Theory, Practice and the Intellectual:
A Conversation with Abdul R. JanMohamed


S.X. Goudie

University of California, Berkeley

Copyright (c) 1997 by S.X. Goudie, all rights reserved. This text may be used and shared in accordance with the fair-use provisions of U.S. Copyright law, and it may be archived and redistributed in electronic form, provided that the editors are notified and no fee is charged for access. Archiving, redistribution, or republication of this text on other terms, in any medium, requires the notification of the journal and consent of the author.

  1. Abdul R. JanMohamed ranks among postcolonialism's most consequential figures. The founding editor of Cultural Critique and a professor in the English Department at the University of California at Berkeley for much of his academic tenure, JanMohamed has produced a rich variety of scholarship that embodies his reform-minded cultural politics. Scholars in African and African American Studies, Ethnic Studies, Comparative Literature, English, and many other departments find his arguments compelling, engaging them frequently in their criticism. Such critical regard testifies to JanMohamed's ability to treat diverse theoretical positions with elegant clarity and penetrating insight, qualities he shares with two prominent influences, Frantz Fanon and Edward Said. Motivated by the lingering effects of Western colonialism and slavery, JanMohamed's critical project participates in an emancipatory vision: in the wake of successful ballot measures in California aimed at dismantling affirmative action programs and halting illegal immigration, he emphasizes the need for scholars to build coalitions across disciplines in order to maintain the gains of the past and to effect meaningful change for the future.

  2. Raised in Kenya, JanMohamed witnessed the ongoing "push" by British, and later neocolonial, forces to eradicate indigenous ways of life. Profoundly disturbed by that tragedy, he has dedicated himself to studying the economic and social dynamics of various colonial and postcolonial settings. In his groundbreaking study, Manichean Aesthetics: The Politics of Literature in Colonial Africa (1983), JanMohamed demonstrates the importance of scrutinizing the material contradictions governments inherit from colonialism and slavery, rather than, as Fanon warns, becoming paralyzed by a legacy of violent exploitation or embracing a false primitivism. By examining how those contradictions are "taken up and transformed" in an "antagonistic relationship between colonial and African, a hegemonic and a nonhegemonic, literature" (13), Manichean Aesthetics remains a crucial resource for critics conducting criticism in postcolonial cultures hobbled by their colonial inheritances.

  3. In our conversation, he explains how he experienced a sea change in theoretical orientation following the publication of Manichean Aesthetics. Anxious that the Marxian tools he had utilized had perhaps led him to place undue stress on presenting an "objective" analysis of the African colonial condition, he began to consider how writers and intellectuals who have experienced violent socioeconomic conditions are formed as subjects by those experiences. He focuses especially on how, and at what point in their textual subject formations, writers like Richard Wright and Frederick Douglass become agents of resistance no longer willing to "consent" to their oppression. Like so many of the writers and scholars with whom he feels an affinity, JanMohamed is driven by the desire to reconstitute textual fragments of a frequently violent world into instruments of felt change.

  4. Conducted in the Spring of 1997, this interview is the first JanMohamed has granted and thus, partly of necessity, covers a full range of issues. He reflects on the strengths and weaknesses of his critical practices over the past fifteen years and speaks decisively about the pleasures, and especially the dangers, that he feels characterize the scholarly tendencies in postcolonial studies today (Part I, "Revisiting Manichean Aesthetics"; Part II, "Tracking the 'Specular Border Intellectual'"). Next he discusses why his own critical practice, which began with a systematic examination of colonial and African literature and culture, has come to focus almost exclusively on the United States and African American literature. As part of that discussion, he comments on debates centered on the often tense relationship between postcolonial studies and related fields and proposes how scholars across disciplines might forge alliances in order to achieve mutually beneficial goals (Part III, "Postcolonialism Against Minority Studies?"). Finally, in perhaps the most informal section of the interview, he speaks with a tone of "realistic pessimism" about the plight of the liberal intellectual in and beyond the university (Part IV, "The Intellectual in Crisis"). The interview functions, then, as a candid assessment of his and his colleagues' achievements and disappointments since the publication of Said's Orientalism, and as a provocative expression of their shared responsibilities for the future.

