On (Not) Being Postcolonial

Tilottama Rajan
Canada Research Chair in English and Theory
University of Western Ontario

When I was first invited to speak in a session on “The Anxiety of Being Postcolonial,” I was somewhat surprised. The organizer, Chelva Kanaganayakam, probably knew that I worked on Romanticism, nineteenth-century philosophy, and contemporary theory, not on postcolonialism, though I didn’t imagine I was a household name, working in what are now marginal fields. Needless to say, Professor Kanaganayakam was aware of all of this, and only he knows what he was gambling on when he invited me to be in his session. But in any case, all I could talk about, I told him, was “not being postcolonial,” with the “not” in parentheses: not so as to allow for the possibility of my actually being postcolonial in any affirmative or positive sense, by bracketing off the “not,” but so as to put “not being,” the negation that is itself a position, also somewhat under erasure. And I should add that the “not being” pertains to the adjective, to the ambiguity of not being postcolonial, since my relation to the substantive, the scholarly designation “postcolonialist,” is as clear as the space between the adjective and noun is uncertain: I am clearly not here because I work on a postcolonial corpus or issues, but because I do not work on them, because I am not a postcolonialist.

Of course the fact that I do not work on a particular corpus need not mean that as a private citizen my views on Iraq, Palestine, or globalization are not strongly affected by my being a hyphenated Canadian (to adapt, but differently, Immanuel Kant’s distinction, in “What is Enlightenment?,” between citizenship, which is private, and scholarship, which is public).[1] So what does it mean to be a “postcolonial intellectual,” as Professor Kanaganayakam put it in the rationale for his session? Does this refer to a corpus, as most people would think, or to an inflection of one’s work, or perhaps to a relation to one’s work which is at once critical and fraught, public and private? I am not a feminist either, a matter on which women scholars of my generation were also expected to declare themselves, when Women’s Studies programmes were founded in the eighties, especially in the United States. In this case, I have actually written on Romantic women writers, though as someone who appreciates the work of Julia Kristeva who, according to some, is not a feminist. I would even argue that gender is one of the differences, in a deconstructive sense, one of the breaks constitutive of my own field, Romanticism. It is one of the differences at the intellectual, not simply the symptomatic, heart of Romanticism, as the first modern intellectual movement sensitive to singularity: singularity, as Jean-Luc Nancy (27-30) and Giorgio Agamben see it,[2] not individuality, which elides much that is different within persons to construct the individual as having achieved individuation or identity as a bounded ego. But I am not dedicated to the feminist cause, the symbolic resolution offered by the “group” as Jean-Paul Sartre calls it, which Romantic writers such as Eliza Fenwick and Mary Wollstonecraft themselves radically called into question, in exploring and withdrawing from fantasies of female solidarity in their fiction. In Being and Nothingness Sartre (who would later reverse himself and endorse a strategic essentialism), uses class as his example of the group (553-54),[3] but one could equally substitute race or gender. Sartre analyses group identities as phantasmatic or metastable formations constituted by the gaze (le regard), which he also calls the Third (537-55). I experience solidarity with you because the Third is looking at us and reducing us to objects: this denigration, objectification or othering is the way we come together, so that even the more positive forms of identity are profoundly mediated, if not imposed, by the Other.[4]

In what follows I will unavoidably begin by being somewhat autobiographical — a style that makes me nervous. For as David Simpson argues, in criticizing what he calls the academic postmodern, the importation of an anecdotal, personal, mode from anthropology, under the guise of relativizing one’s point of view, risks the very kind of identity politics that I mean to question (14-15, 22-40). So why did someone such as myself not choose to be a postcolonialist? A simple, if evasive, answer, is that the field did not exist in quite the same way in the early seventies. There was Commonwealth literature (subdivided into the white and non-white Commonwealth at Queen’s University where I taught in the early eighties). Few would now dispute that Commonwealth literature was a category meant to marginalize, a stingy cousin of globalization made unconvincing in advance because it exerted its intellectual rule only over a sphere of influence, and that too the sphere of a lapsed empire that did not offer significant career rewards.

