Cultural readings of race, imperialism and transnationalism

This book analyses black Atlantic studies, colonial discourse analysis and postcolonial theory, providing paradigms for understanding imperial literature, Englishness and black transnationalism. Its concerns range from the metropolitan centre of Conrad's Heart of Darkness to fatherhood in Du Bois's The Souls of Black Folk; from the marketing of South African literature to cosmopolitanism in Achebe; and from utopian discourse in Parry to Jameson's theorisation of empire.

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This chapter presents an introduction to the study in this book. It is a combination of literary, cultural and theoretical discussions, united by a number of critical concerns and by a desire to engage contemporary postcolonial thinkers in productive dialogue. The chapter emphasizes the broader contexts of anti-colonial nationalism as antecedents and legitimate elements of the field, and addresses the disparagement of formal oppositional political activity within black diaspora, transnational and nationalist studies. Such disparagement takes a number of forms, but frequently involves the suggestion that these organized mobilisations work against the interest of subaltern masses and share the repressive values of patriarchal, racist and capitalist bourgeois society. The chapter also argues against static conceptions of ‘empire’, and places an emphasis on the dynamic processes of imperialism as a project of capitalist expansion and political domination. The national particularities of metropoles, as they exoticize, consume and canonize different cultures of the world, bear further critical exploration.

in Postcolonial contraventions
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The imperial metropolis of Heart of Darkness

This chapter outlines some of the ways in which late nineteenth-century European imperialism inheres in the textures of daily labour and leisure in Conrad's novella, suggesting that the Company's structures and agents, including Kurtz, need to be reinterpreted through this imperial metropolitan perspective. Ultimately, what animates and controls the Company and Kurtz are urban corporate power, public opinion and consumption. The chapter proposes the reading of Heart of Darkness as a path-clearing exercise for future critical and theoretical analyses of metropolitan imperialism. It justifies this modest activity on the grounds that it is precisely, and only, through close reading that the full import of the interplay of the metropolis and imperialism can be traced. The challenge Conrad's novella sets is to decasualize imperialism, expose its banality and recentre the metropole as its primary agent.

in Postcolonial contraventions
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Anne McClintock and H. Rider Haggard

This chapter emphasizes gendering imperialism by referring to the work of Anne McClintock and H. Rider Haggard, focusing on McClintock's celebrated Imperial Leather discussion of Haggard's popular and influential imperialist Victorian romance King Solomon's Mines. It depicts the quest for treasure in southern Africa by three British adventurers, who also restore the ‘rightful’ heir to the throne of an African kingdom. The chapter also focuses on the way McClintock analyses the dynamics of labour and degeneration, and explores the political implications of her approach. McClintock suggests that King Solomon's Mines is an allegory of colonial power; specifically, that the novel allegorizes colonial appropriation of African women's reproductive and productive labour. She presents a version of women's reproductive capability in which women are menacingly powerful, regardless of whether they exercise any material control over the reproductive and productive activities of themselves or others.

in Postcolonial contraventions

This chapter discusses Edward Said's work and that of two influential thinkers who share equally complicated relations with materialist theory – Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak and Fredric Jameson – dealing with their respective analyses of nineteenth-and early twentieth-century British imperialism. It focuses on the strengths and the limitations of their respective theorizations in relation to a materialist postcolonial theoretical practice. To do so, the author uses an approach that combines immanent critique with a comparative technique whereby the three thinkers are set in dialogue with one another. The chapter presents their analyses and also focuses on their conceptualizations of imperial culture and of space. Spivak offers a strategic intervention against contemporary Anglo-European bourgeois feminism that animates her discussion of how Jane Eyre's conceptions of European female individualism are predicated on and perpetuate the subordination of non-European women. Said works towards a humanistic politics and a contrapuntal intellectual culture that, for him, provides progress beyond the contemporary deadlock of imperialism and nationalism.

in Postcolonial contraventions
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Paul Gilroy’s The Black Atlantic

