Extravagant Postcolonialism
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Brian T. May argues that, contrary to widely held assumptions of postcolonial literary criticism, a distinctive subset of postcolonial novels significantly values and scrupulously explores a healthy individuality. These "extravagant" postcolonial works focus less on collective social reality than on the intimate subjectivity of their characters. Their authors, most of whom received some portion of a canonical western education, do not subordinate the ambitions of their fiction to explicit political causes so much as create a cosmopolitan rhetorical focus suitable to their western-educated, western-trained, audiences.

May pursues this argument by scrutinizing novels composed during the thirty-year postindependence, postcolonial era of Anglophone fiction, a period that began with the Nigerian Chinua Achebe's Things Fall Apart and that ended, many would say, with the Ayatollah Khomeini's 1989 publication of the Rushdie Fatwa. May contends that the postcolonial authors under consideration—Naipaul, Rushdie, Achebe, Rhys, Gordimer, and Coetzee—inherited modernism and refashioned it. His account of their work demonstrates how it reflects and transfigures modernists such as Conrad, Eliot, Yeats, Proust, Joyce, and Beckett. Tracing the influence of humanistic values and charting the ethical and aesthetic significance of individualism, May demonstrates that these works of "extravagant postcolonialism" represent less a departure from than a continuation and evolution of modernism.



Publié par
Date de parution 03 novembre 2014
Nombre de lectures 4
EAN13 9781611173802
Langue English

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Extravagant Postcolonialism

Modernism and Modernity in Anglophone Fiction 1958-1988

The University of South Carolina Press
2014 University of South Carolina
Published by the University of South Carolina Press
Columbia, South Carolina 29208
23 22 21 20 19 18 17 16 15 14 10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
May, Brian, 1959- author.
Extravagant postcolonialism : modernism and modernity in anglophone fiction, 1958-1988 / Brian May.
pages cm
Includes bibliographical references and index.
ISBN 978-1-61117-379-6 (hardbound : alk. paper) - ISBN 978-1-61117-380-2 (ebook) 1. Commonwealth fiction (English)-History and criticism. 2. Postcolonialism in literature. 3. Modernism (Literature) I. Title.
PR9084M39 2014
823.009 9171241-dc23
Jacket illustration: base illustration by hpkalyani at www.istockphoto.com
To my family, Catherine Kelly May, Robert Talbott May, William Shortell May, and Elizabeth Howe Talbott-May
1 Memorials to Modernity: Postcolonial Pilgrimage in V. S. Naipaul and Salman Rushdie
2 Chinua Achebe: Tradition and the Talent for Individuality
3 Modernism Re(d-)dressed: Interrogativity and Individuality in Jean Rhys
4 Nadine Gordimer: The Conservationist as Conversationist
5 J. M. Coetzee: A Question of the Body, and an Answer
Conclusion: Postcolonial Modernism, Postcolonial Humanism
Portions of the introduction first appeared as Extravagant Postcolonialism: Ethics and Individualism in Anglophonic, Anglocentric Postcolonial Fiction; Or, What Was (This) Postcolonialism?, ELH: English Literary History 75.4 (Winter 2008): 899-937. Most of what is now chapter 1 was published as Memorials to Modernity: Postcolonial Pilgrimage in Naipaul and Rushdie, ELH: English Literary History 68.1 (Spring 2001): 241-265. And a good deal of chapter five appeared as J. M. Coetzee and the Question of the Body, MFS: Modern Fiction Studies 47.2 (Summer 2001): 391-420. I thank the editors of ELH and MFS as well as Johns Hopkins University Press for permission to reprint. I also thank my editor at the University of South Carolina Press, Jim Denton, and Linda Haines Fogle, assistant director for operations, for their patience and consideration. The College of Liberal Arts and Sciences and the Department of English, Northern Illinois University, funded the color insert: many thanks.
Northern Illinois University also provided a sabbatical leave that enabled me to write an important part of the book; another leave gave me time to finish it. But the book began earlier and elsewhere, and my honors students from the nineties and the University of North Texas, so many from the music school, so many unforgettable, Priscilla and Sarah, Nicole, Matt, Carl, Stephen, John, Mario, Joel, Ryan, and, yes, Tybalt (whereabouts unknown), will recognize these analyses and arguments. It was good for the high concept that it had to find footing in the rich, raw terrain of the undergraduate classroom. As myself a raw youth I found my feet only with the help of Patricia Blaszak, Robert Bailey, Cheryl Worsham, Alice Loftin, James Lynch, Michael Squires, Arthur Kirsch, and Irvin Ehrenpreis; my thanks to these mentors. Thanks, also, to Ron Strickland, Ron Fortune, Daniel Morris, Peter Richardson, the late Scott Simpkins, Richard Begam (who summoned Cardinal Bellarmine as I was writing chapter 1 ), and the anonymous readers for the journals mentioned above, a number of whom were kind enough to comment upon early portions of the book but none of whom, however kind, should be held responsible for the shape it has assumed. My most extravagant thanks are reserved, of course, for Kelly, Bob, Will and Betsy, each incomparable, inimitable, inestimable, irreducibly individual, and irreplaceable.

