Widening the Postcolonial Debate

Eric Dickens

Dear Postcolonialists, I have just joined the list, hoping to obtain both information and inspiration. But first, a couple of fundamental questions, which I would be most grateful if someone would answer:

1. Only British?

Most of the websites, pages, searches, etc., concentrate on countries where the British Empire had colonies. Even when conferences are held in Finland, it's still British culture, British Black literature, and so forth, which are the focus. And the research itself is often done in Australia or the United States, where a British colonial past dominates, if subliminally. Whatever happened to all that input discussing Portuguese, Spanish, French, Dutch, Belgian, Russian, Swedish, Danish, Roman, etc., etc., colonialism over the centuries? In which century, and how widely, does postcolonialism begin to examine colonial phenomena in detail?

2. Only the English Language?

Following on from (1), why is it that most of the research into postcolonialism comes from countries where the language of the British Empire -- i.e. English in its various international forms -- dominates as the language of hegemony. No one is denying that it is immensely practical for discussions to be held in one, universally spoken, language. But surely the subject matter should not, almost exclusively, be restricted to countries which were colonised in English, now mostly forming part of the Commonwealth? Whatever happened to the discussion about Portuguese colonialism in Africa and South America, Russian colonialism in Eastern Europe and in Turkic-speaking Central Asia, Belgium (using the French language) in Congo, the Germans in Namibia, the Italians in the Horn of Africa, etc? Surely these areas all have their postcolonial literature, politics and history, even though the colonists didn't speak English? Does Bakhtin only count as a poco theorist when he has appeared in the English language?

3. Only Literature?

Is postcolonialism still weighted towards examining literature, or has it now booked successes in sociology, psychology, political science, etc? Surely there is more to postcolonialism than E.M. Forster and Conrad? Is postcolonialism Eng Lit writ large? Is English literature so good and influential, or so wicked and condescending, that postcolonial literature, to all intents and purposes, means literature written by Anglo-Americans and Antipodeans in English, plus those lucky few from developing countries who manage to publish books in London, Oxbridge and New York?

I do not think I need elaborate on my big question-marks set against postcolonialism. But has anyone any answers?

Postcolonial OV discourseov Bibliography

21 and 28 April 2000