Why I use the term "Postcolonial;" or some words from your webmaster

George P. Landow, Shaw Professor of English and Digital Culture, National University of Singapore

So much ink has been spilled in opposition to using the term Postcolonial (or Post-colonial or Post Colonial) that it seems appropriate to explain why I use it in the name of this website. Here goes:

It's the best term we have

Everyone knows approximately what the term means, and though it has obvious weaknesses, it does its job, which is to suggest that former colonies share certain qualities and experiences. Its weaknesses are no worse than those found in any period or stylistic term, such as "Victorian," "Ming," or "Baroque." All competing terms exclude too much. "World literature in English" or "Commonwealth English," for example, suggest that only anglophone literatures are important, or that the British Empire is the only one worth study (or blaming, which in Postcolonial studies is often pretty much the same thing).

Most objections show a fundamental misunderstanding of the nature of such terminology

Terms like "Postcolonial" or "Victorian" are always open-ended: They are never answers, and they never end a discussion; they begin it. In other words, labeling a text or event or attitude "postcolonial" places it within a category of things under discussion. It permits one to ask a whole series of questions: Do former colonies that speak French, Spanish, German, English, and Portugese have anything significant in common, or do those with that speak basically the same language -- one could put three of the last four words within quotes -- have more in common? What is the relation of former colonies that only learned alphabetic writing at colonization to those that had long written traditions? Do Africans living in Africa share fundamental experiences, issues, or problems with people of African descent living inthe Americas? And if so, what does that have to say about postcolonialism?

The purpose of using Postcolonial as a label is that it provides a practicable, convenient means of discussing texts and other matters that interest us.

How can we call any so-called postcolonial countries truly free of colonialism or the colonial heritage? Are not all former colonies still really colonies?

Well, actually, no, they're not. They have their own governments, which in most cases appear vastly different from the colonial regime. These new governments may represent improvements, new hope, or terrible disappointments, but they are not the same. The newly liberated nations may be ravaged by corruption, violence, and disease, and those horrors may be the direct or indirect result of having been colonized -- and that is a subject for investigation by postcolonial studies, not a denial of their value.

Most such objections to the term "postcolonial" based on the fallacious notion that "nothing has changed," it seems to me, embody two major fallacies, the first being that major historical events or moments take the form of absolute ruptures or breaks with the past. In fact, such is never the case. Of course, after liberation from the imperial country the former colony bears major traces of colonization, some bad, some good, some neutral. If such were not the case, that would be real news. One has to be ready for a mixture of continuity and change. No one other than an extremely naive undergraduate expects that, say, the Victorian poets have nothing in common with the Romantics, despite the fact that they represent something new. In fact, tracing continuities -- between Romantics and Victorians or among Precolonial, Colonial, and Postcolonial histories and texts -- provides a major area for investigation in all forms of cultural studies.

The second fallacious assumption is that because things "are just as bad as they were under colonialism, nothing at all has changed." Although such a position has high polemical value, it comes at the cost of an implicitly eurocentric or even racist condescension towards the formerly colonized. The implied argument here is that nothing the former colonies people do, good or bad, can have much effect, and everything that happens is the result of the colonial power. Obviously, when one can demonstrate that people or commercial entities from the former colonizer have substantial influence or still own huge tracts of land, then that is a major fact of a postcolonial economy. But it's still not the same as paying taxes to King George III or Queen Victoria, or being drafted into their armies.

Historical Amnesia and other ill effects of blurring colonial and post-independence histories

The refusal to admit any distinction between colonial and postcolonial periods often accompanies historical amnesia that remembers only colonization. One effect of such ignorance or willful forgetting of pre-colonial times takes the form of a politically ineffective idealization of the past. Another effect involves treating treating, without examination, European colonialism as essentially unique in the histories of the countries that became independent political entities in the twentieth century. Again, such an unhistorical, contrafactual approach has major value in political polemics . . . but it certainly doesn't do much to help one understand countries, such as India, over which wave after wave of conquerors and colonizers flowed before the British arrived.

Such historical blindness cripples the possibility of our undertanding the histories since independence of many regions throughout the world. Take South East Asia, for example, a region in which various expanding empires of Indonesia, Burma, and Thailand collided with each other and with China for millenia. China's conquest of Tibet, Indonesia's successful conquest of East Timor, and its failed invasions of Malaysia reveals that imperial conquest and colonization remain a fact in the world. Note: this regional history does not "excuse" European colonization, nor weaken any European responsibility for its effects, but it does help understand how and why certain things happened after independence.

Postcolonial OV discourseov