Arif Dirlik uses one key question, posed at the beginning of his essay, to delved into his discussion of the Postcolonial. He begins by posing a question by Ella Shohat, “What exactly…does the ‘post-colonial’ begin?” (Dirlik 561). Dirlik’s quick answer? “When Third World intellectuals have arrived in First World academe” (Dirlik 561). Throughout the rest of the essay, Dirlik attempts to answer this question and centers his argument around it, admitting that his first answer was a little sarcastic.
Dirlik seems to be challenging the term ‘postcolonial’ throughout his essay. From the beginning, he defines the purpose of postcolonial, noting that it is intended “to achieve an authentic globalization of cultural discourses by the extension globally of the intellectual concerns and orientations originating at the sites of Euro-American cultural criticism and by the introduction into the latter voices and subjectives from the margins of earlier political and ideological colonialism that now demand a hearing at those very sites at the center” (Dirlik 561). By saying this, Dirlik is hinting at his belief that the ‘postcolonial’ is an extension of Eurocentrism. He continues by noting the multitude of meanings and usages the have been tied to the term when he states,
“Three uses of the term seem to me to be especially prominent (and significant): (a) as a literal description of conditions in formerly colonial societies, in which case the term has concrete referents, as in postcolonial societies or postcolonial intellectuals; (b) as a description of a global condition after the period of colonialism, in which case the usage is somewhat more abstract and less concrete in reference, comparable in its vagueness to the earlier term Third World, for which it is intended as a substrate; and (c) as a description of a discourse on the above-named conditions that is informed by the epistemological and psychic orientations that are products of those conditions” (Dirlik 563-564).
What I found interesting in this quotation is that Dirlik mentions one of the uses of ‘postcolonial’ as being a substitute to the term ‘Third World.’ Can ‘postcolonial’ substitute ‘Third World’? Are they intended to mean the same things or are there different implications? At this moment, Dirlik attempts to point of the different between ‘postcolonial’ and ‘Third World’. He notes that the term ‘Third World’ “was quite vague in encompassing within one uniform category vastly heterogeneous historical circumstances and in locking in fixed positions, structurally if not geographically, societies and populations that shifted with global relationships” (Dirlik 564). The term ‘postcolonial’, however, does not allow identification for location. Once ‘postcolonial’ broke from the large overarching categoric term ‘Third World’, its identity was no longer structural; it instead becomes discursive, resulting in the postcolonial discourse. Participation in the discourse is the cause of postcolonial intellectuals.
The postcolonial theories developed by the postcolonial intellectuals look at themes that have been given new signification after capitalism. Dirlik states, “I argue, first, that there is a parallel between the ascendancy in cultural criticism of the idea of postcoloniality and an emergent consciousness of global capitalism in the 1980s…” (Dirlik 563). Dirlik is noting the influence that capitalism has had on postcolonial thought and theory, expressing that postcolonial theory reworks Western ideas as the global economy and capitalism economy changes.
After establishing this, Dirlik continues his discussion of the postcolonial intellectual and the postcolonial subject. He notes the strong need to diminish the monolithic thought and voice of the Third World, especially its position as Other. He says, “Although First and Third World positions may not be interchangeable, they are nevertheless quite fluid, which implies a need to qualify if not to repudiate binary oppositions in the articulation of their relationship” (Dirlik 567).
Dirlik continues on to question the argument that states that capitalism and postcolonial are related through the structure of Eurocentrism. He notes of Eurocentrism, “I think it is arguable that the end of Eurocentrism is an illusion because capitalism culture as it has taken shake has Eurocentrism built into the very structure of its narrative, which may explain why, even as Europe and the United States lose their domination of the capitalist world economy, European and American cultural values retain their domination” (Dirlik 579). This calls into question the classification of the three worlds, Dirlik argues. He notes that the Second World is pretty much a thing of the past. However, “the new global configuration also calls into question the distinctions between the First and Third Worlds. Parts of the earlier Third World are today on the pathways of transnational capital and belong in the ‘developed’ sector of the world economy. Likewise, parts of the First World marginalized in the new global economy are hardly distinguishable in way of life from what used to be viewed as the Their World” (Dirlik 579). He wonders if the three worlds are tenable anymore because of how “new diasporas have relocated the Self there and the Other here, and consequently borders and boundaries have been confounded” (581).
“Good Advice is Rarer than Rubies”, a short story by Salman Rushdie follows a woman named Miss Rehana. We eventually learn that she was set up in an arranged marriage with an immigrant who moved to England (without her). Miss Rehana goes to Muhammad Ali, but explains that she is too poor to pay for his advice. He, however is taken by her beauty, and agrees to give her advice and offer her a passport that would allow her to get to England for her marriage. He warns her of the dangers that lie ahead of her, especially the men at the gate of the British Consulate, as these men would ask her questions “personal, questions, questions such as a lady’s own brother would be too shy to ask” (Rushdie 9).
