On (Not) Being Postcolonial

Tilottama Rajan


Beginning from my own sense (as a romanticist and theorist who is not a postcolonial scholar) that the relations between who one "is" and what one "does" are highly complex, mediated, and oblique, this paper takes up the problematic nature of a current identity politics that interpellates scholars from visible minorities into working on their own ethnicities. I argue that postcolonialism is part of a postmodern continuation of the Enlightenment public sphere, and that the public sphere of civil society, even though it arose as a way of providing enlightened criticism of the state, is itself a form of what Foucault calls governmentality which, in this case, encourages compulsory ethnicity because of its usefulness for global Capital. Analysing this governmentality from the perspective of JeanPaul Sartre's demystification of the 'group" and Jean-Luc Nancy's and Jean-Fran├žois Lyotard's notions of "community" and the "differend" respectively, I suggest that the real contribution of a postcolonialism that stresses migrancy and displacement might lie, not so much in the formation of new diasporic group identities, as in the very structure of "not belonging" that leads one to be perpetually uneasy with all group identities and institutions, past and present.


Postcolonialism; Enlightenment; Identity

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