Academic journal article Nebula

Reflective Solutions: How Athol Fugard's My Children! My Africa! Mirrors the Tension between Postcolonial Theory and Postcolonial Criticism

Academic journal article Nebula

Reflective Solutions: How Athol Fugard's My Children! My Africa! Mirrors the Tension between Postcolonial Theory and Postcolonial Criticism

Article excerpt


While South African playwright Athol Fugard has been praised internationally for his incisive and courageous theater during the apartheid era in South Africa, he has also faced accusations of basically being an outsider to the plight of black Africans. In other words, while he was intellectually involved in the campaign to do away with that system of oppression, critics claimed his "otherness" never allowed him to become fully engaged in the actual struggle for liberation. Because of that, he never saw the fight as a life and death struggle but rather as a form of dialogue whereby all it would take would be some convincing and logic--and the propagators of apartheid would be shamed into taking the whole edifice down.

A similar argument has been made against the form of outsider postcolonial theory espoused by intellectuals such as Homi Bhabha, V.S. Naipaul, and Gayatri Spivak. For example, Bhabha argues for a theory of cultural identity that is not fixed, that is lacking in essence, that is filled with ambiguity and is constructed rather than being self-evident, something he calls the "third space of enunciation" and which "challenges our sense of the historical identity of culture as a homogenizing, unifying force, authenticated by the originary Past, kept alive in the national tradition of the People" (37).

Challenging this notion of "a liminal space ... a transitory space, a space other, a third space that is not here/there, but both" (De Toro 20), are writers who argue that this type of theory is merely a "metaphysics of textualism" and a "cult of linguistic/psychological ambivalence" (San Juan 22). San Juan goes as far as to claim that the "indeterminacy," "deracinated sensibility," and "utopian idealisms" put forward by such theorists, the majority "entrenched in the Establishment institutions of the West," only "served the interests of the global status quo," and "mystify the political/ideological effects of Western postmodernist hegemony and prevent change" (22). Instead of this, San Juan suggests that we need to concern ourselves with "the law of uneven and combined [global] development," and the "spatiotemporal contexts on which [postcolonial] meaning and value hinge" (15).

In this way, San Juan is closer to the views of postcolonial theorists such as Said, Ahmad, and Rushdie. According to Yacoubi, this view "rests in a shared notion that history, narrative, and politics are inextricably intertwined" and that the main obligation of the intellectual was "to speak out against power, to question structures of coercion, injustice, and silencing. The task of the intellectual would be to create alternative readings of history and culture" (193).

In this paper, an attempt will be made to analyze Fugard's My Children! My Africa! in the light of the confrontation between orthodox postcolonial theory and postcolonial criticism. The first part of the paper consists of a brief study of this confrontation. Postcolonial Theory: The New Orthodoxy Criticized

In brief, Bhabha's reading of postcolonialism goes beyond politics and political action. It also goes beyond the binary oppositions such as colonial/postcolonial. His proposed method of escaping the so-called colonial discourse is to analyze the "processes of subjectification" (67). He views the system of colonial stereotyping as "phobia and fetish" that "threatens the closure of the racial/epidermal schema for the colonial subject and opens the royal road to colonial fantasy" (67). At the same time Bhabha denies the power of human agency in this process.

According to Massad, Bhabha seems "to be committed to depoliticizing deeply political questions" (15). Another accusation is that Bhabha does not go far enough in his poststructuralism, and that his work is ambivalent, and remains Eurocentric and essentialist in nature. According to Yacoubi:

   Ambivalence has not rehabilitated the existential and
   epistemological status of real colonized subjects in history. … 
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