Postcolonialism: A Literary Turn
Is there a role for
literature - or, to be specific, imaginative literature, or the literary - in
postcolonial studies? And where may one
locate South Africa in a field delineated by northern
institutional purposes, practices, paradigms and, more pragmatically,
career/publishing opportunities? Such
questions provoked by a current project, titled "Postcolonialism: A
South/African Perspective", which has eventuated in this selection of essays.
Having developed as a set of conceptual and perceptual resources for the
study of the effects on people's lives of colonial modernity - from its
Renaissance expansions to contemporary manifestations of global capital -
postcolonialism has come to describe heterogeneous, though linked, groupings of
critical enterprises: a critique of
Western totalising narratives; a
revision of the Marxian class project;
utilisation of both poststructural enquiry (the displaced linguistic
subject) and postmodern pursuit (scepticism of the truth claims of Cartesian
individualism); the condition of both
nativist longing for independence from the metropolitan power and recognition
of the failure of the decolonisation trajectory; a marker for voices of pronouncement by non-resident,
‘Third-World' intellectual cadres in ‘First-World' universities. More positively from the perspective of the
South - if, indeed, postcolonialism, as Robert J.C. Young has it, is a mark of
"the West's own undoing" (2001: 65) - there is a focusing of the ethical and
imaginative lens on expression, writing, and testimony outside of, or in
tangential relation to, the metropolitan centre-space. Such a focus, in curricular design, involves
new selections of texts and revised reading practices prompted by what was
earlier called Commonwealth literature or, more recently, new literatures in
English or, simply, the new englishes.
I refer lastly in the above list to literary matters. For
postcolonialism identifies its priorities
not as literary, but as political or ideological. Again to quote
Young, who visited South Africa under the auspices of this project:
The assumption of postcolonial studies is that many of
the wrongs, if not crimes, against humanity are a product of the economic
dominance of the north over the south.
In this way, the historical role of Marxism in the history of
anti-colonial resistance remains paramount as a fundamental framework of
postcolonial thinking. Postcolonial
theory operates within the historical legacy of Marxist critique...which it
simultaneously transforms according to the precedent of the greatest
tricontinental anti-colonial intellectual politicians. (2001: 6)
referring here to Africa, Asia, and Latin America, it is indeed political figures, or at least
philosophical spokespersons, not literary people, who feature most prominently
in Young's monumental Postcolonialism: An Historical Introduction (2001), from
which the above passage is taken.
There is seemingly a paradox here.
For postcolonialism has sought to accord value to the personal or human
dimension - the effects on people's lives - of asymmetrical power relations
between North and South. The field -
however mixed in its material and cultural presuppositions - has struck,
continues to strike, a chord in literature departments which, as Young has
noted, constitute the "solitary space within academic institutions where
subjective forms of knowledge were taken seriously" (2001: 64). Yet a literary turn - my qualifier to the
title of this Introduction - requires defence not only because of its
marginalisation in postcolonial political mapping and revisionism, but also
because of its status in the field as handmaiden to theory. In its discursive categorisations - its
Foucauldian acts of enunciation by which the postcolonial formulates the
condition of its own possibility (see Foucault 1970) - postcolonial theory
predominates as sense-maker, or event-maker, over and above the experiential
terrain to which its theory directs its diagnostic or emblematic or, too often,
its obscurantist pronunciations. After
twenty-five years of northern institutional postcolonialism - its beginning is
usually tied to the publication of Edward Said's entirely lucid study, Orientalism (1978) - we encounter a repetitious opposition between the ‘framework
ideas', principally, of Said, Spivak and Bhabha, designated compositely as the
linguistic-cultural or poststructural turn, and the ‘conflict ideas' of a
persistent Marxist materialism in, among others, Ahmad and San Juan Jr.[i] In what too often is reminiscent of binary
argument, the theory or methodology stands the danger of replicating the very
power positions it wishes to challenge:
"the West and the rest of us".[ii]
The ordering of the questions, in consequence, has led to scepticisms
emanating from those of ‘South' identity.
