The 'Post-Colonial' Debate: Marx & Anti-Marx

Doug Henwood dhenwood at panix.com
Mon Oct 14 14:26:24 MDT 1996


At 9:25 PM 10/13/96, Louis R Godena wrote:

>It is clear that post-colonial theory represents both an important
>complement to the literature of the Left,  as well as a troubling challenge
>to some of the more orthodox aspects of modern Marxism.    I would like to
>see this issue pursued further.

Louis (G) writes these wonderful little essays and then no one seems to
respond to them. His contribution on science the other day was important,
but I suspect if I knew more I'd want to disagree with him (by separating
more precisely the specifically capitalist aspects of sci/tech from the
immanent logic, if there's such a thing, of science itself). Aren't there
any Marxian scientists around here?

Anyway, it just happened that I bought a copy of Teresa Ebert's new book
Ludic Feminism and After: Postmodernism, Desire, and Labor in Late
Capitalism. The book is a comprehensive hit on postmodernism, especially in
its academic feminist mode, and offers in its place a "Red feminism." Ludic
feminism replaces the historical materialist mode of analysis with
discourse, and replaces the analysis of power as representing specific
class interests with a  Foucauldian notion of disseminated, placeless
power.

She has a long passage on postcolonialism, that includes a critique of WJT
Mitchell, whom LG cites as follows:

>2) Post-colonial theory may itself mask and even perpetuate unequal and
>economic and cultural relations.    This occurs when the bulk of the
>literary theory emerges out of the metropolitan centers,  "adding value" to
>the literary "raw material" imported from the post-colonial societies.
>Such a situation merely reproduces the inequalities of imperial power
>relations (W.J.T. Mitchell,  "Postcolonial Culture,  Postimperial
>Criticism,"  *Transition*, 56 [1992])

Ebert comments that Mitchell and others "frequently participate in the same
uncritical and ahistorical notion of deimperialization maintained by
essentializing the political effets of discursive performances and, more
important, at the cost of suppressing the economic relations - in short the
labor relations - between center and periphery...and not least between
Western feminists and the subalterns they study" (p. 288).

The postcolonial literature, in other words, focuses on discourse rather
than institutions political economic power and the role of ideology in
serving those interests. Its only subversion is in words, not deeds.

Doug

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Doug Henwood
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