There must exist somewhere a secret handbook for post-colonial critics, the first rule of which reads: 'Begin by rejecting the whole notion of post-colonialism.' It is remarkable how hard it is to find an unabashed enthusiast for the concept among those who promote it: as hard as it was in the Sixties or Seventies to find anyone who owned up to being a structuralist. The idea of the post-colonial has taken such a battering from post-colonial theorists that to use the word unreservedly of oneself would be rather like calling oneself Fatso, or confessing to a furtive interest in coprophilia. Gayatri Spivak remarks with some justification in this book that a good deal of US post-colonial theory is 'bogus', but this gesture is de rigueur when it comes to one post-colonial critic writing about the rest. Besides, for a 'Third World' theorist to break this news to her American colleagues is in one sense deeply unwelcome, and in another sense exactly what they want to hear. Nothing is more voguish in guilt-ridden US academia than to point to the inevitable bad faith of one's position. It is the nearest a Post-Modernist can come to authenticity.
LRB 13 May 1999 | PDF Download