Cultural Readings of Imperialism: Edward Said and the Gravity of History

By Keith Ansell-Pearson; Benita Parry et al. | Go to book overview

WHITE SKIN, BLACK MASKS:
JEWS AND JEWISHNESS IN THE WRITINGS OF
GEORGE ELIOT AND FRANTZ FANON

Bryan Cheyette

It is often assumed that post-colonial theory cannot, by definition, replicate the oppressive discourses which are, in part, the object of its study. None is more aware than Edward Said of the hazards of reproducing what he calls, in his Culture and Imperialism (1993), a historical analysis based upon 'essentialism and exclusiveness' (p35) or the 'politics of separate identity' (p-401).1 In his latest work, Representations of the Intellectual, Said has argued that this 'new tribalism' or 'absence of universals' now threatens to deform secular critical thinking in general (p68). As a means of contesting a new doctrinal tribalism, I want to examine the ways in which the history of antisemitism has either been marginalised or excluded within post-colonial theory. My contention is that the immense (but slowly shrinking) gap between post-colonial and post-holocaust studies - or the gap between theories of anti-black racism, orientalism and antisemitism - at worst adds to this divisive new tribalism and, at best, does not sufficiently universalise and intertwine particular histories of victimisation.

These criticisms of post-colonial theory, I should stress from the beginning, are not a one-way street. By emphasising the continuities as well as the discontinuities between post-colonial and post-holocaust studies, I want to question the orthodoxies and absences on all sides. My longer work was written both to expose the racial discourse about Jews at the heart of English national culture and also to radically rethink the dominant and received historiography of antisemitism. The danger is that this historiography essentialises Jews as uniquely timeless, unchanging victims and therefore positions the history of antisemitism outside of the social, political and historical processes which gave rise to this history in the first place. One

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