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Colonizer and Colonized

Colonizer and Colonized


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Published by Medway08
Review of Albert Memmi's book
Review of Albert Memmi's book

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Published by: Medway08 on May 22, 2008
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Ana-Maria Blanaru Poli 390 Book Review # 2 September 27th 2002 Albert Memmi: The Colonizer and

The Colonized, Orion Press (New York: 1965)

In The Colonizer and The Colonized, Memmi’s primary argument is that the collapse of colonialism is inevitable and that the only means for this eventual collapse will come through revolt. To substantiate the inevitability of this claim, Memmi invokes extensive use of psychoanalysis to paint generalized portraits of individuals falling into the categories of colonizer or colonized and to explain their relationship within the context of colonialism. He pursues a largely deterministic approach in his argumentation, most succinctly depicted in his statement that ‘man is a product of his objective situation’. (Memmi, xvi) His portraits of colonizer and colonized emerge from this paradigm, as he maps out the influences of the colonial context on the ultimate psychological make-up of colonizers and colonized, and hence their reactions to colonialism. The colonizer assumes the behaviours inherent in his role (brutality, oppression, exploitation, bigotry, etc.) after he arrives in the colony and has his actions determined by the institutions and social rules that already exist there. Memmi asserts that economic gain is the fundamental driving force of colonialism, which in turn explains the situation of sustained exploitation carried out by the colonizers. To highlight this determinism, Memmi tests his hypothesis against the behaviour of Italians – a non-colonial group of Europeans. He points out that ‘having no special

reason to do so, Italians [did] not maintain a great distance between themselves and the colonized’ (Memmi, 15), placing into context the behaviour of the actual colonizers. After describing the colonizer, Memmi moves to a mythical portrait of the colonized, as seen through the eyes of the colonizer, which incorporates the attribution of negative traits such as laziness, corruption and lack of civility to the colonized. Central to this discussion is the issue of racism, which Memmi defines as ‘the substantive expression, to the accuser’s benefit, of a real or imaginary trait of the accused’. (Memmi, 81) He further states that (and here a parallel can be drawn to Cesaire’s concept of ‘thingification’ - Cesaire, 42) it is the colonizer’s supreme ambition to turn the colonized into an object existing only as a function of the needs of the colonizer. (Memmi, 86) The mythical portrait is not only central to understanding the colonizer’s behaviour but also to comprehending the context shaping the behaviour and thought processes of the colonized (since all social institutions and relations between the two groups are founded upon the colonizers’ constructed myths). Memmi also argues that there is a negative correlation between the brutality employed by colonizers and the humanism and other positive attributes found in the colonized. However, colonialism not only serves to brutalize the colonized but also to instill in them inferiority and submission complexes that prevent them from acting to reverse colonialism sooner. Having established that the relationship between the colonizer and colonized is unstable by virtue of its consequences, Memmi then seeks to show why colonialism can only end through revolt. To dismiss any hope of colonialism ending through the initiative of the colonizers, Memmi points to left-wing Europeans refusing to accept the status quo and hence acting in

discordance with it, going as far as to support the quest for freedom of the colonized. While serving to alienate them from the other colonizers, their actions are largely meaningless from the perspective of the colonized, who continue to group them with other colonizers and show no intention of advancing leftist doctrines once liberated, to the disillusionment of the left-wingers who then abandon their cause. According to Memmi, the options thus remaining to bring about the end of colonialism are either assimilation of the colonized or revolt. Assimilation can never occur because inherent in it is the overthrow of the colonial status quo, and as such it will never be tolerated by colonizers. Subsequently, the only tool left to the colonized is to reclaim their liberty by force. Finally, Memmi addresses the process of post-colonial reconstruction, most fundamental to which is the re-establishment of a cohesive societal structure through such means as the reinstatement of the local language, the disbandment of social institutions created by the colonizers, and a focus on nationalism and devout religious following.

