Deconstruction and the Postcolonial: At the Limits of Theory

Deconstruction and the Postcolonial: At the Limits of Theory

Deconstruction and the Postcolonial: At the Limits of Theory

Deconstruction and the Postcolonial: At the Limits of Theory

Synopsis

Postcolonial studies have transformed how we think about subjectivity, national identity, globalization, history, language, literature, and international politics. Until recently, the emphasis has been almost exclusively within an Anglophone context, but the focus of postcolonial studies is shifting to a more comparative approach. One of the most intriguing developments has been within the Francophone world. A number of genealogical lines of influence are being drawn, connecting the work of the three figures most associated with the emergence of postcolonial theory–Homi Bhabha, Edward Said, and Gayatri Spivak–to an earlier generation of predominantly postructuralist French theorists. Within this emerging narrative of intellectual influences, the importance of the thought of Jacques Derrida and the status of deconstruction have been acknowledged, but not adequately accounted for. InDeconstruction and the Postcolonial, Michael Syrotinski reconsiders the underlying conceptual tensions and theoretical stakes of what he terms a "deconstructive postcolonialism" and argues that postcolonial studies stands to gain ground in terms of its political forcefulness and philosophical rigour by turningback to, and notaway from, deconstruction.

Excerpt

Such has been the breathtaking pace of developments in what is broadly referred to as postcolonial theory that it is almost surprising to recall the relatively recent occurrence of these developments. Indeed, the more comparative approaches that are taken for granted in postcolonial theory, such as the now well established field of Francophone postcolonial studies, have entered only fairly late into the game, after a decade or so of largely Anglophone-based research and criticism. It may, on refection, come as a further surprise that the dialogues now informing debates among postcolonial writers, critics and intellectuals did not begin much earlier, given that so much of the founding and defining work of the major figures in the field, such as Homi K. Bhabha, Edward Said and Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak, owes a clear intellectual debt to an earlier generation of French theorists (Jacques Lacan, Michel Foucault, Claude Lévi-Strauss, Jacques Derrida, Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari, to name only those we have come to associate with postcolonial theory). As if to remedy retrospectively this lacuna in the intellectual history of the period, a number of commentators have recently attempted to map out genealogical lines of influence and indebtedness, whereby the origins of many of the key concepts and overriding concerns of postcolonial theory can in fact be traced back to a predominantly French or Francophone context. This has certainly led to a greater appreciation of the ways in which French theory has been adapted and redeployed: we may cite as familiar examples Bhabha drawing on Lacanian psychoanalysis to enrich Frantz Fanon's insights, or Said's early use of Foucault to underpin his own groundbreaking theories of Orientalism, or Valentin Mudimbe's complex debts to Jean-Paul Sartre, Foucault and Lévi-Strauss, or Edouard Glissant's reworking of Deleuze and Guattari's concepts of the rhizome and deterritorialization. Within this revisionist intellectual history of the emergence of postcolonial theory . . .

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