More Eurocentricity!

Eric Dickens

The terms "Eurocentricity" and "Afrocentricity" are often opposed to one another in poco discourse. Whatever the merits of Afrocentricity (e.g. Ngugi wa Thiongo's ideas), I would like to look at the other term, and ask a couple of questions.

Since North America is not Europe, it is hardly right to oppose the two above terms. Where does that rather important colonial power Great Britain fit into a "Eurocentric" scheme of things? To anyone looking at the way William Hague is trying to guide the British Conservative Party, it would seem as if there are Britons who want to turn their backs on the continent of Europe as quickly as decently possible. What, for instance, has the social disadvantage British Blacks sometimes suffer got to do with Europe?

The term "Eurocentric" may have something to do with the fact that the Dutch, British and French carved up North America between them, pushed the Indians aside, sulked and quarrelled, with the former colonies finally becoming independent to various degrees. It is interesting, given who was there from the start, both indigenous and immigrant peoples, that North America ended up as an Anglo-Saxon project. The languages, and to an extent, the cultures of Europe per se have been successfully forgotten about.

Those postcolonials who complain about "Eurocentricity" should invent a more accurate term. Because in this avid examination of the literature of postcolonialism, a very odd thing has taken place. Both colonialism stemming from non-English-speaking Europe, and intra-European colonialism are completely ignored. What the Portuguese did in Southern Africa and Brazil, the Russians in Eastern Europe, the Spanish in Central and South America -- all shrugged off as irrelevant. If a postcolonial novel is written in, say, Dutch (e.g. the works of Astrid Roemer) it doesn't count until someone bothers to translate it into English. The same, mutatis mutandis, for all books not written in English, whilst dealing with postcolonial topics on various continents. History books, works of sociology, literary theory, anthropology -- all lie unrecognised till translated into that language whose powerhouse is the United States: English. Gramsci was translated and lo and behold, the word "hegemony" was on everyone's lips. De Saussure was ignored till translated.

Now it's the turn of Bakhtin, interest in whose "heteroglossia" is assuming cult proportions -- since someone has bothered to North Americanise his thoughts. (The Russian word means "other-languageness", and can be derived from its roots by ordinary Russians, whereas "heteroglossia" is arcane to most speakers of English, given its Greek provenance, Greek being a language which no one learns at school any more.)

Not a word of discussion from postcolonialists about Russian colonialism, Russian pan-Slavist religious thought, the Russification of neighbouring countries, etc. That wouldn't be decent, given the fact Russia brought into its midst a lot of students from the developing countries. (The fact that these refugees from fascism, guests of the great loving Motherland, sometimes had to suffer racial abuse from ordinary, non-ideological, Soviet citizens on the streets of Russia is something we shall not discuss here.)

Don't we get bored staring ourselves blind at the former British Empire and its problems? Couldn't we have a bit more genuine Eurocentricity?

Postcolonial OV discourseov

Submitted 7th May 2000