Post(-)colonialismS: "A tale full of fury and sound" as negation of the writing of the self

Marcella Romeo, University of Palermo, Italy


Focusing on writing as a site capable of fragmenting the stereotypes of thought, this survey outlines the post(-)colonial as a coercive category whose discoursive proliferation keeps denying once-colonised peoples the construction of autonomous economic and socio-cultural spaces. Far from espousing the increasing convergence between post(-)colonial and trans-cultural theories, it reinforces a kind of interrogation that, while enhancing those areas in which polyphonic and intertwined identities are historically stratified, coexist and juxtapose each other. It also accounts for a proper reading of the inner nature of the colonial relationship.

"Writing weaves into language the complex relations of a subject caught between the problems of race and gender and the practice of literature as the very place where social alienation is thwarted differently according to each specific context". -- Trin T Minh-ha (1989: 43)

Intended as the space where language, taking on a life of its own, becomes an objectivity, literature enacts discoursive trajectories where the writer finds herself/himself subjected to an alien logic, and writing, as Minh-ha specifies, "proceeds by scrutinising itself and by constantly undoing the previous contextual meanings arrived at" (1996: 6). As a counter-memory, thus, literary production can be conceived of as a cluster of experienced "transformations." This analysis examines these transformations within their local historical framework.

In a historical moment of cultural de-differentiation, however, literature is overpowered by processes of homogenisation that risks flattenening it out under the catching-all global paradigm. Cultural dissonances are becoming part of an anachronistic and conservative lexicon; while emphasising discourses on globalisation and hybridisation of writing and language magnifies heterogeneous and heterogenising interpretative categories of literary writing. These categories in turn serve as a metaphor for the supposedly inherent nomadism of contemporary reality that guard against any forms of provincialism. And yet, the literary space, which by definition dislocates the centre of discussion, remains a site and an agent of transition, a complex instance of situationally negotiated text that may produce oppositionality being simultaneously responsive to it. A system of relationships accounting for self-enactment, proper metaphor of the contemporary non-unitary subjectivity, and, if not encysted in homologating cultural contexts, agent of freedom capable of acting against the suppression of the local and the effacement of difference. In contexts where, as Ngugi wa Thiongo powerfully observes, "language and literature were taking us further and further from ourselves to other selves, from our world to other worlds [], separating the mind from the body" (1996: 81), the principle of the return to self unfolds primarily as a retrieval of the harmony between the self and its contexts, conceived of as a tool functional to disrupt the imposed models in order to envisage unforced and creative cultural versions. The achievement of a quintessentially equal situation between the hegemoniser and the hegemonised, thus, emerges as an essential precondition to actively open the self to the other, to construct what Arasanayagam describes as "a self-created firmament" (1991: 86), through the formula of self-awareness as an individualistic and social practice, given the reciprocal casual relationship engaging the two aspects. As a matter of fact, self-reinvention and constitutive and constituted socio-cultural sites coincide, and it is not by accident that social space, which is simultaneously characterised and characterising represents a crucial aspect in the construction of the contemporary self particularly when forced dislocations occur.

"The systematic dissociation of identity . . . is necessary because this rather weak identity, which we attempt to support and to unify under a mask, is in itself only a parody: it is plural; countless spirits dispute its possession; numerous systems intersect and compete". -- Michael Foucault [1980: 161]

Despite the wide-ranging debate proliferating about the deep significations of the post(-)colonial paradigm, the investigation of an extensive variety of sources shows the term as failing both to signify and interrogate a complex network of synergies whose economic, socio-political and cultural specifications, need to be more carefully qualified and differentiated. The scrutiny of the meaning of the post(-)colonial even before moving any discussion on the usage of the hyphen or not, which, " is likely to bear no conceptualising weight either towards an opposite or a complicit status" (Romeo, 2000), urges considerations which are essentially economic in character. The close interrelation between economics and politics, in fact, leads to a sharp differentiation between colonialism and imperialism, which correspond to two distinct moments in the economic and social history of Western productive relations; the former developed within a society characterised by commercial and industrial capital, the latter originated by the action of financial capital. As Di Piazza powerfully observes: "A clear definition of the separatory border between colonialism and imperialism, leads not only to a correct evaluation of the cultural paths of the capital relations, but also to the identification of the cyclical factors of those paths within the colonial discourse" (1999: 29).

