Mar
24

Culture and Imperialism

 Edward Said's Orientalism (1978) is a foundational text in critical studies, as of this writing was cited nearly 70,000 times. In 1993 Said wrote Culture and Imperialism, which broadens the view, broadens the literature, and engages more literature from the liberation activists and writers, but is cited less (at of this writing nearly 30,000; which still makes it an extremely well read and cited book). The book is longer than Orientalism, at 492 pages (in my Vintage print), which is expected given the wider scope. From a development studies perspective, the connection might appear limited, as the book focuses largely on literature. However, I think this is essential reading and it challenges how people are portrayed, critically analyzes language, justifications made for 'intervention', and offers great insight for anyone reading (or writing) reports (which are often plagued with horrendous orientalist and colonialist attitudes).

From the Introduction, contextualizing this book in relation to Orientalism:

"What I left out of Orientalism was that response to western dominance which culminated in the great movements of decolnization all across the Third World. Along with armed resistance in places as diverse as nineteenth century Algeria, Ireland, and Indonesia, there also went considerable efforts in cultural resistance almost everywhere, the assertions of nationalist identities, and, in the political realm, the creation of associations and parties whose common goal was self-determination and national independence. Never was it the case that imperial encounter pitted an active Western intruder against a supine or inert non-Western native; there was always some form of active resistance, and in the overwhelming majority of cases, the resistance finally won out." (p. xiv)

"Readers of this book will quickly discover that narrative is crucial to my argument here, my basic point being that stories are at the heart of what explorers and novelists say about strange regions of the world; they also become the method colonized people use to assert their own identity and the existence of their own history. The main battle in imperialism is over land, of course; but when it came to who owned the land, who had the right to settle and work on it, who kept it going, who won it back, and who now plans its future - these issues were reflected, contested, and even for a time decided in narrative." (p. xv)

From the text:

"As I shall be using the term, 'imperialism' means the practice, the theory, and the attitudes of a dominating metropolitan centre ruling a distant territory; 'colonialism', which is almost always a consequence of imperialism, is the implanting of settlements on distant territory... In our time, direct colonialism has largely ended; imperialism, as we shall see, lingers where it has always been, in a kind of general cultural sphere as well as in specific political, ideological, economic, and social practices." (p. 8-9)

"The slow and often bitterly disputed recovery of geographical territory which is at the heart of decolonization is preceded – as empire had been - by the charting of cultural territory. After the period of 'primary resistance', literally fighting against outside intrusion, there comes the period of secondary, that is, ideological resistance, when efforts are made to reconstitute a 'shattered community, to save or restore the sense and fact of community against all the pressures of the colonial system', as Basil Davidson puts it. This in turn makes possible the establishment of new and independent states." (p. 268)

"One of the first tasks of the culture of resistance was to reclaim, rename and reinhabit the land. And with that came a whole set of further assertions, recoveries, identifications, all of them quite literally grounded in this poetically projected base. The search for authenticity, for a more congenial national origin than that provided by colonial history, for a new pantheon of heroes and (occasionally) heroines, myths, and religions - there too are made possible by a sense of the land reappropriated by its people." (p. 290)

"Fanon foresaw this turn of events. His notion was that unless national consciousness at its moment of success was somehow changed into a social consciousness, the future would hold not liberation but an extension of imperialism. His theory of violence is not meant to answer the appeals of a native chafing under the paternalistic surveillance of a European policeman and, in a sense, preferring the services of a native officer in his place: On the contrary, it first represents colonialism as a totalizing system nourished in the same way" (p. 343).