But why go into English literature at all, if indeed I really did? Why not go into Sanskrit, since the question, which I have indeed been asked, is a vague challenge that metonymically slides from postcolonial literature to anything Indian. A more personal, but also reductive, answer is that since my mother tried to enforce sartorial proclamations of nationality, and even went so far as to say that governments should “prevent” people from leaving their “own” country, and since I still listen to wholesale dismissals of the “EuroAmerican tradition” that put Leibniz on a par with George Bush, the last thing I wanted to do was identify with “my” ethnicity: “my” identity which I was supposed to assume to satisfy someone else’s need for it in a foreign country. My situation, which even for my generation may have been extreme, must sound strange now. But it was a very colonial, or perhaps postcolonial situation, with all the ambiguities of that prefix which can imply a resistance to colonization that is itself deeply colonial and colonizing in structure. For it was not simply my mother: Indian students at the University of Toronto, usually in the sciences (since there were almost none in the humanities then), would reproach me for living in Canada, even though they planned to live here themselves, or better still, in the United States, but unhappily and angrily, which made them more enlightened. Friends of my mother in India today, even though or perhaps because their own children are economic migrants who are pragmatically cynical about their choice where their predecessors were consumed by a sense of bad faith, still sometimes reproach me for working on Hegel instead of the Upanishads.

But one does not choose a field as an act of resistance. Rather, resistance provides a space of critical uneasiness in which one discovers intellectual affinities, though always partial ones: in my case with thinkers such as Nancy, Jacques Derrida, Jean-François Lyotard, and the early Michel Foucault, who represent the culmination of certain traditions in Romanticism. In other words, Theory, as it came to be called, since my resistance was not just a resistance, by way of English literature, to being Indian, but also a resistance to English that expressed itself as Theory. It is not that as a student I actually had any notion what Theory was, since it too did not exist as a field. Gayatri Spivak’s translation of Derrida’s Of Grammatology came out only in 1976, when I had almost finished my doctorate, and Nancy’s The Inoperative Community appeared in 1992. For me the influential texts were Schopenhauer’s The World as Will and Representation, which questioned the self-interestedness of all representations, and Sartre’s Being and Nothingness, whose seminality for a generation of deconstructive thinkers has been sorely neglected because of his political turn after the war.[5] Indeed, I came to Theory in the most oblique ways, which has also held me back from identifying with Theory in its purest forms.

With the hindsight postcolonial thought affords us, I can now see that there was a certain paradoxical symmetry between my resisting ethnic identification and being a postcolonial subject. German and French philosophy were my way of being a foreigner in English studies, of not seeing Romanticism purely within a British canon. Though one should not be too literal, French theory itself, from Sartre to Derrida, emerged in the aftershock of occupation: the occupation of France by Germany, and the occupation of Algeria by France. French theory in this period is preoccupied with German thought, from Kant to Edmund Husserl and Martin Heidegger, but it takes up that thought at the points where it does not belong to itself. For as Lyotard writes, French thought, precisely around the issue of nationality, of not being German, makes itself responsible for a certain “darkening of the universalism of the Enlightenment” (Heidegger: 5).

But the same displacement is also characteristic of German thought in the late Eighteenth and early Nineteenth Century. Antoine Berman in The Experience of the Foreign, sees German thought in the Romantic period, when Germany was not yet a nation, as likewise generated by cultural translation and disciplinary hybridity. Using translation in a broad sense, as well as to refer to the actual interest of German thinkers in languages such as Sanskrit, Berman says that translation “open[s] up in writing a certain relation with the Other,” fertilizing “what is one’s own through the mediation of what is Foreign” (4). Coleridge makes a related point in 1826, when he criticizes the Germans for lacking England’s sense of nationality: her concern with “commerce” and “interest in the affairs of the whole.” Yet Coleridge, who was himself a migrant between British pragmatism and German idealism, also allows that the Germans’ lack of cultural and political cohesiveness was their intellectual strength: as a result of not having that interest in “the affairs of the whole,” Germany in the Romantic period had many universities, and was “forever thinking” (2.574).

