Revision and reversionary in The Empire Writes Back Term Paper
Updated: May 4th, 2019
To begin with, upon seeing the title, I immediately thought of the Star Wars movie. The content is very far from the movie though. In general the book is a very helpful and clearly articulated accumulation of the main issues and problems in post-colonial scholarship. Although some scholars call it outdated and too academic, I think it has its historical value and will be used to teach postcolonial literatures for a long time.
In this paper I was trying to concentrate on the issues of revision. The notion of revision and the term “reversionary” have been discussed widely, although not theorized, by many feminists and postcolonial critics over the past few years. Harold Bloom is a pioneering critic who has theorized the nature of revisionism by describing it as anxiety, an “anxious expectation” in the Freudian sense (Agon Viii).
Revision in the Blooomian model suggests a mediated vision whose agonistic spirit “［contests］ for supremacy, with other spirits, with anteriority, and finally with every earlier vision of itself” (Agon ViiI). However the agonistic fighting that Bloom proposes represents more of “a loving conflict” with previous works than one with the world. Bloom stresses agonistic revisions of texts, not of contexts.
Revision is given a pivotal emphasis in the influential work of Ashcroft, Griffiths and Tiffin, The Empire Writes Back, in which they remark that the “ ‘revisioning’ of received tropes and modes…and the rereading of ‘canonical’ texts possess a powerfully subversive textuality, which emerges as the major post-colonial discursive practice” (Empire 194).
They argue that revision in a periodic modality has become the preeminent genre for writers of the colonial arena. Allusions to the Western classics and the borrowing of the Western model are not accidental. Those who grow up in colonial cultures are encouraged to imitate their Western fathers (Key 139).
Admittedly, the notion of mimicry, in the form of imitation, is effectively combined with the notion of revision of colonial terms. As Ashcroft, Griffiths, and Tiffin note, “When colonial discourse encourages the colonized subject to ‘mimic’ the colonizer, by adopting the colonizer’s cultural habits, assumptions, institutions and values, the result is never a simple reproduction of those traits” (Key 139).
The result, rather than a mere copy or mockery, is the “blurred copy”, ambivalent and menacing. Ashcroft, Griffiths, and Tiffin argue that mimicry is the overt goal of the postcolonial projects. They take V.S. Naipaul’s novel The Mimic Man as an example to illustrate that mimicry is implicit in postcolonial conditions (Empire 88).
According to Ashcroft, Griffiths, and Tiffin, literary revisions as mimic texts that stylistically and generically imitate Western classics disable the imperial center and spread disorder on the margins of empire. In mimicry, the dominant discourse constructs Otherness by a continual process of “repetition and displacement” to maintain control over the other. Mimicry serves as a partial representation that disturbs and mocks the narcissistic desire of colonial authority (Empire 115; Key 139-142).
Ashcroft et al. point out the disabling effect of colonial mimicry as it constructs an “otherness”, menacing the imperial discourse. Bhabha stresses the double vision of mimicry, its resemblance and menace evolving from the process of representation. These criticisms, although laudatory, have overlooked gender differences. I believe that colonial mimicry should be discussed and racial and sexual differences should be examined.
Due to my thesis topic I am very interested in the matters of postcolonial hybridization. Ashcroft, Griffiths, and Tiffin in their seminal study note that various postcolonial cultures produce a form of hybridization.
They argue that postcolonial literatures are intrinsically hybrid because they reveal inherently contradictory elements of different discourses that result from the translation and imposition of European thinking, grounded in ancestry, history, and time, onto a colonial space. The history of the dominant culture is exported to different colonies, but the amputated timeline makes the colonial history replete with internal competing voices (Empire 33-7).
Another point that drew my attention is the matter of language importance. Language has been regarded as an important medium by which colonial hierarchy is perpetuated and imperial domination is reified (Empire 7). The metropolitan assumptions of truth, order, and civilization are maintained and reinforced by an imperial language education that “installs a ‘standard version’…as the norm, and marginalizes all ‘variants’ as impurities (Empire 7).
Language is given a capacity to territorize. In the formation of imperialism, the King’s language, the center, with its Eurocentric standards of judgment, is the privileged form; the marginal or peripheral is denied or excluded.
A dispensation standard was instated at the crux of the development of English studies as a cut-out for the defiance of the value of the subsidiary uncolonized literature. The standardization became central to the civilizing enterprise by the colonists who sought to hue their subjects with their norms and practices in order to vanquish and subdue their cultures so that they can have an overt dominance over them in all spheres of their collective lives.
Essentially, when the indigenous sought to disentangle themselves from the spooling supremacy their tactical move threatened the restricted claims of the centre (George 112-116). Consequently, they were subtly integrated this through the process of conscious affliction arranged under the semblance mimicry purposely to be both accepted and adopted.
