By definition, postcolonialism is a period of time after colonialism, and postcolonial literature is typically characterized by its opposition to the colonial. However, some critics have argued that any literature that expresses an opposition to colonialism, even if it is produced during a colonial period, may be defined as postcolonial, primarily due to its oppositional nature. Postcolonial literature often focuses on race relations and the effects of racism and usually indicts white and/or colonial societies. Despite a basic consensus on the general themes of postcolonial writing, however, there is ongoing debate regarding the meaning of postcolonialism. Many critics now propose that the term should be expanded to include the literatures of Canada, the United States, and Australia. In his essay discussing the nature and boundaries of postcolonialism, Simon During argues for a more inclusive definition, calling it “the need, in nations, or groups which have been victims of imperialism to achieve an identity uncontaminated by universalist or Eurocentric concepts or images.” The scale and scope of modern European imperialism, as well as its extraordinarily organized character, including the cultural licensing of racial domination, has sometimes led to the perception of colonization as a modern phenomenon. In fact, many critics propose that modern colonialism was not a discrete occurrence and that an examination of premodern colonial activities will allow for a greater and more complex understanding of modern structures of power and domination, serving to illuminate the operation of older histories in the context of both modern colonialism and contemporary race and global political relations.
Works of literature that are defined as postcolonial often record racism or a history of genocide, including slavery, apartheid, and the mass extinction of peoples, such as the Aborigines in Australia. Critical response to these texts is often seen as an important way to articulate and negotiate communication between writers who define themselves as postcolonial and critics who are not part of that experience. In her introduction to Post-Colonial and African American Women's Writing, published in 2000, Gina Wisker notes that the indictment present in many postcolonial texts tends to produce guilt or feelings of inherited complicity in many readers. Also, although writing about these texts may raise the level of awareness of both the texts and their writers, some postcolonial writers see reflected in this activity an arrogant assumption about the need for noncolonial cultures to recognize postcolonial writers. Similarly, other critics have noted that critical response that focuses entirely on the essential nature of black or Asian writers may also serve to marginalize their writing by supposing their experiences as largely a product of being “other” than European.
Postcolonialism includes a vast array of writers and subjects. In fact, the very different geographical, historical, social, religious, and economic concerns of the different ex-colonies dictate a wide variety in the nature and subject of most postcolonial writing. Wisker has noted in her book that it is even simplistic to theorize that all postcolonial writing is resistance writing. In fact, many postcolonial writers themselves will argue that their countries are still very much colonial countries, both in terms of their values and behaviors, and that these issues are reflected in their work. In her essay on postcolonialism, Deepika Bahri agrees, noting that while the definition of postcolonialism may be fairly boundaried, the actual use of the term is very subjective, allowing for a yoking together of a very diverse range of experiences, cultures, and problems. This diversity of definitions exists, notes Bahri, because the term postcolonialism is used both as a literal description of formerly colonial societies and as a description of global conditions after a period of colonialism. In this regard, according to Bahri, the notion of the “postcolonial” as a literary genre and an academic construct may have meanings that are completely separate from a historical moment or time period.
Some women colonial writers draw a relationship between postcolonialism and feminism. For many of these writers, who live in strong patriarchal cultures, language and the ability to write and communicate represent power. Some of these writers, for example, have noted that since the language of British-ruled colonies is English, literature written in English has often been used to marginalize and constrain female points of view. In the postcolonial period, however, language, and the ability to speak, write, and publish, has become an enabling tool for postcolonial authors.
A Man of the People (novel) 1962
Ayi Kwei Armah
Why Are We So Blest? (novel) 1974
J. M. Coetzee
Dusklands (novel) 1974
In the Heart of the Country (novel) 1977
The Clear Light of Day (novel) 1980
In Custody (novel) 1984
Baumgartner's Bombay (novel) 1988
Annie John (novel) 1985
Maxine Hong Kingston
The Woman Warrior: Memoirs of a Girlhood among Ghosts (memoir) 1976
Tripmaster Monkey: His Fake Book (novel) 1989
N. Scott Momaday
House Made of Dawn (novel) 1968
The Ancient Child (novel) 1989
The Tiger's Daughter (novel) 1972
Wife (novel) 1979
Midnight's Children (novel) 1980
Shame (novel) 1984
The Satanic Verses (novel) 1989
Imaginary Homelands: Essays and Criticism, 1981-1991 (nonfiction) 1991
Leslie Marmon Silko
Ceremony (novel) 1977
Almanac of the Dead (novel) 1991
Season of Anomy (novel) 1973
Poems of Black Africa (poetry) 1975
N'gugi wa Thiong'o
Weep Not, Child (novel) 1964
I Will Marry When I Want (novel) 1982
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Criticism: Overviews And General Studies
SOURCE: “Once More with Feeling: What Is Postcolonialism?” in Ariel, Vol. 26, No. 1, January, 1995, pp. 51-82.