German philosophy, then, was my way of not being at home in British culture: a disposition mirrored in Romanticism itself, since there is scarcely a Romantic writer other than Wordsworth who stayed comfortably in England. But to assert this foreignness through ethnicity would be to miss what postcolonial theory can teach us through Homi Bhabha’s model of migrancy as opposed to the more positivist model of empowering the subaltern. It would substitute a self-identification of oneself as Other for a more fundamental relation to otherness of the kind theorized in deconstruction. The latter is what I have sought in approaching English literature through a language which is not my own, or German philosophy through an idiom or discipline that can think it from the outside so as to disclose the points where this philosophy too is not its own, or even French theory through the detour of German philosophy. This not belonging was at the heart of Romanticism; indeed the category Romanticism was invented to make a place in literature more generally for writing that did not belong. Unfortunately, though I will not go into this today, this otherness, to which the study of Romanticism in a comparative and interdisciplinary context made us sensitive, is now being lost as Romanticism is reconsolidated as British by being studied as part of the “nineteenth century.”[6]

Jean-Luc Nancy’s The Inoperative Community is a relatively late contribution to the debate over identity, since it is part of the ethical turn by which deconstruction reasserts its difference from poststructuralist nominalism.[7] Nevertheless, Nancy’s essay can also help to articulate some of the problems with group or symbolic identity that I have touched on in these comments. Axiological for Nancy is his distinction of community from society: his attempt to think relationship outside the model of the social which has been dominant in AngloAmerican thought since the Scottish Enlightenment, and within which, I would argue, liberal formations such as minority studies of various kinds still largely take their place. Nancy does not mean to oppose Gemeinschaft (community) to Gesellschaft (society) according to the famous distinction introduced by F. Tönnies, in which community harks back to a smaller (but still) social unit in an artisanal, pre-industrial phase of culture. Nancy’s notion of community is hard to define since, as he says, one “does not produce it. ... Community understood as a work or through its works would presuppose that the common being, as such, be objectifiable and producible (in sites, buildings, persons, discourses, institutions, symbols: in short, in subjects).” But instead community “takes place in what Blanchot has called [the] ‘unworking’” of such formations (31). For Nancy, then, community is a space (or since it can occur between thinkers through time) a process of differences and self-differences quite distinct from the “fusion” into a “common substance” that occurs in society or in preindustrial communities. It involves a “being in common” that, far from creating solidarity, means “no longer having ... in any empirical or ideal place” a “substantial identity” (xxxviii). Nancy differs from Sartre in having an idea of community rather than dismissing it as a mirage, in valuing what Sartre calls “community alienation” (Being and Nothingness: 537), which for Sartre is simply the vanishing ground of groups. But the sharing implied in “community,” as Nancy’s term “partage” suggests, occurs at a point of separation where truly to share is to share only a “lack of identity” (xxxviii).

For Nancy, who belongs to a tradition of thinkers (going back to William Godwin) who want to think the political anarchically from outside the political, community is a sensitivity to the singularities that make the political a differential structure. Singularity can be distinguished from individuality in the same way as community from society. These terms can already be found in Hegel who, in bounding off animal from plant life in The Philosophy of Nature, defines Individualität as the sublation of the singular, das Einzelnes, and thus the emergence of the genus (443). Society is a further stage in this sublation; in society, as Nancy puts it, “a higher form of substance or subject tak[es] charge of the limits of separate individualities” (27). How the singular becomes normalized as the individual, or put differently, how society bases itself on rather than represses the individuality of the type, can be understood in terms of the physiological-cum-political metaphor of constitution, developed by Coleridge and others, wherein individual members combine to form a body politic. For Coleridge “individuation” and “integration” are connected: the two must be combined for “constitution” to occur as the participation of parts in a whole (2.839). Disciplined individuation is thus the condition of a sufficiently complex whole.

