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New light cast on post colonialism and post modernism Interviewed by Ranga Chandrarathne Unlike in the past; modern readers, writers and critics have to live and understand new literary theories such as post colonialism and post modernism. What are these and why are they important for us to understand local and international literature? We interviewed Prof. Wimal Dissanayake, Hawaii-based academic and literary theorist on the current situation of these modern literary there. Excerpts of an exclusive interview with Prof. Dissanayake. Q: There are a lot of myths circulating around about concepts of literary theories such as post-colonialism and post modernism etc. We have observed that some of those who are hungry for new knowledge on literary theories even make Google searches to learn about Sri Lankan postmodern novels! If one wants to understand a literary theory, is it good do a web search rather than reading or studying the texts to understand the boundaries and scope of new literary theories? A: There is great deal of interest about post-modernism and post-colonialism not only in the advanced countries of the world but also in the so called developing counties as well. This is a good thing. However, it is important to acquire a deep understanding about these movements, if this interest is to be guided in fruitful directions. For this to happen, it is very important that we examine the original texts of leading theorists of post-modernism, poststructuralism and post-colonialism such as Jacques Derrida, Michel Foucault, Jacques Lacan, Jean-Francois Lyotard, Frantz Fanon, Edward Said. Some of these texts are extremely complex and written in a forbiddingly demanding and turgid style. Much effort has to be extended in uncovering their preferred meanings. Reading the Wikipedia or some introductions to these topics would not allow us to obtain a deep and full understanding of these movements. As a matter of fact, a superficial knowledge can lead to unfortunate situations. Clearly, a little knowledge can be dangerous. I have been teaching a course on postmodernism for many years, and I discuss chapters from the original texts

with students, however convoluted and intricate the argumentation might be. So, the answer to your question is, if we are to acquaint ourselves with post-modernism, post-structuralism and post-colonialism comprehensively, we need to engage and understand the original texts. At a minimum, we need to have an intimate understanding of critical texts such as Derrida's "Of Grammatology", Foucault's "Discipline and Punish", Lacan's "Ecrit", Lyotard "The Postmodern Condition", Baudrillard's "For a Critique of the Political Economy", Frantz Fanon's "The Wretched of the Earth" and Edward Said's "Orientalism".

There are large numbers of introduction and student guides to postmodernism and post-structuralism and so on. Apart from untenable simplifications, in these woks, each of the authors has his or her take on the given topic. It is far better to read the originals and form your own independent opinion on these topics. Another advantage of reading the original texts by Derrida or Foucault is that you develop an appreciation for the way each author constructs his argument, the rhetoric used, styles of presentation fashioned. All these aspects constitute vital facets of meaning and communication. Scanning the Internet, and reading basic guides is not adequate to arrive at a useful understanding of these complex concepts. Q: We want to seek your wisdom on the two literary theories for Montage on post-colonialism and post modernism and first we want to focus on the scope and boundaries of post-colonialism. How do you define post-colonial literature or post-colonial studies and who are the key actors in this fields and how and when did this theory come into being? A: In order to understand the true academic space occupied by postcolonialism, we need to examine the discursive boundaries of postmodernism and post-structuralism which have influenced it. Post-modernism and post-structuralism are very often used as interchangeable terms. This is because they share many features in common. However, it is useful to make a distinction between these two creeds. Postmodernism as the term suggests is what came after modernism. The term

modernism is extremely capacious and included a variety of traits and tendencies. There are many modernisms. Industrialization, urbanization, the focus on the individual, secularism, rationality, the impact of science and technology are closely associated with modernism. Somewhere in the 1970s, modernism gave way to post-modernism. This happened in the domain of architecture and very quickly, it began to influence, literature, arts, cinema as well as conceptual thinking. Post-structuralism arose as a reaction to structuralism

Structuralism as a field of inquiry emerged out of linguistics and anthropology. The work of Ferdinand de Saussure, Claude Levi-Strauss, Roland Barthes, among others, is associated with structuralism. Some of the theorists who later became associated with post-structualism such as Foucault, Lacan, Barthes, earlier were interested in structuralism. While structuralists were after a kind of unitary meaning, post-structuralists valued pluralities of meaning.

