Postcolonial Studies: A Materialist Critique

By Benita Parry | Go to book overview

3

Resistance theory/theorizing resistance or two cheers for nativism

[I]t is not the literal past, the 'facts' of history, that shape us, but images of the past embodied in language … we must never cease renewing those images, because once we do, we fossilize.

Brian Friel, Translations (1981), p. 66

That the colonized were never successfully pacified is well known to the postcolonial study of colonialism and the long and discontinuous process of decolonization. 1 But proposals on how resistance is to be theorized display faultlines within the discussion that rehearse questions about subjectivity, identity, agency and the status of the reverse-discourse as an oppositional practice, posing problems about the appropriate models for contemporary counter-hegemonic work. An agenda which disdains the objective of restoring the colonized as subject of its own history does so on the grounds that a simple inversion perpetuates the colonizer/colonized opposition within the terms defined by colonial discourse, remaining complicit with its assumptions by retaining undifferentiated identity categories, and failing to contest the conventions of that system of knowledge it supposedly challenges. Instead the project of a postcolonial critique is designated as deconstructing and displacing the eurocentric premises of a discursive apparatus which constructed the Third World not only for the west but also for the cultures so represented. 2

The performance of such procedures supports Richard Terdiman's contention that 'no discourse is ever a monologue; nor could it ever be analyzed intrinsically … everything that constitutes it always presupposes a horizon of competing, contrary utterances against which it asserts its own energies'. 3 However, the statements of the theoretical paradigms, in which it can appear that the efficacy of colonialism's apparatus of social control in effecting strategies of disempowerment is totalized, are liable to be read as producing the colonized as a stable category fixed in a position of subjugation, hence foreclosing on the possibility of theorizing resistance. Even if this is a crass misrepresen-tation of the project, the colonized's refusals of their assigned positions as subjected and disarticulated are not - and within its terms cannot be - accorded centre stage.

The premise to modes of criticism within the postcolonial critique which are attentive to those moments and processes when the colonized clandestinely or overtly took up countervailing stances is that no system of coercion or hegemony is ever able wholly to determine the range of subject positions. For although the colonial is a product of colonialism's ideological machinery, the formation of its differentiated and

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