Arif Dirlik begins his essay “The Postcolonial Aura: Third World Criticism in the Age of Globalism,” by posing a question that follows his argument throughout the piece: “When exactly . . . does the ‘post-colonial’ begin?” Dirlik’s Answer: “When Third World intellectuals have arrived in First World academe” (561). He then begins discussing the genealogy of the term Postcolonial. For Dirlik, the term Postcolonial originated as a term to overtake the term Third World. Having established a foundational question to build on, Dirlik undertakes the rather lofty task of first defining the term postcolonial intellectually and second, looking at its interpretations across a globally Capitalist world.
He begins this study by defining the position and purpose of Postcolonial as “intended . . . to achieve an authentic globalization of cultural discourses by the extension globally of the intellectual concerns and orientations originating at the central sites of Euro-American cultural criticism and by the introduction into the latter of voices and subjectives from the margins of earlier political and ideological colonialism that now demand a hearing at those very sites at the center” (561). It seems the term Postcolonial, for Dirlik, is an extension of European ideas that had existed well before the advent of the term.
He further defines the goal of his work as “no less than to abolish all distinctions between center and periphery as well as all other ‘binarisms’ that are allegedly a legacy of colonial(ist) ways of thinking and to reveal societies globally in their complex heterogeneity and contingency” (561). It seems Dirlik wishes to abolish both the monolithic concept of the Third World and instead encourage both the Eurocentric academy to readily accept that despite the history of difference, the Postcolonial intellectual not only utilizes the theory formed in the Western world, but also develops the theories and themes in such a way that they are applicable across a number of different cultures.
Dirlik argues that these Postcolonial theories develop themes that are not new to the world, but were essentially resignified with expansion of Capitalism. To further his point, Dirlik believes “there is a parallel between the ascendency in cultural criticism of the idea of postcoloniality and an emergent consciousness of global capitalism” (563). Basically, people started thinking more about the other parts of the world once those parts started playing Capitalist ball. He continues to stress the influence of capitalism on postcolonial thought stating “the appeals of the critical themes in postcolonial criticism have much to do with their resonance with the conceptual needs presented by transformations in global relationships caused by the changes within the Capitalist world economy” (563). For Dirlik, it seems the idea of postcolonial thought is not a new school of ideas, rather a reworking of Western thought to accommodate the ever-changing global economic climate.
What I find interesting is Dirlik’s I explanation of the term postcolonial and its threefold definition. He describes the term postcolonial first “as a literal description of conditions in formally colonial societies” (563). This seems to give postcolonial a visual, physical representation. He then furthers the impact of the term by describing it as “a description of a global condition after the period of colonialism” (563). T. And lastly, “as a description of a discourse on the above named conditions that is informed by the epistemological and psychic orientations that are products of those conditions “ (564). All three definitions allow for a comprehensive look at the impact of colonization locally than globally and how the correlation of the two allow for the development of a Postcolonial discourse needed to express the global impact of World Systems Theory.
Dirlik than begins talking mainly about the voice of the Postcolonial Intellectual and the subject position of the postcolonial subject. This was something I found rather interesting because Dirlik makes a point to not only identify the strong influence of Western discourse in discussing Postcolonial thought, but also emphasizes the need to abolish the monolithic Third World voice. To encourage this Dirlik discusses the connection of the First and Third World positions globally. He writes, “Although First and Third World positions may not be interchangeable, they are nevertheless quite fluid, which implies a need to qualify if not to repudiate binary oppositions in the articulation of their relationship” (567). Dirlik aims to abolish the Third Worlds historic position as the Other to the Western First World.
By identifying the connection between the First and Third World, Dirlik opens the Third World to a new form of Power. I read this as a Foucauldian Power that allows the Third World intellectual to further identify in the First World. Dirlik believes, “postcolonial discourse is not so much of agony over discourse, as it often appears, but of a newfound power” (569). The advent of postcolonial discourse allowed for the often subjugated and marginalized other to begin to develop agency and a voice among the global discourse. By eliminating the binary between Eurocentric Civilizations and the Other, people in historically Third World impoverished regions of the world are able to develop a place on the global stage.
