The Short Story: An Introduction

By Paul March-Russell | Go to book overview

20
Voyages Out:
The Postcolonial Short Story

E. M. Forster's A Passage to India (1924) is one of the seminal literary texts for postcolonial criticism, and like Forster's novel, this final chapter is less a 'rounding off' than an 'opening out' (Forster 1962: 170). It is an inescapable fact that, as David Punter has argued in Postcolonial Imaginings (2000), the postcolonial now underwrites both the relationship and the social conditions of East and West. Unfortunately, it is less easy to say what the postcolonial is since many academics contest the term's usefulness. Part of the reason for this anomaly is that the concept has changed its meaning. At the start of the 1970s, when 'postcolonial' first began to be widely used, it was simply a descriptive tool denoting the societies that had emerged after the process of decolonisation following World War Two. By the start of the 1980s, 'postcolonial' had become an analytical method for explaining the cultural products of either the colonial past or the liberated present. 'Postcolonial' in, for example, the work of its principal theoreticians, Homi Bhabha, Edward Said and Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak, was increasingly concerned with the analysis of discursive representation (although substantial contradictions existed between their respective positions). The phrase 'postcolonial literature' supplanted the earlier, more consensual description of 'Commonwealth literature' and emphasised conflict and tension (as, for example, in the critical anthology The Empire Writes Back, 1989). The subject's redefinition raised questions about its content: were the colonial experiences of former dominions with large settler populations, such as Australia, Canada, New Zealand and South Africa, the same as subject nations ruled by a small elite, as was the case elsewhere in Africa, Asia, the Caribbean and the South Pacific? In the years following the break-up of the Soviet Union and the expansion of the global economy, postcolonial studies have been further redefined so that the

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