Now, post-colonialism has been greatly influenced by post-modernism and post-structuralism. If we take the three most important theorists of postcolonial studies, Edward Said, Gayatri Spivak and Homi Bhabha, this fact becomes evident. Foucault had a great influence on Said's thinking. His magnum Opus "Orientalism" bears the indelible impress of Foucault. Spivak was heavily influenced by Derrida, She translated into English Derrida's important text "Of Grammatology" and her form of post-colonial reading is much indebted to Derrida. Derrida and Spivak were close friends. When I met Derrida in Hong Kong, a few years before his death, he spoke glowingly of Spivak. Homi Bhabha has drawn productively on the formulations of Lacan.

Post-colonialism is usually understood as a period marker "what came after colonialism. However, it is also a way of imagining, style of thinking and a set of reading practices. Post-colonial theorists seek to focus on problematic issues of representation, the interconnections between knowledge and power, as a way of reading texts produced in the former colonies. Edward

Said's "Orientalism; can be regarded as a foundational text for post-colonial studies. In it, he focused largely on the Middle East and how it was misrepresented in the writings of Western scholars and writers. They are also interested in reading canonical western texts in the light of imperialism and colonialism. The writing of Said, especially his book "Culture and Imperialism", is important in this regards.

Q: In the book entitled The Empire Writes Back: Theory and Practice in PostColonial Literatures by three Australian academics Bill Ashcroft, Gareth Griffiths, and Helen Tiffin write: "We use the term 'post-colonial'... to cover all the cultures affected by the imperial process from the moment of colonization to the present day. This is because there is a continuity of preoccupations throughout the historical process initiated by European imperial aggression."

I don't agree with this broad and sweeping statement! What is your response?

A: "The Empire Writes Back" is an important book. It helped to generate a great deal of interest in post-colonial writings among university students. I know one of the authors, Bill Ashcroft. I have had many discussions with him. You are absolutely right. One of the main weaknesses of the book is that it tends to lump together all nations that once were under colonial rule. It is very important that we make distinctions among these nations in terms of topography, culture, power relations and so on. Without such finer demarcations, post-colonial studies will not have the desired effect.

The experience of New Zealanders, Nigerians and Indians in relation to the colonial masters was distinctly different. Another weakness of this book, which it shares with many other books on post-colonial theory, is the neglect of indigenous writings. The writing on post-colonialism is characterized by a virtual neglect of indigenous works. This is certainly a drawback. If we are to recognize and assess the full impact of colonialism, we need to focus on indigenous writings.

Let us take the case of Sri Lanka. If we are to make use of post-colonial protocols for cultural analysis, we need to pay attention not only Sri Lankan born writers of English works such as Michael Ondaatje, Romesh Gunasekera, Shyam Selvadurai, important as they are, but also, and more importantly, the writings of Piyadasa Sirisena and S.Mahinda during the colonial period, and the works of Martin Wickremasinghe and Gunadasa Amarasekera a in the post-Independence period.

Q: I have seen many references where post-colonial literature is also called "New English literature(s)" that examines a body of literary writings that reacts to the discourses and views of colonization and its impact. Would you please comment?

A: There has been a considerable body of writing produced on New English literatures. Champions of post-colonial theory have focused on these writings with great enthusiasm. It is indeed true that many of the works that fall under the rubric New English literatures can be examined productively using the styles and vocabularies of analysis associated with post-colonial theory. For example, if we take an Indian born writer, Amitav Ghosh, who displays great powers of creative intelligence and cross-cultural understanding, we can see the relevance and efficacy of post-colonial studies.

But once gain, I wish to return to the topic of indigenous writings. Postcolonial literature includes (if we are to confine ourselves to Anglophone countries) New English literatures as well as the vibrant body of vernacular writings. Let us take India.

There is no doubt that some extremely interesting work is being done in English, and it has begun to attract word-wide attention. At the same time, we must not forget that fact that an equally significant body of writing is produced in indigenous languages such as Bengali, Malayalam, Hindi and Marathi. We cannot afford to ignore this latter corpus of writing. Therefore, it is always useful to bear in mind the fact that while New English literatures

need to be applauded and encouraged, we must not fall victim to the easy slippage between New English literatures and post-colonial literatures.

