Academic journal article English Studies in Canada

Dreaming through Disenchantment: Reappraising Canadian and Postcolonial Literary Studies

Academic journal article English Studies in Canada

Dreaming through Disenchantment: Reappraising Canadian and Postcolonial Literary Studies

Article excerpt

IN CYNTHIA SUGARS'S Home-Work: Postcolonialism, Pedagogy, and Canadian Literature, postcolonialism enables one mode of navigating the contradictions of national literatures such as Canadian literature. And yet, as Neil Lazarus' Cambridge Companion to Postcolonial Literary Studies reveals, many of the same tensions which animate the struggle for Canadian literature, and many of the contradictions which continue to haunt the field, are also attendant upon the field of postcolonial literary studies. Both the Sugars and Lazarus collections are reappraisals of their respective fields at moments when these fields, against many odds and antagonisms, have finally achieved a level of institutional stability. In that sense, both collections provide timely opportunities to think through fields whose influences on English literary studies have not been limited by their relative youth. Given the struggles for academic legitimacy from which fields such as Canadian literature and postcolonial literary studies have emerged with relative triumph, there is a surprising tone of disenchantment and weariness which undercuts both the Sugars and Lazarus collections. I want to read this disenchantment not as the product of inevitable growing pains, nor do I understand it within the now all too familiar lament over the dangers of institutionalization; rather, I suggest that this disenchantment emerges from a sense of loss, the loss of what we might think of as postcolonial futures. In 1986, citing Guyanese poet Martin Carter, Ngugi wa Thiong'o wrote in Decolonizing the Mind that the theme of his book, a book which has become one of the foundational texts of postcolonial studies, emerges from "all those men and women in South Africa, Namibia, Kenya, Zaire, Ivory Coast, El Salvador, Chile, Philippines, South Korea, Indonesia, Grenada, Fanon's 'Wretched of the Earth,' who have declared loud and clear that they do not sleep to dream, 'but dream to change the world'" (3). It seems almost naive now to make such claims for work in postcolonial studies and Canadian literature. However, I suggest that both the Sugars and Lazarus collections signal the urgency of reclaiming postcolonial futures and the language of dreaming. In this reclamation, I am not advocating a return to some perceived moment of origins, innocence, or intellectual purity. Rather, I hope to illustrate the ways in which these reappraisals of postcolonial and Canadian literary studies are grounded in narratives of longing. Further, following the work of David Scott, I suggest that we need to understand "the ways in which the expectation of--or longing for--particular futures helps to shape the kind of problem the past is constructed as for the present" (31). Thus, the disenchantment I detect in both texts reveals that the object of these longings comprise a narrative which looks forward through the desires of looking back. In advocating the reclamation of postcolonial futures, I am also asking for a reclamation of postcolonial pasts, of the dreams, desires, and possibilities which mark postcolonial and Canadian literary studies.

This disenchantment lies partly with the ways in which the institutionalization of these once relatively marginal fields of study has not necessarily resulted in contributions for genuine social change. There is also a sense, particularly in the case of the Lazarus volume, that these achievements have been won at the cost of foundational commitments to radical politics such as Marxism and anticolonial nationalism. Resisting smug triumphalism and empty celebrations, both texts emphasize the inadequacy of institutionalization and raise serious questions for the trajectories of these fields. In both texts, there is a sense of a disjuncture between where Canadian literature and postcolonial studies began and where it is now.

While this disjuncture might also be read under the sign of progress, it nevertheless demands a narrative of origins. Sugars's Introduction to Home-Work provides one such narrative. …

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