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The Event of Postcolonial Shame

The Event of Postcolonial Shame

Timothy Bewes
Copyright Date: 2011
Pages: 240
https://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt7rswv
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  • Book Info
    The Event of Postcolonial Shame
    Book Description:

    In a postcolonial world, where structures of power, hierarchy, and domination operate on a global scale, writers face an ethical and aesthetic dilemma: How to write without contributing to the inscription of inequality? How to process the colonial past without reverting to a pathology of self-disgust? Can literature ever be free of the shame of the postcolonial epoch--ever be truly postcolonial? As disparities of power seem only to be increasing, such questions are more urgent than ever. In this book, Timothy Bewes argues that shame is a dominant temperament in twentieth-century literature, and the key to understanding the ethics and aesthetics of the contemporary world.

    Drawing on thinkers such as Jean-Paul Sartre, Frantz Fanon, Theodor Adorno, and Gilles Deleuze, Bewes argues that in literature there is an "event" of shame that brings together these ethical and aesthetic tensions. Reading works by J. M. Coetzee, Joseph Conrad, Nadine Gordimer, V. S. Naipaul, Caryl Phillips, Ngugi wa Thiong'o, and Zoë Wicomb, Bewes presents a startling theory: the practices of postcolonial literature depend upon and repeat the same structures of thought and perception that made colonialism possible in the first place. As long as those structures remain in place, literature and critical thinking will remain steeped in shame.

    Offering a new mode of postcolonial reading,The Event of Postcolonial Shamedemands a literature and a criticism that acknowledge their own ethical deficiency without seeking absolution from it.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-3649-9
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. ACKNOWLEDGMENTS
    (pp. ix-xii)
  4. Prologue
    (pp. 1-8)

    I have just reached the age of forty, life’s midpoint. Physically I am of average height and build. I have a growing paunch and an incipient stoop, the effect of many hours spent each day at a desk, reading literature or working on a computer. My hair is reddish brown, its color faded from the rich auburn of my childhood, and its quality has grown thin and wispy. My nose is long and narrow, inherited from my father, and my features in general rather pointed, denoting, I am sure, an underlying selfishness and belligerence in my character. My eyes are...

  5. Part One: The Form of Shame

    • Chapter One SHAME AS FORM
      (pp. 11-48)

      In a global conjuncture in which the very expression of ethical solidarity displays and enacts unprecedented disparities of power, writers of literature are in an ethical and aesthetic quandary: How to write without thereby contributing to the material inscription of inequality? Even to pose such a question can appear as romanticizing, or worse, of the position of the “subaltern” or “Third World” subject, who seems thereby reduced to the status of an object that is merely written about. This quandary is inextricable from literary criticism and from the production of literature whenever the problematic of those formations is articulated in...

    • Chapter Two SHAME, VENTRILOQUY, AND THE PROBLEM OF THE CLICHÉ: CARYL PHILLIPS
      (pp. 49-72)

      The British-Caribbean writer Caryl Phillips has received a great deal of critical attention from readers and scholars interested in the theme of the black “diaspora” in contemporary literature and the closely associated concept of the “black Atlantic,” deriving from the work of the cultural critic and theoretician Paul Gilroy. In his influential bookThe Black Atlantic(1993), Gilroy proposes the Atlantic Ocean as a “single, complex unit of analysis” and the basis for a reoriented literary criticism, away from “nationalist and ethnically absolute approaches” and towards “an explicitly transnational and intercultural perspective.”¹ The “Atlantic,” for Gilroy, names a principle of...

  6. Part Two: The Time of Shame

    • Chapter Three THE SHAME OF BELATEDNESS: LATE STYLE IN V. S. NAIPAUL
      (pp. 75-99)

      V. S. Naipaul invokes shame constantly, both on the page and off it, and in quite varied situations, many of which seem to have nothing to do with the postcolonial situation. In the opening pages of his authorized biography of Naipaul,The World Is What It Is, Patrick French recalls getting into a friend’s car in Delhi to find Naipaul next to him in the back seat. “We were talking about the funeral of Princess Diana,” Naipaul says to French. “What were your thoughts about it?” French, sensing that he is being baited, decides to “be honest”: “I found it...

    • Chapter Four SHAME AND REVOLUTIONARY BETRAYAL: JOSEPH CONRAD, NGŨGĨ WA THIONG’O, ZOË WICOMB
      (pp. 100-134)

      If Theodor Adorno’s readings are capable of revealing Beethoven to have been a postcolonial thinkeravant la lettre, the same claim will, in the course of this chapter, be made about G.W.F. Hegel, the philosopher for whom the greatest obstacle to freedom is the project of its realization. This paradox, which reproduces the modern anxiety toward form as a specifically political complex, is central to Adorno’s reading and reappraisal of Hegel as a thinker in whom a refusal to positivize his own thinking is discernible even in his most positivist, nominalistic moments. Adorno refers to the paradox as “the fiber...

  7. Part Three: The Event of Shame

    • Chapter Five THE EVENT OF SHAME IN J. M. COETZEE
      (pp. 137-163)

      The works of few contemporary novelists can be said to be as consistently riven by shame as those of J. M. Coetzee. As a first hypothesis, we can say that for Coetzee, as much as for Primo Levi and T. E. Lawrence, shame is inseparable from the activity of literary production. Coetzee’s books offer perhaps the clearest illustration of the formula introduced at the beginning of this book, the inversion of another proposition by Gilles Deleuze: The ability to write—is there any better reason to feel ashamed?

      Coetzee, of course, is well known as a South African writer. The...

    • Chapter Six SHAME AND SUBTRACTION: TOWARDS POSTCOLONIAL WRITING
      (pp. 164-192)

      The remarkable achievement of Jean-Paul Sartre’s account of shame inBeing and Nothingnesswas its interruption of what he would later refer to as the “subjective illusion”: the notion that any explanation for shame should be sought primarily in the ethical or reflective sphere, in the individual’s thoughts or behavior.¹ For Sartre, shame occurs with the experience, even the possibility, of being looked at. “By the mere appearance of the Other, I am put in the position of passing judgment on myself as on an object, for it is as an object that I appear to the Other.”² Shame, according...

  8. NOTES
    (pp. 193-218)
  9. INDEX
    (pp. 219-224)
  10. Back Matter
    (pp. 225-225)