At its current stage, capitalistic world is a partially global system hierarchically organised within which the balance of power is the result of the divergence between advanced countries and backwards regions. As argued by Ahmad: "The nation-state has ceased to be the discrete site for the reproduction of advanced capital, which must now survive as a global system or not at all". Thus, "what one may legitimately call a Super-Imperialism" (1994: 313), or the neo-liberal economic order, prevents from recognising post(-)colonialism as a temporal phase following colonialism (what the meaning inscribed in the Latin prefix 'post' inevitably conveys), since this is already identified with the stage of imperialism until independence and by a succeeding stage that, as recalled by Ahmad, can be defined as a super imperial period. The category, thus, risks delineating a "historically empty space", to borrow McClintock's words, within which ex-colonies' subjectivities are being, once again, forcibly encapsulated.

By the same token, the use of the term by Ashcroft, Griffiths and Tiffin is extremely misleading: "we use the term post-colonial to cover all the cultures affected by the imperial process from the moment of colonisation to the present day" (1989: 2) Since historical and economic foundations have altered -- the imperial process being a phase which follows the period of colonialism -- this apoproach neglects the local element of culture. Moreover, one legitimately wonders to what extent "the moment of colonisation" lasts "to the present day." Are former colonies still experiencing a period of post(-)colonialism, and what is even more important, will they ever come out of the cell that, as Arasanayagam writes, "lock[s] us to our prisoned pasts" (1991: 43)?

Indeed, the process of political decolonisation has led to the enhancement of independent forms of culture and autonomous topographies that do not need to be trapped once again in the universalising empire of the (post)colonial. As I have argued elsewhere,

Given the intimate intercourse between power and knowledge, a post(-)colonial approach proves to be a further mode of objectification by confining subjects to their cells only specified by colonial relations and denying, as a matter of fact, a real process of self-formation whose prior condition is the opening of the self as an active and autonomous procedure in a constant interaction with the other. [Romeo, 2000]

Post(-)colonialism, instead, generates new categories of subalterns, and if assimilated to transcultural interpretative parameters, it pervasively evades the inherent nature of the colonial encounter. Flattening those communities against a scenario that certainly does not involve all the intersections of human condition, it proves too totalising a category; in some respect, it establishes itself as a meta-narrative practice that operates through inclusion and exclusion, as a homogenising force that marshals heterogeneity into ordered domains, silencing other voices in the name of universal principles.

On the contrary, disrupting the post(-)colonial, probably a great anti-economic operation, would dismiss the colonial category as the unique historical marker through which both identities and cultural productions of ex-colonies are considered. Avoiding also to distort the inner nature of the colonial encounter by inscribing it in hybrid spaces, or in transcultural patterns, would lead not only to the formulation of an archaeology of the colonial confront, viewed in the autonomy of its epistemological instances, but also to the strengthening of an authentic genealogy of the subject. A further radical shift would concern the subject position which, no more circumscribed to the universalising cell of hybridity or entangled in the web of the colonial paradigm, would have the possibility of cultivating an autonomous and authentic construction of the self. The notion of hybridism, in fact, so as elaborated by Bhabha, embodies rather a universal category that may belong to any cross-cultural encounter; hence its substantial inadequacy to embrace the significances of the colonial cultural en-counter which is grounded, instead, on prerequisites essentially antagonist. Described by Achebe as a "system of servitude" (1992: 66), the predatory capitalistic colonial policy has overthrown the productive relations and altered the balance between the ego and the self, so that the ex-colonised identities unfold as "forced to reformulate their selves within un-recognis(ing)ed spaces rather than favoured by shared processes of cultural metissage and mutual enrichments" (Romeo, 2000). In colonial contexts, in fact, it is certainly possible, behind the mask of hybridism to unveil at least two identities, that of the hybridiser and the one of the hybridised; it is from this perspective that post(-)colonialism, far from carrying counter-discursive synergies turns out to be a colonial discourse blatantly supporting a super imperial homologating vocation.