The convergence of individuation with integration means that we should further specify the “society” Nancy critiques as civil society. Arguing for civil society, Ernest Gellner describes it as bringing together diverse classes, professions and interests in a loose alliance (93) that simulates “community” but depends on the participation of individuals in subgroups. The concept of civil society first emerged in the Eighteenth Century, as a reciprocal effect of the public sphere constituted by the explosion of print, which brought new groups into the sphere of “publicity” (Öffentlichkeit, as Kant called it). As Jürgen Habermas says, analysing the paradox of the public sphere, “the bourgeois public sphere may be conceived above all as the sphere of private people come together as a public” (27; emphasis mine). In the concept of the public sphere developed by French and German Enlightenment thinkers, “the state-governed public sphere was appropriated by the public of private people making use of their reason and was established as a sphere of criticism of public authority” (51). Kant idealized the resulting sphere of “publicity,” seeing it as a space for intellectual freedom, enlightened criticism and rational consensus, and above all seeing it as unified. This idealized notion of the public sphere of civil society remains influential today, as we witness a postmodern repetition of the advent of print culture in the medium of television and a return of the Enlightenment in what Gianni Vattimo has celebrated as the “transparent society” of the mass media. In the media society, which Vattimo tellingly goes so far as to call a “concrete realization of ... Hegel’s Absolute Spirit or Marx’s man freed from ideology,” “emancipation” is now based on “plurality” rather than universalism, or on “what could generally be called dialect. ... a multiplicity of local rationalities — ethnic, sexual, religious, cultural or aesthetic minorities that finally speak up for themselves” (6-9).

To bring this plurality together so that it can still form an enlightened counterweight to the state, it is necessary that it be reduced to some kind of unity: hence Gellner’s account — a more pragmatic one than the Enlightenment version — of civil society as an alliance of different self-interests. To describe this alliance, Gellner uses a less organic figure than the body politic: that of a whole made up of modules that can be dropped or added without changing the basic arrangement (93), so that the structure of civil society can survive local mutations in fashion. In short, in order to compose civil society from its different subgroups, singularity must be sublated into the individuality of the genus: the groups queer and Asian-American, for instance (though academic civil society has also been formed in the past with different modules, such as periods or methodologies). The point to be emphasized, then, is that the group, as the articulation of a typical individuality, is a form of discipline as much as of emancipation. Hegel, who followed earlier thinkers in distinguishing Bürgerliche Gesellschaft from the State, and who thus allowed that the institutions of civil society are autonomous from the government, also recognized civil society as a form of governmentality (Mind: #523-24). As Habermas points out, Hegel was the first to explode liberalism’s idealized notion of a public sphere “emancipated from domination and insulated from the interference of power, in which autonomous private people related to one another” (122). The current idea of civil society as a common market of cultural goods in which different dialects can form an alliance responds to Hegel’s criticism of civil society as “atomistic” (Mind: #523) and in “special need [of] integration by political force” (Habermas: 122). The public sphere of postmodern civil society thus develops its own forms of administered reason, some already catalogued by Hegel, in a form of “liberal governmentality” that rules by “taste and fashion” (Poovey: 175,149). However much one may use metaphors such as “diaspora” and “rhizome” to idealize this new form of civility, the institutions of the public sphere, as Mary Poovey revealingly says, function as “technologies ... by which individuals [are] rendered thinkable as governable subjects” (147).[8]

The academic world (including conferences, journals, publishers etc.) is one form of this governmentality, even though there have always been attempts to think it both inside and outside of its institutionalization, such as Bill Readings’ The University in Ruins, and the later work of Jacques Derrida on the university collected in Right to Philosophy. For if not from an individual perspective, then from a managerial and superstructural perspective, the university and most importantly publishing (which in turn governs the university) arrange individuals into groups and series that can be gathered together so as to simulate both diversity and consensus in ways that are undoubtedly useful to the state. Heidegger had already foreseen as early as 1938 the role played by the rise of “collections, of sets of books, of series,” and more generally by “the prearranged and limited publication of books,” in bringing “the world into the picture for the public and confirm[ing] it publicly” (139). The essence of this “picture” is a certain “standing-together” or “system” (141) that we also see in the organization of university curricula. If we think of literature departments, or the arts faculty, as smaller modules within civil society, previous departmental accommodations of interest groups by period had their own kinds of picturing that have been amply exposed through critiques of “English,” “literature,” or “humanism.” But the currently favoured horizontal reorganization of the humanities around culture, as a foreshortening of history that redistributes diversity across a cross-section of late twentieth-century interests, is no less a world-picture and a form of what Habermas, perhaps with a certain irony, calls “publicity.”[9] Culture as thus conceived requires that humanists be concerned with the social; the philosophical can exist, but only if it is brought back to a social and pragmatic point. Vattimo describes culture in his “transparent society” as made up “of those branches of knowledge that make up what Kant called pragmatic anthropology.” As he concedes, “These give a ‘positive,’ as opposed to a transcendental-philosophical. ... description of what humanity makes of itself in culture and society,” and insofar as they are concerned with “the positivity of the human phenomenon” (14), they contain unexamined ontological, epistemological and ethical assumptions. Or as Heidegger puts it, “Anthropology is that interpretation of man that already knows fundamentally what man is and hence can never ask who he may be” (153). This is all the more so as Cultural Studies at the end of the Twentieth Century has come to mean material culture and not (also) the culture of ideas.

