Extravagant Postcolonialism: Modernism and Modernity in Anglophone Fiction, 1958-1988

Extravagant Postcolonialism: Modernism and Modernity in Anglophone Fiction, 1958-1988

Extravagant Postcolonialism: Modernism and Modernity in Anglophone Fiction, 1958-1988

Extravagant Postcolonialism: Modernism and Modernity in Anglophone Fiction, 1958-1988

Synopsis

Brian T. May argues that, contrary to widely held assumptions of postcolonial literary criticism, a distinctive subset of postcolonial novels significantly values and scrupulously explores a healthy individuality. These "extravagant" postcolonial works focus less on collective social reality than on the intimate subjectivity of their characters. Their authors, most of whom received some portion of a canonical western education, do not subordinate the ambitions of their fiction to explicit political causes so much as create a cosmopolitan rhetorical focus suitable to their western-educated, western-trained, audiences.

May pursues this argument by scrutinizing novels composed during the thirty-year postindependence, postcolonial era of Anglophone fiction, a period that began with the Nigerian Chinua Achebe's Things Fall Apart and that ended, many would say, with the Ayatollah Khomeini's 1989 publication of the Rushdie Fatwa. May contends that the postcolonial authors under consideration--Naipaul, Rushdie, Achebe, Rhys, Gordimer, and Coetzee--inherited modernism and refashioned it. His account of their work demonstrates how it reflects and transfigures modernists such as Conrad, Eliot, Yeats, Proust, Joyce, and Beckett. Tracing the influence of humanistic values and charting the ethical and aesthetic significance of individualism, May demonstrates that these works of "extravagant postcolonialism" represent less a departure from than a continuation and evolution of modernism.

Excerpt

“The notion of the individual—,” exclaims Satya Mohanty in a 2008 interview, “that’s a horribly tainted Western idea, isn’t it?” In so exclaiming, Mohanty points to one of the more resolutely unexamined (and exasperating?) assumptions that have governed literary criticism over the past quarter-century, one that Mohanty finds wondrous, fabulous: “why would we think that, say, Indian, Chinese, or Native American cultures didn’t value the notion of healthy individuality? It’s a myth that they didn’t; in fact, if you go to the cultural practices and texts, you see rich notions of individuality in all kinds of cultures.” This discussion is dedicated to the proposition that “rich notions … of healthy individuality” may indeed be found valued in those particular “cultural practices,” those particular “texts” known as postcolonial novels, particularly in a certain grouping of them. The assumption judged mythical by Mohanty is one made with respect to all kinds of non-Western cultures, all sorts of non-Western cultural practices, all manner of non-Western novels. How much more richly trammeled in the realms of myth, then, the same assumption when the novels in question are unabashedly Anglocentric Anglophone novels, what have been described and sometimes spurned as the most “canonical” of the putative postcolonial anticanon, the most “Western”—to the point that it may seem a mistake to term them “non-Western”?

One reaction to such putatively non-Western novels that do not spurn the notion of the individual is to spurn them. But in Extravagant Postcolonialism —what I mean by “extravagant” soon will become clear—my ambition is to do otherwise. I aim to study a particular region of modernity that remains fairly obscure, thereby providing a window on a particular, peculiar modern subject(ivity). To that end, significant novels by Salman Rushdie, J. M. Coeztee, Nadine Gordimer, Jean Rhys, and Chinua Achebe, novels that propose “rich notions of individuality,” I richly explore. That is, I explore rich individualities, these novels’ characters being, so many of them, characters. Coetzee’s . . .

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