Reading the essay about post-colonial thought has provoked me to look for definitions. They are “boxes” which confine thought, but they can also be platforms. I’ve put all the quotes from Wikipedia in italics.
First off is defining a colony. Formally, it is “a country or area under the full or partial political control of another country, typically a distant one, and occupied by settlers from that country.” “A settlement, dependency, protectorate, satellite, territory, outpost, province.”
But then, derived from that first definition of colony is “a group of people living in colony, consisting of the original settlers and their descendants and successors. A group of people of one nationality or ethnic group living in a foreign city or country, community, commune; district, ghetto "an artists' colony.” We talk about “ex-pats”, ex-patriots.
Next: “Postcolonialism or postcolonial studies is an academic discipline that analyzes, explains, and responds to the cultural legacy of colonialism and imperialism. ... It also examines the effects of colonial rule on the cultural aspects of the colony and its treatment of women, language, literature, and humanity.”
And then the writing that focuses on the above definitions and theories: “Postcolonial literature often addresses the problems and consequences of the decolonization of a country, especially questions relating to the political and cultural independence of formerly subjugated people, and themes such as racialism and colonialism. A range of literary theory has evolved around the subject.”
Many of my cohort on Twitter belong to this area of thought because they have self-selected as Native Americans, defining reservations as colonial remnants — maybe still colonies. This idea cuts two ways: first, that their thought and history is an intellectual property, an owned natural resource, and that they have entitlement to it. A subset is the recovery of the original language and life-ways. Second, that they must not be confined to being Other, but must have full entitlement to the main culture, oppressive though it might be.
Forgive me for quoting so much, but I’m just learning these terms and people myself, so these lists are for my own reference, though I hope they might be useful to you. “Amongst prominent theorists are Edward Said, Gayatri Spivak, Frantz Fanon, Bill Ashcroft, Ngũgĩ wa Thiong'o, Chinua Achebe, Leela Gandhi, Gareth Griffiths, Abiola Irele, John McLeod, Hamid Dabashi, Helen Tiffin, Khal Torabully, and Robert Young. Another important theorist is Harvard University professor Homi K Bhabha, (1949 – ). He is one of the most important figures in contemporary post-colonial studies, and has developed a number of the field's neologisms and key concepts, such as hybridity, mimicry, difference, and ambivalence.” I assume he’s Eastern Indian by ethnic heritage, which means colonized, but now he is a professor at Harvard, which I assume means he’s now a colonizer but also Harvard is a result of English colonizers. I don’t know whether he ever addresses North American indigenous people.
As far as I know, none of the above theorists are NA indigenous people. I had to look up the four concepts above. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Homi_K._Bhabha I’ve downloaded them to study and will discuss them in a later post. Some people will want to do that themselves. It’s ironic that an ethnic Eastern Indian thinker from a “colony” with an older and more elaborate civilization than England should be discussing this subject. (Shouldn’t it have been England that was colonized by India — or whatever they called themselves.) Isn’t it even more ironic that theories devised by an ethnic Eastern Indian, British-educated, should be used to address the North American indigenous people mistakenly called “Indian,” and oppressed by countries that were originally colonies of England -- like the USA? Clearly, these boxes are pretty asymmetrical and leaky.
French Algerian theories of deconstruction have made us realize that the old assumptions of colonizers sneak along underneath our “modern” discussions even though the colonies are now technically independent. We see Ambivalence all the time on the Blackfeet reservation. An amusing but touching example was the recent reactions to processing a bison donated by Boyd Evans. There is always an assertion that Blackfeet have a special claim to the animals, since they lived off them for millennia, but when it came to butchering the beast, some found it stomach-turning! Others were willing to sample raw liver. It seems that there is a range of indigenous reactions. Nothing "essentialist" as the technical term is for what is all the same for the category.
This vital experience was much different than the abstract arguments which Bhabha called “enunciation.”.That is, to be understood something must be described. Now many Blackfeet kids are prepared to explain how to cut up a bison and to tell how it smelled, felt, tasted, and so on. This connected them to their ancestors in a vivid and unforgettable way. But even the white kids know what it’s like. Is it okay for them to tell others about it? Or are only enrolled kids entitled to do that?
Bhabha proposes a “Third Space” where categories are not frozen, but are dynamic, interacting, and capable of progress. “As a result, the hierarchical claims to the innate originality or purity of cultures are invalid. Enunication implies that culture has no fixity and even the same signs can be appropriated, translated, rehistoricized, and read anew.”
Quite aside from the difficulty of learning to “see” a different culture one has not experienced, these theorists write such complex labyrinthine prose that it’s nearly impossible to understand. Bhabha won a “bad writing” contest with the following sentence: “If, for a while, the ruse of desire is calculable for the uses of discipline soon the repetition of guilt, justification, pseudo-scientific theories, superstition, spurious authorities, and classifications can be seen as the desperate effort to "normalize" formally the disturbance of a discourse of splitting that violates the rational, enlightened claims of its enunciatory modality.”
The over-elaborate prose seems to be the result of trying to talk like established stuffy English writing, not quite grasping the principle of simplicity. As well, the English veneration of Latin allows the creation of new words (“neologisms”) by adding particles to pre-existing roots. Also, antique Latin grammar rules applied to English don’t work very well as guides for contemporary writing. Ironically, “the discourse of splitting violates rational enunciation.” In short, muddled thinking makes bad sentences.
But then, mercy! It’s tough to think about ideas no one has had before. The “Third Space” can be a dark and passionate place where emotion IS a form of thought, sometimes obscene. What is obscene? “The basic guidelines for the trier of fact must be: (a) whether 'the average person, applying contemporary community standards' would find that the work, taken as a whole, appeals to the prurient interest, (b) whether the work depicts or describes, in a patently offensive way, sexual conduct specifically defined. . .” (Any unknown culture is suspected of being “kinky.”) This prissy little definition is totally inadequate.
The oppressor finds any resistance to be obscene, while the oppressed often use obscene language in their resistance. In the first instance, the idea is righteousness and entitlement. In the second instance, the idea is that emotional outrage is too high for “nice” to be relevant — intense language is part of defiance.
When I first came to the Blackfeet rez in 1961, I was told that any child in my classroom who called me a “Napi-aki” should be taken to the office for punishment at once. The compound word only means “white woman,” since Napi is the mischief-maker identified with anything unusual, outside the norm, and “aki” is the particle that means “woman.” It’s not an epithet unless the context and tone of voice makes it derogatory, maybe the way someone would say sarcastically, “Okay, princess,” to a girl thinking she was superior.
But in the phrase is the lingering echo of white oppressors forbidding with harsh punishment the use of Blackfeet language. In the Sixties this was still so strong that the first task of Piegan Institute, before they began reteaching the tribal language, was to demonstrate that people would not be whipped for it anymore. That it had become a respectable thing to do. So Darrell Kipp with his Harvard degree had to show he could speak Blackfeet without harm or loss of dignity. It was not just that they were forced to speak English, which the immigrants from European who were non-English-speakers also had to endure, but that children were so harshly punished for anything. The historical cultural assertion was that children should not be punished. This conviction still persists in many tribal members. But some have discarded it to the point of abusing their children, just as whites do.
So this short discussion is now “post-colonial” and if a white person wrote a story about a kid punished unjustly for speaking Blackfeet who was so outraged that he ran away, putting himself in danger, that would be “post-colonial literature.” Would I be justified in writing that story, since I am not Blackfeet? I would be working in print. I’m not sure any Blackfeet I know could write such a story in printed Blackfeet, because the language itself is oral, but they could tell it on a video. This would be hybrid, wouldn’t it — because the medium is modern.