This stir notably propelled those who were suspending at the periphery to It plunge themselves into the imported culture, consequently, denying their origins and as (Harris 133) puts it they attempted to become ‘more English than English essentially, English stands out as a sacrosanct tenet positioning its dominance over the other cultures, its unquestioned nature exerted its potency in cultural formation and in ideological schooling institutions (Memi, 28).
Nonetheless, with the advanced growth and development of the post colonial literatures, scholars have sought to establish why English garnered such dominance in the educational realms exerting its rule in the literal cycles.
After a keen scrutiny at the literature written after the upsetting colonial era, I established that the work produced immediately after the wallowing colonial eon went through various stages of development. At first, it was written and aligned with the colonial objective, neither did it display the ingenuous sentiment of the native writers, nor did it stand out as an original English text (Memi 76).
It couldn’t be deemed as a blend of the local with the colonial, it was a mimicry which lacked basis and an underpinning dangled in a balance where it could not assert its stand for it was a copy of the original. The paranoia and the dread of the colonial masters suppressed the native writers from lettering what they candidly believed; their creative work had to be forfeited and shelved because they lived under the shadow of colonial ascendancy.
The original work was tackled and handled in accord with the colonial master hence it had to be attuned to match up their interests and proclivity. Most of the original indigenous work was translated by the colonial masters, logically they molded it to fit their interests and convey the message they intended to convey to the world.
During the second stage of the literature development, the writers sought to blend what they believed to be true as they had learned and construed from their cultures yet they had to tone it down because they viewed the world through the lens of the colonialists (Memi, 31).
As Ashcroft et al focuses on; the conflict elicited by variation in the context and content in regard to background orientations they assert that the thinking and creativity of the invaded culture had been shaped through the educational program which was systematically programmed by the imperialists to sway their thinking to favor colonial rule at their own exepense.
Their minds had been colonized and brainwashed adjusted to think in favor of the colonial ruler so their written text was still tainted with the spots of the imperialism. The breed thus spawned out of the colonial influence could not be termed as English neither could it be termed as indigenous it became a hybrid, tethered by the colonial influence (Griffiths 178-180). The stages in literature development are evidently paired with the phases of both national and the regional consciousness in the plagued societies.
It’s against this back drop that a new breed of freethinking literature intellects sort to revisit and revise the already published post colonial literature in order to give it and edge to stand out free from the colonial manipulate.
Whilst the invaded civilizations sought to equivocate and purge the imperial influence in their literal work, they were ensnared by the very fact that the imperialists gave them the communication language through which they could spawn ideas and reach an extensive audience. The regal rule was the platform through which they could aver their work; in essence they were made from a replication of the fellow colonists but they could not match up the imperialist (Memi 76).
The imperial domination over the local cultures spawned forth intrinsic challenges which garnered problems seeking resolution. In an inimitable way the domination is inexorably entrenched in the dominated cultures. I realized that there were various tensions which could not be disentangled in the post colonial literature.
There two world orders being enmeshed despite their divergent attributions, there was a clash between the old cultural aboriginal ways of life with the incoming dominating settler culture (Ngugi 86). In my view the settler culture sought to assuage the old style indigenous culture by imposing its values and provenance and this of course was broached with dissent from the dominated culture.
According to the book the new culture brought in by the settler was incongruous with the old native culture; there was resistance because the native populace was deeply entrenched in its own systems which were by far very different from the settler culture (Memi, 49). There was the ever nagging clash of the language, the newly imported language from the settler did not match with the new locality, and hence the settler had to impose his language on the native people in order to have a universal accord with his subjects.
I realized according to the literature that the colonial influence from the indigenous literature was nearly impossible, because the essence of the literature being revised was etched in the colonial insignia. Colonialism had given it subsistence; colonialism frog spawned the post colonial literature myriad facets of its content were interwoven having their root in colonialism.
Whilst language served as the media through which the colonialists exerted their rule over the subjects its still the same media through which the work written by the indigenous writers garnered pre-eminence due to its universal nature having exerted its rule in the world.
I realized that irrespective of the relentless exertion by indigenously bred writers from the colonialzed countries to curve out a niche in their texts to illumine their intrinsic cultures, values and attributions the hybridization of their mores by the colonial rule perverted their literature so that it does not come out as either aboriginal or imperial.
There is an inevitably effort to assert a variation between the local culture and the imposing centre of the colonialists (Ashcroff 63). Notably, in all the literature written immediately after the colonial period, there is an allege to remain objective in the matters being discussed yet after a deeper analysis it becomes clear that there is a deliberate effort to conceal the colonial discourse within which the literature was created (Ashcroff et al 94)
Here the hurdle is on the budding writers, the by products of the colonial governance and dominance, how can they evade their models, in what way are they able to sort and understand the imposition of new trends and values? The new information and knowledge they derived from the colonialists has to be matched with their cultures and intrinsically attained attitudes.