There is more to post-colonial literature than New English literatures. Part of the problem is that many of the scholars associated with post-colonial theory do not possess the linguistic competence to probe into indigenous writings. Q: Edward Said who wrote his famous and controversial text entitled Orientalism (1978) is considered a seminal work in the field of post-colonial studies. What is this book and how important it is to study this work and understand its impact and trickle down effect into literature as this book also describes the binary between the Orient and the Occident? A: Edward Said's "Orientalism" is regarded as one of the most influential books published in the twentieth century. It has had a profound impact on literary scholars, anthropologists, political scientists, historians, practitioners of cultural studies and so on. "Orientalism", which was published in 1978, is an exploration into the ways in which British and French colonial powers sought to represent, and really misrepresent cultures if the middle east and north Africa in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries as a way of controlling them. Drawing on the concept of discourse as enunciated by Michel Foucault and the interconnections, he established between knowledge and power, Said undertook this study opening up a new pathway of inquiry. Said's focus was on discursive operations and the intersections of language and forms of knowledge and colonial power. Said pointed out how in these European writings, the Orient was turned into a caricature of itself. This line of inquiry had a great impact not only on scholars of the Middle East but also on scholars of South Asia, East Asia, Southeast Asia, Latin America and so on. This book had a profound effect on shaping the new field of post-colonial studies. As you rightly point out, Said's "Orientalism" has its own share of problems. I wish to call attention to a few of them. First, he seems to totalize the west and regard it as monolithic. Second, he does not pay adequate attention to the strategies of resistance fashioned by the colonized. Third, he does not bring gender inequities sufficiently into the equation. Fourth, the problem of representation merits close analysis. This is a little

more complex than the others. Said subscribes to a notion, quite rightly in my view, in which language constructs the realities we interact with. However, when he talks about the orient being misrepresented, he is bringing into the discussion an extra-linguistic reality with which the linguistic reality is being contrasted. These are some of the weaknesses in this very influential book. However, in fairness to Said, it has to be recognised that he refined and fine-tuned some of these ideas in his later writings.

Earlier, we discussed the nature of post-modernism. There are a number of distinct features associated with it repudiation of totalizing narratives, rejection of reason as universal and foundational, centrality of language, problematization of representation, decentering the subject, focus on the nexus of knowledge and power, critique of Enlightenment, crossing of cultural borders, are among them. Post-colonial theorists such as Said paid close attention to many of these defining features.

The following is the second part of the Montage interview with Hawaii-based Sri Lankan academic Professor Wimal Dissanayake. In this insightful interview, Prof. Dissanayake further explains intricate issues associated with post-modernism and post-colonial writings. Among other things, he explains the works of pioneering work of post-colonial theorists, particularly, highlighting their failing to recognise the importance of indigenous languages and literature. Q: How would you explain the work of scholars such as Frantz Fannon who in his book 'The Wretched of the Earth' (French: Les Damn's de la Terre) first published in 1961 examines the psychological effects of colonization looking at Algerian struggle for independence. How important it is to understand Fannon's work in the context of post-colonial studies?

A: Frantz Fanon has played a profoundly significant role in shaping the field of post-colonial studies. Although Edward Said, Gayatri Spivak and Homi Bhabha are generally referred to as the Holy Trinity of post-colonial studies, it is the body of writing produced by Frantz Fanon that initially galvanized the thinking of post-colonial theorists. His books like "The Wretched of the

Earth","Black Skin, White Masks" have had a deep impact on revolutionary thinking in general. Homi Bhabha referred to Fanon as the purveyor of transgressive truth. Drawing on the work of such thinkers as Hegel, Marx, Nietzsche, Freud, Sartre, Frantz fanon combined psychoanalysis and social exploration to highlight the nature of colonialism, its harmful impact on the psyche of colonized and the need for people in the developing world to liberate themselves from this mind-set.

A book like "The Wretched of the Earth" had an electrifying effect on the champions of counter culture in the 1960s, and later on post-colonial studies, because Fanon points out powerfully and cogently the nature of colonial desire, and the abject dependency it promotes as well as the complexities of colonial otherness. Unlike Derrida's, or Lacan's, or some of Foucault's writings, Fanon's work is easy to read. Passages such as the following give an indication of Fanon's preferred style and binary rhetoric. "The black man has two dimensions. -- one with his fellows, the other with the white man. A Negro behaves differently with the white man and with another Negro. That this self-division is a direct result of colonial subjugation is beyond question."

