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 project on postcolonialism from
South/African perspectives, have 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)
tricontinental 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 W. 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.1 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”.2
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 US
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.3 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
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
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 Onitsha 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.4
Closer to a literary turn, Bart
Moore-Gilbert (1997)—like Ato Quayson (2000), another critic who has sustained
a literary interest5—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 Ngég«’s
“decolonising the mind” (1981)—the phrase had been coined earlier by Es’kia
Mphahlele (1962) in his response to Negritude—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
I mention the insights of so-called Third
World literary figures not to score ‘South’ points against the North, but to
remind us that what we now refer to as the postcolonial is, spatially and
temporally, an entanglement of the colony with modernity, in which—as Said
(1993) has argued—no cultures are 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 may 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 ‘your 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
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 US 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
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:
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 of 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: 8)
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
* * *
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, discomfiting
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).6 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 the Dutch landings in 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
cultures7 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 essay
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 of 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, not a turning away from, but an analogous
placing of, South Africa’s transition in a nuanced, global picture.
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 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 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 collection of
essays 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 ethical dimension.
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