E 397N • What Was Postcolonial Theory?
11:00 AM-12:30 PM
In this course we will investigate the emergence of an enterprise called postcolonial theory in the western academy of the last 25 years, in order to assess its utility for a range of scholarly projects and to see if reports of its death have been exaggerated.
We will work genealogically, establishing what bodies of knowledge, and theoretical, institutional, disciplinary and political questions need to be engaged in order to understand this body of work. Issues that will be foregrounded include the utility and vitality of western critical theory in relation to postcoloniality, particularly Marxism, strands of post-structuralism (Foucault and Derrida) and psychoanalysis; the fraught relation of postcolonial theory to national liberation struggles, as well as the ambiguities of the relation of postcolonial studies to Cold-war area studies. Our focus will be the major texts of the usual suspects: Said, Spivak, Bhabha
What were the precursors to postcolonial theory and what comes after? Can one get from modernization theory and its devastating riposte underdevelopment theory to current notions of globalization without engaging questions of the postcolonial? How interdisciplinary was postcolonial theory? We will focus on the conceptual work that postcolonial thinking allowed in relation to historical periodizing logic, on the relation of postcolonial to comparable designations such as third world, transnational, global and neoliberal. We will ponder the usefulness of notions of mimicry, hybridity, orientalism, resistance and migrancy in understanding postcolonial subjectivity. The intersection of these categories with the broader conceptual categories of race, class, gender, sexuality and nation will be a critical area of inquiry. If the postcolonial was to some extent a theory of an expanded moment in twentieth-century history, how might we historicize that theory?
Supplementary materials in a reading package will include excerpts from Said, Fanon, C.L.R. James, Rodney, Wallerstein and Balibar, Bhabha, Jameson, Suleri, Pletsch, Mohanty, Harlow, Massad, McClintock, Chatterjee, Chakrabarty, Appadurai, Povinelli, Ahmad, Mbembe, Mamdani. In areas in which the class feels un(der)prepared, readings can be added. Some prior engagement with critical theory would be useful, but is not mandatory. The aspirations of this course are ambitious, but engagement rather than mastery will be key. Students will need to have a high tolerance for learning by osmosis, that is, intertextually, not only sequentially.