Postcolonial Text / Author

Enacting Postcolonial Theory

A quick look at British politics as the state election machine cranks up again reveals denunciations of Tinkers / Travellers as social pests and of illegal immigrants as threats to national integrity. Here we see clearly the every-day enactment of postcolonial theory: how othering strategically consolidates a communal self; how blaming the victim shores up privilege; how a former imperial nation continues to operate internally with the tools of global power management. Part of this systemic othering continues to operate around the conflicting/ conflicted sites of settlement and nomadry.

This issue of Postcolonial Text can illustrate further aspects of a shifting power-play across settled-unsettled/unsettling binaries. There is the ongoing differential of unsettlingly activist creative writing (as in Deidra Dee's Native American poems directly confronting the history of white destruction) and the settling abstraction of theoretical overviews (Zach Weir's article on the postcolonial present)—although that defining work of theory may itself be working a paradox of pinning down an essence that is, by definition, characterised by conflict and change. The issue itself might appear to suggest a stable commonality settled under the institutional labels of "postcolonial" and "text," but this is by no means the theoretical tenor of its contents; they range from Australian film to Sri Lankan verse to Indian criticism to Afro-Canadian reflections on travel and the internet. The very existence of this journal in electronic form suggests that the locating title is itself subject to dis-locating change, and in at least one article (Chelva Kanaganayakam's engagement with Gayatri Spivak's reading of "culturally different" texts), the "text" is not even an electronic one, but rather a set of classroom reading practices that shift from one audience to another.

This collection clearly demonstrates how the former field of "Commonwealth Literature"—originally operating more or less as studies in comparative colonial cultures and comparative national literature studies—has opened up to a much wider set of experiences and academic practices. At that same time, the institution still requires certain cohesion in its concepts and materials to recognise textual phenomena as subjects and their interpretation as scholarship. Here, again, the claim is that postcolonial literatures can be read as definitively located on unstable ground—not just the literal experiential instability of Third World natural disasters (as with the poems on recent tsunami devastation), but also the liminality of texts such as Shashi Deshpande's, at the edge of modernist aesthetics, open to the postmodern but resistant to cooption by a system perceived often as First-World global-imperialist (Majumdar). In the Australian context, Anthony Lambert works with the equation of nation, land, and homestead to show how Aboriginal women have exposed and challenged false boundaries while testifying to their historical power.

Nonetheless, if the settled spaces of community and nation remain the centre of the textual experience, the globe is the frame: what occurs when someone from West Africa pairs up with a Sri Lankan in Belgium and travels East; when a white woman meets a black man who is at once African slave, British citizen, and missionary (as in Caryl Philips's portrayal of Caribbean plantation society in Cambridge). To use a phrase from Jane Fernandez's poem "A dream healed me," the postcolonial movement has been one of "decentring worlds" while at the same time resisting the blandness/ blandishments of the cosmopolitan global. The Canadian-based reading of Spivak's US-based reading of Narayan demonstrates how interpretation is a fluid process that so easily drifts from anchors of cultural tradition, islands of national identity, or even sargassoes of literary convention, although the idea of all these continues to haunt us, pointing towards a horizon of stable possibility. And even in the most assertive identity politics, where nation seems a solid oppressive given and ethnicity an essential source for resistance, Vernyce Dannell‘s wonderful poem, "Indians I have Known," enacts a shape-changing communality that is both empowering and un-settled/unsettling.

In the context of journal systems, another unheimlich aspect of this issue is that the usually "secondary" space of the review offers an excellent piece on an important rethinking of trauma and its treatment that is on a par with the "primary" content (Durrant), and news of a novel from Sri Lanka that follows a growing trend of textual unsettling within the postcolonial field: the crossing of popular "pulp" forms such as the action adventure and the detective story with "high" literary qualities, and engagement in the politics of specific postcolonial settings.

There is much to dwell on, much to move us in this collection. I congratulate the contributors and editors, and thank the managing editors for this opportunity to "launch" another issue of Postcolonial Text.

Assoc. Prof. Paul Sharrad
University of Wollongong
, Australia
Editorial Board Member, Postcolonial Text