Lying on the Postcolonial Couch: The Idea of Difference

Lying on the Postcolonial Couch: The Idea of Difference

Lying on the Postcolonial Couch: The Idea of Difference

Lying on the Postcolonial Couch: The Idea of Difference

Synopsis

Rukmini Bhaya Nair is professor of linguistics and English at the Indian Institute of Technology, Delhi.

Excerpt

Postcoloniality awaits consignment to oblivion. in this it is like all historical phenomena, fated to be committed to memory, then to institutions, and thence to amnesia. Where postcoloniality differs from colonialism is that no concatenation of events may strictly be said to characterize it. No battle of Plassey, no war of 1857, no salt marches to Dandi signpost its territory. Rather, it is recognized that postcolonial is a region of shadows, indicative of a mentality, an inherited condition of the psyche. Although in all other ways the title of my book misleads by invoking the image of the Freudian couch when it is in fact not a psychoanalytic work at all, this ersatz metaphor does prove reliable in the sense that it captures a widely shared perception. Postcoloniality is a condition requiring a cure, and the passage to that cure involves a return to buried memories of colonial trauma. in effect, to understand how the postcolonial self differs from other selves who people the late twentieth century, it could be strategic to begin by exploring that infantile period, colonialism, which by definition preceded the convulsions of postcoloniality.

Speaking of difference, a single word, the connotations of which are legion, has held the late twentieth century in thrall. That word, turning reflexively back upon itself, is—difference. Literally a key word that has permitted startling new entries into the inner chambers of literary origin and seduction, it is also a word with an impeccable Saussurean pedigree. the linguistic concept of difference functioned as a standard marker of relations between signifiers in almost all post-Cours analyses of meaning until Jacques Derrida refashioned its straitlaced image comparatively recently with his famous postmodern pun. Since then, however, perhaps in deference to Derrida's singular authority, it seems to have become . . .

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