[In the following essay, Bahri provides an overview of the concept of postcolonialism, including a brief survey of various definitions of the subject.]
Defining the parameters and boundaries of the postcolonial territory is a task not without its challenges. Much of the work done under the label “postcolonial” is content to assume a general understanding of its limits and possibilities. A sufficiently thoughtful definitional and conceptual framework, however, continues to elude us. As Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak writes, in postcoloniality, “every metropolitan definition is dislodged. The general mode for the postcolonial is citation, reinscription, rerouting the historical” (Outside 217). In a very fundamental sense, of course, “postcolonial” is that which has been preceded by colonization. The second edition of the American Heritage Dictionary defines it as “of, relating to, or being the time following the establishment of independence in a colony” (968). Even this minimally descriptive definition, to no one's surprise, is not empty of ideological content or the power to encapsulate and transfix a “thing” simply by naming it; it is no revelation that one can become a function of what one is called. Rather than contend with definition when it fails,...
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SOURCE: “Rethinking the Problem of Postcolonialism,” in New Literary History, Vol. 28, No. 1, 1997, pp. 7-19.
[In the following essay, Xie presents a review of theories surrounding postcolonialism, making a distinction between postcolonial literatures and Third World writing.]
Like all other “post”-marked terms, “postcolonialism” has caused no end of debate among its protagonists and antagonists. While the authors of The Empire Writes Back champion a loose use of the term “postcolonial” in expanding it to the literatures of Canada, Australia, and the United States, Simon During defines “postcolonialism” as “the need, in nations or groups which have been victims of imperialism, to achieve an identity uncontaminated by universalist or Eurocentric concepts and images.”1 However, critics like Linda Hutcheon, Gayatri Spivak, and Homi Bhabha are unmistakably skeptical of the possibility of an “uncontaminated” or “indigenous” postcolonial theory. Hutcheon argues that “the entire post-colonial project usually posits precisely the impossibility of that identity ever being ‘uncontaminated,’”2 for postcolonialism designates a subversive discourse within the dominant Eurocentric culture rather than outside it. Spivak advocates the catachrestic strategy of “reversing, displacing, and seizing the apparatus of value-coding”3 instead of...
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Criticism: African Postcolonial Literature
SOURCE: “African Literatures and Postcolonialism: Projections into the Twenty-First Century,” in Canadian Review of Literature, Vol. 22, No. 3-4, September/December, 1995, pp. 569-85.
[In the following essay, Na'Allah examines the themes permeating African postcolonial writing, noting that in addition to its continued focus on issues of protest on maintaining African values, recent African postcolonial literature also indicts native people perceived as perpetrators of African's own imperialism.]
What the [African] writers see around them as they survive their political and social environment since independence is a recurring cycle of misrule, mismanagement, corruption, violent upheaval and general misery.
(Jones, “Myth and Modernity: African Writers and Their Roots” 6)
Postcolonial criticism bears witness to the unequal and uneven forces of cultural representation involved in the contest for political and social authority within the modern world order. Postcolonial perspectives emerge from the colonial testimony of Third World countries and the discourses of “minorities” within the geopolitical divisions of East and West, North and South.
(Bhabha, The Location of Culture 171)
This essay does not intend to lock horns with postcolonial...
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SOURCE: “Constructions of Apartheid in the International Reception of the Novels of J. M. Coetzee,” in Journal of South African Studies, Vol. 25, No. 2, June, 1999, pp. 287-301.
[In the following essay, Barnett discusses critical reception of South African literature in the context of novelist J. M. Coetzee's works, noting that South African writing has often been reviewed with an abstract and moralized understanding of the nature of apartheid.]
I sometimes wonder if it isn't simply that vast and wholly ideological superstructure constituted by publishing, reviewing and criticism that is forcing on me the fate of being a ‘South African novelist’.
