What role do the old demarcations of race, caste, and class do to the potential solidarity of postcolonial writing -- or what does gender? And, lastly, is it best to see postcolonial writing as an international, or transnational phenomenon, or is it preferable not to group together writers from different nations, cultures, and epochs?

Finally, there is the question of the reader of this literature. Are we, ourselves, as residents of "developed" nations which have long benefitted from being atop the economic and social heap (at the expense of poorer nations and peoples), in a sense 'the enemy' of these writings? Are they meant for us at all? Should such work then be, as Manuel Puig entitled one of his novels, an "Eternal Curse on the Reader of These Pages"? These are the questions which animate the field of postcolonial literature, and which we'll consider -- albeit all too briefly -- as we read a few of its exemplary texts.

1 comment:

  1. After reading many pieces of work from the postcolonial turn, it is clear that this was a time for people to come together and say what they really feel about race, gender, culture, and experiences. No one was holding back, everything that they wanted to say, they were saying and they were extremely proud of it. They each emphasized the importance of their culture and what actually happened when they came to England, along with what people said about them from afar. It was interesting and fun to read and hear aloud, and the message was even clearer hearing them speak in their own dialect and certain ways. For these pieces of work, I definitely think that the writers should use the language of their home country if that is what they are writing about. Using Jamaican words and phrases helped get the writer’s messages across in a positive and enjoyable way. People were speaking out about real issues, talking about gender, race, class, etc in ways they never did before and people were responding positively to it. I also think that postcolonial writing is an international phenomenon, because no matter where you go, people are creating in different ways and want to speak out about the world around them. They may all be vastly different, but they all have a common purpose of letting their ideas and values be heard by the rest of the world. I think we as a nation have developed and grown past stereotyping certain cultures, races, genders, etc, but as always, there is always ways to be better and more to learn. These pieces of work in this way are timeless-they can be read and help remind people of what is going on in our society. I do believe that the work is meant for all of us to read and experience, and in turn better ourselves with. This era paved the way for writing for the future, where people put themselves directly into their work and say exactly what is on their mind. Writing is more impactful than ever.