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Postcolonial Criticism

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Presentation on theme: "Postcolonial Criticism"— Presentation transcript:

1 Postcolonial Criticism
Some quick preliminaries

2 To understand Postcolonial Crit…
you have to understand a little about the history of colonialism and the kinds of injustice which it fostered.

3 Colonialism? = the project of European political, economic, and military world domination from the late 15th to the mid-late 20th century.

4 In the late 15th century, “colonialism increased decisively because of technological developments in navigation that began to connect more remote parts of the world. Fast sailing ships made it possible to reach distant ports while sustaining closer ties between the center and colonies. Thus, the modern European colonial project emerged when it became possible to move large numbers of people across the ocean and to maintain political sovereignty in spite of geographical dispersion.”

5 Spain France England Portugal The Netherlands Who did the colonizing?

6 Early 20th Cen. British Empire

7 “Colonialism and imperialism were forms of conquest expected to benefit Europe economically and strategically.”


9 Of course, um… the same could not be said for those who had been colonized.



12 Subjugated peoples have had to cope with:
Shattered IDENTITY: cultural, social, and personal. The alienation, culture shock, fear, humiliation, and grief caused by losing or being forced to suppress their own values, habits, beliefs, and identity. Example: laws which forced subjects to speak only English. Forbidding the use of one’s native tongue can do long-lasting and pervasive emotional, psychological, and social damage.

13 CULTURAL GENOCIDE. The colonized country doesn’t simply adopt the culture and values of their colonizers. You don’t just replace deeply held social and personal beliefs at the flick of a switch. A whole process of decay, cultural limbo, and displacement sets in as one country is overtaken by another. Breakdown of social structures is virtually inevitable. With colonization, a country’s history, codes, and values are lost or confused between generations. Anthropology, History, and Sociology show that the ill effects of imperial intrusion and native culture collapse can remain long after a conquering force has departed, permeating the culture at all levels and persisting through generations. Colonized peoples develop DOUBLE CONSCIOUSNESS: a way of perceiving the world that is divided between two antagonistic cultures: that of the colonizer and that of the indigenous community. Colonized peoples develop UNHOMELINESS (Said) : the feeling of being a psychological refugee caught between cultures and not properly “at home” anywhere; the trauma of cultural displacement and marginalization.

14 More Key Terms Post-colonialism: refers to the political, cultural, and psychological struggles of societies transitioning out of political dependence to sovereignty.

15 It’s Not Just Physical (More Key Terms)
Cultural Oppression = the colonizing country’s control of language, religion, knowledge, communication, social codes, and customs. Colonial Ideology = the belief system of the invading country which holds that the indigenous people are inferior or less than fully human. (They are demonic or exotic “others.”) This ideology (explicitly and implicitly) marks the colonizer as “the center” and the subjugated person as “the margin.” Colonial Subjects = colonized peoples who do not resist subjugation because they have internalized the oppressor’s ideology. I.e., they actually come to believe that they themselves are inferior and the oppressor is superior.

16 Right Here at Home…

17 “In 1493, when Columbus returned to the Hispaniola, he quickly implemented policies of slavery and mass extermination of the Taino population of the Caribbean. Within three years, five million were dead. Las Casas, the primary historian of the Columbian era, writes of many accounts of the horrors that the Spanish colonists inflicted upon the indigenous population: hanging them en mass, hacking their children into pieces to be used as dog feed, and other horrid cruelties. The works of Las Casas are often omitted from popular American history books and courses because Columbus is considered a hero by many, even today.”



20 Genocide: the deliberate and systematic destruction of an ethnic, religious or national group.
"By conservative estimates, the population of the United states prior to European contact was greater than 12 million. Four centuries later, the count was reduced by 95% to 237 thousand.”

21 The number of indigenous people annihilated in the U. S
The number of indigenous people annihilated in the U.S. exceeds the number of natives “eliminated” in any other invaded country on earth?


The U.S. Government failed to honor ANY of its original treaties with native people here.

