Saturday, November 4, 2017

Postcolonolololialism

Post-colonialism has become a buzz phrase recently, and not without reason. I mean, just look at the recent disaster in Puerto Rico. My Indiana representative responded to my email saying that Congress passed a number of bills that should help get some money to the dying people on the island but, like Trump, blamed the inability to help more on Puerto Rico's poor infrastructure. This failure to act is part and parcel of the United States' being an unofficial empire. Without claiming imperialism like Mother England, the U.S. is then not responsible to these middle of the road, left out to dry nations like Puerto Rico. Not a state, not my problem. More like POORTO RICO, am I right?!

All jokes aside, I have contact my representatives and governor to urge them to do more. Post-colonialism, am I right?!

Post-colonialism comes out of the ashes of the second World War, when the British empire, as well as Western certainty and confidence began to crack and splinter and (though not entirely) crumble (OR FALL) apart. Hans Bertens tells us that what Western criticism sees as universal is really just European. And in this light, literature from other cultures, particularly those cultures seen as inferior, was held at arms length and not really worthy of much notice. In the 50s, 60s, and 70s, however, writers like Chinua Achebe began to publish stories and novels that combatted this Euro-centric phenomenon. And guess what! Some of it was pretty dang good!



Suddenly, the world had a new and exciting form of literature from the underdogs- the voice of the culturally displaced. And as nation after nation began to establish independence, these voices became even more essential to reclaiming what had been lost to imperialism. But it is not as simple as a classic underdog story. In many instances, during or even after imperial rule, native writers would need to travel to places like London or Paris in order to get published or be taken seriously. There is a strange dynamic between this "metropolis" concept the colonial subjects. It would be like a Puerto Rican poet having to travel to D.C. to get a book deal for his poems criticizing the failure of the U.S. government.

Tied to this concept is Said's idea of Orientalism. Said claims that the concept of the Orient was invented by the West, maintained by the West as an effective "Other" against which to assess themselves. I've often been curious about the idea of Westerners "studying" other cultures in which they stick their noses in people's everyday lives and have the tenacity to write books about these things, as if we would know how to portray cultural mainstays more so than those who practice them. What was supposed to be a discourse really became a show of power of the Western world over the Orient and the Eastern cultures.

To some extent this can be easily transferred into the study of Vikings. This term was invented by nineteenth century medieval enthusiasts. Through Wagner, comic books, and film, it is hard to shake the Americanized invention of the Vikings. And the academy certainly believes it has intellectual authority over the idea of Vikings. We will tell you what is true and what is invented when it comes to popular images. Of course, this group of people who seemed to be much more fluid and interchangeable than some think, is extinct (or, rather, domesticated). The Eastern cultures that came to define the Orient for British, French and American thinkers existed and continue to exist both outside and inside the sphere of Orientalism. So the stakes certainly aren't as high, but the invention of a term and the control over that term is consistent. Plus, the term Viking is so problematic and vague that there is no true Viking....except perhaps Cris Carter.


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