[Marxism] Colonialism and Language

Jeff Rubard jeffrubard at fusemail.com
Wed Feb 4 18:53:20 MST 2004

> Message: 3
> Date: Wed, 04 Feb 2004 09:37:48 -0500
> From: Louis Proyect <lnp3 at panix.com>
> Subject: [Marxism] Reply to a graduate student
> To: Activists and scholars in Marxist tradition
> 	<marxism at lists.econ.utah.edu>
> Message-ID: <402103BC.2000908 at panix.com>
> Content-Type: text/plain; charset=us-ascii; format=flowed
> Hello,
> I am taking a graduate class in ideology in literature and
> postcolonialism.  I emailed my professor with the following question.
> "What was the culture of native Africans, Native Indians, etc., etc. and
> how would those cultures have evolved without colonial input?  Would we
> even be aware of them today and would they be aware of us?  Would we
> want for them the same so called "advantages" we have in our Western
> World?   As negative and harming as colonialism was (and is,)  wasn't
> there some good that came out of it?   Would tribal peoples know about
> the world and the advantages of the world if they were never "invaded?"
> and if so, how?"
> He recommeded reading "Things Fall Apart" which I did.   I certainly
> appreciate the story.  However, my question is still not answered.  I
> thought you could perhaps shed some light on this subject and provide me
> with some resources.
> Thank you,
> Cathy
> In terms of additional resources, I would strongly recommend Jack
> Weatherford's "Savages and Civilization: Who Will Survive?", which shows
> that history moves forward through successive, dialectically related
> exchange/confrontations between urban and nomadic peoples. Also, Jim
> Blaut's "Colonizer's Model of the World", which takes up the question of
> how "Western Civilization" triumphed over the rest of the world.

Two additional suggestions:

1) The best-known figure for examining native languages with respect to
the Indo-European "diaspora" is the Kenyan Ngugi wa Thiongo, whom I read
for a class about ten years ago.  He began writing on the post-colonial
experience in English: notably *The River Between*, which deals with the
"no-longer-topical" question of female circumcision, and the collection of
essays *Decolonising the Mind* -- wherein he rejects the idea that
suitably purified languages of empire are adequate to describe the
*post-colonial* experience (he took his own advice and began writing in a
local dialect).  Other suggestions are widely available, as persons in
your community outside the academic fold will likely know.

2) For a less "counterfactual" perspective towards colonialism, the works
of Sherman Alexie are in my experience a good representation of the
attitudes of US Indians towards cultural assimilation (a topic which
others here can expand upon).  And although I am less-than-knowledgeable
about the cultural attitudes of other Native Americans, I am not sure that
the dynamic is not fundamentally different in the Americas (to the extent
that representing the Zapatistas as Mayan is perhaps less accurate than
giving the impression that they don't have their star hitched to *la
raza*).  In other words, it's really not "out-there" at all to understand
*indigenos* as a linguistic *baseline* for most of the Americas -- really,
quite a bit of literature composed outside of the urbanized US hews quite
closely to standards set by indigenous "speech genres" (i.e., your
favorite magical realists probably have paid as much attention as Ian
Frazier, if not Ian Hacking, to such styles).

More information about the Marxism mailing list