More than Gellner’s structural image of civil society as made up of modules, Slavoj Zizek’s metaphor of the public sphere of pragmatic anthropology as formed by a process of “quilting” provides a glimpse into the anarchic complexity that may actually underlie its governmental structures. Today’s civil society, Zizek argues, quilts together a number of very different subgroups, by granting them all recognition and teaching them to view their interests as structurally, if not empirically, similar. As he explains, ideological space is made up of “non-bound, non-tied elements” whose identity is actually open, floating signifiers like ecologism which can ally themselves with the left or right or neither. Nevertheless the “quilting,” in other words the gathering of these signifiers into some project such as radical democracy, makes them into modules, and “performs” a kind of “totalization.” Through this totalization or integration, the “free floating of ideological elements,” or in postHeideggerian rather than late Marxist language “singularities,” is “halted, fixed,” so that they become “parts of the structured network of meaning” (Sublime Object: 87), modules within civil society.

To put it differently, the public sphere of civil society does not allow for what Lyotard calls the differend, the difference that cannot be put in standard phrases, and that falls between the cracks of this or that discourse or structure of incorporation. Lyotard’s “differend” as the space between different “phrase regimes” may be a better way to think through what Nancy’s notion of community makes possible that society does not, than is Nancy’s resolutely pre-ontic, even pre-ontological term “singularity.” For Lyotard does allow for a dialectic with discourse, for the putting of difference into, perhaps, the wrong phrases so as to disclose the differend between inadequate phrase regimes, the differend foreclosed when a person identifies with a group, whether it be ethnic or methodological. In a sense it is precisely postcolonialism, in the form explored by Bhabha, that could provide us with a culturally specific but metaphorically extensible language for this not belonging, as migrancy. And it is in this sense that I have wanted to “unquilt” the fabric of a “High Theory” into which “deconstruction” was sewn, so as to disclose traces of synergies between deconstruction and postcolonialism, by following the return and retreat of certain cultural origins in my own engagement with Theory.

But to return from larger issues of the public sphere to how they inflect (not) being postcolonial, why are these synergies even relevant now? Is not the intellectual trajectory I have described for myself specific to a certain historical time? To begin with, I should say I am not even comfortable with the way I’ve phrased this trajectory in terms of resistance to expatriate nationalism, representing it in this way because this is the phrase family, as Lyotard would say, the set of issues, relevant to an audience of postcolonialists. I do not normally think of my not being postcolonial as the motivating force behind my intellectual choices. The truth may simply be that I am more a philosophical than a social or political thinker, or someone who like Kant wants to think the political through the philosophical. It may simply be that I am not at home with postcolonialism any more than with new historicism, since postcolonialism, in literature departments at least, stands very much upon the ground of the social. But leaving this aside, isn’t it all a dead issue now? Haven’t many things changed since 1968? Minorities are more assimilated, more comfortable here, more accepted; there is no compulsory ethnicity in the family, and Indian or Chinese students choose to work on their own literatures or cultures. Rather than displacing migrancy within the dominant discourse, they live it openly, positively, as hybridity.

The word “positively” will, of course, have given away my reservations. For I would like to close by questioning precisely this assumption of freedom. In a recent issue of PMLA, Stephen Greenblatt complains of the automatic assumption these days that graduate students will work on their own identities or on the ethnicity implied by their surnames. Gay and lesbian students “will naturally be engaged with queer theory” and Indians, we can assume, will work on Indian writing, generally in English (57). Of course they are not forbidden to work on Shelley or Dickinson, but they stand little chance of being hired, whereas if they work in the right areas they can become like Spivak or Bhabha, the only Indians to achieve stardom. This is a pressure that I myself, during my formative years, was fortunate enough to avoid. And if true, the current situation may not be as different as we imagine from the one, in my time, that required students coming from India do what they were closest to, for example the Indian influence on Eliot, unless they were more prepared and assimilated like myself. Now, it seems, young scholars are “assimilated” and interpellated in a different way. Curiously, this pressure to work on one’s roots may be part of literature departments or departments responsible for “culture.” Of three Indo-Canadians I have supervised, my two students in philosophy, who have worked on Hegel and Schelling, are quite innocent of compulsory ethnicity, and according to an Indian colleague in economics, he would make himself a second-class citizen if he worked on India: a different, but not unrelated, colonialism.

