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John Zaixin Zhang

 
 
 

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Postcolonial Theory  

2009-09-12 00:24:50|  分类: 后殖民理论 |  标签: |举报 |字号 订阅

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Final Exam (Take-home)

Student Essay

Post-colonial Literatures and Counter-Discourse

 

In the past centuries, colonialism and imperialism have not only influenced world history greatly, but also the minds of both the colonized and the colonizer. In the post-colonial period, the colonized people inevitably want to reestablish their own culture and history free of the Eurocentric values. However, this dream can never come true.

After conquering the colonized land by military force, the colonizers imposed their educational system on the colonized to maintain colonial domination. By teaching the colonized to speak the colonizers’ language and to read the canonical literature, they imposed the colonial code on the colonized people. Even after the colonized have succeeded in overthrowing the colonizer’s rule in their society, they cannot get rid of the colonial culture. As Fanon says, “To speak means to …assume a culture, to support the weight of a civilization.”( Innes 97). As long as the colonized speak the colonizers’ language, they are influenced by the colonizers’ culture. Therefore, postcolonial culture is inevitably hybridized, and it is impossible to recreate a pre-colonial culture free of colonial taint.

However, though the possibility is little, people from the postcolonial land never give up their effort to fight against European hegemony, which can be called counter-discursive strategies. One of the basic and fundamental way is to challenge the “universal” language—English. English had been regarded by both the colonizer and the colonized as the language of the erstwhile imperial centre. It is the standard code which establishes truth, order, and reality. It represents central power. The universality of English is the result of colonization, of colonizer’s imposed education. Following Michel Foucault and Edward Said, Ashcroft, et. al. believe that post-colonial discourse “is to invoke certain ways of thinking about language, about truth, about power, and about the interrelationship between all three” (167). In a certain society, what is truth is defined by the ruling class, which means by those who have power. And this kind of power focuses on the control of language. Therefore, to fight for that power, the postcolonial writers from the former British Empire use englishes with their own national characteristics instead of the standard English. Those englishes are the “variants shaped by an oppressive discourse of power” (Ashcroft, et. al. 7). By using englishes, postcolonial writing challenges the established cannon and privileged usage of the standard English. Therefore, it challenges the universality of European values. Furthermore, it exposes the way how the Europeans imposed their values onto the local peoples. But it also keeps a sameness with English to make sure that their voices can be heard by the central power, and themselves can be understood.

 Among the post-colonial counter-discursive strategies, the one Helen Tiffin wants to engage is what we will call “canonical counter-discourse.” This is what counter-discursive strategy applied to the British canon, which post-colonial writers regard as the medium through which the colonizers facilitate the psychical capture of the colonized. The European colonizers, through the educational system, assert that their canon is “great,” thus making the cultural specific imperial terms embodied in these works to be accepted as axiomatic and the colonized countries’ culture marginal. Robinson Crusoe is such a canonical work, and Samuel Selvon’s Moses Ascending and J. M. Coetzee’s Foe, according to Tiffin, are two works writing back to Robinson Crusoe by making use of counter-discursive strategies.

In Moses Ascending, Selvon mainly exposes and dismantles those imperial intentions through a series of inversions of many things in Robinson Crusoe. The first inversion involves the Crusoe/ Friday paradigm. Moses, being a thoroughly colonized Trinidadian, becomes a landlord in this work and employs a “white Friday” – Bob, from the “Black Country” of Midland of England as his labor force. The white lord employing or even enslaving the black employee paradigm is subverted here. The white and black roles actually inscribe into each other, and there is a “double-consciousness” in each other. The assumption that the whites are born to be superior to the blacks is thus subverted. The second point in Tiffin’s discussion of this book is about the complexity of language, literature and culture as the medium though which the imperial values and power are perpetuated. The study of English under the guise of liberal education leads to the naturalizing process at the unconscious level of the colonized to regard the Western values as axiomatic and central and their own “peripheral.” The power of language and text and the complexity of language, literature and culture are fundamental to imperial control. Mimicking the form of Crusoe’s memoir, Moses also writes his memoir in English to show that he can also write things in English. Yet what we see here is the power of language in the subjectification of the colonized people. Now that he writes in English, Moses’ mind has been manipulated by this language and the cultural codes lying behind this language. Unavoidably, he internalizes the imperial culture and regards his own cultural values as marginal. When Moses finds that Bob is illiterate, he decides to teach him the Bible, as Crusoe does to Friday in Robinson Crusoe, only that the role of the teacher is now played by a black man and the student a white man. Yet when being asked about the classics belonging to his own culture, Moses seems ignorant. This fact shows how language, literature and culture facilitate imperial control. After this exposure of the imperial-intentioned language study and its aftermath, Selvon dismantles the assumption of English as the standard norm through the use of variants of englishes in the memoir writing. Crusoe’s English employed in the narration is definitely unproblematic, yet Moses’ memoir is written in all kinds of englishes carrying the tints of other dialects. Actually, the englishes Moses uses to write is the guise under which Moses’ native language is exerted to think and to narrate. Therefore, the novel completely undercuts the idea of regarding English as the standard norm.

Another sample of post-colonial writing back to the British canon, according to Tiffin, is J. M. Coetzee’s Foe. Coetzee, as a white South African writer exposes not only European imperialism in Africa but also the legacy in Africa today. The underlying implication in Crusoe’s act of teaching Friday English in Robinson Crusoe is economic individualism and the middle-class values. According to his narration, Crusoe feels delighted in doing so, yet in Foe, Crusoe teaches Friday no more than those needed to obey his orders. As it shows, the teaching is not liberal education as it seems but an instrument to enforce imperial control. Besides this point, in Foe, the oppression imposed on Friday is dramatized because Friday’s tongue has already been cut off before the story unfolds; therefore, his story has been lost and can only be speculated by the colonizers. He tries to make meaning by using gestures, yet the colonizers cannot understand him. Any interpretation by white people of his real intention would be frustrated by his silence. The history of the colonized is just the colonizer’s own interpretation rather than the truth.

Through the multiple inversions, the above two works expose the imperial intentions in Robinson Crusoe and subvert them for post-colonial purposes. However, by subverting the European dominant discourse, post-colonial writing runs the risk of becoming the dominant themselves. The purpose of post-colonial writing is not only to expose and dismantle the imposed European colonial code but also to consume their biases towards the local culture caused by their internalization of the European dominant. Therefore, the postcolonial inversions should be provisional.

 

Work Cited

Ashcroft, Bill, Gareth Griffiths, and Helen Tiffin. The Empire Writes Back. London and New York: Routledge, 1989.

Innes, Catherine Lynette. The Cambridge Introduction to Postcolonial Literatures in English. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2007.

Tiffin, Helen. “Post-colonial Literatures and Counter-Discourse.” Kunapipi 9.3

       (1987): 17-34.

 

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