[Marxism] Fwd: H-Net Review [H-Empire]: Lagji on Gandhi, 'Postcolonial Theory: A Critical Introduction: Second Edition'

Andrew Stewart hasc.warrior.stew at gmail.com
Tue Nov 12 04:47:00 MST 2019



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Andrew Stewart 
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> From: H-Net Staff via H-REVIEW <h-review at lists.h-net.org>
> Date: November 12, 2019 at 6:26:34 AM EST
> To: h-review at lists.h-net.org
> Cc: H-Net Staff <revhelp at mail.h-net.org>
> Subject: H-Net Review [H-Empire]:  Lagji on Gandhi, 'Postcolonial Theory: A Critical Introduction: Second Edition'
> Reply-To: h-review at lists.h-net.org
> 
> Leela Gandhi.  Postcolonial Theory: A Critical Introduction: Second 
> Edition.  New York  Columbia University Press, 2019.  xv + 275 pp.  
> $26.00 (paper), ISBN 978-0-231-17839-6.
> 
> Reviewed by Amanda Lagji (Pitzer College)
> Published on H-Empire (November, 2019)
> Commissioned by Gemma Masson
> 
> The first edition of Leela Gandhi's _Postcolonial Theory: A Critical 
> Introduction_, published in 1998, was an indispensable guide to a 
> field that, while relatively recently coalescing into a definable 
> approach and discipline, was also engaged in self-reflexive 
> critiques. Now released in a second edition, _Postcolonial Theory: A 
> Critical Introduction_ (2019) includes a short new preface and an 
> epilogue titled "If This Were a Manifesto for Postcolonial Thinking." 
> The latter is a substantial meditation on developments in the field 
> that asks "what is enduring in postcolonial thinking" (p. 
> xi)--capturing not only a backward look on postcolonial thinking's 
> new interlocutors since the first edition, but also a forward look to 
> what might persist. Given that twenty years has elapsed between the 
> first and second editions, we might turn Gandhi's question back on 
> her introduction to postcolonial theory itself: what endures, and 
> what persists? If the updates to the text consist of a second preface 
> and a new epilogue that bookend the text, to what extent do the 
> original chapters still capture the landscape of the field? 
> 
> If the goal of the first edition was "'name' postcolonialism," 
> describing its emergence in the academy and "major preoccupations" 
> (p. xiii), the need to name and to situate the field is one that 
> endures--especially for the students and scholars who come to field 
> now, and who might not have the historical consciousness of the 
> culture wars and debates that animated critical theory in the 1990s. 
> Chapter 1, "After Colonialism," usefully traces the interventions of 
> postcolonial theory to understanding the aftermath of colonialism, 
> and to refusing "the mystifying amnesia of the colonial aftermath" 
> (p. 4). Gandhi reminds us of the psychological and historical 
> dimensions of the aftermath of European colonization, detailing the 
> contributions of Gayatri Spivak, Albert Memmi, Edward Said, Ashis 
> Nandy, Michel Foucault, Frantz Fanon, and Homi Bhabha among others. 
> 
> If this terrain is well trod in other accounts of postcolonialism, 
> Gandhi's second chapter, "Thinking Otherwise: A Brief Intellectual 
> History," contextualizes postcolonial theory's emergence as both an 
> extension of and departure from Marxism, poststructuralism, and 
> Enlightenment philosophies. The chapter begins with the tensions 
> between poststructuralism and postmodernism and Marxism. Gandhi 
> situates this divide in a larger intellectual history, moving us 
> further backward in time: from Jacques Derrida and Michel Foucault to 
> Immanuel Kant to René Descartes, concluding with the immense 
> influence of Friedrich Nietzsche in decrying the limits of Western 
> humanism. The importance of sketching the emergence of postcolonial 
> theory from this larger philosophical tradition--and specifically the 
> critique of the Cartesian theory of epistemological subjectivity--is 
> succinctly summarized by Gandhi: these critiques "hold out the 
> possibility of theorizing a non-coercive relationship or dialogue 
> with the excluded 'Other' of Western humanism" (p. 39). 
