Establishing Literary Independence: Hybridity in Zimbabwean Literature

Problems of Current Theories of Colonial Discourse

Antwan Jefferson, English 119, Brown University, 1999

Part 1 of "Establishing Literary Independence: Hybridity in Zimbabwean Literature"

In "Problems of Current Theories of Colonial Discourse," Benita Parry reveals many of the limitations of post-colonial theorists. The theorists she mentions are Gayatri Spivak and Homi Bhabha. Among the approaches to post-colonial fiction she problematizes is Bhabha's contention that the hybridization of colonialist literature by native writers is "a dramatization to be distinguished from the 'exercise of dependent colonial relations through narcissistic definition'" (p. 42). It is this approach to post-colonial literature -- particularly the literature of Zimbabwean writers -- that this essay is intended to discuss.

Parry quotes a statement by Bhabha helpful to my argument:

Through the natives' strange questions it is possible to see, with historical hindsight, what they resisted in questioning the presence of the English -- as religious mediation and as cultural and linguistic medium.... To the extent to which discourse is a form of defensive warfare, then mimicry marks those moments of civil disobedience within the discipline of civility: signs of spectacular resistance. When the words of the master become the site of hybridity -- the warlike sign of the native -- then we may not only read between the lines, but even seek to change the often coercive reality that they so lucidly contain. (Bhabha 1985a: 101,104)

Parry claims that Bhabha's argument is not as as tight as it should be, leaving it "vulnerable to innocent misconstruction." However, she also mentions the strength of his argument, which is that it makes "visible those moments when colonial discourse already disturbed at its source by a doubleness of enunciation, is further subverted by the object of its address." In other words, colonialist literature is not "tight" enough to be absolutely powerful, and it is within the gaps of the literature that native writers are able to exploit the limitations of an otherwise absolutist discourse.

Within the context of this argument, the use and control of English exhibited by Zimbabwean writers of fiction appears particularly important. These writers produce a narrative that can move Zimbabwean people from a status of subject to that of hybrid. And the hybrid status of native peoples enables them to "write back" against the literature of colonialism. It is only fitting that this essay notes the limited capacity of literature to combat the imposition of colonial forces onto native peoples. There are numerous ways to subvert the hegemony of colonialism, and discourse is an effective means to do so.

In the construction of language by Zimbabwean writers cultural factors are most influential. In fact, culture and society are much more influential in the construction of language than the standardized use of English learned via to colonialist instruction. The use of language, therefore, lends itself to countering the cultural limitations inflicted upon a colonized people. Language, then, demonstrates cultural distinctiveness rather than simply national or international standardization.

The establishment of universal standards derives from an international critical discourse surrounding the use of literature. This critical discourse serves as a site upon which non-traditional, and arguably non-Western, literature becomes so highly scrutinized that its literary value is neglected and its ability to act as a force of resistance is overlooked.


Brahms, Flemming. "Entering Our Own Ignorance: Subject-Object Relations in Commonwealth Literature." in The Post-Colonial Studies Reader. ed. Bill Ashcroft, Gareth Griffiths, and Helen Tiffin. New York: Routledge, 1995. pp.66-70.

Darby, Phillip. The Fiction of Imperialism: Reading Between International Relations and Postcolonialism. Washington: Cassell, 1998.

Larson, Charles. "Heroic Ethnocentrism: The Idea of Universality in Literature." in The Post-Colonial Studies Reader. ed. Bill Ashcroft, Gareth Griffiths, and Helen Tiffin. New York: Routledge, 1995. pp.62-65.

Parry, Benita. "Problems in Current Theories of Colonial Discourse." in The Post-Colonial Studies Reader. pp.36-44.

Said, Edward W. "Orientalism." in The Post-Colonial Studies Reader. pp.87-91.

Sharpe, Jenny. "Figures of Colonial Resistance." in The Post-Colonial Studies Reader. pp.99-103.

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