This chapter emphasizes Paul Gilroy's The Black Atlantic, which reveals that a culture is not specifically African, American, Caribbean or British, but all of these at once, a black Atlantic culture whose themes and techniques transcend ethnicity and nationality to produce something new and, until now, unremarked. Gilroy's concept of a black Atlantic offers a political and cultural corrective that argues for the cross-national, cross-ethnic basis and dynamics of black diasporic identity and culture. His characterisation of nationalism tends not to acknowledge diversities, but, rather, targets generalized ethnicist nationalism as the only kind of contemporary nationalism that afflicts both white and black communities in identical ways. Gilroy's ideology challenges Marxist, economic and philosophical accounts of the development of modernity as a self-contained European process, based on principles and practices of rationality, economic productivism, Enlightenment egalitarianism and wage labour.

in Postcolonial contraventions
Sol Plaatje and W.E.B.Du Bois

This chapter focuses on the black Atlantic nationalism that began in 1993 with the publication of Paul Gilroy's book, The Black Atlantic, whose focus on the cultural, political and economic relations of Africa, Europe and the New World was not original. It discusses the work of Plaatje and Du Bois, which introduce different ways to think about black Atlanticism, as a critical dialogic relationship that questions some of the paradigms for analysis created by Gilroy's book and sustained by a number of Africanists. The cultural values and critical perspectives of black nationalism were ‘antithetical to the rhizomorphic, fractal structure of the transcultural, international formation of the black Atlantic’. As Gilroy's work has travelled from diasporic to African studies, it has gained a new component: the construction of African Americans as a global vanguard, whose role it is to lead continental Africans into modernity. However, Masilela's black Atlantic work presents black modernity as essentially a cultural condition, not a political economic and cultural process.

in Postcolonial contraventions
South Africa in the post-imperial metropole

The transformation of English national identity began with Margaret Thatcher's 1979 government. The contemporary production of Englishness became, and continues to be, labour intensive, because England had lost the material foundation of that identity. The recently reformulated Englishness, variously referred to as ‘the new racism’ or ‘Thatcherism’, equates national community with the white race. This nationalist discourse eschews the openly racist language of biological superiority and uses, instead, the more coded language of cultural difference, to promote an English nation that is culturally homogeneous and exclusively white. The diasporic and postcolonial perspectives respectively contribute in important ways to the analysis of post-imperial Englishness. The element of cultural identity that emerges from this chapter contains both the element of Gilroy's xenophobia and that of Huggan's neo-colonial paternalism. The chapter concludes by addressing the impact of the contemporary liberation movement, and explores the historical relationship.

in Postcolonial contraventions
David Lloyd’s work

This chapter focuses on the important and influential article by postcolonial scholar David Lloyd, ‘Race Under Representation’, condensing a number of current dispositions in Western anti-foundationalist critical theory, political critique and colonial discourse analysis. It addresses only particular aspects of Lloyd's argument: his critique of the public sphere, and his accounts of the racialized subject and of anti-colonial subjectivity, and provides alternative approaches of Lloyd's work that help in the analysis of racial formation by connecting critical commentaries which engage with the political and critical implications. The chapter also examines the social and historical contradictions that link the public sphere to racism and other forms of social inequality. Lloyd explains ‘how the meshing of racial formations can take place between various levels and spheres of social practice, for example, between political and cultural spheres, or between the individual and the national level’.

in Postcolonial contraventions

This chapter emphasises the theories and critiques of different postcolonial theorists such as Robert Young, Edward Said, Homi Bhabha and Gayatri Spivak. What outlines its elements are Robert Young's intercession against Parry, the assumptions about power and intellectual authority written into his language use, and the implications of these for postcolonial critical dialogue and analysis. The chapter contrasts Young's summary dismissal of Parry's work and politics with his serious description of, and respectful engagement with, the Marxist anti-postcolonial work of Indian critic Aijaz Ahmad, to observe the ways in which South Africa and its products may somehow license metropolitan critics to depart from their general intellectual standards of assessment, and from their rigorously academic modes of operation. Young's insistent emphases on nationality and ethnicity as determinants in the political identity of Parry and Spivak have no corollary in a national or ethnic self-description.

in Postcolonial contraventions