Fanon's Three Phases of Decolonisation

Part 7.1 of Drama in English from Singapore and Malaysia

Thiru Kandiah, PhD, formerly of the Department of English Language and Literature, National University of Singapore

Adapted from Post-Colonial Literatures in English, ed. Rajeev S. Patke, 1998, by George P. Landow, Professor of English and Art History, Brown University; Distinguished Visiting Professor, NUS, 1998-99.

As a useful way of seeking out an explanation for such contradictions let us try to place the play in terms of the phases of native cultural production which Fanon (1968, p.222-23) describes (see the first part of the General Introduction). Clearly, Emily does not belong within the third, 'fighting' or 'revolutionary' phase. While it has elements of the second phase (an older, dying experience is brought up), there is no particular sense of 'disturbance'. However, the very invocation of that experience ensures that it cannot belong entirely within the first phase either, for it does not represent 'unqualified assimilation' to the literary trends of 'the mother country'. At the same time, the significance it assigns to elements of the erstwhile colonising culture indicates that it has not moved entirely beyond that phase either.

To understand such matters, we need to look beyond the text to the particularities of its historical context, bearing in mind what has been said in the third part of the General Introduction about both the need for and the dangers of doing so. The path of development that Singapore chose to follow as it started on its journey of post-colonial reconstruction was to move itself acceptingly into the prevalent structures of global economics, politics and so on. This has brought it spectacular material success. But those who helped establish these structures across the globe in the first place, namely the former colonial powers, and their successors dominate and control them, so that it is primarily their interests that the structures serve (see, for example Escobar 1984 and DuBois 1991).

Within Singapore, what this meant was that those who were most equipped by their language, cultural orientation and so on to maintain the global relationship effectively would assume centre stage. The rest, measured by reference to them, would naturally occupy places a little further off, as in effect othered constituencies within an ordered arrangement that would guarantee the stability that was essential to the mode of reconstruction and development that the country had opted for. Any moves that would disrupt this arrangement and its stability would, therefore, have to be contained, in the larger interests of the country. Which explains the firm official measures, including detention, taken in the 1970s against leftists and other radicals who would upset the social order.

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