If one wants to study post-colonial theory deeply, it is important to start with the writings of Frantz Fanon. At times he was guilty of untenable reductionisms and misleading hyperbole. Despite these weaknesses, Fanon is an inspiring writer who merits close and sustained study.

Q: In reading even thinly, we come across the work of Homi K Bhabha What's Bhabha's contribution to post-colonial theories and particularly considering his work such as Nation and Narration? (Routledge, 1990 and The Location of Cultures, Routledge, 1994).

A: Homi Bhabha is an extremely influential theorist of post colonial textuality. I know him quite well, having participated with him in conferences in London, Honolulu etc. Once I was the discussant to a paper that he presented on the nature of victims. Bhabha is not an easy writer to read; he is extremely demanding. However, the effort to read him carefully is fully worthwhile. His

books such as "The Location of Culture and Nation and Narration" have raised a plurality of issues that are vitally connected to post-colonial studies.

Let us consider a book like "Narration and Narration." It urges us to re-think the question of nationhood in interesting and complex ways. The concept of nation, to be sure, has received much scholarly attention. Scholars such as Elie Kedourie, Benedict Anderson, Ernest Gellner, Eric Hobsbawm, Anthony Giddens, Partha Chatterjee, Anthony Smith, have written on this topic with great insight. What is interesting about Homi Bhabha's book is that he has sought to adopt a newer approach. What he is seeking to achieve is to demonstrate the fact that all nations are narrated into existence. The stories that each nation tells about itself constitutes its reality. In fashioning this approach, Bhabha is of curse drawing on the formulations of his poststructuralist mentors.

He starts the book by making the following statement. "Nations, like narratives, lose their origins in the myths of time and only fully realize their horizon in the mind's eye. Such an image of the nation 'or narration might seem impossibly romantic and excessively metaphorical, but it is from these traditions of political thought that and literary language that the nation emerged as a powerful historical idea in the west. An idea whose cultural compulsion lies in the impossible unity of the nation as a symbolic force". Benedict Anderson also focused on the cultural significatory elements of nationhood. But Bhabha goes beyond that.

To answer your question about Homi Bhaha's contribution to post-colonial theory, it is indeed very significant. He put into circulation concepts such as hybridity "mimicry" disavowal" third space - that have become the stock in trade of post-colonial studies. While extending the range of Edward Said's interests, Bhabha also pointed out his weaknesses. Bhabha, of course, has his share of drawbacks. He is caught in a kind of unproductive textualism which does not allow him to deal with material and economic forces adequately. These, we need to recognize, are very important forces connected to and which activate post-colonialism. One also gets the impression that he is unduly wedded to the analytical categories and vocabularies of interpretation forged by post-structuralists.

Q: Speaking about key texts on postcolonial literary theories, how important to read and learn from Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak's work such as "Can the Subaltern Speak?" (Originally published in Cary Nelson and Lawrence Grossberg's Marxism and the Interpretation of Culture (1988) highlights her concern for the processes whereby postcolonial studies ironically reinstate and rehearse neo-colonial imperatives of political domination, economic exploitation, and cultural erasure.

It is evident this western post colonial scholars are largely mono-lingual academics and they have no idea about local languages or to speak even about basic literary features of a former colony looking at local text. Is this assumption true?

A: Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak is another post-colonial theorist who has had a profound impact on the growth of this field of inquiry. She sees herself as a Marxist, feminist and deconstructionist. She gained great fame as the translator of Jacques Derrida's book "Of Grammatology", and later went on to publish such books as In Other Worlds, The Post-Colonial Critic, Outside in the Teaching Machine and A Critique of Post-colonial Reason.. She is a very close reader of texts who has succeeded in making use of the approaches and investigative procedures associated with deconstruction to good effect.

Gayatri Spivak's essay "Can the Subaltern Speak" that you referred to is one of the most widely cited essays in literary and cultural studies. Cary Nelson once told me so. This is a remarkable essay. This essay raises a number of important questions related to problematic of representation, power and subaltern consciousness. She raises the question, "can we touch the consciousness of the people, even as we investigate their politics? With what voce-consciousness can the subaltern speak?"

Other related questions are - How can the elite investigator or writer avoid the very real problem of presenting himself or herself as the authoritative representative of subaltern consciousness? Are the subalterns condemned to

a perennial state of invisibility and inaudibility? Should they be eternally at the mercy of metropolitan academics and activists, however well-meaning they may be? These are very important and compellingly significant issues. Some have raised the question Can the elite hear? Are we looking at the wrong sites for understanding subaltern consciousness?

