Postcolonial Theory and the United States: Race, Ethnicity, and Literature

Postcolonial Theory and the United States: Race, Ethnicity, and Literature

Postcolonial Theory and the United States: Race, Ethnicity, and Literature

Postcolonial Theory and the United States: Race, Ethnicity, and Literature

Synopsis

Probing essays that examine critical issues surrounding the United States's ever-expanding international cultural identity in the postcolonial era

At the beginning of the twenty-first century, we may be in a "transnational" moment, increasingly aware of the ways in which local and national narratives, in literature and elsewhere, cannot be conceived apart from a radically new sense of shared human histories and global interdependence. To think transnationally about literature, history, and culture requires a study of the evolution of hybrid identities within nation-states and diasporic identities across national boundaries.

Studies addressing issues of race, ethnicity, and empire in U. S. culture have provided some of the most innova-tive and controversial contributions to recent scholarship. Postcolonial Theory and the United States: Race, Ethnicity, and Literature represents a new chapter in the emerging dialogues about the importance of borders on a global scale.

This book collects nineteen essays written in the 1990s in this emergent field by both well established and up-and-coming scholars. Almost all the essays have been either especially written for this volume or revised for inclusion here.

These essays are accessible, well-focused resources for college and university students and their teachers, displaying both historical depth and theoretical finesse as they attempt close and lively readings. The anthology includes more than one discussion of each literary tradition associated with major racial or ethnic communities. Such a gathering of diverse, complementary, and often competing viewpoints provides a good introduction to the cultural differences and commonalities that comprise the United States today.

The volume opens with two essays by the editors: first, a survey of the ideas in the individual pieces, and, second, a long essay that places current debates in U. S. ethnicity and race studies within both the history of American studies as a whole and recent developments in postcolonial theory.

Amritjit Singh, a professor of English and African American studies at Rhode Island College, is coeditor of Conversations with Ralph Ellison and Conversations with Ishmael Reed (both from University Press of Mississippi). Peter Schmidt, a professor of English at Swarthmore College, is the author of The Heart of the Story: Eudora Welty's Short Fiction (University Press of Mississippi).

Excerpt

Postcolonial Theory and the U.S.: Race, Ethnicity, and Literature represents a new chapter in the emerging conversations about the importance of borders on a global scale. Borders may be defined not just as the lines dividing one country from another but also the ways in which difference is deployed across societies and cultures to mark distinctions of power. A series of events since the eighteenth century has reshaped not just boundaries on maps but how societies are internally structured: European imperialism, the assumed cultural superiority of Europe that was its close companion, and the continuing power of European thought in our knowledge paradigms; slavery, the Middle Passage, and the Black diaspora; the American Revolution; the Haitian Revolution of 1804; the 1857 Mutiny (which Indian historians call the First War of Independence); Freedom Movements in India, Africa and elsewhere; the 1955 Bandung Conference of African and Asian nations; the Civil Rights and anti-Vietnam War movements in the U.S.; and the dismantling of South African apartheid in the 1990s—to name just a few.

The U.S. has been involved in almost all these world-shaping events, both as the oldest self-conscious democracy and the youngest “superpower” with a sense of its own “manifest destiny.” The rise of global capitalism and neocolonialism, plus more than a century of immigrant life in the U.S.—coupled with other migrations around the world throughout the twentieth century—have kept in constant flux our understandings of assimilation and resistance, assent and dissent, descent and consent. The growing recognition in the last two decades of hybrid cultures around the globe calls into question, more sharply than ever before, the validity of old binaries such as West and East, North and South, white and non-white, developed vs. developing nations, First and Third Worlds.

As we enter the twenty-first century, in response to such developments some older ways of reading and teaching U.S. literature and cultural history are being supple-

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