By R. Spencer
Through readings of novels via J.M. Coetzee, Timothy Mo and Salman Rushdie and the later poetry of W.B. Yeats, this publication finds how postcolonial writing can inspire the enlarged feel of ethical and political accountability had to supplant ongoing different types of imperial violence with cosmopolitan associations, relationships and methods of considering.
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This early form of postcolonial work, in for example the deconstructive procedures of Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak, was more interested in undermining the cultural and epistemological authority of colonialism than in elucidating the relationship between colonialism and capitalism or in asking how to move beyond these things. One might also adduce Edward Said’s Orientalism, which was in many ways the book that inspired the discipline. If for Michel Foucault any discourse that claims privileged access to the unvarnished state of things is deceitfully masking its own partiality, then likewise for the Said of Orientalism, a book that relies on Foucault for its methodology, what passes for knowledge of the so-called Orient is actually a self-interested myth, a pretext for the exercise of colonial power.
In stressing the experiential aspects of colonial encounters over their structural context, postcolonial criticism has moved past ‘Manichean’ divisions between the colonizer and the colonized, and even the ‘spectral excluded middle’, to stress ‘borderlands’ conditions, where the domination of one by the other yields before boundary crossings, hybridities, mutual appropriations, and, especially, the everyday resistance 30 Cosmopolitan Criticism and Postcolonial Literature of the colonized to the colonizer.
It therefore risks undermining any basis for the sort of cosmopolitan solidarity that the later Said, as this study will repeatedly make clear, advocated much more overtly. An excessively sceptical epistemology yields, in short, to a relativist political philosophy. As Satya Mohanty points out, this tendency in postcolonial criticism complicates efforts ‘to make decolonization a meaningful project involving cross-cultural contact and dialogue’ (1997, 145). Whatever Said’s intentions, this is how Orientalism was initially received and how, as the chapter on Mo shows, the discipline of postcolonial studies subsequently developed.
Cosmopolitan Criticism and Postcolonial Literature by R. Spencer