One of the things I tried to do in Manichean Aesthetics was scrutinize the sites that Sartre identifies as the "points of mediation" between political economy and culture: I was interested in how points of contact between these two different spheres are mediated. I think perhaps I didn't do as systematic a job of examining these points of mediation as I might if I were to rewrite the book today. Nonetheless, I was very careful in Manichean Aesthetics to look at three different colonial situations: a settler colony, a non-settler colony, and South Africa, which was also a settler colony and an ongoing colonial situation at that time. I tried to map the kind of push that the colonialists in Kenya had to mount to eradicate the indigenous political economy. So as far as examining these points of mediation, I see no equivalent book that shares the specific emphases of Manichean Aesthetics, particularly in the African context. The political economy of Western colonialism is an area that humanists still ignore.
So those were two things I was preoccupied with: first, mapping the points of mediation between political economy and culture in the colonial setting, and second, inventorying colonialist stereotypes and identifying a unifying apparatus (i.e., the allegorical structure) that permitted the stereotypes to be utilized in the articulation of colonialist antagonism.
The third issue, to answer other parts of your question, that I was concerned with at that point was my own "colonial" formation and investment. Just before I published Manichean Aesthetics, my friends advised me to include a coda or a final chapter that talked about myself, especially my experiences as an Indian growing up in East Africa, which allowed or compelled me to occupy simultaneously the positions of the colonizer and the colonized. As an Indian in Kenya, I was a colonized person in relation to the white establishment, but in many respects I was born into the subject position of the colonizer in relation to the Africans. In writing the book I was very much aware of that predicament. Being caught in this in-between position, as both colonizer and colonized, was what motivated my writing the book in the first instance, I think. I thought I was in a position to treat both sides with a certain kind of sensitive but not benign understanding because I had experienced both sides, though in different ways. However, writing from a certain Marxian theoretical preoccupation, I was very reluctant to write such a coda--to discuss my subject position, as it's come to be called. Now it is clear that postcolonial studies has become increasingly preoccupied with trying to articulate different aspects of the subject position of the postcolonial intellectual, with her/his liminal, in-between position, etc.
Or, to put it in a different way, the disavowal consists in the refusal to distinguish between the epistemological value of postcolonial theory and its political value. I am persuaded that in a great deal of contemporary critical endeavor, including postcolonial theory, there persists a strong tendency for critics to assume that theoretical or epistemological radicality automatically has a certain kind of political valence. I'm not convinced at all that this equation is automatically correct.
I would add that we should remember that certain genres, particularly poetry and drama, are far more susceptible to the influence of indigenous traditions than fictional narratives. Also, I think that many of us in the Western academy tend to confine ourselves to postcolonial literatures written in European languages. I am told, for instance, that contemporary Indian literature written in indigenous languages is far more innovative and exiting than Indian literature written in English. However, the exploration of this kind of literature in American universities is drastically limited by institutional structures: as you know, the vast majority of Comparative Literature departments in the U.S. are predominantly Eurocentric.
One of the things I'm concerned with is the political efficacy of any trope or any theoretical paradigm that one may articulate. Different tropes, different theoretical paradigms may have viable political efficacy in certain situations and not in others. So, what is being left out of particular paradigms, both general and local ones, is the political efficacy of those paradigms within particular colonial situations.
The reason I am interested in writers like Wright and other African American writers is this: the wager of constituting one's self as a "resistant" subject is much more drastic for them than for other American or postcolonial writers. The process of constitution is such that if they do not resist that very process itself, then there is little possibility of resisting "later"; if they do not resist quite early on, then they are in danger of becoming what Wright calls "Black boys," who are then not even capable of asking questions that might enable them to resist. However, this formulation also begs the question, in Said's terms, of a conflict between filiation and affiliation (see Beginnings; The World). Though in Wright's case it is a question not so much of a positive filiation as of a powerfully negative identification.
I also think it would be fascinating to investigate how the point of resistance, as it came to be formed for somebody like Wright, differs from the point of resistance as it came to be formed for somebody like DuBois, and then again for somebody like Hurston or Fauset. Such a comparative analysis of resistance would oblige one to analyze carefully all the variables of socio-political determination--race, gender, and class (to cite the Holy Trinity only).
The way to bridge the gap between the two positions, I believe, is to articulate antagonisms in a careful but sufficiently broad way that all these political alliances and linkages can be maintained. Yet the danger, as we addressed earlier, is that critics will object to the drawing of overly large generalizations as highly imperialistic, though in the final analysis that sort of struggle will always exist. The profession of the "traditional/oppositional" intellectual in the academy is to want to articulate, on the one hand, these coalitions and yet, on the other hand, to demand specificity as well. I don't see any escape from that contradiction.
Postcolonialism is more palatable at the research level because it is perceived as less threatening by the professional establishment, as Shohat has remarked. In other words, at the levels of research, publication, intellectual preoccupation, and so forth, the profession finds postcolonialism quite supportable. However, those interests are at odds with pedagogical interests and needs: at the pedagogical level, where administrators are far more important because they control funding, postcolonialism is not so much discouraged, but there is no room for it as a discrete disciplinary interest. There is much more space at the pedagogical level for ethnic studies that are apportioned in discrete categories: Asian American, Black, Chicano studies, etc. So, the two needs are in contradiction with one another and are manipulable for different, often conflicting purposes. For example, a certain kind of postcolonial research is encouraged, yet on the professional level it is very difficult to place scholars doing this kind of research because there is a need for specialists doing canonical work.
Another facet of the optimism/pessimism spectrum is the temporality of intellectual endeavor. In talking recently to a friend who is somewhat disenchanted with academia and is more inclined toward becoming a public intellectual, one of things we discussed was the different temporalities of those two intellectual roles. To be a public intellectual means you can and you do get feedback almost immediately about the effectiveness of your positions or ideas. To be an academic intellectual means to work on a very different time scale. An academic intellectual takes a long time thinking through the problematics of certain positions or solving certain problems, and the effect of her/his work may not manifest itself adequately for a generation. One of the mistakes that we make is to think that scholarly or critical work is compatible with the desire for more immediate effects. At some visceral level we all want our work to have a more immediate and discernible impact than it does.
One more anecdote if I may. I heard an absolutely fascinating paper given at the "Whither Marxism?" conference that I participated in. It was a talk delivered by a Polish woman involved with Solidarity. She's an academic and an activist, who spent some time in jail because of her work for Solidarity. Her paper tried to map the relation between contingency and necessity in the moment of revolution; it was an absolutely fascinating paper. To have gone through the Solidarity movement and to have experienced its successes, and then to reflect on how necessity, contingency and chance conspired to make a revolution successful represents for me the kind of theoretical work that needs to be done on the left. We have relatively little understanding of these kinds of issues. We always seem to be writing under the assumption that our pronouncements about directions, priorities, and so forth are going to have an effect in the very near future. There can be periods that are relatively fallow in terms of practice, but are nonetheless periods where a lot of important theoretical sorting out takes place, so that when the moment of crisis arrives, there is access to that theory. Again, though, as the Polish scholar suggested, it is a question of necessity and contingency: existent theoretical work may never be properly utilized when it ought to be.
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