> 
> The third chapter, "Postcolonialism and the New Humanities," traces 
> postcolonialism's contemporary "oppositional stance against the 
> traditional humanities," locating its opposition in two related 
> projects: "to foreground the exclusions and elisions which confirm 
> the privileges and authority of canonical knowledge systems" and "to 
> recover those marginalized knowledges which have been occluded and 
> silenced by the entrenched humanist curriculum" (p. 43). Readers 
> interested in the gap between postcolonial theorizing and social 
> realities will find the second half of the chapter particularly 
> useful its critique of the postcolonial academic, who embodies "the 
> incommensurability between the oppositional stance of postcolonial 
> intellectuals and their co-option within the very institutions they 
> allegedly critique" (p. 59). 
> 
> Given Edward Said's towering role in the development of postcolonial 
> studies, it is not surprising that an entire chapter is devoted to 
> "Edward Said and His Critics." In chapter 4, Gandhi is less 
> interested in explicating the nuances of his argument than in 
> analyzing _Orientalism_'s canonization, impact, influence, and 
> limitations. Throughout this chapter, Gandhi offers elegant glosses 
> of Said's work--including and beyond _Orientalism_--and suggests that 
> the limitations of _Orientalism_ inhere in its inability "to 
> accommodate the possibility of difference within Oriental discourse" 
> (p. 79). Specifically, Said's analysis overlooks the way that 
> "Orientalist discourse was strategically available not only to empire 
> but also to its antagonists" and mobilized by writers and others to 
> "critique ... the aggressive capitalism and territorialism of the 
> modern West" (p. 78). 
> 
> Chapter 5 discusses the relationship between postcolonialism and 
> feminism, noting the "collision and collusion" of the two around "the 
> contentious figure of the 'third-world woman'" (p. 83). From Sara 
> Suleri to Chandra Talpade Mohanty, Gandhi's account in this chapter 
> adequately captures the important critiques of postcolonial feminism 
> in the 1990s; it is in this chapter that the refusal to update the 
> chapters for the second edition is most evident. We learn about Jenny 
> Sharpe's "recent" book _Allegories of Empire _(1993) and the 
> arguments of "recent critics and historians" like Rosemary Marangoly 
> George (also 1993) (p. 91). Perhaps the War on Terror rehearses 
> rather than complicates many of the insights Gandhi reviews, but an 
> updated version of this chapter might consider the enduring appeal of 
> Spivak's provocative assessment, quoted also by Gandhi, that "'White 
> men are saving brown women from brown men'" (p. 94). Finally, the 
> chapter ends with a reference to Mohandas Gandhi's "radical 
> self-fashioning" that "complicates the authoritative signature of 
> colonial masculinity" (pp. 100-01). Though occupying a small portion 
> of this chapter, the book largely takes an uncomplicated view of 
> Gandhi's legacy; an updated chapter would profit from the inclusion 
> of the robust debates on Gandhi's gender and racial politics that 
> have gained traction since the first edition.[1] 
> 
> On the other hand, in a time of ethno-nationalist resurgence, chapter 
> 6, "Imagining Community: The Question of Nationalism," remains 
> exceedingly relevant for theorizing both postcolonalism's account of 
> cultural nationalism and our contemporary moment. From Fanon's 
> prescient anticipation of the pitfalls of national consciousness to 
> Benedict Anderson's well-known account of imagined communities, the 
> chapter also historicizes Western antagonism to Third World 
> nationalisms. Chapter 7, "One World: The Vision of Postnationalism," 
> expands the concerns of the previous chapter to consider "the 
> postcolonial desire for extra- or post-national solidarities" (p. 
> 123). The appeal of postnationalism, Gandhi offers, might reside in 
> oppositional fatigue, or "the pervasive postcolonial exhaustion with 
> the mantric iteration of the embattled past" (p. 128). It is in this 
> postnationalist setting that the terms "hybridity" and "diaspora" 
> become popular in postcolonial theory, and Gandhi describes the 
> terms' appeal and limitations alike. The chapter ends on a cautionary 
> note: while a "postnational/postcolonial ethics of hybridity" might 
> offer "a non-violent reading of the colonial past through an emphasis 
> on the mutual transformation of colonizer and colonized," we ought 
> not to let "the euphoric utopianism of this discourse ... degenerate 
> into a premature political amnesia" (p. 140). 