  5. SXG: It has been fourteen years since you published Manichean Aesthetics (1983), and twelve years since your essay, "The Economy of Manichean Allegory: The Function of Racial Difference in Colonialist Literature," was published in the autumn 1985 issue of Critical Inquiry (a collection of essays edited by Henry Louis Gates, Jr. entitled "`Race', Writing and Difference"). These two texts are now foundational in postcolonial studies and remain central to course work in the area. Why do you think they have had such a significant impact?

  6. ARJ: It is not clear to me how significant the impact of my book and article has been, though no doubt they have had some impact. One reason the book and the article might have had some influence is simply because they opened up the terrain. They responded to Said's groundbreaking Orientalism, which examined Western discourse about the Orient and the construction of that discourse, by attempting to juxtapose colonialist discourse with the counter-discourse of the colonized. In settling on that focus, I tried to demonstrate in a systematic way the importance of accounting for the response, or, more specifically, the cultural resistance, of the colonized. So the influence of my work manifests itself in postcolonialism's continued examination of the discourse of the colonized. However, to the extent that Manichean Aesthetics was also dedicated to investigating the relationship between the political economy of colonialism and the cultural response of the colonized in a given situation, I don't think the book has had a significant impact. When I look at most of the postcolonial studies work produced since its publication in 1983, I see very little evidence of scholars examining the relationship between colonial political economy and colonial culture in any sustained way. Perhaps postcolonial studies will return at some point to this relation.

    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.

  7. SXG: It seems to me that in part the lasting currency of both Manichean Aesthetics and "The Economy of Manichean Allegory" is attributable to the controversies surrounding them. To some extent, the various debates involving these two texts are ones that you, as one of the founding voices of postcolonialism, consciously framed. Second-generation postcolonial scholars might be interested to hear anew what the stakes of the debate were for you fifteen years ago.

  8. ARJ: What I wanted to do in "The Economy of Manichean Allegory" was to identify an apparatus, a colonialist apparatus, which permitted or enabled stereotypes to function in certain ways. I also wanted to demonstrate that that structure, which I argued had an allegorical bent to it, was deployable under various historical and geographical circumstances. But most important of all, I wanted to define one aspect of the fundamental antagonisms that characterize the relations between the colonizer and the colonized. My notion of "antagonism," which is based on that of Laclau, here implies the need to articulate clearly the structural or systemic interests, values, actions, etc., of one group that are opposed to that of another, the interests that are constitutive of the groups as such. We are thus talking about all the processes of identification and investment that allow groups to define themselves against others, which does not imply that all groups are not internally fissured or contradictorily constituted. Now, it can be argued that such generalizations about colonial relations or group antagonisms are universalistic or essentialist and as such not tenable. While I think it is perfectly appropriate and right to insist upon the specificity of each and every colonial situation (which I do insist on in Manichean Aesthetics), I believe that there is a tendency in contemporary postcolonial studies to avoid certain kinds of generalizations in favor of other generalizations. The question is why are some generalizations considered disturbing while others are espoused with zest. I think the libidinal and critical investment in some generalizations and not in others tells us something about the unspoken ideological investments of postcolonial studies. At some point I want to reenter the postcolonial debate by building further on the criticism that has already been articulated by Ella Shohat, Anne McClintock, Arif Dirlik, and others.

    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.

  9. SXG: You're alluding to terms that are part of the identity politics debate, concepts such as creolization, syncretism, hybridity, and so on?

  10. ARJ: That's right.

  11. SXG: The hyphenation you identify with, as opposed to that espoused by many diaspora critics or minority scholars, is striking. Quite frankly, I don't hear many postcolonialists or minority intellectuals acknowledging--let alone claiming--a "colonizer-colonized" subject position.

