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Postcolonial Theory and the United States

Postcolonial Theory and the United States: Race, Ethnicity, and Literature

Amritjit Singh
Peter Schmidt
Lawrence Buell
Rhonda Cobham
Anne Fleischmann
Juan Flores
Mae G. Henderson
Amy Kaplan
Maureen Konkle
Arnold Krupat
Jana Sequoya Magdaleno
Lisa Suhair Majaj
Kenneth Mostern
Rafael Pérez-Torres
Carla L. Peterson
Inés Salazar
Peter Schmidt
Lavina Dhingra Shankar
Bruce Simon
Amritjit Singh
Rajini Srikanth
Leny Mendoza Strobel
Sau-ling C. Wong
Copyright Date: 2000
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    Postcolonial Theory and the United States
    Book Description:

    Probing essays that examine critical issues surrounding the United States's ever-expanding international cultural identity in the postcolonial era

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    At the beginning of the twenty-first century, we may be in a "transnational" moment, increasingly aware of the ways in which local and national narratives, in literature and elsewhere, cannot be conceived apart from a radically new sense of shared human histories and global interdependence. To think transnationally about literature, history, and culture requires a study of the evolution of hybrid identities within nation-states and diasporic identities across national boundaries.

    Studies addressing issues of race, ethnicity, and empire in U.S. culture have provided some of the most innova-tive and controversial contributions to recent scholarship.Postcolonial Theory and the United States: Race, Ethnicity, and Literaturerepresents a new chapter in the emerging dialogues about the importance of borders on a global scale.

    This book collects nineteen essays written in the 1990s in this emergent field by both well established and up-and-coming scholars. Almost all the essays have been either especially written for this volume or revised for inclusion here.

    These essays are accessible, well-focused resources for college and university students and their teachers, displaying both historical depth and theoretical finesse as they attempt close and lively readings. The anthology includes more than one discussion of each literary tradition associated with major racial or ethnic communities. Such a gathering of diverse, complementary, and often competing viewpoints provides a good introduction to the cultural differences and commonalities that comprise the United States today.

    The volume opens with two essays by the editors: first, a survey of the ideas in the individual pieces, and, second, a long essay that places current debates in U.S. ethnicity and race studies within both the history of American studies as a whole and recent developments in postcolonial theory.

    Amritjit Singh, a professor of English and African American studies at Rhode Island College, is coeditor ofConversations with Ralph EllisonandConversations with Ishmael Reed(both from University Press of Mississippi). Peter Schmidt, a professor of English at Swarthmore College, is the author ofThe Heart of the Story: Eudora Welty's Short Fiction(University Press of Mississippi).

    eISBN: 978-1-62103-637-1
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Preface
    (pp. vii-x)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. xi-xx)
    Amritjit Singh and Peter Schmidt

    Postcolonial Theory and the U.S.: Race,Ethnicity, and Literatureopens with essays that are broadly comparative in scope and raise crucial questions regarding the interconnections between postcolonial critique and U.S. ethnic studies—especially Black, Asian American, and Latino/a and Native American studies. These essays all present different ways of understanding the interchange between poststructuralist and postcolonial theory on the one hand and U.S. ethnic studies theory and practice on the other.

    Our introductory essay, “On the Borders Between U.S. Studies and Postcolonial Theory,” was written especially for this volume. Our thesis is that recent U.S. race and ethnicity studies splits into...

  5. Identities, Margins, and Borders: I

    • On the Borders Between U.S. Studies and Postcolonial Theory
      (pp. 3-70)
      Amritjit Singh and Peter Schmidt

      For those scholars for whom questions of race, ethnicity, and empire are central, U.S. studies in the 1990s has gained immensely from dialogue with the emergent field called “postcolonial studies,” which provided comparative historical analyses of these issues from global or transnational perspectives. We believe, however, that much of this new work in U.S. studies exhibits a split or contradiction, bifurcating into two groups with different premises—the “postethnicity” school and the “borders” school. We offer below definitions of these terms and a brief survey of the working premises of these two schools. Then, in the second section of this...

