Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Introduction to Postcolonial Theory: Departing from ‘Points of Departure’

The task of writing a reaction and summary to An Introduction to Postcolonial Theory has allowed me to go back and reflect on my initial impressions prior to enlisting CL 123 as a determinant subject for pursuing a graduate degree in comparative literature. It dawned on me that my understanding of postcolonial theory has always been leaning towards what is obvious and simplistic. Postcolonial to me then meant after the end of colonization in areas which are formerly under the colonial control of the West.

One cannot be faulted though for having such a simplistic view about what postcolonial theory is. After all, this literal understanding of what is postcolonial stems from derivation of words to acquire meaning; such that ‘post’ is understood as a prefix of ‘after’ and ‘colonial’ is characterized as ‘a territory under the complete control of a state’. In my view, the entire debate about the scope and definition began the moment ‘post’ was attached after the word ‘colonial’ to describe the study of colonial discourse.

 For one, the prefix ‘post’ directly entails a complete end of colonization which then implies that the period of European colonial control and domination is entirely over. However, as what the authors of the introductory reading emphasize, the “persistence of colonialism” is, up to now, still apparent through indirect economic, political, and cultural control of Western powers over its former colonies. In this sense, colonialism has not actually left us, but has merely evolved in a more deceptive form known as neocolonialism, a phase of imperialism that aims to globalize capitalism. As Gayatri Spivak puts it, “we live in a postcolonial neo colonial world”, which means that colonialism is still with us – fully present, ever-changing, and deceptively pervasive.

Although it is determined that the attachment of ‘post’ to ‘colonialism’ makes the definition of ‘postcolonial’ problematic, there is absence of an alternative term to describe the complexity of history and diversity of experiences in different areas which are subject to colonial control. It is a clear misfortune that there is a limit to what our language can actually define or describe. As such, it is quite understandable, in my view, that the term postcolonial is used to describe the entire study of colonial discourse, provided that if asked ‘when is the postcolonial?’ the answer should altogether include the “then” (colonial), “now” (postcolonial), and “not quite yet” (neo colonization). 

From what I understand in the introductory reading, the “in-betweenness” of the postcolonial period is exactly what characterizes it as an “anticipatory discourse” that incessantly searches to describe a condition that does not yet exist or has not yet come into being. With this, it is important to emphasize that the role of postcolonial discourse is for the “reflection and illumination” of colonial, postcolonial, and neocolonial subjects as well as their resistance against the dominant colonial forces in these historical periods. 

Moreover, it should be remembered that even with such broad periodization of postcolonial history, our understanding of postcolonial terminology can still remain problematic because some literary critics attempt to generalize the answers to when, where, who, and what is postcolonial. To generalize the complex and ambiguous experiences of colonial subjects is to miserably fail in seeing the different histories and conditions of colonization in various parts of the globe. The attempt to generally define and describe the colonial situation is impossible given the subjective experiences of colonial subjects and the complexity of their histories.

In attempting to know when is postcolonial, we are faced with the fact about the incompleteness and unevenness of postcolonial period. In attempting to locate the where is postcolonial, we are presented with the complexity in the shift from the idea of nation state to transnationalism. In attempting to answer who is the postcolonial, we are faced with “unsettling identities” of colonial subjects who are faced with the task of recovering and creating their own identities.

Lastly, in attempting to answer what is postcolonial, we are presented with the impossibility of defining an ever-changing term which, according to Spivak, is “never consistent with itself”. As long as colonialism continues to remain elusive, our understanding of what is postcolonial will remain to be uneven and incomplete. However, it is reassuring to know that the role of postcolonial discourse in the academe is to contribute in our understanding to reflect, recognize, and resist colonialism in all its mutated form.


Childs, Peter; Williams, Patrick. Introduction To Post-Colonial Theory. London : Prentice Hall/Harvester Wheatsheaf, 1997.

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