"In Fanon's world change can come about only when the native, like Lukacs's alienated worker, decides that colonization must end - in other words, there must be an epistemological revolution. Only then can there be movement. At this point enters violence, 'a cleansing force,' which pits colonizer against colonized directly" (p. 347)

"The most disheartening thing about the media — aside from their sheepishly following the government policy model, mobilizing for war right from the start — was their trafficking in 'expert' Middle East lore, supposedly well informed about Arabs. All roads lead to the bazaar; Arabs only understand force; brutality and violence are part of Arab civilization; Islam is an intolerant, segregationist, 'medieval', fanatic, cruel, anti-women religion." (p. 379-380)

"For two generations the United States has sided in the Middle East mostly with tyranny and injustice. No struggle for democracy, or women's rights, or secularism and the rights of minorities has the United States officially supported. Instead one administration after another has propped up compliant and unpopular clients, and turned away from the efforts of small peoples to liberate themselves from military occupation, while subsidizing their enemies. The United States has prompted unlimited militarism and (along with France, Britain, China, Germany, and others) engaged in vast arms sales everywhere in the region" (p. 386)

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Apr
03

Discourse on Colonialism

Aime Cesaire is one of the great voices of the anti-colonial struggle and was the teacher of Fanon (Black Skin, White Masks & The Wretched of the Earth). Cesaire's "Discourse on Colonialism" was originally published in French in 1950, the English version I am using was translated in 1972 and republished in 2000. For the quotes below, note that this version of "Discourse on Colonialism" has an opening work by Kelley and a closing interview with Rene Depestre, and as a result the page numbering may differ from other versions / publications of the book.

Cesaire opens: "A civilization that proves incapable of solving the problems it creates is a decadent civilization. A civilization that chooses to close its eyes to its most crucial problems is a stricken civilization. A civilization that uses its principles for trickery and deceit is a dying civilization." (p. 31)

"First we must study how colonization works to decivilize the colonizer, to brutalize him in the true sense of the word, to degrade him, to awaken him to buried instincts, to covetousness, violence, race hatred, and moral relativism; and we must show that each time a head is cut off or an eye put out in Vietnam and in France they accept the fact, each time a little girl is raped and in France they accept the fact, each time a Madagascan is tortured and in France they accept the fact, civilization acquires another dead weight, a universal regression takes place, a gangrene sets in, a center of infection begins to spread; and that at the end of all these treaties that have been violated, all these lies that have been propagated, all these punitive expeditions that have been tolerated, all these prisoners who have been tied up and interrogated, all these patriots who have been tortured, at the end of all the racial pride that has been encouraged, all the boastfulness that has been displayed, a poison has been instilled into the veins of Europe and, slowly but surely, the continent proceeds toward savagery... and they hide the truth from themselves, that it is barbarism, but the supreme barbarism, the crowning barbarism that sums up all the daily barbarisms; that it is Nazism, yes, but that before they were its victims, they were its accomplices; that they tolerated that Nazism before it was inflicted on them, that they absolved it, shut their eyes to it, legitimized it, because, until then, it had been applied only to non-European peoples; that they have cultivated that Nazism, that they are responsible for it, and that before engulfing the whole of Western, Christian civilization in its reddened waters, it oozes, seeps, and trickles from every crack." (p. 35-36)

"What am I driving at? At this idea: that no one colonizes innocently, that no one colonizes with impunity either; that a nation which colonizes, that a civilization which justifies colonization - and therefore force - is already a sick civilization, a civilization that is morally diseased, that irresistibly, progressing from one consequence to another, one repudiation to another, calls for its Hitler, I mean its punishment." (p. 39)

"...colonial activity, colonial enterprise, colonial conquest, which is based on contempt for the native and justified by that contempt, inevitably tends to change him who undertakes it; that the colonizer, who in order to ease his conscience gets into the habit of seeing the other man as an animal, accustoms himself to treating him like an animal, and tends objectively to transform himself into an animal." (p. 41)

"Therefore, comrade, you will hold as enemies - loftily, lucidly, consistently - not only sadistic governors and greedy bankers, not only prefects who torture and colonists who flog, not only corrupt, check-licking politicians and subservient judges, but likewise and for the same reason, venomous journalists, goitrous academicians, wreathed in dollars and stupidity, ethnographers who go in for metaphysics, presumptuous Belgian theologians, chattering intellectuals born stinking out of the thigh of Nietzsche, the paternalists, the embracers, the corrupters, the back-slappers, the lovers of exoticism, the dividers, the agrarian sociologists, the hoodwinkers, the hoaxers, the hot-air artists, the humbugs, and in general, all those who, performing their functions in the sordid division of labor for the defense of Western bourgeois society, try in divers ways and by infamous diversions to split up the forces of Progress-even if it means denying the very possibility of Progress - all of them tools of capitalism, all of them, openly or secretly, supporters of plundering colonialism, all of them responsible, all hateful, all slave-traders, all henceforth answerable for the violence of revolutionary action." (p. 54-55)

