Talking of post colonial fiction
The Classics Club posted a question this month about readers experiences of post-colonial literature.
This is a body of literature of which I was completely ignorant until about 10 years ago. It was never mentioned let alone studied during my literature degree course. But then feminist readings and Marxist literary theories weren’t much in evidence either all those years ago. It wasn’t until I took an Open University literature model ten years ago that the terms post colonial literature and post colonial criticism actually reared their heads.
Until that time it seemed that I had only read one post colonial novel – Jean Rhys’ Wide Sargasso Sea but over the the years since, and particularly since I started reading novels by writers outside of USA and UK, I’ve read significantly more titles that deal with the issue of problems caused by colonisation and imperialism. Of them, the ones that stand out are Petals of Blood by Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o which is a remarkable passionate story about the aftermath of independence from colonial rule in Kenya and The Siege of Krishnapur by J G Farrell in which a British colonial outpost in India comes under attack from natives.
I think I relate more to the literature which looks at the experience of colonised peoples than to the academics whose work examines literature from a point of view of how reflects the attitudes of the colonisers and the colonised. Some of their perspectives of classic works do provide food for thought but you have to penetrate through layers of dense writing to get to the insights. My worst experience has to be reading an essay on Jane Eyre by Gayatri Spivak who maintained that Bronte’s novel was an example of “an unquestioned ideology of imperialism” and proceeded to make a complex argument that Bertha had to be positioned as the ‘oppressed other’ so that Jane could be positioned as the heroine of feminist individualism. If you ever come across an essay or article by Spivak be warned – she will cause you to think very differently about some books that you thought you understood well but, it will take you many strong cups of coffee or a glasses of wine to understand her convoluted language.
8 thoughts on “Talking of post colonial fiction”
The way you define post-colonial literature makes sense to me. I never actively set out to read these sort of books, but a quick browse through the goodreads genre list made me realize I have read quite a few of these books. It appears that the Booker prize is particularly fond of them as quite a few post-colonial lit books overlap with the Booker reading list.
I never thought to look at the Booker list but yes there are quite a number of the winners who could fit the category
I went to uni in the hey day of post colonial studies and Spivak bores me to tears. As controversial as it is to say, can’t we ever look at Jane Eyre as a work of art without a colonial agenda. Can’t i just enjoy a book because it is a good story?
I wish we could Tanya but then what would post colonial academics find to do all day?? Seriously though, some of the perspectives do make me look at a text in a different light but often it feels like they are scratching around for evidence to support their agenda. I can’t remember who said it of Gilbert and Guber’s Madwoman in the Attic that they go looking for a particular theme or example over and over again
One post-colonial writer who has profoundly affected my view of the world is Abdul Rahman Munif from Jordan who writes about the bad effects of the oil industry on the great majority of the people of the Middle East. His novels, including ‘Cities of Salt’ and ‘The Trench’ are incredibly moving and have changed my attitudes about the Middle East situation.
Munif is very popular in the Middle East, but I suppose is too radical for a western audience.
Thanks for this tip Anokatony. I’ve added to my list of authors to look at since I don\’t know his work at all
Haha, is there anything more frustrating-but-interesting than good ol’ academic criticism? I came across some papers I wrote back in the day and couldn’t make heads or tales of what I was saying at first.
Reading some of their work sometimes makes me think they are talking in a completely different language.