- Isabella Maria Zoppi (Editor) and Claudio Gorlier (Editor)
Cross-Cultural Voices: Investigations into the Post-Colonial. Bulzoni (purchase at Amazon.ca)
- Christopher Baume (Editor) and Peter O. Stummer (Editor)
Fusion of Cultures?: ASNEL Papers 2. Rodopi (purchase at Amazon.ca)
- John C. Hawley (Editor)
Writing the Nation: Self and Country in Post-Colonial Imagination. Rodopi (purchase at Amazon.ca)
Reviewed by Anna Johnston
Cross-Cultural Voices is the fifth volume of a series produced by the Centre for the Study of Literatures and Cultures of the Emerging Countries, a series committed to research on "the New Literatures in English, French, Portuguese, and Spanish." The scope of the book is wide-ranging, including essays on literature from Africa, Australia, Canada, the Caribbean, and India, and covering poetry, drama, fiction, and author interviews.
This is a slightly old-fashioned volume in a number of respects. The first, evident from the title of the Centre from which this work emanates, is a relatively unproblematized assumption about what constitutes these "New Literatures." To be fair, Zoppi’s introduction specifically notes that this volume will not take an active part in current debates about definitions of "the postcolonial," and that it will seek to encourage inclusion and diversity rather than super-imposing some kind of unifying critical methodology. Still, some positioning of the texts and their surrounding cultural narratives in the introduction and the individual essays themselves is, I believe, necessary for a volume which sees itself as contributing to the broader field.
The sense in which this volume seems to reflect the old "Commonwealth Literature" school continues within the individual essays. Most of these essays focus on close readings of individual texts (by authors such as Nadine Gordimer, John Morrison, and David Dabydeen) or specific genres (contemporary Ghanaian poetry, allegory in traditional Shona narratives, and black writing in Canada). In general there is little engagement with contemporary postcolonial theory or even with the broader cultural analysis which one expects in recent postcolonial work.
The individual essays within this volume do provide detailed and thoughtful readings of interesting texts, and many of the texts analysed are those which certainly deserve more consideration. Interviews with writers from Ghana, South Africa, and the Caribbean are also valuable; Valeria Guidotti’s discussions with Stephen Gray, Sipho Sepamla, and Mazisi Kunene about the place of the writer (both black and white) in the new South Africa are particularly interesting.
Fusion of Cultures?, by contrast, contains an equally diverse range of subjects and texts, but places itself carefully and politically within current debates in postcolonial studies. Stummer ’s introduction situates the later papers within a broader political and cultural context, and engages with what he calls "the major difficulty inherent in the post-colonial critical project," the difficulty of finding common ground for the extreme heterogeneity of cultures and histories included within contemporary postcolonial studies. Stummer does not find any singular solution to this central question within the field, yet his discussions are admirable for their breadth, provisionality, and flexibility.
The papers in this volume originated mostly from the 1993 conference of the Association for the Study of the New Literatures in English, which sought to re-explore postcolonial orthodoxies in relation to difference and alterity. Issues relevant to diaspora and historical constructions of both homogenous and avowedly cross-cultural texts and artifacts concern most of the individual papers. Christopher Balme’s paper opens the volume with an intriguing history of the concept of syncretism and its positive redeployment in cross-cultural or postcolonial contexts. And this later version of syncretism connects papers on subjects as diverse as Nigerian theatre, Southern African poetry, the novels of Bessie Head and Wilson Harris, and the perils of reading cross-cultural artifacts in disparate locations.
Inevitably, the papers vary in quality and professionalism: some certainly show their origins as relatively informal oral presentations more than one would hope. The best papers however, are timely and engaged meditations upon different aspects of the postcolonial field. Wolfgang Hochbruck’s paper on Zimbabwean war fiction, the duo of papers on African autobiography, and Franz Schulze-Engler’s paper on the Rushdie affair, for example, are committed, provocative essays. In general these contributors are genuinely engaging with the hard questions in postcolonial studies.
Writing the Nation is another wide-ranging collection which addresses topics from Alejo Carpentier’s influences to Haitian women’s fiction (particular Nadine Magloire’s Le Mal de Vivre) from nineteenth-century Latin American fiction to the contemporary Moroccan poet and novelist Mohammed Khair-Eddine.
Hawley’s introduction wrestles with the range of possible theoretical and cultural arguments which these essays raise. While at times the introduction is rather confusing because it tries to cover so much, it does locate this collection within a range of vital issues in postcolonial studies. This introduction looks at the relationship between globalisation and postcolonialism; the diversity of historical experience and kinds of postcoloniality; the relationship between nationalism and liberation; and the relationship between local political struggles and postcolonial academics. As this abbreviated list of issues suggests, the introduction raises many more issues than it can realistically cover. The intended dual audience—the uninitiated and those already conversant with an area of postcolonial studies—also makes a rather ambitious task.
Individual essays in this volume of particular interest to this reviewer include Elaine Savory’s piece on Kamau Brathwaite and the negotiation of personal and community voice in his poetry; Susan Ritchie’s "Dismantling Privilege," which attempts the ambitious project of "rescuing post-modern theories of subjectivity for post-colonialism"; Nikos Papastergiadis’s analysis of one of Homi Bhabha’s most impenetrable essays, "DissemiNation"; and Bill Ashcroft’s discussion of Peter Carey’s fiction and history.
These three volumes demonstrate the pit-falls and the possibilities of postcolonial studies. The diversity of the field is in some ways a very productive and exciting characteristic, yet postcolonial studies can at times appear a rather undisciplined and unruly conglomerate of scholarly activity. This is not to argue against the kinds of different material these volumes present, but rather for a thorough and well-situated contextualisation of contributions to the field.Â
- Total Recall by Shelley Hulan
Books reviewed: The Book of Emma by Marie-Célie Agnant and Zilpha Ellis and Return to Arcadia by H. Nigel Thomas
- Postcolonial Dialectics by Neil ten Kortenaar
Books reviewed: After Empire: Scott, Naipaul, Rushdie by Michael Gorra and Exotic Parodies: Subjectivity in Adorno, Said, and Spivak by Asha Varadharajan
- Sage and Silly by Nicholas Brown-Considine
Books reviewed: Down by Jim Long's Stage: Rhymes for Children and Young Fish by Pam Hall and Al Pittman, Messengers of Rain and Other Poems for Latin America by Claudia M. Lee and Rafael Yockteng, The Night Walker by Martin Springett and Richard Thompson, and Two Shoes, Blue Shoes, New Shoes! by Sally Fitz-Gibbon and Farida Zaman
- Slavery's Painful Story by Afra Kavanagh
Books reviewed: The Book of Negroes by Lawrence Hill
- Essays from Strange Lands by Wendy Roy
Books reviewed: Heart of a Stranger by Margaret Laurence and Nora Foster Stovel
MLA: Johnston, Anna. Postcolonial Diversity. canlit.ca. Canadian Literature, 8 Dec. 2011. Web. 23 May 2013.
This review originally appeared in Canadian Literature #173 (Summer 2002), (Crawford, Munro, Watson, Atwood, Duncan). (pg. 142 - 143)
***Please note that the articles and reviews from the Canadian Literature website (www.canlit.ca) may not be the final versions as they are printed in the journal, as additional editing sometimes takes place between the two versions. If you are quoting from the website, please indicate the date accessed when citing the web version of reviews and articles.