Academic journal article Journal of Philosophy: A Cross Disciplinary Inquiry

A Land-Based Approach to Postcolonial, Post-Modern Novels

Academic journal article Journal of Philosophy: A Cross Disciplinary Inquiry

A Land-Based Approach to Postcolonial, Post-Modern Novels

Article excerpt

"The white man is very clever. He came quietly and peaceably with his religion. We were amused at his foolishness and allowed him to stay. Now he has won our brothers, and our clan can no longer act like one. He has put a knife on the things that held us together and we have fallen apart."' (1) This passage comes from Chinua Achebe's 1959 seminal work Things Fall Apart, a novel written thirty-nine years after the publication of William Butler Yeats' poem "The Second Coming," which famously declares, "Turning and turning in the widening gyre/The Falcon cannot hear the falconer;/Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;/Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world." (2)

The connections between the Yeats' poem and Achebe's novel and between modernism and post-colonialism appear obvious at first and seem to require little if any investigation or analysis: in both cases, an elusive event at some point in the past leads to the end of stability and the beginning of an era of uncertainty and chaos; and in both instances dislodged, disillusioned individuals seek some source of stability and, by extension, a new direction through art. But this familiar line of inquiry that highlights these thematic and contextual parallels moves us precipitously away from the obvious but important questions implied by both works and respective movements, which is to say: what are the "Things" that fell apart; what, exactly, does it mean to "fall apart"; and finally, how effectively did each set of artists go about putting these things back together?

Of course the answers to these questions from a modernist or even postmodern perspective seem fairly clear (anyone who has taught a class or course on Modernism is likely familiar with that seemingly ubiquitous list of modernist traits and characteristics, a list that includes a sense of alienation, a shared feeling of disillusionment, an inability to act, and, as corollary characteristics, a tendency to construct new worlds/realities from fragments and to chart new directions in art and culture through innovations and, paradoxically, allusions).3 But rather than returning to this list to underline connections between two eras and their respective texts, I want to provide a way of approaching these questions and these novels that enables us to provide a new perspective, one that is not Modern or Postmodern or even Post-Postmodern. Instead, my aim is to address these questions associated with things falling apart here and abroad, then and now, from a vantage point outside of a Eurocentric and often anthropocentric position, the one many of us invariably occupy as readers and critics living downstream from the Modern Period.

II The Modernist Aesthetic

Through innovations that invited readers to piece together cultural detritus, modernists sought ways to reconstitute reality, even if what resulted was-with the reader's help--only a provisional stay against an uncertain, unstable future. Some authors, such as Ezra Pound for instance, attempted to strip away artifice and to offer the minimal as a means of protecting it from corruption. (4) In different ways but for similar reasons, others piled images and allusions and, in the process, attempted to tether synthetic scenes and fictive worlds through allusions to older, seemingly more stable places and times set at some considerable temporal distance. In these ways, the writers attempted to steady things and fix meaning in the moment. The one author in particular who most clearly represents this effort to respond to the idea that things had fallen apart was T. S. Eliot. In The Waste Land, Eliot suggested that "reality" was "an internal and changeable [entity], not an external, concrete reality," (5) and the important work likewise signified a "collapse of the object into the subject," a sentiment that resonates with then-emerging thinking about humankind's place in the living, natural world. This was a potentially promising turn in art, from the standpoint of bringing it in line with nature and a more ecological worldview. …

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