Critical Overview

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 457

In his 1962 book The Wretched of the Earth, Frantz Fanon laid the theoretical groundwork for much postcolonial theorizing to come. Fanon condemns African revolutionary programs as insufficient and argues that a new world can come into being only with a violent revolution led by the rural African peasantry. The book develops themes introduced in Fanon’s first book, Black Skin, White Mask (1952). In this book, Fanon uses his personal experience to show how the relationship between colonized and colonizer is normalized as psychology, resulting in emotional damage to both. A French-speaking native of the French colony of Martinique, Fanon argues that language plays a central role in shaping the consciousness of the colonized people. Fanon’s work anticipated studies such as Said’s Orientalism but has been heavily criticized for its portrayal of black women.

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Said’s 1978 study, Orientalism, one of the foundational texts of postcolonial studies, critiques Western representations of the East, arguing that since the nineteenth century, Western scholars have depicted “Arab” cultures as irrational, anti- Western, primitive, and dishonest. Orientalism, Said claims, is an ideology born of the colonizers’ desire to know their subjects to better control them. Said argues, “To write about the Arab Oriental world . . . is to write with the authority of a nation . . . with the unquestioning certainty of absolute truth backed by absolute force.” By showing how historians routinely present their “vision” of the Orient as objective and impartial, Said demonstrates how they deceive themselves just as their writing misrepresents others. Critics agree that Said’s study remains one of the most important works of postcolonial theory written.

Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak’s writing has focused on the intersections of gender, ethnicity, representations of postcolonial and colonial subjects, and the place from which these representations are often made: the university. In an interview in The Post-Colonial Critic (1990), Spivak says that she views her job as a postcolonial critic who also teaches as twofold:

to see how the master texts need us in the construction of their texts without acknowledging that need; and to explore the differences and similarities between texts coming from the two sides which are engaged with the same problem at the same time.

Homi Bhabha’s theory and criticism on Postcolonialism investigates the ideas of hybridity and ambivalence in postcolonial discourse, especially as they contribute to constructing national and cultural identities. In his 1990 study, Nation and Narration (1990), Bhabha uses a mix of psychoanalysis and semiotics to explore the ways in which Third World nations and nationalities have been constructed through narrative traditions that have also positioned them as inferior to the West. In his study, The Location of Culture (1994), Bhabha discusses the “spaces” created by dominant social formations in the writings of Toni Morrison and Nadine Gordimer, among others.

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Essays and Criticism