"Without a renewed will to intervene in the unacceptable, we face the prospect of being becalmed in a hystorically empty space in which our sole direction is found by gazing back spellbound at the epoch behind us, in a perpetual present marked only as 'post'". -- Anne McClintock (1995: 396)

The promotion of the encouraging global parameter, the theorization of the post-national category, and a prevailing preoccupation with indiscriminate trans-modes of identification epitomize the very profound neocolonial root of the postcolonial paradigm. As Hall explains,

In this post-colonial moment, these transverse, transnational, transcultural movements, which were always inscribed in the history of colonisation, but carefully overwritten by more binary forms of narrativisation, have emerged in new forms to disrupt the settled relations of domination and resistance inscribed in other ways of living and telling these stories. [1996: 251]

For all these reaosns a secession from the postcolonial becomes fundamental.

Indeed, the agenda Hall describes patronizes what Chrisman and Phillips define as "the metropolitan postcolonial theoretical industry" that forges a normative un-differentiated post(-)colonial identity. Such a post(-)colonial identity reinforces the socio-economic status quo by evading concepts such as Super Imperialism, economic and social inequality, intrinsic self-formation, consensus and response, national and popular culture. Underlining the pregnance of "the rule of colonial difference" grounded, as Chatterjee observes (1993: 10), on the power of the metropolis over its subject peoples, colonisation should be approached as "one of the points of intersection in history rather than as a moment of origin" (Romeo, 2000); what the linear conceptualisation inscribed in the very notion of the post(-)colonial doesn't allow, giving colonisation the role of originator and identifying it as the unique historical and epistemological marker. Also from this perspective, post(-)colonialism(s) arise as a renewed endeavour to further fossilise ex-colonies' cultures and subjects functioning in them. An effort to preserve, through the power of language, the Western production and codification of knowledge about non-metropolitan areas and cultures, rather than the attempt, as suggested by Hulme (1995), to disengage discourse from the "colonial syndrome" through a pure "descriptive word".

"Symptom of a global crisis in ideologies of future", (McClintock, 1995: 395), marking, as a matter of fact, the present as a post-past, post(-)colonialism becomes one of the current fashionable tool aiming to forge, what Foucault (1979: 198), defines as a "docile body that may be subjected, used, transformed and improved". Otherwise, focusing on the origin as provenience, as indicated by Foucault, would enable to articulate the ontological construction of ex-colonised subjectivities and to frame the process of their transformations by analysing all the variables of economic and socio-political determination such as race, gender, class and ethnicity. A re-reading of textual formations, thus, rather than casting universal subjects characterised by centrality and meta-local elements, would catch fluid and situated subjectivities, historically and longitudinally determined. In this respect, the power of writing or "modern oral writing", as Corona defines it (1999: 46), to voice the faceted dimensions of the self and the differences of peoples who counteract to affirm their own identity and histories seemingly silent, comes to be paramount. The text ceases to be the repository of inert images, tropes and cultural values and becomes a process involved by theoretical and practical domains, the social and political local space accounting for the narrativisation of subjectivity and the redefinition of the concept of popular and national culture so as powerfully identified by Fanon: "A national culture is not a folklore, nor an abstract populism that believes it can discover the people's true nature. It is not made by inert dregs of gratuitous actions . . . less and less attached to the ever-present reality of people. A national culture is the whole body of efforts made by a people in the sphere of thought to describe, justify and praise the action through which that people has created itself and keeps itself in existence" (1990: 188). Indeed, as Deane argues in his Introduction to "Nationalism, Colonialism and Literature" (1990: 9), universalising themselves is a peculiarity of colonial and imperial nations: the very attitude which leads them to consider any insurgency against the system they enact as necessarily provincial.