J. M. Coetzee1
LITERATURE AND THE MORALISATION OF APARTHEID
South Africa has been made available as an object of knowledge in particular ways. The presentation of apartheid on an international stage was culturally mediated through various discourses and institutions. This process of mediation solicited specific forms of political commitment and moral approbation that were crucial to the maintenance of the anti-apartheid struggle at the international scale. Laura Chrisman has recently argued that the sense that South Africa is an immediately and transparently knowable society continues to support a particular relation of ‘sanctioned ignorance’...
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Criticism: Asian/Pacific Postcolonial Literature
SOURCE: “Postcolonialism, Nationalism, and the Emergence of Asian/Pacific American Literatures,” in An Interethnic Companion to Asian American Literature, edited by King-Kok Cheung, Cambridge University Press, 1997, pp. 274-88.
[In the following essay, Sumida examines the emergence of Hawaii's literatures as a postcolonial and cultural phenomenon.]
When I was drafting this chapter, I had the opportunity to discuss with Davianna Pomaika‘i McGregor, a historian of Native Hawaiian and ethnic studies, my questions about examining the emergence of Hawaii's literatures as a postcolonial historical and cultural phenomenon. “Post-colonial?” she said. Her eyebrows leaped up. “Since when?”1
Applied to American literary histories, the term “postcolonial” makes an imperfect but, in some ways, useful lens. In “minority” American literatures generally—and because they are often still considered “minority” ones, continuing to struggle for equality—an incongruity of “postcolonial” models arises from this: for peoples of racial minority groups of the United States there has not been a point of “liberation” from colonialism in the political, international sense that the British colonies became “liberated,” gained independence and nationhood, whether in North America or, say, in South Asia. It is arguable that in minority American literatures...
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Criticism: Postcolonial Literary Theory
SOURCE: “Mythologies of Migrancy: Postcolonialism, Postmodernism and the Politics of (Dis)Location,” in Ariel, Vol. 26, No. 1, January, 1995, pp. 125-46.
[In the following essay, Krishnaswamy traces the ideological lineage of postcolonial theory, noting that postcolonial celebratory novels that focused on nationalism have given way to works of delegitimation.]
A new type of “Third World”1 intellectual, cross-pollinated by postmodernism and postcolonialism, has arrived: a migrant who, having dispensed with territorial affiliations, travels unencumbered through the cultures of the world bearing only the burden of a unique yet representative sensibility that refracts the fragmented and contingent condition of both postmodernity and postcoloniality. Journeying from the “peripheries” to the metropolitan “centre,” this itinerant intellectual becomes an international figure who at once feels at home nowhere and everywhere. No longer disempowered by cultural schizophrenia or confined within collectivities such as race, class, or nation, the nomadic postcolonial intellectual is said to “write back” to the empire in the name of all displaced and dispossessed peoples, denouncing both colonialism and nationalism as equally coercive constructs.
The ideological lineage of this itinerant postcolonial intellectual is typically hybrid because postcoloniality, as Kwame...
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SOURCE: “Postcolonialism, Ideology, and Native American Literature,” in Postcolonial Theory and the United States: Race, Ethnicity, and Literature, edited by Amritjit Singh and Peter Schmidt, University Press of Mississippi, 2000, pp. 73-94.
[In the following essay, originally published in 1996, Krupat presents an overview of literary theory defining postcolonialism, placing Native American writing in this context.]
In the current climate of literary studies, it is tempting to think of contemporary Native American literatures as among the postcolonial literatures of the world. Certainly they share with other postcolonial texts the fact of having, in the words of the authors of The Empire Writes Back, “emerged in their present form out of the experience of colonization and asserted themselves by foregrounding the tension with the imperial power, and by emphasizing their differences from the assumptions of the imperial Centre” (Ashcroft, Griffiths, and Tiffin 2). Yet contemporary Native American literatures cannot quite be classed among the postcolonial literatures of the world for the simple reason that there is not yet a “post-” to the colonial status of Native Americans. Call it domestic imperialism or internal colonialism; in either case, a considerable number of Native people exist in conditions of politically sustained subalternity. I have remarked on the academic effects of this...
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SOURCE: “Is There History after Eurocentrism: Globalism, Postcolonialism, and the Disavowal of History,” Cultural Critique, Vol. 42, Spring, 1999, pp. 1-34.
[In the following essay, Dirlik discusses Eurocentrism as a modern historical phenomenon that has influenced many postmodern movements, including postcolonialism.]