Dirlik contends that it is the popularity and consuming power of global capitalism that has developed a need to abolish the idea of the Third World and instead acknowledge the presence of such countries as a player in the global Capitalist machine. Nations that were once considered Third World now participate and sometimes dominate a region just as much as a First World nation. Having read this article it seems that with the global import and exports of goods, identifying a nation as Third World assumes they are powerless. Dirlik believes Postcoloniality “disguises the power relations that shape a seemingly shapeless world and contributes to a conceptualization of that world that both consolidates and subverts possibilities of resistance” (584). Dirlik stresses the importance of Postcolonial “intelligentsia” and challenges them to develop a criticism not focusing on the Third World as a monolith, but the subject positions of specific nations and their ability to resist a system (Capitalism) they are forced to participate in.
I liked Dirlik’s argument that the advent of Global Capitalism and the World Systems Theory first seemed to benefit the Third World nations previously underrepresented by allowing them to develop some presence globally. I also liked that he acknowledge the exploitation of Third World nations and called on the intellectuals to develop a strategic, specific resistance. It seems a summative Third World approach would fail because of the varying subject-positions within the Third World.
Salman Rushdie’s “The Free Radio”
“The Free Radio” by Salman Rushdie focuses primarily on the idea of voluntary sterilization in the local community. Set in what seems to be a sort of rural town or city, the narrator is never named but is introduced as an elder statesman of sorts. Through his lens the reader is able to see the current situation of the town through the eyes of the past.
The premise of the story is to illuminate the reader to the government funded sterilization of the people. The sterilization is voluntary but if one participates in the sterilization, the government promises them a free radio. Ramani is infatuated with the free radio and undergoes the sterilization because of the promise of the free radio. Our narrator, being far wiser than Ramani, who is described as less than bright, informs the reader that the promise of a free radio is a government lie that was proven false long ago.
It is Ramani’s delusional outlook that eventually leads him to undergo the sterilization and long for the radio for years afterward. Even though the town’s people, especially the narrator, know the promise is empty, Ramani continues his delusion until the day the government van returns to town. It is then that he is made to acknowledge the reality that his decision was in vain and he is left with the harsh reality that his dream of a radio is no longer possible.
It seemed Rushdie wanted to illuminate his audience to the rather unknown events of the Eastern world. He not only portrays the government controlled sterilization of the Indian people, but also the disillusion the people encouraged by the government.
“Chekov and Zulu” by Salman Rushdie
This story explores the relationship between an English man, Chekov, and an Indian man, Zulu. Throughout the story the reader learns that Zulu was once a security associate for Chekov during English colonization of India. A majority of the story takes place in a flashback where the reader learns of Chekov’s plan to utilize Zulu in a spy mission to infiltrate the Klingon territory. I was particularly taken by the presence of Western culture and its strong influence in the relationship of Zulu and Chekov. The reader later finds out that neither Zulu nor Chekov ever saw their favorite reference— Star Trek.
Zulu eventually realizes he is working for the very people that imprisoned and destroyed his native Dehli. He eventually returns to his homeland to join the opposition. The story ends with Chekov working a security mission where he is greeted by a revolutionary soldier with a bomb.
I enjoyed the way this story examined the longing the colonized Zulu has for returning to his homeland once he realizes he has joined the enemy. I think Rushdie really wanted the reader to understand the turmoil the colonized individual experiences, despite their personal success. Zulu is left in a state of confusion when he realizes people in his native town are under fire from the very people he has been working for. This seems to be a symbol for the rather common occurrence of ambivalence experienced by the colonized individual.
Entering this semester, I can honestly say that postcolonial theory and literature were two fields I never really had much interest in. After this class, my interest in Poco theory and literature is at an all-time high. I have been particularly taken by the problematic identity formation that occurs among the colonized individual. Understanding the constant ambivalence the colonized individual experiences has allowed me to better appreciate the people around me who have experienced some of the things we’ve explored this semester. Teaching in Reading, I see on a daily basis the ideas of mimicry and hybridity explored extensively this semester. I also found my understanding of identity formation and the power that discourse can have on an entire nation of people.
Thanks for a Great Semester!