  6. Identities, Margins, and Borders: II

    • Postcolonialism, Ideology, and Native American Literature
      (pp. 73-94)
      Arnold Krupat

      In the current climate of literary studies, it is tempting to think of contemporary Native American literatures as among the postcolonial literatures of the world. Certainly they share with other postcolonial texts the fact of having, in the words of the authors ofThe Empire Writes Back,“emerged in their present form out of the experience of colonization and asserted themselves by foregrounding the tension with the imperial power, and by emphasizing their differences from the assumptions of the imperial Centre” (Ashcroft, Griffiths, and Tiffin 2). Yet contemporary Native American literatures cannot quite be classed among the postcolonial literatures of...

    • “Where, By the Way, Is This Train Going?”: A Case for Black (Cultural) Studies
      (pp. 95-102)
      Mae G. Henderson

      The advent of Black Studies into the academy during the late 1960s and early 1970s represented an irruption of subjugated knowledge that, in a real sense, revolutionized how we look at society, culture, politics, and values. Although the origins of this movement can be traced back at least to the 19th century, the work of scholars, theorists, and artists in the Black Studies and Black Arts movements exposed through practice and precept the racism underlying the mainstream academic project, as well as the ideological assumptions structuring the dominant cultural aesthetic.

      The emergence of black cultural studies during the late 1980s...

    • Refiguring Aztlán
      (pp. 103-121)
      Rafael Pérez-Torres

      One image central to Chicano/Chicana intellectual and social thought has been the figure of Aztlán. Too often, the name of this mythic homeland is either dismissed as part of an exclusionary nationalist agenda or uncritically affirmed as an element essential to Chicanismo. In refiguring Aztlán we move toward a conceptual framework by which to explore the connections between land, identity and experience in relation to Chicana/o populations. Significantly, these connections become centrally relevant in our postmodern times as the political, social and economic relationships between people and place grows ever more complicated and fluid. The problems posed by Aztlán as...

    • Denationalization Reconsidered: Asian American Cultural Criticism at a Theoretical Crossroads
      (pp. 122-148)
      Sau-ling C. Wong

      “Denationalization Reconsidered” first appeared in 1995, in a special issue ofAmrasia Journalentitled “Thinking Theory in Asian American Studies,” edited by Michael Omi and Dana Takagi. I wrote it as part of a field-specific dialog within Asian American studies concerning future scholarly and institutional emphases, without intending it to be a general theoretical pronouncement on ethnicity, postcoloniality, or any number of components of contemporary Asian American experiences. The essay addresses Asian Americanists in the American academy, whose institutional positioning, in my view, calls for priority-setting and choices in one's work. Nevertheless, the essay apparently touched a nerve in...

  7. Historical Configurations

    • Indian Literacy, U.S. Colonialism, and Literary Criticism
      (pp. 151-175)
      Maureen Konkle

      The criticism of Native American literature takes for its principal object that literature’s expression of Indian identity, a ubiquitous term that generally assumes an inborn Indian consciousness. Most critics hold that Native American literature originates in the oral tradition of the tribes, which is available as literature when scholars translate and write down the various songs, narratives, and ceremonies that they understand to constitute this tradition. These translations strive to be accurate, and it is the scholar who determines what counts as literary, since, most critics agree, traditional Indian cultures do not have a concept equivalent to “literature.”¹ Although Indians’...

    • Capitalism, Black (Under)development, and the Production of the African-American Novel in the 1850s
      (pp. 176-195)
      Carla L. Peterson

      Harriet Jacobs’s assertion of the need to own herself, her recognition of “freedom” as a prerequisite to “home” ownership, and her identification of “labor and economy” as the means by which to achieve such ownership are statements that held true for African Americans generally—Northern and Southern, free and slave—in the antebellum period. Indeed, in the decades leading up to the Civil War, black Americans repeatedly pondered such questions as: How can I escape being a commodity? How can I own myself? How can I possess property? and, more abstractly, How can I achieve and maintain self-possession?

      Jacobs’s correspondence...

