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Postcolonialism and Literature – Reading the others. Doubts and Orientalism. — Bodies in the Library:
The good thing about blogging is that allows a fluid communication and flow of ideas. Here are some I’d like to comment on: Amanda said: One thing I’ve wondered about though previously–do we have to be careful in looking at other viewpoints (female, minority, etc.) to not praise them just for being “other,” but to carefully evaluate their worth as well? Absolutely! Thanks to your response I can introduce Edward Said’s work Orientalism. In that wonderful book, he dealt with how the West represents the East. Have you ever thought about it? If you had the opportunity to approach a colonial text, you will find a patronizing point of view: the great Western powers have to take care of the poor, weak and ignorant Eastern countries. As a consequence, the East is always feminine (let’s not forget the others in Western socities: women) and its jungles are usually “penetrated” and its people, tammed and helped. To exemplify my point, I think you can read Rudyard Kipling’s poem The White Man’s Burden where he wants white men to take the “burden! of educating and dealing with those “ungrateful natives” they are “helping”. However, if you don’t feel like it, here are the first four lines: Take up the White Man’s burden– Send forth the best ye breed– Go bind your sons to exile To serve your captives’ need; Another important point Said makes is: why the Western powers act this way?His’ is a simple and wonderful explanation: by defining the East as savages, uncivilized, cold, exotic, lazy etc, the West is defining itself as the opposite. To put it plainly: they are savages because they haven’t read Aristotle, then, we are educated. Mel_u said: I felt embarrassed recently when a novel that is not really good at all by a Filipino author was praised as a work of great genius all over the book blog world because nobody wanted to appear to have a “colonial mentality” True. That is one of the problems with any kind of special approach to literature, in fact, of any label. As soon as you label something postcolonial, you are making a difference. But, in order to undestand the true meaning of such works, I think a little bit of labelling is needed. Actually, Margaret Atwood wrote a wonderful short story on this issue of being too politically correct. It is called THERE WAS ONCE (click to read it) and it’s a two-page long story. It will take you five minutes and it’ll change your perception of… everything! Also, someone at Jillian’s blog said she only liked reading the canonical masculine productions and that feminine works/postcolonial works tried too hard to make their point and sacrified the story. I cannot but strongly disagree: white men belonging to the canon also make their points but we take for granted their points, views and opinions! Plus, some women from a feminist tradition can fall into that trying-too-hard label, so can postcolonial writers, but so did white men! Please check Macaulay’s Minute on Indian Education. Consider how he presents the superiority of the English by means of linguistic and literary superiority. In the complete text, he even argues English is older than Sanscrit. The intrinsic superiority of the Western literature is, indeed, fully admitted by those members of the Committee who support the Oriental plan of education. We have to educate a people who cannot at present be educated by means of their mother-tongue. We must teach them some foreign language. The claims of our own language (English) it is hardly necessary to recapitulate. It stands pre-eminent even among the languages of the west. It abounds with works of imagination not inferior to the noblest which Greece has bequeathed to us; Now, if that’s not trying too hard to make his point, I don’t know what can it be! I hope I have resolved some of your doubts but, unluckily, there are too many troublesome issues. However, I will try to deal with the suggested readings and texts being as objective as I can and never forgetting their historical, economical and social context. For me, reading postcolonial literature is as easy as reading any other genre: the reader has to balance the quality of the text without forgetting its background. Many argued: One has to read the classics. Yes, obviously. I have never (and will never ever) deny this. The canon is there and has to be read, but that does not imply that we cannot doubt about it, contrast it or even complement it with other works. I never suggested Jillian should stop reading the classics, I just suggested she complemented her literary perception of past centuries with other voices. Suggested readings: Margaret Atwood’s short story THERE WAS ONCE – The argument between a mother and her daughter when telling a canonical fairy tale. Really funny, Macaulay‘s Minute on Indian Education. A report trying to convince Englishmen of the necessity of helping Indians, of making them English. Although this is a cruel, snob and derrogatory text, it can exemplify the Western approach of Eastern countries. Upadate: Some interviews with the late Edward Said, to whom we owe a lot. Interview with Edward Said. Really, really interesting, it summarizes his main points: Americans and Orientalism nowadays: the problem of Americans facint the Middle East. Orientalism as a tool for colonisation and cinematographic representations: