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In Posts and Pasts: A Theory of Postcolonialism, Alfred J. Lopez argues for a formulation of postcolonial studies which diverges in three significant ways from.
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What I offer here, however, is not an originary location or moment but what we might for now call a limit 43 44 P o s t s a n d Pa s t s or boundary. It is such a boundary, then, which may provide a space from which to begin the task of reading the postcolonial. My chosen point of departure for reading such a space, while in no way essential to the task, provides us with a particularly rich body of texts from which to begin.


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As I have indicated elsewhere, the work of Joseph Conrad is especially valuable as a writer credited in many circles with opening a door for writers of the so-called developing world, credited with finding, whether deliberately; that is, consciously or not, a sort of fissure in Western colonial thought through which postcolonial texts have since grown and flourished.

One possible response to such queries is that the deconstructive activity creates a space or condition of freedom without necessarily producing it in its presence, in the form of an acting agent such, of course, is the archetypal hero or messiah or Leader-of-the-People, the one who would destroy all barriers, answer all questions, resolve all doubts and contradictions or render them irrelevant , and generally establish his earthly kingdom, under the banner of which all would thrive—in other words, not only an onto-theology but the seldom-examined metaphor of the master narrative: philosophy as Final Solution.

Let us say further, in a cautious and preliminary way, that this fissure is the space of this incipient freedom, of this possibility of agency and extrication from the exigencies discursive and otherwise of empire, if it is anything at all.

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It is this, or it is nothing at all. Let us, then, give this fissure a name; let us say that it is more than an alterity or a margin. Let this fissure become for us, through a certain metaphoric displacement, something else: the mark or signal or index whose referent or exterior is that of a frontier. Let us nevertheless, then, speak of a frontier, which one novelist encountered or defined and another among others has gone beyond.

The manner, as opposed to the matter, is even more striking, more original. In opposition to homogeneous cultural imperatives, radical critiques of colonial discourses—postcolonial discourses—must themselves be manifold, heterogeneous; that is, they must help create the structures of which they speak. By form I mean the novel form as a medium of consciousness that has its deepest roots in an intuitive and much, much older self than the historical ego or the historical conditions of ego dignity that bind us to a particular decade or generation or century.

By its appearance, such a context would posit the epistemological or ontological necessity of a center as a monolithic cultural imperative—that is to say, as a historical illusion belying the heterogeneity of the discourses it systematically suppresses. Two immediate consequences of such a reinscription of suppressed discourses merit particular attention: 1. Conrad had seen [nonwhites] and known them, but he had seen as white men see—from the outside. II William W. Like Conrad, Bonney probes the frontier, the limitations that inevitably surface in the language, without going beyond them.

Marlow, in his encounter with colonial Otherness, can intuit a threshold, a frontier, which, as we shall see, he cannot bring himself to cross. What saves us is efficiency—the devotion to efficiency. But these were not much account, really. They were no colonists; their administration was merely a squeeze, and nothing more, I suspect.

Post-Colonial Criticism (1990s-present)

They were conquerors, and for that you want only brute force—nothing to boast of. What redeems it is the idea only. An idea at the back of it; not a sentimental pretense but an idea; and an unselfish belief in the idea—something you can set up, and bow down before, and offer a sacrifice to. HoD 21, emphasis added Here Marlow effectively gives the lie to his own construction, to his own complicity in the lie of empire.

Thus the deconstructive double-bind: Marlow accepts the discourses of empire into his narrative in the very act of denouncing them, revealing a state of ambivalence that permeates the narrative. That—and no more, and it is everything. To the extent that any first-person narrator is always more or less situated within the text, thereby making their assumed authority as witnesses problematic, such a critical point is well-enough taken.

But Marlow does not necessarily aspire to such trust from his immediate listeners on the boat, and is, at times, quite bewildered by his experience, a state apparent from his numerous admonishments to his audience about the opacity of his tale. Well, absurd. Good Lord! Six black men advanced in a file, toiling up the path.


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They walked erect and slow, balancing small baskets of earth on their heads, and the clink kept time with their footsteps. They were called criminals, and the outraged law, like the bursting shells, had come to them, an insoluble mystery from the sea.

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HoD 30, emphasis added For Marlow, the discrepancy between signifier and signified is irreconcilable. And then he sees this: Behind this raw matter one of the reclaimed, the product of the new forces at work, strolled despondently, carrying a rifle by its middle. He had a uniform jacket with one button off, and seeing a white man on the path, hoisted his weapon to his shoulder with alacrity. This was simple prudence, white men being so much alike from a distance that he could not tell who I might be. He was speedily reassured, and with a large, white, rascally grin, and a glance at his charge, seemed to take me into partnership in his exalted trust.

After all, I also was a part of the great cause of these high and just proceedings. For Harris, then, to seek paradox is to invoke contradiction without surrendering to the reconciling impulse, without attempting to account for it in terms of oppositions and hierarchies; it is, in other words, to find a space within the monolithic categorizations and taxonomies of Western thought in which to 56 P o s t s a n d Pa s t s reinscribe the alterity always suppressed with such systems—to find a place, in other words, in which to begin to address the Other.