    • Postcolonial Anxiety in Classic U.S. Literature
      (pp. 196-219)
      Lawrence Buell

      As the first of Europe’s colonies to win independence, the United States of America has a history that its intellectuals have frequently offered as a prototype for other new nations, yet that they too might find instructive to reexamine in light of later cases. In the field of U.S. literary history, however, such comparisons are still uncommon, and they are confined largely to discussions of margin-center dynamics arising from “neocolonial” domination of racial/ethnic others by Euroamericans, especially its traditional albeit now-threatened white Anglo-Protestant hegemony.¹ By no coincidence is this essay the one discussion in the present collection that approaches “mainstream”...

    • Romancing the Empire: The Embodiment of American Masculinity in the Popular Historical Novel of the 1890s
      (pp. 220-243)
      Amy Kaplan

      In a speech urging the U.S. to annex the Philippines in 1900, Senator Albert Jeremiah Beveridge asked: “What does all this mean for every one of us?” and then readily answered: “It means opportunity for all the glorious young manhood or the republic—the most virile, ambitious, impatient, militant manhood the world has ever seen” (qtd. in Paterson 391). Not specifying the opportunities for particular actions, Beveridge implied tautologically that the empire offered the arena for American men to become what they already were, to enact their essential manhood before the eyes of a global audience. Although the Spanish-American War...

    • Neither Fish, Flesh, Nor Fowl: Race and Region in the Writings of Charles W. Chesnutt
      (pp. 244-257)
      Anne Fleischmann

      The Supreme Court’s decision in the 1896Plessy v. Fergusoncase is notorious for having sewn racial segregation into the fabric of American society. One of the decision’s less obvious results was that it gave official sanction to the “one-drop” rule. That is, thePlessyruling held that individual states could decide whether and how to classify citizens by race, and states which were so inclined could assert that any person with one black ancestor counted as black and was therefore subject to second-class citizenship. At its root, thePlessydecision was concerned with “racial purity”; between the Emancipation and...

    • Postcolonialism After W. E. B. Du Bois
      (pp. 258-276)
      Kenneth Mostern

      My title suggests an absurdity: how, once we know that W. E. B. Du Bois’ life as an intellectual overlaps almost perfectly with the period that we usually think of as the era or colonialism, could postcolomalism be anything other than “after W. E. B. Du Bois”? And if Du Bois has not, up until now, had any noticeable influence on the contemporary academic discourse called “postcoloniality”, why refer to it as “after Du Bois”, rather than after Fanon, or Foucault, or Heidegger?¹ Yet it is my contention that the absence of Du Bois’ name from the contemporary discourse of...

  8. Contemporary Contestations

    • How (!) is an Indian? A Contest of Stories, Round 2
      (pp. 279-299)
      Jana Sequoya Magdaleno

      The question of who and how is an Indian is an ongoing contest of stories in North America—a contest in many ways emblematic of global struggles to contain and control difference in modern societies.¹ It is emblematic not only because the figure of the American Indian symbolizes precisely such differences, nor because, especially in the late nineteenth century, it has come to signify the critical conscience of “modernity experienced as trouble” (Stuart Hall’s phrase). Most importantly, it is emblematic because the contest of stories articulated on the figure of the American Indian precisely registers the global systemic effects of...

    • Revisioning Our Kumblas: Transforming Feminist and Nationalist Agendas in Three Caribbean Women’s Texts
      (pp. 300-319)
      Rhonda Cobham

      A bizarre logic connects the typical nationalist (usually male) creative writer to mainstream feminist (typically white) writers and/or critics. For each, an engagement with marginality in the terms laid out by the dominant culture is an important point of departure and there is a temptation to claim a utopian space beyond the imperatives of any socio-symbolic contract as the right of the marginalized subject. But in each case this structure risks repeating the anthrocentrism of the hierarchy it assails. Ultimately it asserts the humanity of the new subject at the expense of some other group. Caribbean women share with these...

