Interdisciplinary Measures: Literature and the Future of Postcolonial Studies

Interdisciplinary Measures: Literature and the Future of Postcolonial Studies

Interdisciplinary Measures: Literature and the Future of Postcolonial Studies

Interdisciplinary Measures: Literature and the Future of Postcolonial Studies

Excerpt

Postcolonialism as Comparatism

Few research fields can be as contested, not least by their own practitioners, as postcolonial studies, which continues to show every inclination to choose itself as the principal object of its own debates. Perhaps the most obvious thing to be said about postcolonial literary/cultural criticism – and even here there are dissenting voices – is that it is, by definition, a comparative field. That it is insufficiently rigorous in its comparisons is less obvious, though evident enough to have attracted extensive and well-documented critique. John McLeod, for example, in his excellent primer BeginningPostcolonialism (2000), runs through a wearily familiar list of comparison-related criticisms. These include (1) that postcolonialism, through its reliance on Western critical-theoretical models, tends to replicate and reinforce the colonialist structures it sets out to dismantle; (2) that it ‘creates a ghetto for literature from once-colonised countries within English departments and degree schemes’ (McLeod 249); (3) that it is overdependent on anti-foundationalist theories of knowledge that underestimate or simply overlook the material socio-economic conditions that remain ‘the foundation of reality and determine how we live our lives’ (McLeod 257); (4) that it represents the premature celebration of an unfinished historical project, collapsing the distinction between ‘different countries which have experienced decolonisation at different times and other countries which have not experienced it at all’ (McLeod 257); and (5) that it has signally failed to address pressing issues of economic power and class domination, in part because its practitioners are reluctant to concede their own advantaged position within the late-capitalist world system they affect to critique.

This list, McLeod implies, amounts to an attack on an ill-conceived mode of comparative literary/cultural criticism whose practitioners only rarely deliver on the political promises they perhaps never really intended to keep. Now this is to . . .

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