Internal Evaluation and Critique
Memmi’s approach is based almost entirely on induction, using psychoanalysis to explore the actions of the two groups, and relying heavily on personal experience and observation, as opposed to concrete contemporary or historical examples. As such, the point of greatest contention regards the external validity of his observations, which he generalizes universally to all people falling within the category of ‘colonizer’ or ‘colonized’. In his preface, which he uses as a tool to counter the main criticisms that can be brought against his methodology, the author

states that, for every line of text, he could produce ‘innumerable concrete facts’ (Memmi xii). Nevertheless, though he attempts to present his descriptions as objectively as possible, generalizations of this extent are questionable. Furthermore, Memmi somewhat refutes his own deterministic approach when he repeatedly states that institutions within the colonial context shape the actions of both colonizers and the colonized, when in reality colonizers created those institutions in the first place, in accordance with their predetermined agenda and arguably their nature. There is also slight incoherence in the argument when Memmi describes the route from the imbalance inherent in colonialism to the only possible outcome: revolution. In his description of the psychology of the colonized, Memmi asserts that, once enslaved, the colonized rapidly forget the concept of liberty, as well as their own days of freedom (Memmi 92). (For an interesting contrast, see Machiavelli, who warns the prince that those used to liberty who will not forget their freedom and will fight to recapture it when the opportunity arises.) Since a reversal of the colonial context is equated with freedom, Memmi does not elaborate on the progression from forgetfulness of perhaps the most significant motivating concept that would produce revolt and the actual occurrence of that revolt. With respect to variables in Memmi’s hypothesis, the responses of the colonized are dependent upon the status of colonialism, and as such, as long as colonialism continues, it is inevitable that the drive for revolt within the colonized will progressively increase until revolt actually occurs. Memmi however, does not consider exogenous factors to his model, such as the fact that ‘mother countries’ may, for unrelated reasons, choose to abandon their colonies, which would terminate the colonial relationship without conflict. Though Memmi’s assertion was correct in predicting

the case of Algeria and other former colonies, it is nonetheless noteworthy that a theory claiming virtual universality takes such a fatalistic approach without due consideration to alternative outcomes.

Contribution to Larger Debates in Political Science
Given the as yet incomplete process of decolonization in progress at the time of his writing, Memmi’s impact stemmed from his conclusion that the end of all colonialism was inevitable and his book served as a source of inspiration to leaders of freedom movements in colonial states. A significant debate addressed by Memmi that is still of relevance today is that of the impact of European colonialism on colonized nations. Memmi does concede that the colonized were not advanced prior to the arrival of the Europeans, and that it is impossible to say whether, had they been left to themselves, they would have made substantial progress in the same amount of time. Nevertheless, as he points out, colonialism held them back, particularly by preventing the majority of the population from receiving adequate education and training, hence limiting them to unspecialized labour. Furthermore, Memmi discusses the impact of the colonial policy against industrialization, whereby the colonizers saw the most profit in the export of raw materials rather than finished products that would face competition from the home country. Memmi highlights his point by stating that, indeed, the Europeans did create infrastructure and bring machinery, but if the locals were insufficiently exposed to the technology, let alone trained to use it, the benefits were unsubstantial. These factors contribute to the debate on whether or not unsuccessful

economies in post-colonial states can lay the blame on the European colonial legacy. Where Memmi differs from Cesaire in this debate is in his toned down rhetoric on the impact of colonialism on Europe. Beyond depicting the degradation found in colonizers, he does not go on, like Cesaire, to claim that colonialism would eventually lead Europe itself to perish (Cesaire, 75). Finally, another debate making this book still highly relevant today is its depiction of the fundamental causes of ethno-nationalist conflict and to an extent, the strong presence of religious doctrines in legal and institutional structures of certain post-colonial societies (such as those employing the Sharia code). Memmi talks of the struggle for solidarity that was accompanied by the quest to find beliefs or traditions to hold groups together. This was expressed through the emergence of strong nationalist sentiments (nationalism at the expense of internationalism and ethnic solidarity at the expense of national solidarity – Memmi 135) as well as through the revival of religious practices, which, in the process, were strengthened and gained a more devout following. This also raises the question of whether the lack of success of political or social institutions in some post-colonial societies can be attributed to the process of decolonization and its focus on disbanding all traces of the colonialist past at the expense of maintaining efficient institutions in the present. Works Cited: Cesaire, Aime: Discourse on Colonialism, Monthly Review Press (New York: 2000) Machiavelli, Niccolo: The Prince, Ed and Trans. David Wootton, Hackett Publishing Company Inc. (Indianapolis: 1995) Memmi, Albert: The Colonizer and The Colonized, Orion Press (New York: 1965)

‘If one does not scatter away the original inhabitants, one will not destroy the memory of liberty or the attraction of old institutions. As soon as there is a crisis, they will seek to restore them’ (Machiavelli 17) This ‘crisis’ in Memmi’s terms would be the climax of colonialism where the situation has reached such a degree of instability that colonialism will be overthrown.

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