  12. ARJ: I have indirectly explored these issues in my later work, for instance in the articles on Edward Said and Paulo Freire, and in my future work I might come back to precisely this kind of subject formation. I think we need to articulate more systematically the obligations that are entailed in that in-between position, obligations that I feel can be extrapolated from the position of the "Third World" intellectual in the Western academy. To the extent that we are still struggling against the epistemic hegemony of the West, we continue to fight "colonialism" or "neocolonialism." However, in relation to the subaltern in the "Third World," we live in extremely privileged circumstances. Some critics argue that a certain kind of postcolonial theory is itself complicitous with the hegemonic structure, an ongoing or reduplicative form of colonization. Thus I think it's incumbent upon us, following the work of Gayatri Spivak and others, to continue examining our subject positions in both of those respects in a more systematic way.

  13. SXG: If one agrees that critics have, in fact, eschewed this kind of self-examination as part of critique, how do you account for that disavowal?

  14. ARJ: I think the disavowal consists in the refusal, or perhaps in a drastically inadequate acknowledgment, of the traumatic nature of a truth, namely, that the vast majority of those who live in countries that were formally colonized at one time by the West are still colonized, or profoundly dominated, if you will. The disavowal consists in the assumption, on the one hand, that contemporary postcolonial theory is valuable or useful in emancipating those who are colonized and, on the other hand, the refusal to examine how, precisely and practically, that theory is emancipatory. Thus if one were to ask, for instance, what specifically is the value of postcolonial theory for the worker in Haiti who is forced to labor for 28 cents an hour, one would immediately provoke a howl of protest amongst certain postcolonial theorists who would consider such a question far too crude and theoretically naïve. My point is that we have never adequately considered the possibility that postcolonial theory may be useful only for so-called postcolonial intellectuals in Western or working within Western-style academic institutions.

    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.

  15. SXG: The distinction between political and theoretical functions inherent in various intellectual subject positions seems productive to me. Parenthetically, why do you think writers are so frequently attacked by critics--in a systematic way--for not being "systematic" enough in delineating their precise ideological investments?

  16. ARJ: From Plato onwards critics have always wanted to prescribe to artists, and I suppose postcolonial critics are not different in this regard, perhaps worse. To the extent that works of art are imaginary solutions for real social contradictions, they also function as symptoms, and symptoms always embody their investments rather than delineating them in precise analytic terms and categories. Delineation is the task of the analyst or critic.

  17. SXG: That being said, are there sufficient models available in postcolonial criticism for making aesthetic, as opposed to purely ideological, judgments about its various objects of study?

  18. ARJ: Again, from a Marxian perspective, I think that aesthetic categories and forms carry their own ideological baggage. The option that a "Third World" writer has is whether to use those forms or not: You can refunction given categories and forms, or push their boundaries in certain directions that will perhaps change the inherent ideological implications, but I suppose the question still remains as to what kinds of models are available to postcolonial writers and critics. One can extend the debate between Ngugi and Achebe about the use of English to a debate about the use of European forms. It's more possible for me to imagine poetic forms that exist outside of, or that are not as deeply influenced by, metropolitan poetic forms than fictional ones. The novel is quintessentially a bourgeois metropolitan form: the minute you begin to write the novel you have no option but to deal with all the ideological baggage that comes with it, however it may be rendered in a certain postmodern way.

  19. SXG: Considering Manichean Aesthetics' indebtedness to Jameson and Marxist thought in general, were you strategically aware in 1983 of the potential dangers of employing Marxist thought too sweepingly in order to account for "Third World" discursivities, the sort of abuse that led to Aijaz Ahmad's harsh critique of Jameson's essay "Third-World Literature in the Era of Multinational Capitalism" just four years after the publication of Manichean Aesthetics?

  20. ARJ: I would say a couple things. First, what I attempted in Manichean Aesthetics is very different from what Jameson did in his essay. In writing the book, I was very aware of carefully mediating between the specificities of the colonial situation and some generalizations that could emerge from those specificities. Precisely for that reason I looked at the three quite different colonial situations within Africa and examined six writers; so the book was very carefully framed around the dialogue between specific intellectuals and texts. Then at the end I tried to devise certain generalizations about the colonial condition. So, while the book may have been "Marxist," it was not full of sweeping generalizations. In some ways "The Economy of Manichean Allegory" was cast in a more universalistic mode, particularly regarding the function of racist tropes in colonialist representations. But even in that article, I closely examined a series of colonial novels that I thought clearly supported my arguments.