The question may be suspiciously raised at this point: But what is the object that Harris wishes to illuminate, to render present? In order to better articulate our inquiry, however, I will make two preliminary statements: 1. This gesture of clearing implied in the first question is not a simple clearing of presence, allowing what is posited as presence exploitation, slavery, etc. Implicit in this critique of colonial discourses as homogeneous constructs and imperatives is the reinscription of heterogeneity, of the radical alterity of the Other.

They were not enemies, they were not criminals, they were nothing earthly now—nothing but black shadows of disease and starvation, lying confusedly in the greenish gloom. These moribund shapes were as free as the air—and nearly as thin. HoD 31 Clearly this is, for Marlow, a horrible sight.

PP 33, emphasis added And later: [Vigilance] rubbed his eyes since he felt he saw what no human mind should see, a spidery skeleton crawling to the sky.

The Gaze of the Other: Postcolonial Theory and Organizational Analysis

He shrank from the image of his hallucination that was more radical and disruptive of all material conviction than anything he had ever dreamt to see. That the crew members retain the properties of active life in their otherworldly state serves to effectively undermine the oppositional logic prevalent in Heart of Darkness. Which is not to say that Marlow as a character is in any way static; as we have already seen, however much in passing, the processes by which he encounters the frontier of Otherness; but while Conrad, through the experiences of his characterized narrator, steps back from the brink, Harris takes us across, fissuring oppositional lines as we breach the multiple realities of a postcolonial world.

It seemed as if one had traveled thousands and thousands of miles, and in fact had traveled to another world, as it were, because one was suddenly aware of the fantastic density of place.


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  6. The impossibility of homogenization or suppression of the Other, then, can sometimes be seen as threatening and sometimes as liberating, depending of course upon context, subject positions who is doing the suppressing or liberating or whatever , and so forth; and both of these possibilities coexist more or less simultaneously in Heart of Darkness. It is something that is impertinent to the homogeneous novel, though immensely consistent with the subjective crisis of twentieth-century man [sic].

    How then comes it that. Upon confronting the wilderness himself, however, Marlow finds it to be less passive than he may have originally believed: Going up that river was like traveling back to the earliest beginnings of the world, when vegetation rioted on the earth and the big trees were kings. An empty stream, a great silence, and impenetrable forest. And this stillness of life did not in the least resemble a peace. It was the stillness of an implacable force brooding over an inscrutable intention.

    That Marlow experiences the force of an African nature in this way, moreover, aptly illustrates both his realization of a representative Otherness and his perceived oppositional relation to it. Wind rustles the leafy curtains through which masks of living beard dangled as low as the water and the sun. My living eye was stunned by inversions of the brilliancy and the gloom of the forest in a deception and hollow and socket.

    PP 28 And: A sigh swept out of the gloom of the trees, unlike any human sound as a mask is unlike flesh and blood.

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    The unearthly, half-gentle, half, shuddering whisper ran along the tips of graven leaves. Nothing appeared to stir. And then the whole forest quivered and sighed and shook with violent instantaneous relief in a throaty clamour of waters as we approached the river again. What now remains addresses, however cursorily, is the future of the frontier, of this postdeconstructive moment of fissure. Let us end with a more informed, a more useful pair of questions than the question with which we began: What form s can this postimperialist literature yet take?

    Postcolonial literature

    We can begin to address these questions by saying that the fissure to which I have been referring must begin not in the center as the center is infinitely substitutable but on the margins. But even this is not enough, for what has in the history of empire been written and read as the margin must come to be known as something else: To think of ourselves as marginal or marginalized is to put us forever at the edge and not center stage. The word margin, however, has another meaning which I prefer to think of when it is used as a descriptive term for managed peoples—it also means frontier.

    And when we think of ourselves as being on the frontier, our perspective immediately changes. Our position is no longer one in relation to the managers, but we now face outward, away from them, to the undiscovered space and place up ahead which we are about to uncover—spaces in which we can empower ourselves. The implications inherent in such a radical shift, however, are both profound and inescapable; for what it implies is nothing less than a complete reinscription of positions, literally a turning away from the homogeneous totalizations of the past.

    Contained as it is within a poem, within a volume entitled Versos Libres,1 a book of poetry written during a time of revolution and upheaval much as is our own , is it a question that requires an answer? Is it a simple rhetorical gesture, requiring of us or his contemporaries: not the same thing an equally simple affirmation? Or does it somehow interrogate the future; that is, does the poet project his question, blindly, into a future, from which he hopes against hope for a reply, a return?

    And we must hesitate in our response. Or put another way: Would the specter be satisfied with our admiration and approval? Would it be pleased to know of our reading and writing of it, our willingness to spread the word, to bear witness to its message?

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    Or must we, too, struggle, fight, possibly become martyrs as well? To require what? We do not know; the ghost must be addressed.