"That the West invented science. That the West alone knows how to think; that at the borders of the Western world there begins the shadowy realm of primitive thinking, which, dominated by the notion of participation, incapable of logic, is the very model of faulty thinking." (p. 69)

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Mar
29

Necropolitics

Achille Mbembe is not as well-known as he should be. One reason is that much of his work is written in French (although more translations are becoming available). I suspect this Cameroonian philosopher and critical scholar will become increasingly well-known in the years to come. This is essential reading (as is his Critique of Black Reason, which I will post about soon). Here I share some notes from his "Necropolitics" (original in French published in 2016, and the English translation published by Duke was published in 2019):

"… war is determined as an end and necessity not only in democracy but also in politics and in culture. War has become both remedy and poison – our pharmakon. Its transformation into the pharmakon of our time has, in turn, let loose gruesome passions that are increasingly pushing our societies to exit democracy and, as was the case under colonization, to transform into societies of enmity." (p. 3)

"His [Fanon's] advice to colonized persons who refused castration was to turn their backs on Europe; in other words, he suggested that one begin with oneself and stand tall outside the categories that brought one to bow and scrape. The difficult involved not only one's being assigned a race but one's internalizing of the terms of this assignation, that is, one's coming to the point of desiring and becoming the accomplice of castration. For everything, or nearly everything, encouraged colonized peoples to inhabit as their skin and their truth the fiction that the Other had produced in their regard." (p. 5)

"Civil peace in the West thus depends in large part on inflicting violence far away, on lighting up centers of atrocities, and on the fiefdom wars and other massacres that accompany the establishment of strongholds and trading posts around the four corners of the planet… the fulfillment of these new desires depended on institutionalizing a regime of inequality at the planetary scale." (p. 19-20)

"The history of modern democracies gets painted as though it reduces to a history internal to Western societies, as if, closed in on themselves and closed to the world, these societies confined themselves to the narrow limits of their immediate environment. Well, never has this been the case. The triumph of modern democracy in the West coincides with the period of its history during which this region of the world was engaged in a two-fold movement of internal consolidation and expansion across the seas. The history of modern democracy is, at bottom, a history with two faces, and even two bodies…" (p. 22)

"… this law aimed at 'humanizing' war. It emerged just as the 'war of brutalization' in Africa was in full swing. The modern laws of war were first formulated during the Conventions in Brussels in 1874, and then at The Hague in 1899 and 1907. But the development of international principles on the subject of war did not necessarily change the conduct of European powers on the ground. Such was the case yesterday; such is the case today." (p. 25)

'The colonial world, as an offspring of democracy, was not the antithesis of the democratic order. It has always been its double, or, again, its nocturnal face. No democracy exists without its double, without its colony – little matter the name and the structure. The colony is not external to democracy and is not necessarily located outside its walls. Democracy bears the colony within it, just as colonialism bears democracy, often in the guise of a mask." (p. 26-27)

"The domain of objects and machines, as much as capital itself, is increasingly presented in the guise of an animistic religion. Everything is put into question up to and including the status of truth. Certainties and convictions are held to be the truth. Reason needs not be employed. Simply believing and surrendering oneself is enough. As a result, public deliberation, which is one of democracy's essential features, no longer consists in discussing and seeking collectively, before the eyes of all citizens, the truth, and ultimately, justice." (p. 55)

"… if they really persist in wanting to live next to us, in our home, they should have their pants down, rears out in the open. Nanoracism defines an era of scullion racism, a sort of pocketknife racism, a spectacle of pigs wallowing in the mud pit. Its function is to turn each of us into billy-goat leather mercenaries. It consists in placing the greatest number of those that we regard as undesirable in intolerable conditions, to surround them daily, to inflict upon them, repeatedly, an incalculable number of racist jabs and injuries, to strip them of all their acquired rights, to smoke them out of their hives and dishonor them until they are left with no choice but to self-deport." (p. 58)