> 
> Chapter 8, "Postcolonial Literatures," describes the centrality of 
> textuality and textual analysis to postcolonial theory, beginning 
> with the important role of literature in the consolidation and 
> expression of colonial power. This chapter addresses several issues 
> that postcolonial studies still grapples with: the language of 
> postcolonial literature, the privileging of the migrant novel, the 
> expectation that postcolonial literatures are necessarily subversive, 
> and the reification of the metropolitan center as the "privileged 
> addressee ... of the romantic postcolonial text" (p. 162). Here 
> again, an update that takes stock of the contemporary conversation in 
> postcolonial theory would be useful. Gandhi concludes the chapter 
> with the assessment that "what postcolonial literature needs is a 
> properly romantic modality; a willingness to critique, ameliorate and 
> build upon the compositions of the colonial aftermath" in order to 
> "envision a transformed and improved future for the postcolonial 
> nation" (p. 166). How would Gandhi, in 2019, respond to David Scott's 
> more recent account of the utility of tragedy and the temporality of 
> postcolonial aftermath?[2] 
> 
> Chapter 9, "The Limits of Postcolonial Theory," is a short chapter 
> that describes postcolonial theory's tendency to straddle "the 
> politics of structure and totality on the one hand, and the politics 
> of the fragment on the other" (p. 167). Gandhi offers that, in the 
> end, postcolonial theory's enduring contributions to a more just 
> world include "hold[ing] out the possibility of thinking our way 
> through, and therefore, out of the historical imbalances and cultural 
> inequalities produced by the colonial encounter" (p. 176). 
> 
> The new epilogue is a departure in form from the rest of the book. 
> Here, in what Gandhi describes as a "Manifesto for Postcolonial 
> Thinking," she describes postcolonial theory's critical perspective, 
> which lends itself to "a contemporary philosophy of renunciation, 
> with a unique proposal for uninjured life and noninjurious community" 
> (p. 177). Each subsection ends with a provocative proposal for what 
> postcolonial thinking can offer, ranging from "Postcolonial thinking 
> can present as an ethics of departure" (p. 192) to "Postcolonial 
> thinking is best as an imperfect outlook that remains indefinite, 
> unfinished, and peripatetic" (p. 205). For readers looking for a 
> concise and specific account of the developments in postcolonial 
> theory since 1998, the epilogue demurs to deliver. Instead, Gandhi 
> focuses her account on seven themes that characterize postcolonial 
> thinking: assemblage, injury, exit, ontology, renunciation, ethics, 
> and advice to kings. In the end, each proposal reads intriguingly 
> like a Nietzschean aphorism. If taken in that spirit, the epilogue 
> offers much to debate and to decipher in contemporary arguments about 
> the utility of postcolonial thinking. 
> 
> To a large extent, _Postcolonial Theory: A Critical Introduction_ 
> endures as an important book for contextualizing and historicizing 
> postcolonial theory. Early chapters are especially suitable for the 
> undergraduate classroom for their clear summaries of complex 
> postcolonial concepts, and for the long view of Western philosophy 
> and humanism out of and against which postcolonial theory emerges. 
> Later chapters on postnationalism and postcolonial literatures should 
> appeal to readers with an already firm grasp of postcolonial theory's 
> history, and the bibliography is indispensable as a compendium of 
> important theorists not only from the first edition's 1998 moment, 
> but updated to include those writing in the second edition's 2019 
> present. 
> 
> Notes 
> 
> [1]. See, for example, Vinay Lal's "Nakedness, Nonviolence, and 
> Brahmacharya: Gandhi's Experiments in Celibate Sexuality" in _Journal 
> of the History of Sexuality_ 9, nos. 1/2 (2000): 105-36. On Gandhi's 
> racial politics, see the 2015 book _The South African Gandhi: 
> Stretcher-Bearer of Empire_ by Aswin Desai, and in particular chapter 
> 2, "Brown over Black," (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 
> 2015). 
> 
> [2]. Scott, _Omens of Adversity: Tragedy, Time, Memory, Justice_ 
> (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2014). 
> 
> Citation: Amanda Lagji. Review of Gandhi, Leela, _Postcolonial 
> Theory: A Critical Introduction: Second Edition_. H-Empire, H-Net 
> Reviews. November, 2019.
> URL: https://www.h-net.org/reviews/showrev.php?id=54600
> 
> This work is licensed under a Creative Commons 
> Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States 
> License.
> 
> 



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