Heritage, Culture, and Politics in the Postcolony

Heritage, Culture, and Politics in the Postcolony

Daniel Herwitz
Copyright Date: 2012
Pages: 232
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  • Book Info
    Heritage, Culture, and Politics in the Postcolony
    Book Description:

    The act of remaking one's history into a heritage, a conscientiously crafted narrative placed over the past, is a thriving industry in almost every postcolonial culture. This is surprising, given the tainted role of heritage in so much of colonialism's history. Yet the postcolonial state, like its European predecessor of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, deploys heritage institutions and instruments, museums, courts of law, and universities to empower itself with unity, longevity, exaltation of value, origin, and destiny.

    Bringing the eye of a philosopher, the pen of an essayist, and the experience of a public intellectual to the study of heritage, Daniel Herwitz reveals the febrile pitch at which heritage is staked. In this absorbing book, he travels to South Africa and unpacks its controversial and robust confrontations with the colonial and apartheid past. He visits India and reads in its modern art the gesture of a newly minted heritage idealizing the precolonial world as the source of Indian modernity. He traverses the United States and finds in its heritage of incessant invention, small town exceptionalism, and settler destiny a key to contemporary American media-driven politics. Showing how destabilizing, ambivalent, and potentially dangerous heritage is as a producer of contemporary social, aesthetic, and political realities, Herwitz captures its perfect embodiment of the struggle to seize culture and society at moments of profound social change.

    eISBN: 978-0-231-53072-9
    Subjects: Philosophy, History, Sociology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-viii)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. ix-x)
  3. Preface
    (pp. xi-xvi)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xvii-xx)
  5. Chapter One The Heritage of Heritage
    (pp. 1-25)

    Heritage entered and remade in an action-packed way and right now, or in the twentieth century anyway, with all the energy and all the fault lines associated. That is the topic of this book. Heritage at the moment of agency, poised between heritage practices of the past and the desire, need, or inevitability of breaking away from them to make something new. My father remade an old farm into his own personal piece of American heritage by preserving vintage barn boards, purchasing green fields, and turning old antiques into Americana; he made old clothing into a heritage brand item for...

  6. Chapter Two Recovering and Inventing the Past: M. F. Husain’s Live Action Heritage
    (pp. 26-57)

    Early modern Indian art is a drama about recapturing a past repressed under colonialism, museumized, alienated from Indian elites as an effect of colonialism, and yet living on each and every street corner. It is this paradox, along with a deep split in late colonial society between modernizing elites and nonmodernizing “subalterns” that generates this drama. The nationalist impulse is deeply connected to this desire to reclaim the past. To reclaim the past is also to invent it, invent it as a unified, precolonial form. This is an artifact of colonialism.

    Edward Said and others have detailed the many ways...

  7. Chapter Three Sustaining Heritage Off the Road to Kruger Park
    (pp. 58-79)

    They sold their wood sculptures by the side of the road winding from Johannesburg to Kruger Park, sitting patiently on rusted oil drums under a burning dome of sky. Tourists on their way to tented camps stopped to survey the carved pieces of marula wood and asked, “How much?” “Fifty rands, boss, but for you twenty-five,” might come the reply. Perhaps haggling would ensue, and if luck was with these roadside merchants they would return to their scrappy villages, pockets bulging with money for beer, tea, paraffin, mealies. They were part of the informal economy the way others were who...

  8. Chapter Four Monument, Ruin, and Redress in South African Heritage
    (pp. 80-134)

    South Africa is a country in search of a national narrative that can articulate and bind together official state culture and citizenry. There have been two that have come close and remain in play. The first narrative was the driving ideal of the democratic transition in the 1990s. Essentially an artifact of transition, it stressed redress, acknowledgment, social flexibility, and building a culture of human rights. Actively opposing colonial and apartheid heritage, the narrative demonumentalized, which is what this chapter is about. The second narrative, of African Renaissance, was an older artifact of Afro-centrist history, deriving from the discourses of...

  9. Chapter Five Renaissance and Pandemic
    (pp. 135-151)

    Thabo Mbeki announces his project of an African Renaissance in 1996, two years before becoming state president. In the previous chapter I contextualized and motivated that heritage turn without discussing its shape or detail. Now is the time to do that.

    The African Renaissance is a doctrine that preaches liberal growth through a return to, and reaffirmation of, the African past and related, shared African values. Mbeki declares South Africa at the helm of this historical surge, singing hymns of praise for the first generation of decolonizing heroes in whose shoes he would follow, monumentalizing Africa into a pan-African democratic...

  10. Chapter Six Tocqueville on the Bridge to Nowhere
    (pp. 152-189)

    America is the first postcolonial nation, the one Ralph Waldo Emerson sacralized in a paean at the completion of the Battle Monument, April 19, 1836. Every New England schoolchild has (until recently) been taught to recite this poem:

    By the rude bridge that arched the flood,

    Their flag to April’s breeze unfurled,

    Here once the embattled farmers stood,

    And fired the shot heard round the world.

    The foe long since in silence slept;

    Alike the conqueror silent sleeps;

    And Time the ruined bridge has swept

    Down the dark stream which seaward creeps.

    On this green bank, by this soft stream,...

  11. Epilogue
    (pp. 190-192)

    The settler claim of experiment (through which dominion will be established over land and peoples) along with the settler values of the small town and rural area slowly become a heritage. This heritage is alive and well and central to American politics. In other regions of the postcolony, a glorious, unified past (located somewhere between Pretoria, Timbuktu, the poetry of Léopold Senghor, and the rhetoric of England) is on the job being constructed and set forth as the route to twenty-first-century Africa. Both versions of heritage turn a motley/diverse group of locals into that new thing: “indigenous/native peoples.” In the...

  12. Notes
    (pp. 193-202)
  13. Index
    (pp. 203-212)