So, has the emancipatory, pluralist, institution of minority studies in the humanities compelled or more subtly interpellated members of “visible” minorities, in particular, into working in their own ethnic areas in ways my generation was more able to avoid? Kant, who suffered from both overt and internalized censorship, was not unaware of the thin line protecting his ideal of "publicness" from the pressure of public opinion. Since Australians do not work only on Australian literature or culture, are we witnessing an academic internalization of imperialism — or Empire as Michael Hardt ingenuously calls it — under the alibi of globalization? For Greenblatt’s comments are in a special issue of PMLA on globalizing literary studies, and it is worth reflecting on whether the synchronization of the two different goals of hiring visible minorities and covering other cultures in the curriculum is not an economy effected by globalization: a doctrine thoroughly imbued with economy.

Moreover, globalizing literary studies has not resulted in an increasing interest on this continent in Sanskrit, or even Hindi: in other cultures that are not other cultures within North America, in other aspects of those cultures such as philosophy that are not part of the North American consensus. On the contrary it has coincided with a decline in language study, the closing down of Stanford University Press’ translation series by a governing body that once included Condoleeza Rice, and a re-insularization of fields such as Romanticism, which has become the preserve of British publishing, as America takes care of global culture while Britain takes care of its heritage. Globalization, as many have recognized, means Americanization, the inclusion of others who are frequently American others: Asian-Americans, Afro-Americans etc. Pluralism has always been a part of American culture, which is able to “contain multitudes” in its song of itself. Now, however, the structure of incorporation in a globalized literary studies disturbingly mirrors and consolidates the world trade order, which offers admission to the formerly colonized world (whether colonized by Britain or Russia), on condition of their accepting American values.[10] Political correctness, as Slavoj Zizek astutely points out, actually risks enforcing “a universal form of subjectivity.”[11] This universalism extends to the very question of what Vattimo calls dialects, but as critical rather than ethnic dialects. For as Ernest Gellner concedes, in alluding to the turn against difficult language in the contemporary public sphere, “One of the most important general traits of a modern society” is “cultural homogeneity: the capacity for context-free communication, the standardization of expression and comprehension.” As Gellner continues, in a gloss whose unintended irony reveals the stakes that Capital in fact has in the languages of criticism and theory, this standardization is the condition of possibility for the “mobility and thus the substitutability of men” (104).

I have used the phrase “structure of incorporation” above, since it is not any particular work by individual scholars that I am describing here, but the structure that mediates and appropriates it. It is no accident that Paul Jay, in an article in the same PMLA issue expansively entitled “Beyond Discipline: Globalization and the Future of English,” argues that globalizing literary studies involves teaching postcolonial texts as part of “English [as] a transnational mode of writing” (43-45). World literature in English, to which Jay here refers, is an ambiguous term: it is not necessarily world literature translated into English, but, for Jay at least, literature written in the language of a new cosmopolitanism, the world language, which is English. Jay’s term “transnational” betrays the cultural capital at stake in this discursive formation, which he says should absorb postcolonialism.

As an outsider to these debates, it seems to me that the quilting, by a kind of contiguity, of postcolonialism and Asian-Canadian or Asian-American literature or culture is not a politically innocuous development, but an effect of the power of globalization to elide the critical difference between postcolonialism and world literature in English. We are not talking of an organized plan, since power, as Foucault recognized, is dispersed. Rather we are talking of various forms of mediation that come together and create disciplinary and governmental effects. The conflation of postcolonialism and world literature in English, whether in reality or in the academic public imaginary, is one such effect. Postcolonialism can also be thought of as standing to a transnational English literature in a relation that is analogous to that of Marxism to the current American version of Cultural Studies, which Marxists such as Terry Eagleton distrust (15, 31-39, 43). Postcolonialism implies a history, including the persistence of colonialism, including even perhaps in the academy, whereas World Literature in English is the rhizome produced by AngloAmerican cultural expansion at the end of history. Culture is a deeply ahistorical phenomenon, a complacency of the present: it knows no future, nothing that is to come or unthought, because it knows no past except the very near past. If colonialism, beyond the domination of one nation by another, is also a certain structure and psychology, it is as an epistemology sensitive to multiple forms of colonization that postcolonialism can perhaps also have something to do with (not) being postcolonial.