Such scepticisms are summarised in Kwame Anthony Appiah's wicked parody
- does he, ensconsed in the northern university, include himself in his parody?
- of postcoloniality as "the condition of a relatively small western-style,
western-trained group of writers and thinkers, who mediate the trade in
cultural commodities of world capitalism at the periphery" (1992: 63). What constitutes a nation; what, an ethnic
group; what, the new world order; what may oppose the hegemony of U.S. imperialism?
These questions characterise the utopian agenda of postcolonialism: the
aim being a just social or, more precisely, a socialist world, in which class
is again granted significant explanatory power, and in which the issues of
race, gender, and the translation of cultures are posited upon the value of
difference. In such an agenda,
difference, or différance (see
Derrida 1978), does not confirm division, but transforms ‘othering' from
negative to positive premise.
The utopian model, however, may be as totalising in its configuration as
the narrative of Enlightenment-modernity against which, in almost mantra-like
reaction (race, class, the unfinished business of gender), postcolonialism
regularly pits its opposition. Its
cultural materialist tendency seeks to resurrect a Leftish programme of social
action in the wake of Thatcherism and, now, in reaction to U.S. capitalist and military adventurism.[iii] The emphasis on difference opposes what in
neo-liberal global-speak is termed the convergence of markets. That the study of postcolonial literature has
not in itself pushed the boundaries, to quote Tariq Ali (1993), of "market
realism" - a preference for the elite work in English that is not entirely
alien to the suppositions and conventions of Western modernist or postmodernist
genre or style - represents an irony of an anti-metropole endeavour located
within the corridors of the metropolitan institution.
Where or how do critics of literature position themselves in a project
which elevates sociological or economic analysis, or the discourses of
philosophy or politics, over and above literary intervention, and in which
literature, when it does engage attention, is subjected to issue-driven
interpretation. As E. San Juan Jr
phrases it, literature is regarded as "an instance of concrete political
practice which reflects the dynamic process of the national democratic
revolution in the developing countries" (1998: 254).
This formulation promises little more than a return to earlier
economistic base/superstructure rigidity.
To which a critic of the linguistic turn - Homi K. Bhabha, for example -
might respond that, no, the literary text, indeed the subject in its
subjectivity, is characterised not simply as materialist reflection, but as
rhetorical, performative act.
Accordingly, meaning emerges in the textual palimpsest,
deconstructively, or against the grain of full intent, in the slippages, in the
"in-between", the "liminal", or "Third Space".
It is here that coloniser and colonised interact: not in the binary oppositions of master and
slave, but in more intricate, more devious sparrings. In the "sly civilities" of the hybridised
encounter - we are told, following Heidegger's insight that a boundary is not
where matters stop, but where newness is possible - new social and cultural
forms of resistance, or even exchange, find their "presencing" (Bhabha
1994). If the subaltern, as Gayatri
Chakravorty Spivak (1985) maintains, cannot speak, she or he can at least mimic
the coloniser, ridicule and thus undermine the authoritarian substance and
manner. To which the cynic might retort,
or simply confirm the coloniser's view that the colonial babu in his wheedling
and winking remains - well! - a babu.
In scintillating verbal display, which is far removed from communication
with any subaltern, Bhabha suggests - some might say, imposes - his own
alternative totality: deferrals of
ethical anchor, splits of signifier from signified, and plays of difference -
we are led to understand - will lead us to a better world. If San Juan Jr is unambiguous in his
commitment to political praxis, Bhabha is less than clear as to the connection
between word and deed. Yet, having said this, we recognise in Bhabha's rhetoric
of difference a check on forms of domination:
a check on erasures of the local archive within the ‘flow' of
globalisation. It is a flow that
presents apparent choice - ten brands of the same product with different labels
- in the ‘no-real choice' of what was referred to above as market convergence.
