Post Colonial Literary Criticism

Post Colonial Literature #

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 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, and I would be wrong to do it. 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.

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 Nationalism:

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

http://theconversation.com/absence-of-postcolonial-texts-at-gcse-level-ignores-that-english-literature-was-always-worldly-27352      

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’s **1989 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.

**Film:  ** #

**Phillip Adams **spent 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

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.