Kant gives the example of an officer who, in his “private” capacity as the holder of a “civic post,” must obey orders, but in his “public” capacity as a “scholar” is free to question these orders. This counsel of obedience is of course both genuine and ironic, given Kant’s seeming valorization of the (dis)obedience he appears to counsel against through his association of the latter with the “public use of one’s reason” (42-43). But my interest is not so much in Kant’s specific example as in his larger point that “enlightenment” involves always being answerable to the call of more than one responsibility.


See the section “Example” in The Coming Community. The eccentric system of pagination makes a reference impossible.


Sartre does not use the word “group” in Being and Nothingness, but in effect radically deconstructs the very notion. In Critique, he provides an extensive justification of groups as a political and social necessity that is nevertheless without any ontological or psychological ground (363-444). The group is justified in terms of Sartre’s own earlier theory of the “transcendence of the ego” as the empty superego which now places on us a sacrificial demand.


Sartre describes the “us-object” as the group that forms when solidarity is achieved through the shame of being constituted as objects by the Other. Since “the unity of the oppressed class stems from the fact that it is experienced as an Us-object ... in the face of the Third or the oppressing class,” one might assume “that by a sort of symmetry the oppressing class apprehends itself as a We-subject in the face of the oppressed class” (554). But, following Hegel’s master-slave dialectic, the Us-object and We-subject are interconstitutive and thus equally phantasmatic identities.


On this subject, see my recent book Deconstruction and the Remainders of Phenomenology: Sartre, Derrida, Foucault, Baudrillard.


I discuss this point further in my “Introduction” to the special issue of PMLA on Imagining History (428-30).


For a discussion of the difference between “deconstruction” and “poststructuralism” see my Deconstruction and the Remainders of Phenomenology (1-54).


Poovey’s account, like Gellner’s, is not meant to be critical. Rather, her work typifies an American appropriation of the late Foucault which, by leaving small openings for “tactics” and “micropolitics,” amounts to a kind of cynicism that keeps things more or less as they are at the end of history. Such cynicism can be differently criticised either from the perspective of deconstruction, or from that of the Frankfurt School’s analysis of administrative reason.


For a more extensive critique of the North American Cultural Studies complex see my article “In The Wake of Cultural Studies” (70-77).


For further discussion of this issue see Balachandra Rajan, “Imperialism and the Other End of History.”


More specifically, Zizek writes that the PC attitude appears to involve “the extreme self-sacrifice ... the unending effort to unearth traces of sexism and racism in oneself, an effort not unworthy of the early Christian saint.” Yet in the “very act of emptying the white-male-heterosexual position of all positive content, the PC attitude,” in claiming a “patronizing elevation over those whose injuries from discrimination are allegedly compensated,” retains itself “as a universal form of subjectivity” and is an “exemplary case of the Sartrean mauvaise foi of the intellectuals” (Tarrying: 213-14).

Works Cited

Agamben, Giorgio. The Coming Community (1990). Trans. Michael Hardt. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1993.

Berman, Antoine. The Experience of the Foreign: Culture and Translation in Romantic Germany. Trans. S. Heyvaert. Albany: State University of New York Press, 1992.

Bhabha, Homi. The Location of Culture. London: Routledge, 1992.

Coleridge, Samuel Taylor. Lectures 1818-1819 on the History of Philosophy. Ed. J.R.deJ. Jackson. 2 vols. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2000.

Derrida, Jacques. Of Grammatology (1967). Trans. Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1976.

- . Right to Philosophy. Trans. Jan Plug. 2 Vols. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2002-2004.

Eagleton, Terry. The Idea of Culture. Oxford: Blackwell, 2000.

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