Dr. Shashwati B. Mitra
Lecturer, Amity University, Lucknow Campus
One of the fundamental questions of literary theory is "what is literature?" – although many contemporary theorists and literary scholars believe either that "literature" cannot be defined or that it can refer to any use of language. Specific theories are distinguished not only by their methods and conclusions, but even by how they define a "text". For some scholars of literature, "texts" comprises little more than "books belonging to the Western literary canon." But the principles and methods of literary theory have been applied to non-fiction, popular fiction, film, historical documents, law, advertising, etc., in the related field of cultural studies. By this measure, literary theory can be thought of as the general theory of interpretation.
Literary theory in a strict sense is the systematic study of the nature of literature and of the methods for analyzing literature. However, literary scholarship since the 19th century often includes-in addition to, or even instead of literary theory in the strict sense-considerations of intellectual history, moral philosophy, social prophecy, and other interdisciplinary themes which are of relevance to the way humans interpret meaning.
Post-colonial studies apply the insights of hermeneutics1 and left-wing political theory to the literature of countries emerging from colonialism. Equally pertinent is the literatures of the colonizing power - the unspoken and sometimes superior attitudes of European writers towards the culture of countries they control or once controlled.
Everyone has their own view of themselves and their surroundings, a view into which is mixed a good deal of unexamined prejudice, self-worth and popular mythology. And doubtless the language in which we write or talk supports and perpetuates those views. Post-colonial studies go further than simply documenting the unavoidable, however: they use the strategies of hermeneutics, Bakhtin2, Derrida3, Foucault4 and others to discern and often denounce such harmful prejudices. Post-colonial studies overlap the concerns of feminism5 and political correctness, and are couched in the language of radical theory, dense with reference and specialized terminology.
Post-colonial studies use a concept called Otherness, a somewhat flexible concept, deriving from Freudian psychiatry, which argues that human beings inevitably define themselves against what they are not: the 'other'. Inevitably, given that resistance to a colonial past helps define new writers, the unwanted colonial attitudes reappear, even if as despised negatives. In short, there is no privileged viewpoint, nothing that is free from earlier prejudice or subsequent reaction. We work within a horizon of understanding, which itself shifts as we think more deeply, and the age itself moves on.
Postcolonial theory provides a framework that destabilizes dominant discourses in the West, challenges “inherent assumptions”, and critiques the “material and discursive legacies of colonialism”. In order to challenge these assumptions and legacies of colonialism, postcolonial studies needs to be grounded, which entails working with tangible identities, connections, and processes?
Postcolonialism deals with cultural identity in colonized societies: the dilemmas of developing a national identity after colonial rule; the ways in which writers articulate and celebrate that identity, the ways in which the knowledge of the colonized (subordinated) people has been generated and used to serve the colonizer's interests; and the ways in which the colonizer's literature has justified colonialism via images of the colonised as a perpetually inferior people, society and culture.
Postcolonial Theory - as epistemology, ethics, and politics - addresses matters of identity, gender, race, racism and ethnicity with the challenges of developing a post-colonial national identity, of how a colonised people's knowledge was used against them in service of the coloniser's interests, and of how knowledge about the world is generated under specific relations between the powerful and the powerless, circulated repetitively and finally legitimated in service to certain imperial interests. At the same time, postcolonial theory encourages thought about the colonised's creative resistance to the coloniser and how that resistance complicates and gives texture to European imperial colonial projects, which utilised a range of strategies, including anti-conquest narratives, to legitimise their dominance.
Postcolonial writers object to the colonised's depiction as hollow "mimics" of Europeans or as passive recipients of power. Consequent to Foucauldian argument, postcolonial scholars, studies collective, argue that anti-colonial resistance accompanies every deployment of power.
Notable theorists include Edward Said, Homi Bhabha, Frantz Fanon, Gayatri Spivak, Chinua Achebe, Wole Soyinka, Salman Rushdie, Jamaica Kincaid, and Buchi Emecheta.
Key Terms associated with this theory:
Alterity - "lack of identification with some part of one's personality or one's community, differentness, otherness"
Diaspora to refer to any people or ethnic population forced or induced to leave their traditional ethnic homelands, being dispersed throughout other parts of the world, and the ensuing developments in their dispersal and culture.
Eurocentrism - "the practice, conscious or otherwise, of placing emphasis on European (and, generally, Western) concerns, culture & values at the expense of those of other cultures. It is an instance of ethnocentrism, perhaps especially relevant because of its alignment with current & past real power structures in the world"
Hybridity - "an important concept in post-colonial theory, referring to the integration (or, mingling) of cultural signs and practices from the colonizing and the colonized cultures. The assimilation and adaptation of cultural practices, the cross-fertilization of cultures, can be seen as positive, enriching, and dynamic, as well as oppressive".
Imperialism - "the policy of extending the control or authority over foreign entities as a means of acquisition and/or maintenance of empires, either through direct territorial control or through indirect methods of exerting control on the politics and/or economy of other countries. The term is used by some to describe the policy of a country in maintaining colonies and dominance over distant lands, regardless of whether the country calls itself an empire".
1 Introduction to Postcolonial Studies Deepika Bahri Oct.2002 Introduction, listing important writers.
2 Notes & Comments the New Criterion .Nov1999
3 English Studies&Colonialism. Philip Holden Jun2003 http://www.scholars. nus.edu.sg
4 Postcolonial Theory : Leela Gandhi , Published April 15th 1998 by
Columbia University Press ISBN: 13:9780231112734
5 Contemporary Postcolonial Theory: A Reader, Padmini Mongia,
A Hodder Arnold Publication (first published 1996)
ISBN 0340652888 (ISBN13: 9780340652886)
6 Introductions to Modern Literary Theory. http://www .kristisiegel.com/ theory.htm
1 Hermeneutics began as the science of interpreting ancient documents, making a consistent picture when the parts themselves drew their meaning from the document as a whole, but has become important to Postmodernism and literature in general.
2 Mikhail Mikhailovich Bakhtin was a Russian philosopher, literary critic, scholar who worked on literary theory, ethics, and the philosophy of language.
3 Jacques Derrida was a French philosopher, born in French Algeria. He developed the critical theory known as deconstruction, his work has been labeled as post-structuralism and associated with postmodern philosophy.
4 Michel Foucault, born Paul-Michel Foucault, was a French philosopher, social theorist and historian of ideas. He held a chair at the prestigious Collège de France with the title "History of Systems of Thought," and also taught at the University at Buffalo and the University of California, Berkeley.
5 Feminism is a collection of movements aimed at defining, establishing, defending equal political, economic, and social rights and equal opportunities for women.