Miss Rehana, takes the advice, but decides to outwit the men at the British Consulate gates, answering every question wrong on purpose. This causes the men to deny her from getting her pass into England. Upon Muhammad Ali hearing the news, he wonders why Miss Rehana would do such a thing (I did too, at first). That is when we find out about Miss Rehana’s arranged engagement. She says, “I was nine years old when my parented fixed it. Mustafa Dar was already thirty at that time, but my father wanted someone who could look after me as he had done himself…Then Mustafa Dar went to England and said he would send for me. That was many years ago. I have his photo but he is like a stranger to me. Even his voice, I do not recognize on the phone” (Rushdie 14).
Miss Rehana was forced into an arranged marriage by her parents to a man who seems to care less about her. In her description of Mustafa Dar and how he seems to have forgot about her, I was reminded of the way in which in the colonial women were subjected to arranged marriages where men assumed all power and women had none. However, at the end of the story, when Miss Rehana reveals to Muhammad that all is spoiled and he notes that she will never ever get a passport again because now they can cross check her files, she smiles to herself and looks happy as ever. This instance to me depicted that Miss Rehana gained some agency from that moment, as she effectively outsmarted the guards to get what she wanted (to not be forced into the marriage). It reminded me a little bit of Firdaus from Woman at Point Zero, because both characters outwit others and seek out their agency that has been stripped from them as a result of colonization.
“At the Auction of the Ruby Slippers”, a short story from the ‘West’ section of the novel, can be seen as a satire of politics, society, and capitalism’s affect over them. This story allows Rushdie to critique society’s downfalls: capitalism and social priorities (specifically in that society glorifies celebrities which places them in a higher status and class position. Rushdie’s telling of the auction depicts the negative effects of capitalism, using the ruby slippers from The Wizard of Oz to depict that the high, privileged class’ position allows them to spend their capital on material items such as the ruby slippers memorabilia. He depicts society’s obsession with materialism as a result of capitalism when the narrator describes an individual trying to lean forward and kiss the display, ultimately resulting in her death. This happens twice, and that helps depict the stupid obsession with materialism.
Rushdie continues to discuss the negative impacts that rampant capitalism and desire for profit has brought upon countries. He writes, “The Grand Saleroom of of the Auctioneers is the beating heart of the earth…In the Grand Saleroom, in recent years, we have witnessed the auction of the Taj Mahal, the Statue of Liberty, the Alps, the Sphinx. We have assisted in the sale of wives and the purchase of husbands. State secrets have been sold here, openly, to the highest bidder. On one very special occasion, the Auctioneers presided over the sale, to an overheated and inter-denominational bunch of smoldering red demons, of a wide selection of human souls of all classes, qualities, ages, races and creeds” (Rushdie 98). Here, Rushdie is symbolizing how capital wealth has taken over the minds of society. People will do anything, Rushdie argues through the metaphor of selling major landmarks (the Statue of Liberty, the Taj Mahal) or state secrets.
I absolutely loved this course. I believe that it opened up my mind and provided me valuable insight into the effects of colonization, which are typically overlooked in general education classes. Most effective in this was the reading of Nervous Conditions as this was the first time I read that novel (I have already read Things Fall Apart many times and have read Woman at Point-Zero once before–both are wonderful reads and I am glad I got to revisit them with my newly learned postcolonial lens). Nervous Conditions was an excellent read alongside the numerous terms from Post-Colonial Studies: The Key Concepts. This novel helped provided me with a solid understanding of mimicry and hybridity, especially in relation to colonization. Likewise, I could imagine teaching this novel to my future classes because I believe in the value of the story behind it.
I also think this course allowed me to view the world differently. By this, I mean that I still had a somewhat naïve view of the world prior. Although I had previously tried my best to squash these views, this course served as a type of “reality check”, for lack of a better word, for me. For example, I learned so much when we talked and read about veiling, specifically through Leila Ahmed’s piece “The Discourse of the Veil.” This piece has stuck with me ever since. After the attacks on September 11th, Laura Bush made remarks that we had to save the oppressed women of Afghanistan. There were assumptions made about the veil that it represented oppression of women, yet this is not always true and by perpetuating these assumptions, we are stripping these women of choice. I was too young at the time to remember and comprehend Laura Bush’s comments and intentions, but now, as I again learn and read about it, I have a new outlook, thanks to the readings of Ahmed. I understand that the veil can mean many things, and that there is not just one meaning of the veil, just like there is not just one “Third World Woman.” These views may still be typical of many individuals, probably even people that I know, because that is what we are shown and taught in school. We are never taught about the other meanings of the veil. We are never taught about the badass, smart, and independent women of the Third World. I am thankful that this course has provided me a glimpse into the (previously) unknown. I wish that others could have this experience that I did because I think that many people would benefit from learning that the ‘Third World’ is not monolithic, that their women are not one stereotypical woman, that the veil does not mean one thing, and that colonization was not good for everyone.
As a side note, I would welcome any recommendations for a few novels or films. I have already seen Persepolis, Bandit Queen, The Terrorist, and Osama.
Thank you, Dr. Clemens, for another awesome class and an awesome semester. Everyone else, it has been a pleasure! Best of luck to all.