Academic journal article Quebec Studies

Rush to Judgment? Postcolonial Criticism and Quebec

Academic journal article Quebec Studies

Rush to Judgment? Postcolonial Criticism and Quebec

Article excerpt

There is a commonly held view in Quebec studies today that postcolonial theory and postcolonial criticism are underused and underrepresented. Is this a bad thing? The underlying assumption is that the introduction of postcolonial theory and criticism to the field of Quebec Studies would be enabling--but of what, precisely? Of productive analyses and debates that have been impeded until now? Or of the very possibilities for deepening and broadening the study of Quebec as a legitimate matter of interest beyond its own borders? While disciplinary and institutional questions are necessarily imbricated, we should know better than to assume that the former necessarily dictate the latter. In fact, it could be argued that the reverse is true in this case, where there appears to be a certain urgency about fitting Quebec into the space of the post. In this essay I want to begin by addressing directly some of these institutional imperatives; then, to explore how responses to these imperatives may be overlooking the belated character of the demand that Quebec Studies "go postcolonial." I follow this with an exploration of how the debate over colonialism, democracy and relational aspects of identity has evolved most recently in Quebec and the possible convergences afforded by new understandings of these same issues in English Canada. Finally, I will return to the more circumscribed field of literary production and criticism to evaluate how these might fare in the new "order of postcolonial discourse" suggested by these convergences.

Postcolonialism, la Francophonie, Quebec Studies: institutional considerations

Any institutional genealogy of postcolonial studies must turn back to the study and criticism of what used to be called "Commonwealth" literature. Writers and theorists from south Asia (India, Pakistan, Malaysia, Sri Lanka), Africa, and the West Indies have given new shape to both literature and cultural studies in Great Britain and, to varying degrees, its settler-invader former colonies, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand. Moreover, much of the postcolonial theoretical discourse produced in American universities and colleges has come from academics driven from Great Britain by the Thatcherite onslaught of the 1980s. In the United States, its scope includes not only the former British Empire, but extends to the French and Spanish as well.

Insofar as the study of Quebec takes place largely within French departments in the United States, the impact of postcolonial theory upon them could not but, in turn, have an impact on the discipline. American academics in departments of French Studies find themselves in an odd position, on the less comfortable side of the looking glass than in the heady days of structuralism, poststructuralism, and deconstruction. The withering gazes they once cast as French critical theory was appropriated and vulgarized by departments of Comparative Literature and--worse yet, English!--have now been replaced by deep insecurity as French Studies find themselves at the receiving end of an implicit critique of refractory noncompliance with the new theoretical paradigm. In fact, such criticism is often not implicit at all. Not so long ago, I found myself at a colloquium on issues of immigration and integration in contemporary France where the French guests were excoriated by American academics precisely for the lamentable state of French postcolonial studies. Most work from France was summarily dismissed as "iconography," by which was meant first-degree ideological readings that catalogued racist and demeaning representations of colonial Others. Nothing here, we were told, engaged the issue of the "post" in postcolonialism, that is the notion that it marks not a rupture with a bygone era, but rather a continuing, though mutating relationship between the two parties and, moreover, a radical rereading of their relationship in the colonial period itself. (1)

This issue of rupture is indeed crucial. …

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