White Skins/Black Masks: Representation and Colonialism

White Skins/Black Masks: Representation and Colonialism

White Skins/Black Masks: Representation and Colonialism

White Skins/Black Masks: Representation and Colonialism

Synopsis

In this exciting re-reading of the classic work of Haggard and Kipling, Gail Ching-Liang Low examines the representational dynamics of colonizer versus colonized. Exploring the interface between the native 'other' as a reflection and as a point of address, the author asserts that this 'other' is a mirror reflecting the image of the colonizer - a 'cultural cross-dressing'. Employing psychoanalysis, anthropology and postcolonial theory, Low analyzes the way in which fantasy and fabulation are caught up in networks of desire and power. White Skins/Black Masks is a fascinating entry into the current debate of post-colonial theory.

Excerpt

My reading of colonial discourse suggests that the point of intervention should shift from the identification of images as positive or negative, to an understanding of the processes of subjectification made possible (and plausible) through stereotypical discourse. To judge the stereotyped image on the basis of a prior political normativity is to dismiss it, not to displace it, which is only possible by engaging with its effectivity; with the repertoire of positions of power and resistance, domination and dependence that constructs the colonial subject (both coloniser and colonised).

(Bhabha, 1983:18-19)

'Difference', 'power' and 'pleasure' are all issues which must be addressed in any critique of colonial representation. Yet these are issues which are difficult to come to terms with in colonial and postcolonial politics because they require an acknowledgement of the ambivalences and complexities of political intervention, and because they forestall an easy appeal to epistemological certainty-'the truth'-which authorises critical transparency and orthodoxy. I begin this book with a quotation from Bhabha because his work presents a clear challenge to rethink-in a self-reflexive way-the whole politics and poetics of writing against the grain. In the critique of the literature of Empire in general, and in my own study of Henry Rider Haggard and Rudyard Kipling in particular, anger at the subjugation and exploitation of other worlds often dismisses these romances of imperialism as white patriarchal myths, which attempt only to justify the conquest, occupation and destruction of non-Western societies. They are, of course, all of these things.

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