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Postcolonialism and Postmodernism

Postcolonialism and Postmodernism

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Published by Sara Regina Fonseca
An older essay (2008) confronting the theoretical fundations of postcolonialism and postmodernism. It is kind of a preparatory essay for the next one. Also submitted to the University of Stockholm.
An older essay (2008) confronting the theoretical fundations of postcolonialism and postmodernism. It is kind of a preparatory essay for the next one. Also submitted to the University of Stockholm.

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Published by: Sara Regina Fonseca on Sep 20, 2010
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Sara Regina Fonseca
In order to explain my personal motivations to write this essay I will allow myself to be overtly subjective and make some daring generalizations, whilst beingaware of the fact that my initial judgments might be over-simplistic and unjust. These first impulses are nevertheless important, since they constitute the drivingforce of the discussion I am going to develop later on. I chose the topic of thisessay out of a personal uneasiness with certain issues that I perceived when Imoved from Colombia to Sweden. The first issue has to do with the way in which–as I perceived it- people enjoyed playing different roles in everyday life. I sawthis being manifested in, for example, the popularity of the role-play and in thecloth collections of the H&M mega stores where you could find, in the samebuilding and for accessible prices, anything you needed in order to look hippie,punk, executive, sexy, ethnic, etc. The second issue, which is closely connectedto the first, was the value that people seemed to put into ‘variety’ as the secretwhich best led to ‘the fun’ and ‘the exciting’; two things that seemed to me to bevery important for Swedish society. As I saw it, these issues permeated the arts,the education, the entertainment, the intellectuality and even people’s sense of humour. Looking at the Swedish society as a new place and from my particularcultural background, these attitudes seemed to me a little too easy andunserious. At the same time, I found myself being painfully unable to relax andplay; and I admired the way in which young well educated people could talkabout almost anything, using their broad general culture to juggle with theirpieces of knowledge; jumping from foreign politics to technology and to pop starsin a witty, exciting and uncommitted way. I decided that boredom and sadnesswere taboos in Sweden.Apart from becoming aware of my own narrow-mindedness and lack of humour, Istrongly felt the vacuum produced by ‘a lack of deep meanings’ in things. Therewas some kind of injustice in the way in which this light game of forms and itemsacquired its ‘fun tone’ to the cost of emptying all things from their meanings,1
Sara Regina Fonseca
regardless of how dramatic or transcendental these meanings could be for peoplethat were out of the game. From these thoughts, I came across with issues likeessence’ and ‘identity’; and from these, to issues like ‘exoticismand‘globalization’. Not surprisingly, when I was introduced to postcolonial theory Ifelt identified with its concerns, at the same time as I became even moresuspicious about what I already understood by postmodernism.
1.2.Purpose and Argumentation
I will start by clarifying that I will not try to question postcolonialism or, bettersaid, the postcolonial agenda itself. The reason is that I believe in the greatimportance of its existence for the construction of a more ethical and just world.My intention is, instead, to discuss different strategies and perspectives whichcan help or prevent the postcolonial project. I will do this in the light of postmodernism, considering the powerful influence that postmodernism, in itsphilosophical and material manifestations, has in our contemporary societies.Postmodernism can be seen both as a condition of our age and as a consciousway of assuming life. In this sense, it should be possible to become aware andeven resist postmodern aspects which reverse the postcolonial agendas, as wellas it should be possible to make use of postmodern strategies in order toadvance the postcolonial project. My hope is that the discussion developed inthis paper will allow me, and the readers, to unveil prejudices, visualize nuancesand open spaces for more postcolonial agency.
I will start the main text of this essay by introducing the terms ‘postcolonialism’,‘postmodernism’ and ‘deconstructionism’, in ways which seem to be convenientfor the development of the discussion. From the existing definitions opostcolonialism I will emphasize the aspects concerned with resistance andpolitical intervention. From the writings on postmodernism and deconstruction Iwill primarily use notions developed by Jean-François Lyotard and JacquesDerrida, respectively. The rest of the essay will consist of six sections whichconfront different aspects of postmodernism and postcolonialism. In the section3.1 I will raise the issue of ethics, which will be a constant issue throughout the2
Sara Regina Fonseca
whole discussion. In the section 3.2, I will dial with the issues of History andhistories, referring to the contributions made by the work of the Subaltern Group.In section 3.3, I will discuss the postmodern dynamics of commodification in thelight of postcolonialism. This discussion will be extended to the aspects of Art, theSpiritual and the Exotic in the section 3.4. The section 3.5 deals with the issue of identity and the connected notions of origins and meaning, all of which arecrucial and controversial notions in both, postcolonialism and postmodernism.Finally, the section 3.6 uses an article about the Mabo case in order to show howpostmodernism can be both, supportive or contradictory to the postcolonialagenda, depending on which aspects of it we look at. This section leads to thefinal conclusion of the essay, where I suggest that the relationship between thepostmodern practices and the anti-colonial project of postcolonialism is double-sided.
Like most of academic notions, postmodernism and postcolonialism arecontroversial and complex terms, which are understood in slightly different waysby different authors. I will try, however, to define both terms in the ways whichseem to be convenient as a starting point for our discussion.
 The term ‘postcolonialism’ or ‘post-colonialism’ –with hyphen-, has been referredto as a historical period which starts with the political independization of European ex-colonies, or as the cultural production of people from these ex-colonies, or as theoretical and activist attempts to fight imperialism in all itsforms: physical colonization of territories, ideological hegemony, economicaldomination, global capitalism, Western representations and discourses about thecolonized or the ex-colonized and so forth. The implications of the differentunderstandings of postcolonialism –or post-colonialism- have created muchcontroversies and fruitful discussions. However, all the different understandingsof postcolonialism imply the recognition of a non-Western world, most often3

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