Post-colonialist theory as opium

So argue-eth Ali Eteraz. Take a look, it’s worth the read.

Post-colonial theory grew out of the experience of de-colonization.

The father figure of post-colonial thought is Frantz Fanon writing in the 50s/60s. Fanon’s argument was that even though the colonialists were leaving the (then called) Third World, the colonial mindset was still implanted with the minds of the formerly colonized and if they did not cleanse their own thinking of the colonial mindset, the people would never be free to choose their own way, validate their own existence/dignity, and lead their own lives. [Fanon it should be said was also a revolutionary and a major apologizer for violence against non-combatants in Algeria. He argued that revolutionary cadres should attack the occupier, force the occupier into a slaughter of innocent civilians thereby galvanizing support for a mass violent uprising].

In Middle Eastern history the name most associated with post-colonialism is of course the late Edward Said (a Christian not a Muslim btw). Said’s Orientalism is one of the most influential texts on the subject (depending on your pov for both good or ill). Said argued that the West defined itself as the Rational Modern in opposition to the “Mystical” Orient. The whole image of the Middle East as exotic, flying carpet rides, the whole thing. Or more darkly as irrational (i.e. the media image in the West of Arab Men as psycho terrorists). Now certainly there’s truth in this, but the question is what next? Where do we go from here?

Here’s Eteraz:

In that book, Mr. Said managed to show that Western perceptions of non-Westerners were constructed in a peculiar manner, so as to give affirmation to the superiority of the Westerners over that of the Easterner. He looked at hundreds of manuscripts and scholars from the 18th and 19th century to make his point conclusive. What followed from Mr. Said’s inquiry was a continuation by a number of post-colonial revisionist scholars who went into more and more books to make the point that Mr. Said had already made.

A wonderful inquiry? Yes, by all means. Sadly, the eventual effects of post-colonialism have led to the entrenchment of apathy.

How? Because for Eteraz all it focuses on is negating negative influences from the past (and their effect on current perceptions). Worse it appears that the truly revolutionary thing to do is deconstruct texts or images or propaganda/views of the dominant Other (to use their own language for a second).

Even worse of course when it is the first text studied (as opposed to being read in conjunction with or after the texts Said critiques), especially from those outside the historical and cultural context (i.e. how well does post-colonial theory work for people who were never colonized?).

Not to mention that by always studying the colonized, the colonizer, and the past it can negatively reinforce the sense of historical weight and slavery associated with it (engendering for Eteraz apathy).

Eteraz stinging:

Look at how embracing the post-colonial method creates apathy, the belief that you’ve done your part just by doing some research. A young student reads Orientalism and provides his own post-colonial critique of major American and European texts. There’s an opium-like rush in taking control of the words of another author and showing all the hypocrisy and embedded racism in the words. So high does one get from doing this that the young student tries to perfect this method so that he can apply a post-colonial reading to anything. And that is how post-colonial studies spreads. It is a narcotic – and narcotis needs addicts.

The problem with post-colonial studies is not that it equips a person to read and research critically. No, that’s a gift to be cherished. Rather, the problem is that post-colonial studies perpetuates the idea that one has done his part in attacking the status quo by showing that society’s perceptions have been constructed by racist texts in the past. Showing racism in books does serve a valuable function, but it is a function that is merely ancillary to the needs of the average under-represented and oppressed groups of society.

All of that comes at the expense of dealing with the actual problems people face–economic, governmental, psychological, technological, so on and so forth.

One more time:

Post-colonialism’s infiltration of major creative writing and English departments across the world means that potential writers, instead of creating works fiction and creative non-fiction, are becoming critics instead. A university, instead of teaching Shakespeare, teaches a literary critic’s version of Shakespeare. Literature loses its inspirational function.

The reading of literature becomes an academic exercise. And although the application of a particular theory makes one feel as if he’s accomplished something, the feeling is illusory. At the end of the day, he’s contributed nothing to the present except another footnote in the library stacks.

As I said before (see here), I think there is a place unto itself for literary criticism along the lines laid out by Northrop Frye (which can include but is much wider than deconstructive type readings), but that needs to be separate from the work of artists themselves. Eteraz is right, when artists become critics, art is degraded. For a path for artists see the Polysemy Crew.

In philosophy which Eteraz also mentions, I see a way forward in the work of Jurgen Habermas, who takes seriously the criticisms of the postmodern writers (includes them) but also realizes (a la Eteraz) on their own they fail. Good diagnosis, horrible prescription in other words. Habermas then opens up a way for the dignity of modernity (which I think points to the concrete creative solutions Eteraz desires though I don’t want to put words in his mouth) without the disasters as Habermas calls them of modernity. Modernization as opposed to Westernization. If it becomes truly modernization then the post-colonialists will become mute seeing as they do any modernization as inherently Westo-centric and oppressive.

And in a larger arc, I see it as some basic fundamental choices. A person (if they are going to consider these issues in a reflective manner that is) and comes into contact with this postmodern world, they can either ignore it and criticize it (notice Eteraz doesn’t do that, he recognizes some contributions where due) and return to a kind of fundamentalist modernism (e.g. New Atheism, Hirshi Ali). Or return to a religious fundamentalism. Or become prone to this pomo disease: accurately in many regards criticizing what has come before and what currently exists but offering no forward thinking way out, no creative solutions.

Or, the path I think that has the most to offer, an integral way.


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2 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. Nice post, I will definitely be reading that Eteraz article.

  2. If Ali had his way, the keys for success for all non-western countries is to simply abandoned their culture and traditions and just implant mainstream western culture and government everyone will live happily ever after but this is just as ridiculous as the extremist Muslim, who want western nation to abandoned their history, culture and religious freedom and implant Islamic laws and everyone would live happily ever after.

    Here, he does not have courage to outright criticize the giant Edward Said, who dwarfs him, so he rather takes on readers of his work.

    So his methodology is to try dismantle one of the biggest obstacles to westernization of the Middle East and that the despicable history of colonization or raping of the world and its resources. Of course this puts the glorious West in a negative light, so he has attacks anything that puts the west in a negative light and magnifies anything that East or Muslim in a negative light.

    What should be remembered is that the West made the rules of the contemporary world, and measures it in their own terms, manipulate it economically and militarily to their favor and by virtue of that, other non-western countries can’t keep up. Its for this reason, Iraq is a complete failure because they are attempting to re-build with norm consistent with western culture, ignoring its own unique culture, history, ethnic strife, and on the ground realities. Perhaps this is why the tyrant Saddam Hussein had done a better job of maintaining law and order than the U.S. and their western-back puppet government, this is an embarrassment perhaps someone should remind Ali of this.

    Lastly, Ali has the audacity to criticize someone, who simply criticizes, but if you read his blog as I do it can all be summed up as sour grapes and criticisms of all things Muslims simply because it is not on par with the West. There is a word for this hypocrisy.

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