Here is a conundrum. It is a
conundrum that for the last decade or more has characterised post- debate. Our investment in a common human enterprise
is qualified by our investment in the dignity of our different selves. The conundrum, nonetheless, is more
intractable when located in the large categories of conflict-oriented or
framework-oriented postcolonial theory than when located in the experiential
purchase of literary works, or in the analysis of individual texts, or - dare one
say it - in the aesthetic appreciations of a literary turn.
It is widely agreed, for example, that a considerable output of the most
exciting contemporary literature emanates from non-metropolitan sources of
creativity and concern. Let me permit
Salman Rushdie his colourful response to George Steiner's complaint that
literary energy is being generated not in the metropolis, but at the edges of
the world: "What does it matter...? What is this flat earth on which the good
professor lives, with jaded Romans at the centre and frightfully gifted
Hottentots at the edges" (Rushdie 1996).
We - that is, we in the academy, who have taken the post- challenge
seriously - no longer think of Achebe or
Gordimer or Coetzee as writing, in reaction, back to the centre. If we are willing to grant Achebe his initial
project of re-inserting the African human being in the heart of darkness, then
his critical as well as his creative writing - are the two easily separable? -
has offered telling adjustments to dominant perspectives on the Western canon,
in which the novelist has been always an artist before, as recast by Achebe, a
teacher (1988 ). Is Conrad or
Bunyan or Shakespeare unifocally a metropolitan writer? Is the Third World writer merely the doppelgänger of the
metropolitan counterpart? We may wish to
read Toni Morrison as postcolonial, or J.M. Coetzee as both South African and
international, or - through his recent work (Coetzee 2005) - as exploratory of
the postcolonial as a settler-colony identification: Canberra, or previously Cape Town, placed
somewhere ‘in-between' London and Lagos.
As I have said, the focus in postcolonial literary studies has remained
attached to the elite work in new englishes by the emigré or multicultural
metropolitan author (the Salman Rushdie or the Zadie Smith). The oral or indigenous voice, or popular
expression on the periphery (African praises, say, or Kenyan market
literature), has had limited impact so far on post- debate, where the tendency
has been to replace Western canons with Third-World canons (instead of Conrad's
Heart of Darkness, we have Achebe's Things Fall Apart) or where the tendency
has been to re-appraise metropolitan ‘touchstones' through the telescope of
alternative modernities (Shakespeare's The
Tempest or Bunyan's The Pilgrim's
Progress in the New World). Such
‘elite' constrictions notwithstanding, a literary influence may be fruitfully
pursued. It is an influence that can be identified, more recently, even in
critics whose interest is principally philosophical, political or ideological.
Although he retains his Marxist predilection for class analysis in his
denigration of postmodern sceptics of truth, unity and progress, for example,
Terry Eagleton in After Theory (2003)
suggests a consideration of truth categories - virtue, evil, morality,
pleasure, death - which have been in short supply in ideological critique, but
which constitute the truth of poetry as opposed to the truth of history (to
invoke an Aristotelian distinction). For
Robert J.C. Young (2001: 409), to whom I have already referred, literary texts
- he names Passage to India, King
Solomon's Mines and Kim - are not
an expression of higher or more complex truth, but an aspect of discourse no
greater in import than the private letter as evidence in a law court as part of
legal discourse: discourse being not the
direct or indirect representation or misrepresentation of experience, but a
system of statements, or rules, that govern institutional practice. (In Young's attention the practice, of
course, is colonialism.) Such a line of
argument might seem unpropitious of a literary turn; Young reminds us, nevertheless, that
postcolonialism as a spur to thought and activity predates Said, Bhabha and
Spivak, the ‘holy trinity' of the northern university. Rather, the postcolonial has long had
important voices on the peripheries;
that, in fact, peripheries may be an inappropriate descriptive term, as
perhaps is postcolonial itself, Young preferring tricontinental in its
internationalist ambition. Not only was
Gandhi an influential presence - a kind of embodied creative text, to be
interpreted in multiple contexts of imaginative and ethical challenge - but it
is significant that what shaped those thinkers whose work is synonymous with
post- debate - Foucault and Derrida - was their experience in colonial Tunisia
and Algeria, respectively.[iv]
Closer to a literary turn, Bart Moore-Gilbert (1997) - like Ato Quayson
(2000), another critic who has sustained a literary interest[v]
- distinguishes between postcolonial theory and postcolonial practice, and
includes as formative influences not only philosophical and political thinkers,
but also the ‘first wave' of Caribbean and African writer-critics of the
decolonisation years. We are reminded
that Achebe's landmark essay, "An Image of Africa: Racism in Conrad's Heart of Darkness" (1988 ), was
published three years prior to Said's Orientalism; that Ngũgĩ's "decolonising the mind" (1981) -
the phrase had been coined earlier by Es'kia Mphahlele (1962) in his response Négritude - anticipated the agitation of
Spivak, in particular, for curricular reform;
and that both E.K. Brathwaite's theory of "creolisation" (1971) and
Wilson Harris's neologism of "the in-between" (1967: 8) (a means to figure a
position between cultures) anticipated Bhabha's conception of the Third
Space. Harris well before Bhabha, in
fact, had defined "the void" as the element which, as in Bhabha, complicates
full translation: the void prevents
cultures or cultural forms, which are being negotiated, from attaining the easy
commerce of equivalence or synthesis, Harris notes, while at the same time the
void - the apparent paradox is key to Bhabha's hybridity - is a place which
allows cultures to mix not by erasing differences, but by "endorsing difference
yet creatively undermining biases" (Harris 1992 : 20).
I mention the insights of so-called Third World literary figures not
score ‘South' points against the North, but to remind us that what we
to as the postcolonial is, spatially and temporally, an entanglement of
colony with modernity, in which - as Said (1993) has argued - no
pure and in which the philosophical home may not be the nation but the
world. Not only in Bhabha or in Harris,
but in observations dating back to Roman and Christian encounters, we
identify - to return to my earlier point - a post- conundrum: a
narrative of causality suggesting both
progress (one stage to the next) and imposition (a dominating story);
or a local story susceptible, also, to its
own paradoxes of difference, as both identity-recognition and
ethnicity-identification. It is a
conundrum which, in granting respect for ‘my story', may trigger in
story' vicious regional competition, as in the Balkan wars of the
1990s: why your story and not my story? Or, whose story has
authority? Or, according to post- ‘dissensus', is
cultural understanding or literary history desirable, or even possible?
Given a rhetoric that is able to paralyse claims of rationality or
ethical choice, it is not really surprising to note impulsions to greater
nuance and complexity in either/or scenarios.
The physical sciences, for example, point out that as in scientific
experimentation so in social life, we artificially construct our conjunctures
of events. These hypothetical models
chart causality according to provisional patterns while subjecting such
patterns - which are, after all, constructed patterns - to ever more
challenging observation in the pursuit of truer or, at least more invariant,
accounts of reality. (See Potter and
López 2001) Or, to turn to economics, Immanuel Wallerstein's world systems
theory (1974; 1991) in its narration of
modernity is not as singular as literary critics of Enlightenment tend to find
convenient. While attached to European
and now U.S. global expansion, capitalism overlaps differently, at different times
and in different spaces, with the intrusions - not simply the passivities - of
decolonisation and neocolonialism. (It
is not a new observation that South Africa's development invokes the consideration of
colonialism of a special kind.)
Such tensions between global universalism - or a mélange of cultural
production in U.S. sweatshops at the edges of the world - and the identity politics of
regions, even nations, provoke several essays in the collection, Postcolonial Studies and Beyond (Loomba
et al 2005). The conclusion of the
editors, in their Introduction, is that in an era of globalisation debate must
move beyond the ‘conundrum' - consensus or dissensus - of the past decade, and
seek a "new critical language for articulating the linkage between local, lived
experience and the broadest structures of global economic and political power"
(19). It is not as Said suggests in what
for him is an unusual flourish to popular effect that "stone-throwing
Palestinian youths or swaying dancing South African groups or wall-traversing
East Germans" (1993: 396) by their actions alone collapsed the relevant
tyrannies. Rather, it is that
metanarratives, as Kelwyn Sole (2005) argues in Postcolonial Studies and Beyond, must not be erased, but must be
qualified by scrupulous attention to local conditions. Sole illustrates his point in an analysis of
the "quotidian experience" - the everyday, as a category - in contemporary
South African poetry, which questions the "pseudo freedoms" bred and licensed
by neoliberalism in the new South Africa.