  21. SXG: Critics who have chosen to defend Jameson's argument either in part or in full have suggested that he was attempting to articulate an urgent, if broadly conceived, theoretical point that was then distorted by antagonists who applied it to specific instances according to their own political purposes. I'm not asking you to apologize for your essay but to talk about how you and Jameson found yourselves, though in different ways, the subject of debates about the universalizing tendency of theory. These two texts have been criticized in related ways, haven't they?

  22. ARJ: It is interesting that my article in linked, in this criticism of universalism, to Jameson's and not to many other articles and positions to which it could also be linked. It is not only Marxists who make large, supposedly indefensible generalizations; liberals do as well, but their universalistic arguments somehow never provoke the same outrage. For instance, Bhabha's claim that the colonial relation is characterized by hybridity is no less a generalization than Jameson's or mine. Yet you see it uncritically adopted and applied all over the place. I suspect that what are identified as "Marxist" generalizations are far more threatening than what are recognized as bourgeois generalizations; for various ideological reasons the latter generalizations are far more comfortable to hear than the former. That said, I would still defend the nature of universalistic argument in the "Manichean Allegory" article. While hybridity may be a universal by-product of any cross-cultural encounter, including the postcolonial, what distinguishes the colonial situation for me is that it is fundamentally centered around violence; colonialism is robbery with violence, as Conrad put it, and in spite of his deep desire to find an exception, I don't think he did. I don't see how the violence on which colonialism is predicated can exist without the production of radical antagonisms between the colonizers and the colonized. And what I was trying to demonstrate in my article was how colonialist antagonism coalesces around certain kinds of stereotypes and how it functions allegorically in colonialist discourse. Now it is certainly possible that I did not adequately catalogue all colonialist stereotypes, or that not all stereotypes function in precisely those allegorical ways all the time, or that there were specific colonialists who were not antagonistic or racist (and I devote several chapters to them in Manichean Aesthetics) and so forth. The details of my argument can benefit from revision, but I am still convinced that the fundamental antagonisms that characterize colonial relations were accurately reflected in that article.

  23. SXG: In Manichean Aesthetics, you argue that colonial literature (authored by the colonizer) is more "interesting for its subjective or noetic qualities, that is, for the nature of its perception rather than for the complexity of what it perceives," whereas African literature (authored by the colonized and/or formerly colonized) is, in contrast, less significant for its noetic value and more interesting for its "noematic" value: "the complexit[ies] of the world it reveals [noematic], make it more fascinating than do its perceptual [noetic] processes" (277). One senses in that statement a series of hierarchies between First World and "Third World" literature. Works by the colonizer are said to possess an "intense and problematic subjectivity" (277), whereas African literature, deficient in that respect, is nonetheless superior in terms of depth of content and analysis. How did you settle on those generalizations and would you still defend them?

  24. ARJ: No, I would not, at least not in that form. When I was writing MA I was primarily interested in trying to understand what kind of effect the colonial situation had on writers working within that environment; I was focused far more on the situation than on the subjectivities of the writers in question. Consequently, I found that colonialist literature conveyed relatively little information to me about African culture or the culture of the colonized and that it tended to foreground its own colonial ideological and perceptual apparatus. But African literature told me a great deal about the indigenous cultures and the dramatic transformations they suffered under colonial occupation. Hence my decision, at that time, to cast these differences in terms of the noetic tendency of colonialist literature and the noematic tendency of the African. While writing MA I was strongly influenced by Raymond Williams' The Country and the City and his treatment of writers like Thomas Hardy, whose novels embody a record of how rural subcultures were destroyed under the pressure of metropolitan social and economic forms. I found this paradigm useful because the African literature that I was examining at that time demonstrated similar patterns. As I argued in MA, Achebe clearly demonstrated how traditional Igbo society collapsed under the external pressure of colonialist impositions and the pressure produced by internal social contradictions.

