Postcolonial Theory on Imperialism JM Coetzee and Edward Said Term Paper

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  • Subject: Literature
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Postcolonial Theory on Imperialism

The Strains of Living in a Postcolonial World

In the wake of Colonialism and Imperialism, much of the world still finds itself in pieces -- unable to remember life before being conquered. What has resulted is great turmoil in many areas of the world caused by a confusion of cultural identity and a complete lack of national identity. Yet, this move to revive individual cultures has also set off a sharp debate within the field of postcolonial theory; these cultures become protective blankets which then keep nations separated in their own twisted visions. Conquerors such as the United States and Great Britain continue on this bravado of the superior nations who still power over their former colonies. This then results in Western literature romanticizing the East as to reaffirm those chauvinistic beliefs. Thus, the conquered people face a crucial internal dilemma -- adoption into what the West wants them to be, or fight the fierce fight of resistance which has led to the various global conflicts.

In today's modern world, the effects of colonialism can still be traced in many formerly conquered nations. A reported 85% of the globe was once under European power by the twentieth century, (Bahri 1). Nations such as the United Kingdom, Spain, and France were the main players in the earliest times of Colonialism. Later, the formerly colonized United States also became a player in the second wave of conquering seen in the wave of eighteenth and nineteenth century Imperialism. Much of this Imperialistic rule lasted for generations, not disintegrating until after World War II, (Bahri 1). This long lived rule of an external outsider has then shaped the various nations formerly under European and American control. These nations are then divided into settler countries, such as Australia and Canada, along with non-settler countries, such as India, Jamaica, and Nigeria. The memory of colonialism differs between the two, with settler nations having had to deal with much less evasive exploitation and there eventual adaptation into the Western world. Or example, the United States was once a settled colony, but has since lost its degrading ties as such "because of its position of power in world politics in the present, its displacement of native American populations, and its annexation of other parts of the world in what may be seen as a form of colonization," (Bahri 1). Another major feature which distinguishes settled colonies from unsettled, the adoption of the foreign language of the settlers, which then comes to be a defining aspect of that nation's identity, as seen in Australia, Canada, and the United States. On the other side, many African and Asian nations have found themselves in the midst of civil wars and constant internal conflict in their attempt to rectify the damage done within the Colonial and Imperial eras. This constant struggle and the West's continual viewpoint on the inferiority of such nations for being unable to progress further, has led to a wave of postcolonial theory and literature which deals with the struggle to regain a national identity, along with portraying a misrepresentation of various indigenous cultures.

Within modern times, much after the days of Colonialism and Imperialism, the idea of culture has come to mean much different things, depending on who one is talking to. For many, culture becomes the defining aspect of one's life -- how one describes the self in the context of the external world. Yet, the culture which one was brought up in can the hinder the development into an individual devoid of localized prejudices. In many cases, "Culture is perceived in this way may become a protective enclosure," (Said Culture and Imperialism xiv). In this protective shell, the true elements of culture are unable to escape into the images other cultures have of a particular identity. This then filters into the way nations create the dialectic dynamic which then constitutes a national identity.

This conceit is then furthered when placed within a postcolonial sphere. In the wake of the destructive nation destroying forces of imperialism, "culture may also become the antiseptic and quarantined arena into which we may, unwittingly take refuge to escape the horrors that imperialism and dominion over other subject peoples may entail," (Said Culture and Imperialism xiii). Instead of becoming a defining aspect which helps boost morality within any specific sphere, it becomes a shell which then limits any particular individual or community from progressing and keeps them locked within the internal struggle which then defines a nation after the conquerors have left. Yet, this negative view of culture also affects the conquerors as well,

Much of the rhetoric of the 'New World Order' promulgated by the American government since the end of the Cold War -- with its redolent self-congratulation, its unconcealed triumphitism, its grave proclamations of responsibility -- might have been scripted by Conrad's Holroyd: we are number one, we are bound to lead, we stand for freedom and order, and so on. No American has been immune from this structure of feeling, (Said Culture and Imperialism xvii).

And so, conquering nations such as the United States and Great Britain create a conquering role for themselves using dialectic tools to encourage a position of power as the oppressor rather than the oppressed.

Therefore, the role of the conqueror has been a powerful, yet very contradictory to what one might believe it to be. When a conquering nation recedes and leaves a colonized nation, one would naturally expect that nation's influence to cease along with its physical presence. Yet, this does not prove to be the case. Generations after the end of Colonialism and Imperialism, the world still witnesses a heavy form of oppression from the former conquerors. Despite the years of separation, formerly conquering nations still face prejudice and oppression from the Western world. In fact, the most common form of oppression seen in the modern context is that of economic exploitation. Within a globalized economy, the business powers within the Western world still continue to use third world nations as a cheap production methods and raw material sources, where "blurred boundaries in which virtual reality and free markets transcend the space of the idea of sovereignty," (McCormack 100). Thus, post-colonialism becomes an important way to examine modern capitalism and how it abuses nations unable to empower themselves. Along with economic exploitation, Western nations play down the plaguing after affects of Colonialism. Many scholars assert the concept that Western nations are too quick to patronize formerly colonized nations as "compatible with postmodern formulations of hybridity, synchronization, and pastiche while ignoring the critical realism of writers more interested in the specifics of social race and oppression," (Bahri 1). Playing out the idea of a clean and much easier transition into a hybridized nation has been prevalent in many Western portrayals of the formerly colonized world. Another one of Edward Said's novels, Orientalism, claims that the West has long romanticized images of nations formerly under European rule. According to Said, these false images of the East then continue the inferior images of the conquered people in Western minds, "My whole point about this system is not that it is a misrepresentation of some Oriental essence -- in which I do not for a moment believe -- but that it operates as representations usually do, for a purpose, according to tendency, in a specific historical, intellectual, and even economic setting," (Said Orientalism 273). In his work, Said claims these false representations then only confirm the role of the conqueror as justified in their colonization.

Thus, many Western representations of a romanticized East cannot be truly taken as real images of the people in such nations. And so, one truly wonders if the mess created by Colonialism and Imperialism will ever settle down to allow the role of the conqueror to finally subside within the context of Western literature and psyche.

The role of the conquered also represents this lingering Colonial system which only further complicates life in formerly conquered nations. Many scholars would debate the idea that "most former colonies are far from free of colonial influence or domination and so cannot be postcolonial in any genuine sense," (Bahri 1). In several cases, nations not yet free of such colonial grips have disguised their own subservient positions with masks of hasty independence. This then continues conflicts originally set in place during the era of colonialism. Within the context of literature, one can also see the representation of the conquered echoed throughout both Western and Eastern fiction. In many cases, postcolonial authors adopt a style of imposed adoption, where they are separated from their true lineage, and thus don't feel quite at home within their adopted home, "The postcolonial legacy of adoption has been rarely acknowledged yet is often a major component in the negotiation o public and private life, where the operations of imperious state authority have structured the seemingly private realm of the family," (McLeod 45). Several pieces of postwar British literature written by immigrating conquered families and individuals…

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