At the same time, Sole - alert to the danger of racial division - cannot
contemplate a future progressive South Africa simply as an accumulation of discrete
observations detached from the trace of a trajectory: a trajectory urging citizens towards a
community of awareness. The concept,
community of awareness, is Fanon's (1961):
his synthesis beyond the antithesis of native resistance. It is quoted approvingly by Said (1993: 262);
and it is endorsed by Young in his conclusion as to why, even though he himself
prefers the term tricontinental, postcolonialism retains its definitional
purpose in globalised times.
Postcolonialism marks the fact that, despite setbacks to decolonisation,
human beings require a return to what has come to be known as a radical
humanitarian tradition. (See Fanon 1961: 315-6, and Young 2001: 67-8)
We touch again on the terrain of the literary, where explorations of the
subjective and imaginative life should seek the gradations that are too often
erased in the abstractions of postcolonial theory. Sole is unlikely to label himself a
postcolonial critic. His caution bears,
perhaps, on Said's observation (1993: 264) outside his flourish about
stone-throwing youths and toyi-toying (swaying-singing) crowds: the
postcolonial paradigm - the West's turning its gaze on its ex-colonies - is
least applicable to the topographies, both imaginative and developmental, of
countries with particularly complicated relationships to a
colonising/anti-colonising dialectic. Said's
examples are Algeria, Guinea, sections of the Islamic and Arab worlds, and
Palestine and South Africa; and at the conference at Wits University
(Johannesburg) in 1996 on "Post-Colonial Shakespeares" Jonathan Dollimore
sought both precariously and elegantly to tackle a certain hostility among
South African participants to a postcolonial discourse:
There was, for example, distrust of ‘metropolitan'
theory, including by myself; a sense
that this theory which gestured so much towards difference as a fundamental
philosophical premise, disregarded its material realities. But what struck me, as an outsider, as the
most hostile divide of all, was that between a materialist tradition of
criticism and subsequent developments conveniently (though again reductively)
lumped together as ‘the postmodern'. (1997: 259-60)
How to avoid the
either/or dichotomy, or the divide - implicit in northern institutional
postcolonialism, despite its best intentions - between a still confident West
as the framer of the discourse and the silent, or winking, or rebellious native
subjects of the South? As far as
academic enquiry is concerned, the response to the travelling theorist cannot
be the indigene who, in the blood and the bones, knows the local story, and Dollimore's conclusion, even as it feels
compelled to retain the European thinker as measure, shifts either/or to
I reconsider the place of pessimism within the
political project in the spirit of Gramsci's familiar yet never more apposite
remark: "Pessimism of the intellect,
optimism of the will." (1997: 260)
Optimism of the will reinforces a literary turn, even if such a turn
refuses to follow David Punter's own imaginative, sometimes quirky attempt in
his study Postcolonial Imaginings
(2000) to redirect postcolonial theory towards the substance of his subtitle,
"Fictions of a New World Order". Instead
of postcolonial criticism's "establishing a ground" - what are the forms of
colonialism, what is a comprador formation, etc.? - the question, according to
Punter, is how to respond to the pressures under which the postcolonial
experience is felt, how the narrative, recursive, struggling forward, burdened
by setbacks, emerges in image, in speech, in the shocks of its insights, in the
complexity of its human interactions. It
is an imagination which Punter, in his attempt to turn to the literary, can
identify only in "melancholy, ruin, loss" (2000: 186): an imagination (defined by Punter as
postcolonial) of violent geographics, displacement, of ghosts in the history
house, in which the freight of centuries of colonisation can never be erased.