I found out that writers sought to identify any extensions of what they already knew in order to develop their texts from their own stand point yet the looming imperial influence chiefly altered their innovation blending their prior knowledge with the imposing colonial attributions and values.
The colonization occurrence and the myriad hurdles spawned by the experience garnered a new breed of writers in English language. The diverse and potent body of literature created unambiguous post-colonial writing in the various cultures affected by the colonial dominance which both defied the customary canon and overriding ideas of literature and culture.
The instant literature produced from the invaded countries identifies with the colonizing powers because the initial text is produced through coordinated activity of the colonized and the colonizers (Memi, 22). In my opinion such literature cannot in any way form a foundation for the indigenous cultures because its production is marred with the colonial intrusion.
Colonial rule essentially dominated and subjugated the indigenous culture, reeling under the austere rule of the imperial power; the writers spawned from the native culture had to adhere to the modalities of the colonial rule (George 52). The literate too has been aligned to match up the interests of the colonizers, the values and beliefs in the native cultures are subdued under the prevailing colonial dominance.
The number one strategy that the European settlers, the former colonies used to subdue and rule the indigenous civilization is by imposing their language on their dominated cultures.
This way they stamped a symbol of their supremacy over the culture reeling under their authority. Moreover, other facets of the colonizers civilization like education and moral codes were imported and vehemently instilled into the dominated cultures. Consequently, the indigenous cultures were overwhelmed and subdued under the colonial callous rule.
The settlers had a goal of imbibing into the resources and facilities of the native cultures, in order to exert their rule over such people they had to pacify and suppress them deeming their cultural elements as both uncouth and invalid (Ashcroff 45). This kind of approach was geared towards swaying the mode of thinking amongst the natives so that they venerated the foreign cultures at the expense of their own.
As the dominated cultures gradually attained their independence they could not phase out some tenets from the imperialists which had been inherently entrenched in their culture by the settlers. Such tenets included language and educational systems so the non indigenous language filtered its way in to the native culture and was easily utilized in the post colonial literature.
There was sense of displacement as the indigenous people held on to the imported language deeming it as an adequate media through which they could express their views. I noticed that the colonizers did not delve into enlightening the native cultures on the richness of their own language; this meant that the local language lacked rank and they feared that once they utilized it in their literature it would bring ruin since it was popularized by the colonial powers.
This was logical because even the education they had attained was conveyed through the imported settler language. Critics have subsequently come out to question the appropriateness of utilizing imported language in native cultures. Harris asserts the view that such brain wash was ensconced through the education system where the native civilization was debased in comparison to the imported culture which was given prominent extol.
The colonial rule dominates the native culture, as the imperialists stealthily crept into their culture and imposed their values on the indigenous people the old culture is progressively undone as guns and new language filter amongst the locals. The words and the diversity of culture from imperialists is aped and gradually etched in the minds of the native cultures as they follow blindly into dominating circular ways of the imperialists which swallow their ways from within.
As time elapses whether it’s in Canada, Africa or India, myriad revisions to the literature written immediately after colonial rule has to be taken through a rigorous revision in order to ape the intrinsic indigenous culture. The now elite and unconventional generation seeks to unshackle the previous literature from the dominating forced lens of the colonialists through which the work was spawned. Ironically, the revision is done in the same colonial language; Kafka uses German while Chinua Achebe uses English.
A major attribution exuded by the dominated literatures is the foreseeable tendency towards insurrection and a keen analysis of the tactics employed by the dominating rulers in their effort to pacify and rule over their subjects. The studies carried by the dominated scholars to illuminates the strategies of subjugation bring into light all the configurations of supremacy of the dominant cultures.
Conversely they also pay attention to the ingenious and imaginative responses exerted by the dominated cultures to this condition openly and obliquely. Thus empires writes back to gear to the imperial axis through nationalist contention asserting its centrality exuding its overt determination to seek answers on European metaphysics challenging the world view that can polarize centre and margins in the first place (Harris 67).
Ashcroft, Bill T. Key Concepts in Post-Colonial Studies. New York and London: Routledge, 1998.
Ashcroff, Bill T. Post colonial futures: Transforming the imperial culture. London: Routledge, 2001.
Ashcroft Bill, Griffiths Gareth and Tiffin Helen. The Empire Writes Back: Theory and Practice in Post-Colonial Literatures. New York and London: Routledge, 1989.
George, Lamming G. The pleasures drawn from exile. London: Alison and Busby Publishers, 1960.
Griffiths, Gareth G. Double exile: African and West Indian writing Boyars Marion. NY: Kniff, 1978.
Harris, Willy C. On History Myth and Fable. Chicago: Calaloux publications. 1970.
Harold, Bloom T. Agony: Towards a Theory of Revisionism. New York: Oxford University Press, 1982.
Memi, Waltz A. Understanding the colonizer and the colonized. Boston: Beacon Press, 1965.
Ngugi, WA T. Mind Decolonizing: Language use in African literature. London: Macmillan press, 1981.
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