Subversion versus Rejection: Can Postcolonial Writers Subvert the Codified Using the Language of the Empire?

Brandon Brown, English 27, 1997

Language is power, the "power to name" and therefore to construct the lens through which understanding takes place. Asthe "most potent instrument of culture control," the language of the colonial power therefore played an essential role in the process of colonization. Because the literature of former imperial colonies decentralizes language control, to a certain extent it decolonizes by its very nature. The "bilingual intelligentsia" of postcolonial writers must negotiate the power dynamics regarding such tensions as colonized-colonizer and indigenous-alien. postcolonial literature itself is a battle ground in which the active pursuit of decolonization continues to be played out. Armed with their pens, the said authors address "the dominance of imperial language" as it relates to educational systems, to economic structures, and perhaps more importantly to the medium through which anti-imperial ideas are cast (Ashcroft 283). The postcolonial voice can decide to resist imperial lionguistic domination in two ways -- by rejecting the language of the colonizer or by subverting the empire by writing back in a European language.

Frantz Fanon describes the dialectic of language between the colonized and the colonizer bleakly. According to him, "the colonized is raised above jungle status [in the eyes of the colonizer] in proportion to his adoption of the mother country's cultural standards." Fanon, who rejects the codified colonizer-colonized relationship, advocates total rejection of the standards of the colonizing culture including its language. Fanon believs that "a man who has a language consequently possesses the world expressed and implied by that language" (qtd. in Rusell, postcolonial Web). Fanon reasons that he who has taken up the language of the colonizer has accepted the world of the colonizer and therefore the standards of the colonizer.

Following Fanon, Ngugi Wa Thiongo also proposes a program of radical decolonization in his collection of essays Decolonising the Mind, which points out specific ways that the language of African literature manifests the dominance of the empire. He builds an powerful argument for African writers to write in traditional languages of Africa rather than in the European languages. Writing in the language of the colonizer, he claims, means that many of one's own people -- meaning those people with whom a postcolonial writer identifies by nativity -- are not able to read one's original work. About African literature written in European language Ngugi writes, "its greatest weakness still lay where it has always been, in the audience -- the petty-bourgeoisie readership automatically assumed by the very choice of language" (22). According to him, literature written in a European language cannot claim to be African literature, and therefore he classifies the works by Soyinka, Achebe, and Okara as Afro-European literature.

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