In response to your question, it needs to be said that many of the postcolonial theorists do not have either the linguistic competence or desire to deal with indigenous texts. Gayatri Spivak is different. She knows her Bengali well. She has translated some of the short stories of the revolutionary Bengali writer Mahasweta Devi into English and has written critical essays on her work. In addition, Spivak knows her Sanskrit. Her book, "A Critique of Post-colonial Reason" bears testimony to this fact. Once she told me that one of her first jobs in the United States was to teach Sanskrit at the University of Iowa. In one of my conversations, on the concept of agency, she pointed out the Sanskrit notion of "katruthvaya" comes very close to it. In fact in my book in Sinhala on modern literary concepts I used the two Sanskrit terms "kathruthvaya" and "karakathvaya"; alternatively to convey the idea of agency.

As I mentioned last week, one of the problems with post-colonial theory is that it does not pay adequate attention to the ever expanding corpus of indigenous writings. After all, they form the real centre of post-colonial textuality. This charge cannot be levelled against Gayatri Spivak. Apart from her fluency in English, French and German, she is also well-versed in Bengali, Hindi and Sanskrit. If post-colonial theory and post-colonial studies are to be more productive and clear newer terrains of inquiry, it is very important that vernacular writings should be accorded due respect.

Q: Could you give us a few samples of novels that in your view represent post-colonial literatures?

A: There are many works, written both in English as well as native languages that display characteristic features associated with post-colonial literature. Some of the best writing has emerged from India. African writers, too, have

produced a significant body of work in this regard. For example, a writer like Ngugi wa Thiongo is important in this regard. The question of post-colonial literature and fiction needs to be explored in a wider canvas. Writers like Raja Rao, R.K. Narayan, Chinua Achebe, Wole Soyinka, Amos Tutola, Ngugi wa Thingo, Salman Rushdie, Amiav Ghosh, Rohinton Mistry, Arundhati Roy, M.G. Vassanji, to mention a few who have written in English, deserve careful study. The connections between post-colonial theory and fiction are complex and multiple. There are important linguistic, cultural, ideational, ideological issues that have to be disentangled and unpacked.

Let me cite the work of one Indian-born novelist, Amitav Ghosh. He is not as well-known as he should be in Sri Lanka. He has written a number of novels such as The "Shadow Line", "The Glass Palace", "The Hungry Tide and Sea of Poppies" that focus on a set of important issues related to post-colonial literature. Among them are the interplay of localism and globalism, the nature of cosmopolitanism, colonialism and culture, the emergence of new subject-positions and so on. Ghosh is also a trained anthropologist, and this experience has enabled him to explore issues of colonialism and culture with a great degree of sensitivity and understanding.

Q: So far we have been discussing issues related to post-modernism, poststructuralism, post-colonialism in terms of Western ideas, concepts and theories. Given the fact that Asia possesses a number of rich intellectual traditions, are there any similarities between Asian concepts and these Western theories that we have been discussing?

A: That is a very important question. I can cite a number of Asian texts that bear an uncanny resemblance to some of the theories we have been discussing. Let me highlight two examples, one from India and the other from Japan. One thing we must be clear about is that these European theories and Asian theories emerge from distinctly different knowledgebases and cultural traditions. It is also important that we avoid falling into the trap of thinking that Asian theories anticipated the European ones. With these caveats in mind, let me cite the example of the Indian philosopher Nagarjuna, His work "Mula Madhyama Karika" contains many propositions on self, language and time that bear a remarkable resemblance to post-

structural thinking. His main point was that reality is a linguistic construct and that relativity is vital aspect of cognition. I have published some academic papers on this subject.

The second example is from Japan. If we take a Japanese thinker like Dogen, who represents the essence of Zen culture, we see important parallels in his writings contained in Shobogenzo and post-structuralist thinking. He focused on language and play, scepticism, the constructions of self, problems of representation and communication, reading of nature as text, that remind us of some of the preoccupations and paths of inquiry of post-structuralists and post-modernists. While there are clear similarities and affinities of interest, we must not rush to make simple comparisons. By doing so, we might end up by comparing apples and oranges.