24 1868 Treaty at Fort Laramie U.S. government designates the Black Hills as belonging to the Great Sioux Reservation, “set aside for exclusive use by the Sioux people,” for their children and grandchildren forever. That is, oops, until the discovery of gold there in 1874, at which point we promptly violated our treaty and took back that land. Source: U.S. National Archives



27 Of course, of course, of course…
None of the above is without debate. Postcolonial Studies is a complex field, with considerable discord over a range of issues. Was European colonialism in any way good for the colonized countries? Was European colonialism worse than the kinds of oppression wrought by non-Europeans on their own peoples?

28 Most people these days, though,
no longer think of “colonialism” or imperialism” as ETHICALLY OR MORALLY ACCEPTABLE—certainly not as “natural” givens. No one has the right to parade into another country to plunder its resources. No one has the natural right to impose their own culture on anyone else, or to irreparably damage the culture of another country for financial or strategic gain.

29 of Right ought to be Free and Independent States
If we thought any of that were ok, we’d be violating the fundamental principles of our own Declaration of Independence. We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. repeated Petitions have been answered only by repeated injury. under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, O ye hypocrites!

30 A current issue of debate:
is colonialism a thing of the past? Is “post” colonialism even an accurate term? Some would say that we’re currently in an age of: NEOCOLONIALISM: the present, corporate globalized form of colonialism. Subjugation of vulnerable nations at the hands of international corporations… “…often at the expense of those countries’ own struggling businesses, cultural traditions, and ecological well-being.” CULTURAL IMPERIALISM: the spread of an economically dominant culture’s values, practices, and beliefs.

31 The spread and global dominance of American corporate products and consumer culture might be considered a form of “cultural imperialism.” (You’re travelling along a barren stretch of the Mongolian desert and suddenly there’s…a McDonald’s! Or you’re in Napal to learn about their particular brand of Buddhism and their ancient customs, and you find that all of the remote mountain temples you visit have Coke machines! Or you’ve gone to the Yucatan to learn about the native people there and find children wearing t-shirts that read “Britney Spears Rocks” or “Shop Till You Drop.”) Under this form of imperialism, American consumer goods, TV shows, music, etc. are considered central while the cultural productions of other countries (especially those lacking huge corporate presences) are regarded as marginal.

32 a colonialist enterprise?
Is the Iraq War… a colonialist enterprise?

33 Of course, all of this DRAMATICALLY effects
the LITERATURE which emerges from a country—either by the colonized peoples themselves or by the settler peoples.

34 Anyone who studies English literature
must necessarily contend with Postcolonial Criticism and postcolonial issues. The British empire at one time covered a quarter of the globe—with the result that a great number of the world’s peoples came to speak and write English as a first or second language. And American genocide and imperialism along with the phenomenon of globalization have of course spread English around the world.

35 So, how does Poco Crit actually get applied to Literature???

36 Postcolonial Crit, like Feminist and Marxist Crit.,
aims to change things. “A foundational concept of postcolonial criticism is anticolonial resistance” (424) Poco Crit also wants to bring “to the fore the works of Third and Fourth World writers” (426).

37 pp ; and especially p. 431. How are various forms of postcolonial trauma represented in a work? What binaries are operating in the work, and which half of the binary is privileged over the other? How does a given work demonize, marginalize, or “other” a particular group in order to affirm its own identity as “the standard,” “the center,” or the positive side of the binary? What does a work tell us about the personal experience of people whom history has ignored? After all, literature dramatizes the lives of ordinary characters; it’s a perfect laboratory or screen for playing out and investigating what ideology does to people at the micro-levels of culture and society.

38 But Poco Crit is not a simple, clear-cut way of analyzing literature, and it can take many forms. Poco Crit can actually be applied to texts which have no direct connection to literal colonialism. Its uses, in other words, are quite broad.

39 Whatever else you may think of this sort of criticism…
it gives you a language and a strategy for identifying abuses of power and for protecting yourself or anyone else from traditional injustices.

40 It can’t hurt to educate yourself about the relationship between power and ideology. After all, it affects everything we do—including the writing and study of literature.

41 Identifying Poco Criticism in Practice
What terms are you likely to encounter in a work of postcolonial criticism? What would a postcolonialist essay likely be trying to do in regards to the literature it is analyzing?

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