Post-colonial critique

I’m going to be presenting post-colonial approaches to texts tomorrow, so I decided I should give something of a preview.

Post-colonial theory examines the ideological formation of a certain kind of power structure (hence the affinity with New Historicism and gendered theories).  The colonial power structure is founded on the formation of subjects as “other,” generally based on ethnic difference.  There is a good discussion in Tyson of the instability of identity in the colonized population due to a “double consciousness,” but I thought the section on “hybridity” (the idea of a dynamic relation between cultures as a creative force) was somewhat brief.  There is almost no discussion of “decolonization” and other nationalist agendas that are incredibly important to post-colonial writers.

Generally, Tyson’s explanations of the theoretical foundations of post-colonial theory are sound, though I think she too easily defines her Gatsby critique as post-colonial.  Other-ing is not the only quality of the colonial project, nor is simple ethnic supremicist thought.  Possession is a foundational idea in colonialist ideology- and Nick is powerless to possess the figures he identifies as ethnically different.  Thus, rather than positing Nick’s assumptions of racial superiority, one might point to his impotence as a potential colonizer.  Gatsby as other is an intriguing idea.

We’re going to make a critique of two texts: Eavan Boland’s poem “That the Science of Cartography is Limited” and an excerpt from the John Curran film adaptation of Somerset Maugham’s The Painted Veil.  The latter is a text from the colonizer; the former, a colonized/ post-colonial perspective.  The linked text of the Boland poem includes audio, which I haven’t had a chance to listen to because of software limitations.  You might also notice that my inclusion of an Irish poet indicates my strong disagreement with Tyson’s (unfounded, I believe) assertion that Ireland is not a post-colonial nation.  That is a statement that can only be defended if the speaker is entirely ignorant of the more than five hundred years of colonial occupation by a foreign power (longer than any African, Asian, or American subjection to colonialist pursuits) that continues in Ireland to this day.  I would like to know who participates in the “general consensus” Tyson loosely throws out (interestingly, she includes no footnote for this claim).

 I hope I can make a claim for the importance of this kind of critique in our classrooms.

J. Degan



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3 responses to “Post-colonial critique

  1. sunyprof

    I agree w/you about Ireland’s status Jerry. I can only read her as meaning in general this critique focuses on non-western nations. You are right to reclaim Ireland….for PC status. KES

  2. canadawr5

    I think you have to be realistic. I mean Irish people were oppressed but they weren’t slaves here in America! They would not be a good example of a colonialized people. They were forced away from their country because of the potato famine and they came to the U.S. for a better life. They chose to come to America for a better life. Africans were forced to leave a continent which they did not want to leave!

    Another point that people should realize is that Irish people also had slaves, in particular African slaves. They made up a huge number of overseers in America. In addition, when the Irish got to America, they were free to do as they pleased. They might of been discriminated against by the wasp but their were no laws stating that they could not use water fountains, resteraunts, and hotels. Matter of fact, the Irish were one of the major groups who helped perpetuate racism in American society.

    Other groups like the Native Americans and African Americans were groups who were persecuted here in America. The Irish have faced no such persecution here in the states, matter of fact, like I said earlier, in many cases they were apart of the problem. They were often times apart of the police force who helped sicked dogs on blacks and apart of the government who made “black codes” which said that slaves could not walk around without their master’s permission in the 17th and 18th century. They were also in the KKK.

    Even though the Irish had their land colonized, I agree with Tyson that the Irish may not be the “best” example of a colonized people.

    Ray C.

  3. jmdegan

    You have a fundemental misunderstanding of post-colonial theory, Ray. It is not a discourse about slavery, but rather a discourse about oppression. That includes slavery, but is not exclusive of other forms of oppression and othering. The displacement and genocide of American Indian peoples was largely done outside of the context of chattel slavery, but was one of the most shameful acts of oppression our world has known.

    See my response to your post for some thoughts on your understandings of history.

    J. Degan

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