  25. SXG: Critics in First World universities who read Kamau Brathwaite's work acknowledge that his poems are highly innovative and aesthetically challenging, products of a poet of rare abilities and a keen Afro-Caribbean sensibility. Nonetheless, some critics--even those who laud his poems' unique virtues--approach his works from a perspective that reveals their limited ability to grasp the fundamental ways in which Brathwaite's syncretic Afro-Caribbean poetics functions within specific poems. Accordingly, certain poems are treated as if they were monothematic or univocal. These critics overlook the syncopated rhythms, the polyphony of tongues, and the mélange of histories that Brathwaite weaves into his art because these elements don't jibe with "traditional" Western poetics. Other readers of his work valorize only those poems that seem comprehensible to them and neglect or treat superficially works that they don't understand. I cite this example to suggest that although there are certain connections to be made between First World and "Third World" art and culture, too frequently similarities and differences in function are seized upon by Western-based critics in such a way that, while perhaps valid from their point of view, nonetheless neglect, minimize, or finesse the limitations inherent in their perspective, at considerable cost to both artist and critic.

  26. ARJ: When I argue that colonized literature is more useful for its "noematic" structures than for its "noetic" properties, I think you are right to point out certain blindnesses inherent in such categorization. Subsequent to the publication of Manichean Aesthetics, though, I turned my attention to the noetic structures of African literature, for instance in my article on Achebe, which argued that at the formal level his "novels" were in fact syncretic combinations of traditional oral narrative structures and the structures of Western "novels."

    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.

  27. SXG: Perhaps this is a level on which postcolonial critics writing from the Western academy need to do the sort of self-interrogation you spoke of earlier. As others have mentioned before, we need to delineate the political possibilities and limitations inherent in our theoretical formulations, rather than uncritically using them to evaluate, from within a [Western-imagined] postcolonial hermeneutic circle, texts produced in cultures about which we are only minimally informed.

  28. ARJ: In some sense these problems are not unique to postcolonial criticism. All perspectives and approaches are limited in some way or another, and the limitations may be produced by colonial divisions or by gender, class, racial, or cultural divisions and differences. The only way to guard against the effects of these limitations is by making sure that a very diverse group of intellectuals populate the academy, in particular the humanities departments. This is the same problem that emerged forcefully during the Civil Rights movement and that resulted in the establishment of Ethnic Studies departments and programs. The postcolonial presence in the academy is really only about 10-15 years old and the field has been evolving very rapidly in the meantime. While we certainly need experts who can educate us, for instance, about the syncopated rhythms, the polyphony, and the historical mélange in Caribbean cultures, we must also remember that the academy will try to police the ideological baggage that this kind of diversity implies.

  29. SXG: I note that not until "The Economy of Manichean Allegory" do Foucault, Said, and especially Lacan receive prominent treatment in your criticism. Was it your debate with Bhabha, given his heavy investment in psychoanalysis, that--ironically enough--led you to consider the usefulness of psychoanalysis for your own theoretical practice?

  30. ARJ: No. The theoretical shift was not a result of any debate with Bhabha. Although I criticize Bhabha's work briefly in "The Economy of Manichean Allegory," I have never really engaged in what I would consider a fully developed debate with him. Maybe that is something I will want to do at some point in the future. The move manifested itself, as I alluded to earlier, because of a certain vintage of Marxism that a) did not adequately theorize the subject, and b) was too preoccupied with an "objective" analysis of mapping the terrain. I gradually became aware of a gap, a tactical avoidance of psychoanalysis by Marxian theory. Originally I had a deep, but clearly mistaken suspicion of psychoanalysis as a preoccupation that was profoundly bourgeois. But Lacan's critique of the bourgeois appropriation of psychoanalysis rescues that discipline for me, and recently I have begun to move in another theoretical direction that will hopefully allow me to use psychoanalysis to account in a more productive way for the political formation of subjectivity.