The notion of the individual-, exclaims Satya Mohanty in a 2008 interview, that s a horribly tainted Western idea, isn t it? 1 In so exclaiming, Mohanty points to one of the more resolutely unexamined (and exasperating?) assumptions that have governed literary criticism over the past quarter-century, one that Mohanty finds wondrous, fabulous: why would we think that, say, Indian, Chinese, or Native American cultures didn t value the notion of healthy individuality? It s a myth that they didn t; in fact, if you go to the cultural practices and texts, you see rich notions of individuality in all kinds of cultures. This discussion is dedicated to the proposition that rich notions of healthy individuality may indeed be found valued in those particular cultural practices, those particular texts known as postcolonial novels, particularly in a certain grouping of them. The assumption judged mythical by Mohanty is one made with respect to all kinds of non-Western cultures, all sorts of non-Western cultural practices, all manner of non-Western novels. How much more richly trammeled in the realms of myth, then, the same assumption when the novels in question are unabashedly Anglocentric Anglophone novels, what have been described and sometimes spurned as the most canonical of the putative postcolonial anticanon, the most Western -to the point that it may seem a mistake to term them non-Western ?
One reaction to such putatively non-Western novels that do not spurn the notion of the individual is to spurn them. But in Extravagant Postcolonialism -what I mean by extravagant soon will become clear-my ambition is to do otherwise. I aim to study a particular region of modernity that remains fairly obscure, thereby providing a window on a particular, peculiar modern subject(ivity). To that end, significant novels by Salman Rushdie, J. M. Coeztee, Nadine Gordimer, Jean Rhys, and Chinua Achebe, novels that propose rich notions of individuality, I richly explore. That is, I explore rich individualities, these novels characters being, so many of them, characters. Coetzee s Magistrate, Rushdie s Mirza, Achebe s Obi Okonkwo, to name a few, exhibit a protean excess of personality that spills into their adjacencies and makes vehicles of the objects (some being vehicles) that they find there. Trying to find themselves, they often rove, undertaking pilgrimages ( chapter one discusses postcolonial pilgrimage), journeys, trips, treks, and tours, on foot ( padyatra ), by train, plane, or car, sometimes exhibiting extravagant behavior of the worst sort (Gordimer s Mehring criminally gropes at thirty thousand feet). Achebe s Obi Okonkwo, who turns criminal and is sent to prison, has a problem with locomotion ( chapter two explains); if these characters often rove, they sometimes rave. If they cannot stay put, they also fail to fit in. Even when they are mimic men - Extravagant Postcolonialism is in part a study of a particular corner of postcolonial masculinity-they are mimic men with tenuous commitments and bad consciences, full of self-blame and self-contempt.
What is most distinctive about these distinctive characters postcolonial criticism has tended to ignore or to explain in other ways, treating character as a largely social and cultural construction-a tendency that I will try to resist. The habit in postcolonial criticism has been to define oddity and eccentricity as symptoms of a social and political condition, which at times they certainly are, rather than as expressions of creative idiosyncrasy, which at other times, as I shall argue, they may rather be. Even with the more decidedly Anglocentric novels that I shall be discussing, the critical focus has typically fallen, as one critic phrases it, on a collective social reality more than on (say) an individual s existential crisis. 2 Again and again particular and peculiar forms of individuality have been ignored in favor of yet another inquiry into forms of postcolonial collectivity.
I recognize that the particular and the peculiar can themselves become fetish-objects of an obeisant attention. Individuality, eccentricity, oddity-how far are we from idiosyncrasy, irresponsibility, insanity? Certainly these, too, can be forms of individuality. Are they thus goods in themselves? Given the habit of viewing the postcolonial in general as a collective phenomenon, a somewhat discrepant interest such as my own-an interest in what I shall show to be a fairly small subset of the larger postcolonial phenomenon, in a suprapolitical (in Karl Jaspers s phrase), ethical universalist (in Kwame Anthony Appiah s phrase), humanist, modernist ( epiphanic, in Charles Taylor s phrase), and above all individualist postcolonialism, an eccentric, extravagant postcolonialism, indeed-may itself appear to be eccentric. 3 Not that eccentricity should be taken for inauthenticity, even if one disagrees with John Stuart Mill that the amount of eccentricity in a society has generally been proportional to the amount of genius, mental vigour, and moral courage it contained. 4 Yet, whatever one thinks of eccentricity, my very interest in it may appear less eccentric once we take note of a similar interest expressed by one of the most influential thinkers centrally associated with the postcolonial, one of the so-called Holy Trinity, namely Edward Said. 5
For Extravagant Postcolonialism is not other than Saidian in the complex sense determined by Said s later work. This work being explicitly defined by Said himself as humanistic, Extravagant Postcolonialism sustains Saidian postcolonialism s conception or at least intimation of a postcolonial humanism, one of those new humanisms, as Emily Apter calls them-a welthumanism proper to secular criticism in a worlded era. 6 Clearly a humanism of this welt - sort will entail a tra

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