Postcolonial Studies and the Genre of Poetry

By Breslin, Paul | The Virginia Quarterly Review, Spring 2003 | Go to article overview
Save to active project

Postcolonial Studies and the Genre of Poetry


Breslin, Paul, The Virginia Quarterly Review


The Hybrid Muse: Postcolonial Poetry in English. By Jahan Ramazani. University Chicago Press, 2001. $17.50 paper.

In the introduction to The Hybrid Muse, Jahan Ramazani points out the "relative neglect" of poetry in criticism of postcolonial literatures. This neglect, he observes, arises from an awkward fit between the qualities of poetry as a genre and the usual concerns of postcolonial theory and critical practice:

On the one hand, postcolonial criticism is largely grounded in mimetic presuppositions about literature. But since poetry mediates experience through a language of exceptional figural and formal density, it is a less transparent medium by which to recuperate the history, politics, and sociology of postcolonial societies.... On the other hand, postcolonial theory has been preoccupied with continually interrogating itself, rehearsing questions about its complicity in European discourses, the (non)representability of "other" cultures, and the definition of its primary terms.... While theoretical inquiry is not necessarily inimical to poetry (informing, indeed, my analysis), the genre also demands specifically literary modes of response and recognition-of figurative devices, generic codes, stanzaic patterns, prosodic twists, and allusive turns.

By joining the concerns of postcolonial studies with a close reader's attention to poetic form and metaphorical resonance, Ramazani proposes to read the productions of his "hybrid muse" with a hybrid criticism. In his pages, the cultural implications of poems emerge by formal analysis of their means of representation, and once passed through that "density" of mediation, they seem richer in historical awareness, less politically reductive, than they might appear at first glance.

Ramazani, conceding at the outset that "the scope of `postcoloniality' is vast," tests its boundaries in a discussion of W. B. Yeats, long established within the 20th-century canon, and, as a scion of the Protestant Ascendancy, ambiguously positioned between colonized and colonizer. There's also the question of whether Yeats lived into Ireland's "postcolonial" period or not: "Yeats is completely out of luck if the postcolonial era dawned when the Republic of Ireland was officially founded in 1949 or-for that matter-when the partition might one day be dissolved between the six counties of the North and the lower twenty-six." If we take "overtly anticolonial expression" as the key to "postcolonial" status, we can quote Yeats on both sides of the question, as Ramazani scrupulously demonstrates.

Though unfailingly courteous-and open-to the insights of other critics, The Hybrid Muse implicitly defines itself against two contrary reductive tendencies in postcolonial criticism: on the one hand, the allegory of "decolonizing the mind," in which the writer exorcises internalized colonial ideology, and perhaps even the colonially-- imposed language, to return to an indigenous status quo ante, and on the other, uncritical celebrations of "hybridity" or "creolization" as syntheses of colonial and indigenous traditions by means of which the historical conflict between the two disappears into a polyphonic cultural whole. Ramazani focuses his discussion of each poet on features that resist such reductions.

In his chapter on Walcott's Omeros, he notes that the wound has long been a trope for the harm inflicted by colonial domination, especially where it took the form of chattel slavery, and that Walcott, before writing Omeros, had often criticized postcolonial writing that dwells too insistently on the injustices of the past. He is not the poet one would have expected to take up the metaphor of the wound. But in taking it up, Walcott transforms it, adding new complexities to its significance. In Omeros, the white Englishman Dennis Plunkett is no less wounded than Philoctete, descendant of slaves, though his wound is invisible. As the poem expands its geographical reach, the wound appears also in characters such as the North American white woman Catherine Weldon.

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

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
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

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

Cited article

Postcolonial Studies and the Genre of Poetry
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger
Search within

Search within this article

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

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
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?