Ours would seem to be another age of paradoxes. Localization accompanies globalization, cultural homogenization is challenged by insistence on cultural heterogeneity, denationalization is more than matched by ethnicization. Capitalism at its moment of victory over socialism finds itself wondering about different cultures of capitalism at odds with one another. There is a preoccupation with history when history seems to be increasingly irrelevant to understanding the present. Worked over by postmodernism, among other things, the past itself seems to be up for grabs, and will say anything we want it to say.
It is another one of these paradoxes that I take up in this essay: the paradox of Eurocentrism. The repudiation of Eurocentrism in intellectual and cultural life seems to be such an obvious necessity that it may seem odd to speak of it as a paradox. Yet a good case can be made that Eurocentrism, too, has come under scrutiny and criticism at the very moment of its victory globally. Whether we see in the present the ultimate victory or the impending demise of...
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Criticism: Postcolonial Women's Writing
SOURCE: “Postcolonialism and Recent Women's Writing in Afrikaans: South African Literature in Transition,” in World Literature Today, Vol. 70, No. 1, Winter, 1996, pp. 63-72.
[In the following essay, Viljoen theorizes that postcolonial literature produced by Afrikaans women has evolved to address issues of apartheid as well as those of class and gender.]
1: POSTCOLONIALISM AND AFRIKAANS LITERATURE
Although cynical words have been spoken about the current popularity and academic marketability of postcolonial theory, it cannot be denied that it has provided valuable new perspectives on the world's so-called marginal literatures. One's understanding of postcolonialism is largely determined by the way in which the prefix post- in postcolonialism is read. If it is read as a reference to temporal succession and even supersession, the term postcolonialism applies to that which follows after colonialism. If, however, colonialism is defined as the way in which unequal international relations of economic, political, military, and cultural power are maintained, it cannot be argued that the colonial era is really over. Moreover, viewing colonialism as “a homogeneous thing of the past” (Thomas, 13) in the hope of achieving a break with a blameless present poses the risk of obscuring the historical, geographic, and political specificity of totally different forms of colonization. Anne...
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SOURCE: “Caribbean Women's Writing,” in Post-Colonial African American Women's Writing: A Critical Introduction, St. Martin's, 2000, pp. 93-129.
[In the following essay, Wisker provides a brief history of Caribbean culture and writing, focusing on women's role and writing in the context of Caribbean culture.]
[T]here exists among the women of the Caribbean a need for a naming of experience and a need for communal support in that process. In the past silence has surrounded this experience.
(Sistren, 1986, p. xv)
We never saw ourselves in a book, so we didn't exist in a kind of way in our culture and environment, our climate, the plants around us did not seem real, did not seem to be of any importance—we overlooked them entirely. The real world was what was in books.
(Dabydeen, 1988, p. 78)
This chapter explores a brief history of the Caribbean, concentrating on women's roles and writing and sketching in cultural contexts. It moves on to consider the important influence of the work of Jean Rhys, a white Caribbean Creole writer whose Wide Sargasso Sea (1966) encouraged interest in Caribbean writing. Several key women writers are discussed, including Louise Bennett, Pamela Mordecai, Lorna Goodison, Marlene Nourbese...
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Adam, Ian, and Helen Tiffin. Past the Last Post: Theorizing Post-Colonialism and Post-Modernism. Calgary: University of Calgary Press, 1990, 214 p.
Collection of essays on postcolonial literary theory and several works of postcolonial literature.
Baker, Charles. William Faulkner's Postcolonial South. New York: Peter Lang, 2000, 156 p.
An analysis of postcolonial literature of the United States, focusing on the works of William Faulkner in particular.
Bennett, Donna. “English Canada's Postcolonial Complexities.” Essays on Canadian Writing 51-52 (Winter-Spring 1994): 164-210.
An overview of postcolonialism critical theory and literature as applied to Canadian writing.
Brantlinger, Patrick. “A Postindustrial Prelude to Postcolonialism: John Ruskin, William Morris, and Gandhism.” Critical Inquiry 22, No. 3 (Spring 1996): 466-85.
Discussion of the interchange between late-Victorian socialism and emergent Indian nationalism in the writing of John Ruskin and William Morris, as well as the Indian response to their theories.
Howells, Coral Ann, and Lynette Hunter. Narrative Strategies in Canadian Literature: Feminism and Postcolonialism. Philadelphia: Open University Press, 1991, 141 p.
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