Outline the most important aspects of the relationship between colonialism and literature as suggested by the key readings.
In this 400 word report, I will demonstrate, with quotes, how each of the three authors traces the relationship between the written word and the colonial expansion of the west. I will provide supporting or dissenting evidence for their central tenets as each merits, and in a whirlwind tour-de-force apply my own spin onto the issue at hand.
Or I’ll produce a muddled argument summary with quotes that I’ll expeditiously omit from my word count while providing no new insight or clear understanding. All the while falling short of true academic rigour.
Read on dear, er, readers, and judge for yourself.
The first main caveat to consider when reading the works cited in the bibliography and elsewhere alluded to is that two of them are not specifically about literature at all, but take a broad swipe at a considerable period of time and diversity of locations. Consciously aware of their limitations, they call upon the mighty power of extrapolation and interpretation to argue that what is true in their microcosm must be generally informative. As this is happily the basis of the whole enlightenment project, I think we can allow this to stand.
Distilling history and selectively piecing together the anecdotes, each offers the essential conclusion that colonialism, writing about colonialism, and in fact the general operational realities of the world today, all developed synergistically. As if any one of their various items could be singled out in any place or any time. Making a virtue of this necessity, each article haggles and bargains with itself about its own definitions and terms of reference to hoping to appear to be genuinely investigating their central presupposition: that colonial-era writing influenced and reinforced colonial expansion and the psychology of the White Man generally.
The final creeping apotheosis of their argument is found in some dithering over whether the word “colonial” even means anything specific, and if so, or indeed, if not, whether the prefix “post” has any more tangible an existence. In reaching for some tangible result to this intellectual fussing, they seem to suggest that “postcolonial” is just an extension of “colonial”: post, as in continuing on from.
None seems aware that the very questions they ask pose a referential quandary by placing them inside the very framework they wish to explode in exposition. Theirs is the intellectual equivalent of the question: when did you stop beating your wife? Said in particular takes great pains to distance himself from both sides through his dual heritage, not realizing that he is instead doubly snared by being both party to the affector and the affected.
Ultimately too, each shies away from making any response to the quite reasonable assertion that the native populations had something to learn from the Europeans who colonised them. A lesson badly taught, it cannot be denied, but a useful one. In the failure to even address this question, they fail to answer the implicit objection to colonial intervention: that the untroubled evolution of the local culture has intrinsic value. Perhaps they took this as a given, but given their vituperation about the implicit literary support for the war on unculture, they might have taken the trouble to at least mention this line of argument, rather than focusing on the secondary and subsidiary matter of inferior representation.
The relationship that each one traces then, is one of a vicious cycle already in its established phase, where escape through internal conscious processes is impossible, but demanded by the simple logistical injustice of it all. Ironically, especially for Loomba whose article starts with this very observation, while they carefully and conscientiously represent the foibles and failures of the white man, they hardly represent the colonized at all. These worthy discourses are so focused on representation and away from reality that they are “full of sound and fury, signifying nothing”. In order to truly confront colonialism as more than a matter of expediency on the part of the power, they must instead grapple with the central moral question of what is just. When they find out, they should let Socrates know.
Ania Loomba, ‘Situation Colonial and Postcolonial Studies’ in Colonialism/Postcolonialism. London and New York: Routledge, 1998
Edward Said, ‘Introduction’ in Culture and Imperialism. Cambridge, Massetusits and London: Vintage, 1994
John Kucich, ‘Introduction’ in Fictions of Empire
It’s a pity that this is almost entirely off-topic and colloquial, not to mention deliberately provocative. I had fun writing it, and I’d love to hand something like this in… but it’s just not up to standard.
What actually got handed in.
Having read the articles by Loomba, Said and Kucich, and being asked for a pithy summation of what colonialism itself is, I find myself at a loss. It seems clear that one population enters an area displacing or overthrowing the native population, this new group must be the extension of some other population group which is not distinctly separated other than by geography. It is clear and intuitive that such mass movements of people must have some kind of effect on both populations, as Loomba argues, the colonizers “restructed the economies of [the colonies] … drawing them into a complex relationship with their own.” However, none of the three writers can be specific as to what this effect is. This is largely a matter of diversity, as each is at pains to point out that “imperialism was not, itself, a unified set of values or beliefs.”
Defining the relationship between this nebulous and ephemeral “colonialism” and literature, itself not precisely quantifiable or uniform, begins to seem like an intellectual Gordian knot. Each of our key writers therefore spends some considerable time dithering over their own terms of reference, justifying their choice of venues and restrictions. Their general conclusion is to pick a battle, and from it alone chart the course of the whole war. As Said explains: “I have tried to look at what I consider to be important and essential things.”
As this method is the more general one of the enlightenment project, it seems acceptable here too, except for the caveat that Fritjof Capra most eloquently laid in his book The Web of Life: the significance of any part of a system cannot be fully understood without reference to the system as a whole. And this is just what the essential argument of each of the three is: that the practice of colonialism, colonial literature and the intellectual framework for justifying colonial rule all developed synergistically.
Loomba in particular seems to dither and meander her way completely out of a point arguing that ‘postcolonial’, and by extension, ‘colonial’ must be considered only with respect to a specific place and circumstance, otherwise “the term begins to obscure the very relations of domination that it seeks to uncover.” This means she despairs of uncovering or making the general conclusions from her little theatre that justify the whole enterprise of literary criticism. Unless, that is, her work is to be made up of the “lists or catalogues” so disdained by Said. Kucich, as the only one of the three readings explicitly focused on literature itself rather than the construction of literature inverts the arrangement, seeking to discern meaning in his chosen works based on a background of “a deeply imperialist culture.”
Thus, having toiled through the capsule summaries of three larger works, I am left with no clear conception of what results we might achieve from thinking about writing as colonial or postcolonial. Loomba would have me seek answers only within a limited and particular definition of the words, Said would prefer that through the literature I undergo a cultural epiphany and realise that the “imperial adventure” is deeply wrong, while Kucich wants me to understand the broad historical setting only to gain specific insights into particular works. Each tells me that the term colonialism is useful, but none can agree for what.