Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Revisiting Arif Dirlik on "The Postcolonial Aura"

Arif Dirlik, "The Postcolonial Aura: Third World Criticism in the Age of Global Capitalism." Critical inquiry 20 (Winter 1994): 328-356.

Cited in "Postcolonialisms." Ed. Gaurav Desai and Supriya Nair.

Postcolonial vs. Third World:

Even at its most concrete, the significance of postcolonial is not transparent, because each of its meanings is overdetermined by the others. Postcolonial intellectuals are clearly the producers of a postcolonial discourse, but who exactly are the postcolonial intellectuals? Here the contrast between postcolonial and its predecessor term, Third World, may be revealing. The term Third World, postcolonial critics insist, was quite vague in encompassing within one uniform category vastly heterogeneous historical circumstances and in locking in fixed positions, structurally if not geographically, societies and populations that shifted with changing global relationships. Although this objection is quite valid, the fixing of societal locations, misleadingly or not, permitted the identification of say, Third world intellectuals with the concreteness of places of origin. Postcolonial does not permit such identification. I wondered above whethe rther might have been a postcolonial consciousness, by which I mean the consciousness that postcolonial intellectuals claim as a hallmark of their intellectual endeavors, even before it was so labeled. Probably there was, although it was invisible because subsumed under the category Third World. Now that postcolonialisty has been released from the fixity of Third World location, the identity of the postcolonial is no longer structural but discursive. (564)

Quoting Gyan Prakash on the fundamental epistemological shift reflected by postcolonial criticism:

One of the distinct effects of the recent emergence of postcolonial criticism has been to force a radical re-thinking and re-formulation of forms of knowledge and social identities authored and authorized by colonialism and western domination. For this reason, it has also created a ferment in the field of knowledge. This is not to say that colonialism and its legacies remained unquestioned until recently: nationalism and marxism come immediately to mind as powerful challenges to colonialism. But both of these operated with master narratives that put Europe at its center. Thus, when nationalism, reversing Orientalist thought, attributed agency and history to the subjected nation, it also staked a claim to the order of Reason and
Progress instituted by colonialism; and when marxists pilloried colonialism, their criticism was framed by a universalist mode-of production narrative. Recent postcolonial criticism, on the other hand, seeks to undo the Eurocentrism produced by the institution of the west's trajectory, its appropriation of the other as History. It does so, however, with the acute realization that postcoloniality is not born and nurtured in a panoptic distance from history. The postcolonial exists as an aftermath, as an after--after being worked over by colonialism. Criticism formed in this process of the enunciation of discourses of domination occupies a space that is neither inside nor outside the history of western domination but in a tangential relation to it. This is what Homi Bhabha calls an in-between, hybrid position of practice and negotiation, or what Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak terms catachresis; "reversing, displacing, and seizing the apparatus of value-coding." (564-565)

(The Gyan Prakash essay cited is "Postcolonial Criticism and Indian Historiography," Social Text, no. 31/32 (1992): 8. Another essay often cited by Dirlik is "Writing Post-Orientalist Histories of the Third world: Perspectives from Indian Historiography. Comparative Studies in Society and History 32 (April 1990): 383. )

On the gap between diasporic postcolonialists and actual non-western intellectual communities over the value the term "postcolonial":

On the other hand, the term postcolonial, understood in terms of its discursive thematics, excludes from its scope most of those who inhabit or hail from postcolonial societies. It does not account for the attractions of modernization and nationalism to vast numbers in Third World populations, let alone to those marginalized by national incorporation in the global economy. Prakash seems to acknowledge this when he observes that "outside the first world, in India itself, the power of western discourses operates through its authorization and deployment by the
nation-state-the ideologies of modernization and instrumentalist science are so deeply sedimented in the national body politic that they neither manifest themselves nor function exclusively as forms of imperial power" ("PC," p. 10). It excludes the many ethnic groups in postcolonial societies (among others) that, obviously unaware of their hybridity, go on massacring one another. (568)

And here is Dirlik's payoff, the bitter medicine for postcolonial intellectuals:

What then may be the value of a term that includes so much beyond and excludes so much of its own postulated premise, the colonial? What it leaves us with is what I have already hinted at: postcolonial, rather than a description of anything, is a discourse that seeks to constitute the world in the self-image of intellectuals who view themselves (or have come to view themselves) as postcolonial intellectuals. That is, to recall my initial statement concerning Third World intellectuals who have arrived in First World academe, postcolonial discourse is an expression not so much of agony over identity, as it often appears, but of newfound power. (569)

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