In the postcolony, however - if South Africa may be designated,
tentatively, as a postcolony
- the "spectral" (Punter 2002) does not necessarily negate the energies
renewal, even as the in-between space presents an ongoing challenge.
How then may the literary intervene? According to Wilson Harris
the possibility exists for the literary work to
involve us in perspectives on renascence which can bring into play a figurative
meaning beyond an apparently real world or prison of history.... I believe a
philosophy of history may well be buried in the arts of the imagination. (1970:
Or, more recently,
according to Hanif Kureishi,
the only patriotism possible is one that refuses the
banality of taking either side, and continues the arduous conversation. That is why we have literature, the theatre,
newspapers - a culture... .(2005)
The essays that follow
offer independent contributions to postcolonial debate. Insights that have been influential in the
definition of the field are neither ignored nor permitted to ‘overwrite' the
texts of imaginative experience. Matthew
Shum's reading of Thomas Pringle, for example, avoids the theoretical
formulations that dominate northern institutional postcolonial study. Pringle's settler identity is seen to be less
than contained by a landscape poem which, in its local place, requires an
adjustment of standard European-Romantic categories of tutored and untutored
nature. A close reading is not utilised,
in consequence, to entirely deconstructive purposes - to reveal the limits of
Pringle's radicalism - as might be the familiar postcolonial manoeuvre. Instead, the close reading returns value to
the poem; the complexity of settler
identity is captured in Pringle's subjective response to the strange,
In Sally-Ann Murray's tilling of the suburban garden, or the garden as
text, white South Africans emerge neither as "colonists who will" (Memmi's
settlers of conservation or conservatism) nor "colonists who won't" (Memmi's
settlers of guilty conscience).[vi] If suburban gardening in its importation of
hybrid species reveals by analogy jittery identities, gardening reveals also
the pleasurable pursuits of settler belonging.
If indigeneity has not come naturally to ex-Europeans in Africa, neither will these settlers of over one
hundred years vanish in any retreat to a mythical motherland: a motherland now more alien to them than the
adopted African soil. There may be
potential, therefore, for the forging of new identities beyond nature or
nurture. What, after all, is nature,
what nurture, in a space that since 1652 has experienced translations of Africa and the West?
The anxieties of identity in multiple racial and social contexts are
examined, in different ways, by Corinne Sandwith and M.J. Daymond. In a
heterogeneous society, class and race identifications raise questions about the
authenticity of any discourse: questions that Sandwith pursues in her focus on The Voice (1949 - 52 ), a little-known
black "township" broadsheet which included the early contributions of writers
such as Es'kia Mphahlele. It is the translatability or untranslatability of
that Daymond pursues in the interstices of written and oral life stories,
English or englishes, or tradition and modernity, or women's voices in
patriarchal community. If in Daymond's
article the two subjects of their stories - Mpho Nthunya and Agnes Lottering -
occupy Bhabha's Third Space of in-betweenness, then there is no certainty of
presencing. When older belief systems
encounter Christian teaching in the contact zone, there may be silence, but a
silence resonant, paradoxically, of the struggle of incommensurability between
contesting worlds. Does academic enquiry probe or respect the othernness?
A scrupulous refusal to inhabit ‘otherness' is a mark of J.M. Coetzee's
fiction. Monica Popescu asks why Coetzee
in 1994, amid momentous change in South Africa, set The
Master in Petersburg
in nineteenth-century Russia. Her
enquiry leads to a category shift from "postcolonial" as vertical-axis
consideration of metropolis and colony to "late postcolonialism": a
triangulation, or complex interaction, turning away from, but an
analogous placing of, South Africa's transition in a nuanced, global
Such triangulation also informs the remaining contributions. It is
Michael Green's concern that J.M. Coetzee's "Lesson", in Elizabeth Costello (2003), on "The Humanities in Africa", glosses stories that in accumulated
particularities of time and place may suggest a multifaceted truth of human and
spiritual interaction, a reality of Africa and the
West. Sweeping generalisations by the two
characters in the "Lesson", whether on the nature of African Christianity or
Greek classicism, risk evading the needs of actual people. Instead of story yielding the truth of the
subject in the landscape, story - as so often in postcolonial discussion - may
be manipulated into the service of preferred ideologies. Where does Coetzee, the arch-fictionalist,
stand in relation to the characters to whom he gives voice? The question - an intricate question - is
posited by Green through a Coetzean device:
a lecture which, as in Elizabeth Costello's "Lesson", invites the reader
to participate in the making of meaning.
