Post Colonial Literary Criticism

Post Colonial Literature #

The best avant-garde criticism not only acknowledges but deploys its subjectivity: that’s the basis of a critical sensibility. The concentration of white western voices is increasingly balanced by the proliferation of other voices from the kind of non-white, non-cis, non-First World perspectives that have previously been denied a platform. (Shane Danielsen)

As in ancient times, European powers expanded their empires during the 18^(th) and 19^(th) C. by invasion and imperialistic territorial claims over 85% of the globe. For more than 400 years, European powers believed they had the absolute right to plunder the rest of the world under a policy of mercantilism; colonies exist for the purpose of the mother country.

While the WWI caused the fall of most empires, it remained to Roosevelt and Churchill’s agreement to the Atlantic Charter in 1941, guaranteeing colonies “the right to choose the form of government under which they live”, that marked the beginning of the end of an era.

Cultural, economic and political imperialism still persists.

By the early 20^(th) C. most of these colonies began to assert their independence and autonomy. Post Colonialism is the interactions and reactions of the colonies and the imperialistic powers.

Stephen Morton, Professor of English at University of Southampton comments:

English History is this complex and often unsavoury history – a history of conquest, dispossession, and violence”.

Much of the unrest in former colonial areas such as the Middle East, Africa, South East Asia is a direct result of patronising and paternalistic policies of imperialistic powers. An excellent example is the 1980 film The Gods Must be Crazy.

The Nigerian writer Chinua Achebe used the formal conventions of narrative prose in novels such as Things Fall Apart and Arrow of God to register the complex society and history of Igbo life. He did so in a way that encourages readers to question the cultural stereotypes of African cultures that circulate in 19th century English literary texts such as H.Rider Haggard’s, She, or Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness (a text which Achebe famously criticised).

There’s a persistent liberal belief that prejudice is simply a matter of education, or cross-pollination, and that the racist’s fear is fear of the unknown. I’ve met too many educated racists to believe this, but it also overlooks something just as self-evident: that racism is beneficial to the racist.

Supremacism can, in a sociopathic sense, offer its own proof:

I must be superior, otherwise you wouldn’t let me do this to you.

Colonialism is perhaps the supreme example of this. The racist can even come to believe that their racism is beneficial to the victim, a kind of custodianship or paternalism.

In Africa, the contemptuous attitude towards natives can be illustrated by this exchange:

In British Pub in the former Rhodesia, a patron steps back onto the mop of an indigenous cleaner and apologises. The stolid owner and bartender chastises her -

“you don’t apologise to them; they are lower than the apes.”

In Killers of the Flower Moon, a white man claims the punishment for kicking a dog is greater than killing an Indian woman.

In Australia, The Sydney Herald claimed that the life of a savage was not worth the paper needed to indict a white man.

Literature which reacts by challenging the content and form of colonial influence and expresses its ideas in its own voice and vernacular language, is deemed to be Post-Colonial.

In 1989 a new book by Ashcroft, Griffiths and Tiffin entitled “The Empire Writes Back…..” analysing the effects of the disintegration of these empires and the ramifications.

Any Post Colonial response can exhibit one of the following traits:

· Power relationships between colonies and mother country.

· Influence of dominant cultures over emerging immigrant minorities

· Forms of resistance against colonial influence and control

· Finding our stories, myths, legends and our voice.

· Revising our history by changing our perspectives.

Cultural cringe: #

Most colonial outposts are conditioned to believe themselves as inferior to their colonisers - why else were they colonised?

(Arthur Angell) Phillips, coined the term “cultural cringe” in a 1950 copy of Meanjin, Phillips used the term ‘cultural cringe’ to define the penchant for Australians to see their artists and writers’ work as inferior to anything from overseas, Britain and the United States in particular.

Combined with the tall poppy syndrome, this tends to reinforce a subservient attitude to superior cultures. Both Canadian, Australian and American artists felt they needed to make it in Europe or Britain in order to gain stature.

Cultural Nationalism: #

Stephen Morton, Professor of English at University of Southampton comments on the British concerns over national texts:

Reading postcolonial literature not only makes us better readers and writers, it can also help us to better understand the history of British colonialism – warts and all. Indeed, it was this intimate relationship between literature and empire that the literary critic Edward Said articulated in his reflections on the worldliness of texts and his injunction to critics to speak truth to power. It is precisely such an understanding of British culture and history that the current political establishment would prefer us to forget.

Kazuo Ishiguro’s1989 Booker-prize winning text ‘Remains of the Day’ has made the cut.

Amnesia about imperialism #

If Michael Gove’s ideas about British imperial history are amnesiac, he also seems to forget that English literature was always worldly. In a well-known essay on Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre, Jean Rhys’ Wide Sargasso Sea, and Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, the literary critic Gayatri Spivak wrote that:

“it should not be possible to read 19th century British literature without remembering that imperialism, understood as England’s social mission, was a crucial part of the cultural representation of England to the English”.

One might say the same about Shakespeare’s The Tempest – a play that stages the politics of colonial dispossession and cultural imperialism using the conventions of a courtly masque.

Reading English literature from the postcolonial world can help to shed further light on the ways in which narrative, genre and metaphor are implicated in Britain’s colonial history. It is no accident that Jane Eyre compares herself to a slave and a “suttee” [sic] in Charlotte Brontë’s eponymous novel. Yet, as Spivak suggested, it is only by reading this novel in conjunction with Jean Rhys’ 1966 novel Wide Sargasso Sea that one can begin to identify the ways in which Jane’s narrative of upward social mobility is made possible by the spoils of empire. One of the striking achievements of Rhys’ prose was to evoke a Caribbean landscape and history that resisted the authority of the English language and called into question civilising myths of British imperial culture.