As Subcomandante Marcos stated during his speech at the Zocalo last March: "Todos somos ya del color de la tierra": being a living part of our lands and their thoughts, an element of popular energy, therefore, seems to arise as a crucial prerequisite needed to trace uncontested political and cultural paths; a way, for those who do not believe in a mono-glot order to transcend neo-liberal imposed practices. An increasing number of literary products, however, are being added to the post(-)colonial field of investigation. This very categorisation testifies, once again, the strategic efforts of the super imperial balance to entrap those cultural versions in the drags of Western parameters.

In contrast, voicing minority voices and enhancing the epistemic energies proposed deploys an important means of breaching the power of the economic and cultural status quo. This strategy is a tool to prevent the dominant culture from appropriating, distorting, and controlling such voices. New techniques of problematisation are required that interrogate the ex-colonised subjectivities as un-centred, contextualized, and historicized identities. An emancipatory approach thus involves a re-reading of the ex-colonies narratives that scrutinises the fluid complexity of fragments developed over time to outline paths which, although incessantly renewed in the light of contemporary conjunctures, allow for the proper focusing on colonial relationships in their profoundly antagonistic terms.

Related Materials


Achebe, Chinua. "Chinua Achebe." F. Jussawalla & R. Way Dasenbrock (eds), Interviews with Writers of the Post-Colonial World. London: University Press of Mississippi, 1992.

Ahmad, Aijaz. In Theory: Classes, Nations, Literatures. London: Verso, 1994.

Arasanayagam, Jean. Reddened Water Flows Clear. London: Forest Books, 1991.

Ashcroft, Bill et al. The Empire Writes Back: Theory and Practice in Post-Colonial Literatures. London: Routledge, 1989.

Chatterjee, Partha. The Nation and its Fragments: Colonial and Post-colonial Histories. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1993.

Chrisman, Laura & Phillips, Lawrence. "Postcolonial Studies and the British Academy". 1999. (05 Feb 2000).

Corona, Daniela. "Generi degenerati. Poetica del responsorio culturale nelle nuove narrazioni dell'emigrazione." Merope XI, 27 (1999): 43-66.

Deane, Seamus. Nationalism, Colonialism and Literature. London: Minnesota Press, 1990.

Di Piazza, Elio. L'avventura bianca. Testo e colonialismo nell'Inghilterra del secondo Ottocento. Bari. Adriatica Editrice, 1999.

Duras, Marguerite. Ecrire. Paris: Gallimard, 1993.

Fanon, Frantz. The Wretched of the Earth. Harmondsworth: Penguin Books, 1990.

Foucault, Michael. Discipline and Punish. New York: Vintage Book, 1979.

Foucault, Michael. "Nietzsche, Genealogy, History". D. F. Bouchard (ed.). Language, Counter-Memory, Practice. New York: Cornell University Press, 1980.

Hall, Stuart. "When Was the Post-colonial? Thinking at the Limit." L. Curti & J. Chambers (eds). The Post-Colonial Question. Common Skies, Divided Horizons. London: Routledge, 1996.

Hulme, Peter. "Including America." Ariel 26, 1 (1995).

Minh-ha, Trinh T. Woman, Native, Other. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1989.

Minh-ha, Trinh T. "In Conversation with Annamaria Morelli." L. Curti & J. Chambers (eds). The Post-Colonial Question. Common Skies, Divided Horizons. London: Routledge, 1996.

Ngugi wa Thiong'o. "Decolonising the Mind. The politics of Language in African Literature." J. Thieme (ed.). The Arnold Anthology of Post-Colonial Literatures in English. London: Arnold, 1996.

Rabinow, Peter. The Foucault Reader. Harmondsworth: Penguin Books, 1984.

Romeo, Marcella. "Obliterating Post(-)colonialism: Towards Autonomous Writing-s of the Self." (submitted to Merope).

Subcomandante Marcos. Discurso del Subcomandante Marcos - Zocalo Capitalino, 11 de marzo de 2001.

Postcolonial OV discourseov Casablanca Conference

Last Modified: 6 June, 2002