The making of meaning, as Ileana Dimitriu points out in Ato Quayson's
study, Postcolonialism (2000), shifts
from consideration of the postcolonial as a set of conditions out there to the postcolonial as ongoing
process: a coming into being of the new
millennium as "a postcolonializing" world (Quayson 2000:8). This suggests
increasing migrancy, increasing movements of all kinds across increasingly
porous borders, of margins located in centres, and vice versa. As a spectator of a UEFA football match might
observe in the composition of the ‘multi-ethnic' teams, the ramparts of
Fortress Europe have already been breached.
Or, more crucially, as a viewer in South Africa of BBC World will see, France in November 2005 has experienced the violence
of its failure to understand, creatively, its own postcolonialising
"presencing". It is the metaphor of
postcolonialising that summarises Nadine Gordimer's recent critical and
creative writing, and Ileana Dimitriu identifies in the diverse landscapes of
Gordimer's The Pick-up and Loot neither metropolitan centres nor
African nor Asian nor Latin-American, nor indeed East European
peripheries, but multiple margins and
centres that are imbued with different degrees of significance. Cheryl Stobie, for her part, turns Barbara
Adair's novel of life in a decadent Tangier to significance in the South Africa of today, in which post-apartheid times have
presented the possibilities of challenging new relationships not only across
race, but also across gender. Challenges in South Africa, finally, direct Chapman's interview with
Robert J.C. Young.
What the contributions have in common is what I have termed a literary
turn. Unlike San Juan Jr, the
contributors do not regard the imaginative work as an "instance of concrete
political practice reflecting the process of national democratic
revolution". The new South Africa has
not complied in predictable ways with the revolutionary vision: the national democratic movement - if one may
still attach the label to the ANC government - has had to adjust its socialist
ideals to the complexities of multiple centres and margins within economic and
cultural life not only in South Africa, but also in South Africa's relation to
Africa and the world. The contributors
might be prepared to agree with Derek Attridge (2004: 126-31) that literature
defines its "singularity" in its resistance to the all-encompassing frame or
idea; that literature although a
cultural product is rarely self-contained by the culture; and that whatever its effect or affect on our
experience, a literary turn is unlikely either to fast track into power any New
Social Movement or to save our souls.
What literature might achieve is its own apprehension of otherness; its capacity to offer surprising
articulations of, and insights into, the complexity of human potential and
conduct. Despite the utopian
pronouncements of many postcolonial projects, the current project heeds Ania
Loomba's more realistic purpose: we
academics "should at the very least place our discussions of postcoloniality in
the context of our own educational institutions and practices" (1998: 258). The objective is to stimulate our students,
and ourselves, to see afresh, and comparatively, across worlds. In this, a literary turn may achieve an
[i] See Ahmad
(1992), San Juan Jr (1998). Also, Fanon
(1961), Ali (1993) and Parry (2004).
[ii] See Chinweizu
[iii] See Young (2001),
Lazarus (2004), and Loomba et al (2005).
[iv] See Young (2001),
for chapters on "Gandhi's Counter-modernity", "Foucault in Tunisia"
and "Subjectivity in History: Derrida in Algeria".
[v] For studies that devote greater attention to
literary criticism than to theory or political commentary see, also, Ashcroft,
Griffiths and Tiffin (1989), Bassnett and Trivedi (1999), Boehmer (1995),
Gilroy (1993), Japtok (2003), King et al (1995), Punter (2000) and Walder
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