Secondary school students, their parents, and most of all their teachers understand very well that a national English literature syllabus has always been shaped by the political agendas and interests of the powerful. What is perhaps less clear is the way in which reading literature should be both a critical and a worldly activity: one that encourages readers to think about literary texts in imaginative ways that speak truth to power.

Australian Drama: #

The first play, written, published and staged, by a native born playwright was Charles Harpur’s The Bushranger, a verse play in five acts in 1853.

Advance Australia by John Joseph Kennedy, a Catholic Chaplain in the war, was staged at the Princess Theatre in Bendigo on Saturday 3 July 1920.

It only lasted one night because of the furore caused by patriots who condemned the play as UnAustralian. The play has been lost, but the newspaper reports remain.

More @:

Ray Lawler’s Summer of the Seventeeth Doll, and plays by Alan Seymour, Alex Buzo, Patrick White David Williamson, and many others have given us our voices and cadences on the stage.

Australian Literature #


Film: #

The first film in the world was a six minute display of Ned Kelly in America. American movies dominated the world until about the 1960’s.

Phillip Adamsspent many years getting Australian film-making up and running – in line with the opening paragraph of his one-page report to Gorton that led to its revival:

“we hold these truths to be self-evident … it’s time to tell our own stories, hear our own voices, see our own landscapes and dream our own dreams.”

Art and Painting: #

The term, Heidelberg School was coined in July 1891 by local art critic Sidney Dickenson, reviewing the works of Melbourne-based artists Arthur Streeton, depicting a unique Australian self and landscape –

“seeing Australia for the first time with Australian eyes”.

We all have a sense of who we are – of what makes an Australian and of what makes Australia. A musician explains it with sound, a writer with words, artists with paint and pigment, clay and canvas, camera and film.

Art invites us to see things not as they are, but as they appear to artists – full of meaning and emotion. Australian landscape art invites us to see our land through the eyes of artists. Indigenous, colonial and contemporary artists have all created a rich reaction to the drama, the beauty, the harshness of Australia’s landscape; their art is ours to share. Those who have drawn inspiration from the shapes, colours, light and shade of our landscape attempt to record and chronicle our times. Hanging Australia GEM

Archetecture: #

Buildings assume symbolic gestures. Stolid, stately, sandstone architecture of Government, or Financial institution structures, exude dominant solid social traditions and power. The larger, the more impressive, imposing structure, the smaller, less powerful and insignificant we are expected to feel. We are meant to be intimidated, wilt and “look upon my works, ye mighty and despair”.

Buildings, as expressions of power and money, prevail in all literature, from Gilgamesh’s walls and palaces in Ur, to the Gardens of Babylon, Greek temples – The Parthenon, to Roman monumental structures, large banquet halls in Beowulf, Pleasure palaces of Kublai Khan, the Taj Mahal, Mansions of millionaires, Hitler’s monstrosities to the palaces of Las Vegas.

Manning Clark recalls walking up those steps of Cologne Cathedral …” I went into the Cathedral … and I … yes … I was overwhelmed, and by Chartres Cathedral, which inspires that sense of awe and wonder".

My own epiphanies occurred in first sighting a vista of Stonehenge from the motorway and years later looking down on Machu Pichu.

Opposing expressions in Australia are the plans for both Canberra and the Opera house where even the thickest city official should have understood the plans described very clearly by its planners. Yet bureaucrats thought they knew better.

In the 1960’s, the world-renowned Opera House architect, Jørn Utzon, was sacked by a philistine politician.

Walter Burley Griffin and Marion Mahony foresaw a city built around the ideal of democracy; the people’s parliament arising from the ground representing power of the people aspiring to transcendent heights. Parliament was to be easy to visit! The virtue of democracy built up from the earth, into every structure so every person always felt their rights! Sweeping lawns over top of it so people could tread on a white Lego parliament on its green and artificial hill. The indelible grace of nature for all!

That lasted about ten years until John Howard baying to the confected fears of terrorism justified bollards around Parliament with Tony Abbott outdoing him erecting high security fences to keep the people out. Now we are just waiting for the razor wire. Mediorce politicians and bureaucrats think they know better.

The architects sincerely believed in liberal democracy. That liberal democracy had never believed in itself escaped their notice. They did notice the many parts of Canberra built in clear opposition to their guidelines. Helen Razer

Simone Young, the world’s leading musical conductor was sacked by the board of Sydney Opera because she sided with the muscians rather than management in a dispute. Simone went Europe where her talent was appreciated. Fortunately she has come back to as Chief Conductor of The Sydney Symphony Orchestra.

Canadian buildings originated with a Fortress mentality. Not only did we have to fortify ourselves against the elements, also against a formidable native population.

Initial Australian settlements were more open, the natives were perceived as a “stone-age culture”, not as well organized. Instead fear of the surrounding savages was exploited to substitute for prison walls. Only hardened, recalcitrant recidivists sent to penal colonies like Port Arthur, Newcastle, Port Macquarie and others require incarceration behind stone walls.

Open verandahs pose a new phenomenon in Australia, influenced by India. They act as a transitional escape from the inside to outside. Canadians prefer the enclosed porch as a buffer zone between the extreme cold outside to the overheated inside.

Palisades surfaced in both societies, today preferred by the rich in gated communities as a bulwark against barbarians.

Flaws or limitations in Post- #Colonial Views #

Not all indigenous composers consciously react to colonialist influences. They merely respond to some compelling urge to express their experiences in their native contexts and give voice to their concerns.