    • Arab-Americans and the Meanings of Race
      (pp. 320-337)
      Lisa Suhair Majaj

      What does “race” mean to Arab-Americans? This question takes on increasing significance at the present time as Arab-Americans, excluded from the rosters of minorities of color as well as of white ethnic groups, debate whether to lobby for a categorization as “Arab” or “Middle Eastern” or to continue to struggle for inclusion as white Americans on other than merely “honorary” grounds.¹ Like other immigrant groups at various historical junctures, Arab Americans occupy a contested and unclear space within American racial and cultural discourse.² Although classified as “white” by current government definitions, they are conspicuously absent from discussions of white ethnicity,...

    • Broken English Memories: Languages of the Trans-Colony
      (pp. 338-348)
      Juan Flores

      Historical memory is an active, creative force, not just a receptacle for storing the dead weight of times gone by.Memoryhas been associated, since its earliest usages, with the act of inscribing, engraving, or, in a sense that carries over into our own electronic times, “re-cording” (grabar). It is not so much the record itself as the putting-on-record, the gathering and sorting of materials from the past in accordance with the needs and interests of the present. Remembering thus always involves selecting and shaping, constituting out of what was something new that never was yet now assuredly is, in...

    • “Born-Again Filipino”: Filipino American Identity and Asian Panethnicity
      (pp. 349-369)
      Leny Mendoza Strobel

      Behind the “new face” of the Filipino American community in the mid-1990s are significant phenomena around cultural identity and Asian panethnic consciousness that need to be articulated. Our presence within Asian American Studies needs to be expanded beyond the Bulosan and Philip Vera Cruz generation, the literary contributions of the “flip” generation, and the oral history books by Cordova (1983), Vallangca (1987), and more recently, Espiritu (1995). While there is an emerging body of scholarly work, the post-1965 community is yet to be extensively studied. The numerous materials generated in the last ten years by the community itself, such as...

    • South Asian American Literature: “Off the Turnpike” of Asian America
      (pp. 370-387)
      Lavina Dhingra Shankar and Rajini Srikanth

      How is the increasing presence of postcolonial diasporics—such as the South Asians—in the United States changing the definition of Asian America/n, and hence altering ethnic American literature?¹ For the purposes of census classification and enumeration, South Asians are now considered Asian American. While some South Asian Americans are comfortable with an Asian American identification, there are many who consciously and actively “dis-identify”² themselves from this ethnoracial category. As we have argued in our critical anthologyA Part, Yet Apart: South Asians in Asian America(1998), part of this disidentification stems from the recognition by South Asian Americans that...

    • Can You Go Home Again?: Transgression and Transformation in African-American Women’s and Chicana Literary Practice
      (pp. 388-411)
      Inés Salazar

      What does it mean for women of color to participate in “feminist” revisions of the meaning of community given their self-conscious invocation of race or ethnicity as a simultaneous and no less important facet of identity than gender? Moreover, how does a condition of diaspora shape the meaning of community, especially for Chicanas and African-American women? Historically, the situation of physical and cultural displacement has engendered an acute desire to secure a stable sense of “home,” albeit often in ways that challenge prevailing conceptions of community. However, as the Black and Chicano movements of the late 1960s and early 1970s...

    • Hybridity in the Americas: Reading Condé, Mukherjee, and Hawthorne
      (pp. 412-444)
      Bruce Simon

      If there is one word postcolonial theory has disseminated throughout the U.S. academy and beyond, that word is hybridity. Yet as hybridity’s currency becomes ever more widespread, familiarity with debates surrounding the term has become increasingly uneven. In the decade and a half since Homi Bhabha inaugurated hybridity’s academic popularity in the United States, no other word—with the possible exception of “postcolonial” itself—has come under such scrutiny and critique.¹ Indeed, critical engagement with hybridity—which began with arguments by such critics as Abdul JanMohamed, Benita Parry, Robert Young, and Anne McClintock—has become so pronounced in recent years...

  9. Contributors’ Notes
    (pp. 445-450)
  10. Name Index
    (pp. 451-464)
  11. Subject Index
    (pp. 465-471)