"That the technologies which produced Nazism originated in the plantation or in the colony, or that – Foucault's thesis – Nazism and Stalinism actually only amplified a series of already extant mechanisms of Western European social and political formations (subjugation of the body, health regulations, social Darwinism, eugenics, medicolegal theories on heredity, degeneration, and race) is, in the end, irrelevant. Yet one fact remains: in modern philosophical thought and in the imaginary and practice of European politics, the colony represents a site in which sovereignty fundamentally consists in exercising a power outside the law …" (p. 76)

"If yesterday the modern rational subject's raison de vivre was to fight against myth, superstition, and obscurantism, the work of reason nowadays is to allow for different modes of seeing and measuring to appear. It is to help human subjects to properly identify the threshold that distinguishes between the calculable and the incalculable, the quantifiable and the unquantifiable, the computable and the incomputable. It is to help them understand that technologies of calculation, computation, and quantification do present us with one world among many actual and possible worlds. Therefore, as Pasquinelli argues, different modes of measuring will open up the possibility of different aesthetics, of different politics of inhabiting the Earth, and, we may add, of sharing the planet." (p. 113)

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Nov
17

Indigenous Pathways of Action and Freedom

Taiaiake Alfred's "Wasase: Indigenous Pathways of Action and Freedom" (2009) was recommended to me, as I sought out a book (or parts of a book) that might be used to introduce undergraduate students to ethical and justice issues of colonialism in Canada. In some ways, it is similar to Ngugi's work on decolonizing the mind, and in some ways it is similar to Smith's work on decolonizing methodologies, but it is also quite different. The author says that "Wasase is a book that speaks to the imperceptible way that European thought has polluted the minds of Native Americans resulting in cultural blanks. It speaks to reflection: reflection on that pollution. It speaks to revitalization: revitalization of the "Warrior's Way" which is the only way Native Americans will be able to find their way out of the colonizers quagmire" (p. 11).

At points, the book presents forceful challenges to Settler and colonial society, drawing on Memmi and Fanon. Taiaiake presents an "ethical and political vision, the real demonstration of our resolve to survive as Onkwehonwe [first people] and to do what we must to force the Settlers to acknowledge our existence and the integrity of our connection to the land" (p. 19). The way forward, the book outlines, is challenging because the "political and social institutions that govern us have been shaped and organized to serve white power and they conform to the interests of the stats founded on that objective. These state and Settler-serving institutions are useless to the cause of our survival" (p. 20). In a longer passage, the author writes:

  • "What it comes down to in confronting our imperial reality is that some of us what to reform colonial law and policy, to dull that monster's teeth so that we can't be ripped apart so easily. Some of us believe in reconciliation, forgetting that the monster has a genocidal appetite, a taste for our blood, and would sooner tear us apart than lick our hands. I think that the only thing that has changed since our ancestors first declared war on the invaders is that some of us have lost heart. Against history and against those who would submit to it, I am with the warriors who want to beat the beast into bloody submission and teach it to behave." (p. 37)

The passion and forcefulness of the opening pages is somehow softened as the book develops the ideas. For example, one might read the above passages as calling for violence as a means to achieve the objective, but that is generally opposed. The place of Settlers, one might assume, is better elsewhere, but that too is clarified: "When we say to the Settlers, "Give it back," are we talking about them giving up the country and moving away? No. Irredentism has never been the vision of our peoples. When we say "Give it back," we're talking about Settlers demonstrating respect for what we share - the land and its resources - and making things right by offering us the dignity and freedom we are due and returning our power and land enough for us to be self-sufficient." (p. 153). One wonders if the inclination to approaches that might be considered within the realm of reconciliation are forgetting the monster Taiaiake introduces readers to? 

On language and labels, Taiaiake explains that many "Onkwehonwe [first people] today embrace the label of "aboriginal," but this identity is a legal and social construction of the state, and it is disciplined by racialized violence and economic oppression to serve an agenda of silent surrender... The integrationist and unchallenging aboriginal vision is designed to lead us to oblivion, as individual successes in assimilating to the mainstream are celebrated, and our survival is redefined strictly in the terms of capitalist dogma and practical-minded individualist consumerism and complacency." (p. 23)

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