The Edinburgh Companion to Twentieth-Century Literatures in English

By Brian McHale; Randall Stevenson | Go to book overview
Save to active project

Chapter 12
1960, Lagos and Nairobi:
‘Things Fall Apart’ and ‘the Empire
Writes Back’

Patrick Williams

The 1960s are popularly remembered as going out on a wave of radicalism, international in extent, and often student-led: May ‘68; the Italian ‘hot autumn’ of ‘69; protests against the Vietnam War; Black Power in the United States. The decade came in, however, on something more resembling a global tidal surge of decolonisation, but one whose events, because they occurred on the peripheries of Empire rather than in its heartlands, figure less in the memories both of the period and of its significant protests. Although Eldridge Cleaver of the Black Panthers could claim at the end of the 1960s that Fanon’s The Wretched of the Earth (1961) was the Bible of the Black Power movement, it was on another continent, at the other end of the decade, and in another kind of struggle that Fanon was writing and fighting: in the first place against French colonialism, but beyond that, against the global reach of the capitalist system. As the Caribbean critic C. L. R. James noted, writing of the French Revolution and the great slave rebellion in Haiti, rather than history consisting of Europe affecting (‘educating’, ‘civilising’) Africa or Asia, there was, at the very least, a reciprocal effect. One example of this in our period is the way in which Third World anti-colonial struggles (including their cultural dimension) affected politics and culture in the West, variously radicalising and internationalising them.

‘Things fall apart’; ‘the Empire writes back’: these phrases from W. B. Yeats and Salman Rushdie, are, in their different ways, so much part of the common currency even, in the latter case, the clichés of the field of postcolonial literature and theory. From a certain traditionalist perspective, the fact of the latter, the emergence of writing from the formerly colonised areas of the world, in the shape of novels, poetry, plays and essays, was not merely a sign of things falling apart the edifice of literary culture crumbling along with the greater structure of Empire itself but also a significant contributory factor in the catastrophe. It is one of the many important achievements of postcolonial studies that it has been able to overturn that perspective, and see the emergence of anti-colonial and postcolonial texts as an unquestionably positive phenomenon. This chapter will examine a (necessarily small) representative sample of postcolonial authors and the way their various modes and strategies of resistant textuality their different forms of ‘writing back’ relate to the larger historical process of the ‘falling apart’ of the colonial empires. The writers discussed are principally of African and Caribbean origin, partly because the Indian subcontinent did its writing back both earlier and later than the period under examination here.


Notes for this page

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
Loading One moment ...
Project items
Cite this page

Cited page

Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

Cited page

Bookmark this page
The Edinburgh Companion to Twentieth-Century Literatures in English
Table of contents

Table of contents



Text size Smaller Larger
Search within

Search within this book

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

While we understand printed pages are helpful to our users, this limitation is necessary to help protect our publishers' copyrighted material and prevent its unlawful distribution. We are sorry for any inconvenience.
Full screen
/ 296

matching results for page

Cited passage

Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.

Are you sure you want to delete this highlight?