December 2000

ISSN 1473-219X





Ashok Bery & Patricia Murray (ed.), Comparing Postcolonial Literatures: Dislocations, Macmillan Press Ltd (2000), ISBN 0-333-72339-2, 283pp, $55.00

The chief virtue of this interesting collection of conference papers is to prod (constructively) at the edges of the established subject areas of postcolonial studies. The editors state their objective as: 'a timely questioning of the categories of a critical field at the point when it is becoming increasingly comparative, this volume seeks to suggest more dynamic ways of working in postcolonial cultural studies.'

Thus, boundaries, disciplinary or otherwise, become borderlands, where new meanings can found and interrogated. For example, Seumas Heaney’s well known critique of the term ‘British’ (as employed in the Penguin Book of Contemporary British Poetry) is cited, as might well have been Colin McArthur’s formulation of the problem in the context of the Scottish media. Similarly, we could question the use of the term ‘British-Irish’ as built into the so-called Good Friday agreement in Northern Ireland.

In fact, both Ireland and Scotland feature in the collection at crucial junctures. C L Innes’s discussion of how ‘Ireland is allowed access to the postcolonial field through a gap in the fence, and with some resistance’, is followed by Willy Maley’s discussion of the Scottish ‘Anglo-Irish’. Indeed, in the last couple of years the peculiar position of Scotland as a ‘steteless nation’ has figured in substantial discussion. In a recent article, Michael Gardiner attempts to articulate some confusion about paradoxical nature of Scotland as both coloniser and colonised: ‘...accounts of Scotland’s role in British colonialism are still pointedly absent, a need implied here in the idea of of ‘Scottish postcoloniality’. Such accounts cannot however involve analyses of a Scottish colonial state ideology, since Scotland has never been a colonising nation-state. Scotland, as such, has had no foreign policy since 1707 (and there is no path as yet to bringing it within the competence of the Scottish parliament), yet an over-identification with a new British Union on the part of professional and public Scots in the century and a half following the Act of Union put them at the forefront of British colonialism.’ (Gardiner, 2001: 24)

Similarly, the case of America, and, especially, its contemporary ethnic margins, are discussed by Susan Forsyth and Nara Araújo. This is again an area of crucial contemporary debate and concern. For example, within American Studies, the postcolonial nature of the American experience has been shifted from the origins of the American nation to the ‘reality’ of the post-World War Two American experience... whilst, at the same time, has attempted to divorce the United States from its sole claim on the term ‘America’.

There are also essays on the representation of Australian Aboriginals, and writers from Cuba, the Caribbean, African, etc, that put the general theme of margins and borders into an international context.

The second major virtue of the essays presented is their attempt, in various ways, to probe the methodological core of several assumptions at the heart of postcolonial theory. Some contemporary work has sought to problematise both the nature of textual evidence, for example, Rimi Chaterjee’s essay on the influence both of the individual and publishing industry on a ‘canon’ of postcolonial literature and Gayatri Spivak’s interrogation of the hegemonic and contradictory discursive formulations of the colonial or postcolonial subject.

Both these formulations can be explained by what Gerry Smyth recognises as a 'gap' between theory and history in the field: ‘... there is a problem with the effectiveness of hybridity as a strategy of resistance, or at least with the manner in which effectiveness might be gauged. Because it is the very condition of discourse, because it is an effect of incalculable relations between colonizer and colonized, hybridity appears to preclude any conscious or collective intention on the part of the colonized, and is incapable, therefore, of being deployed for sustained political purposes.' A practical application of such a position can be seen in the way in which the critical 'event' or moment of post-colonialism, Salman Rushdie's 15th August 1947, is translated in a recent article to London 1981, the date of publication of the novel in Thatcherite Britain, eliding the political landmark in favour of the exile's or migrant’s realisation of their role of subject of the British national state.

Such interesting insights typify the approach of this collection which succeeds in presenting not only interesting individual essays, but in engaging in a more general over a range of disciplines, positions and subjects.

Ian Spring,
University of Luton


Gardiner, Michael (2001) ‘Interdisciplinarity after Davie: Postcolonial Theory and Crises of Terminology in Scottish Cultural Studies’, Scottish Studies Review, 2, 10 (Spring), 24-38.
José David Saldívar (1997) Border Matters: Remapping American Cultural Studies, Berkele: University of California Press.
Chaterjee, Rimi B (2001) ‘Canon Without Consensus: Rabindranath Tagore and The Oxford Book of Bengali Verse’, Book History, 4, The Pennsylvania State University Press.
Spivak, Gayartri Chakravorty (1999) A Critique of Postcolonial Reason: Towards a History of the Vanishing Present, Cambidge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press,

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