  31. SXG: Does this account, in part, for why "Economy of Manichean Allegory" is more emotionally charged than Manichean Aesthetics?

  32. ARJ: Yes, I think that's true. While I was insisting in Manichean Aesthetics on some kind of fidelity to the experience of the colonized subject, it was precisely the emotive content of that experience that I was overlooking. In using Fanon to read Ngugi, Achebe, La Guma, etc., what I felt I was leaving out was the emotional, affective sedimentation that is a constitutive part of the political formation of the subject. How does colonialism, for example, form the colonized subject in such a way as to leave behind a history of the sedimentation of the subject, which then manifests itself in the writings, but never directly? That's what I'm working on currently with Richard Wright. Wright was precisely preoccupied with examining the political, or more specifically, the racial formation of the subject.

  33. SXG: Your articulation of such a subject formation, to the extent that it exists in Manichean Aesthetics albeit in embryonic form, occurs only in your analysis of the colonial authors--Dinesen, Cary, even Gordimer. As I recall that, I'm thinking of your self-admonition to avoid slipping into a bourgeois "trap" as you proceed with your investigation of the political formation of the minority subject. You have suggested that this analytical distinction between colonial and colonized writers was not arrived at unconsciously. Were the colonial writers' subject formations somehow easier to excavate? In contrast, was it more productive for you to examine the colonized writers in the context of their community lives than as individual subjects?

  34. ARJ: I think the problem was partly caused by the lack of significant biographical information about certain writers at that time. Given that Cary and Dinesen were deceased, there was a great deal of biographical material available about them, whereas the same kind of material was not available for the living writers. So, I did not have access to the childhood formation or the substantive colonial experiences of Ngugi, Achebe, La Guma, or Gordimer. For example, I was very much aware that a certain theocentric preoccupation in Ngugi's work may well have had a biographical component that would have allowed me to read his fiction in a very different way, but I did not have access to that material. Biographical information is obviously one of the "mediating" factors in the Sartrean notion of the relation between political economy and culture. Thus, subsequent to my early writing, I have become far more aware of the importance of that biographical component. My current work on Wright pivots entirely on his investigation of his own "biography," that is, his own formation as a "Black Boy," in the realm of fiction.

  35. SXG: If Manichean Aesthetics were to be updated to account for what has taken place in African culture as well as in postcolonial studies during the past fifteen years, who are a few of the authors you would include in a revised study of African literature and why would you wish to treat those authors?

  36. ARJ: I would look more systematically at the Négritude authors, the Francophone African writers such as Senghor and Diop, in order to contrast them with the Anglophone writers. That is, given my preoccupation with the relationship between the cultural and politico-economic spheres, I would look more systematically at the effects of the French colonial policy as compared to the British colonial policy. Also, by way of addressing the lacuna in Marxian theory regarding subject formation, I would include the analysis of a novel like Tsitsi Dangarembga's Nervous Conditions. That novel begins to map, in precise ways, the process of the colonized subject's transformation. More specifically, the novel demonstrates how political economy gets transformed at the biographical level and is then manifested in the discursive realm. Those are the kinds of changes I might undertake.

  37. SXG: Among other prominent scholars, Bhabha, Spivak, Said and yourself are included in that important 1985 Critical Inquiry special issue. Over the past several years, the four of you have been "subject" to the--I guess I'll call it a "need" rather than a "desire," though surely it is both--need for critics to move beyond "disciple" status and to interrogate your various theoretical approaches to postcolonial studies. As John Thieme remarks in a 1996 editorial, "It is . . . extraordinary to note how swiftly theorists such as Bhabha have come to be seen as the perpetrators of a new hegemonic approach, which is at odds with their own anti-essentialist positionings" (1). As one of Bhabha's co-innovators, do you too sense that we are witnessing the demise of global paradigms to explain "the" colonial/postcolonial predicament, or merely the transformation of those paradigms?

  38. ARJ: On the one hand, I think it is important to look at the local and not be bound by prevailing paradigms. On the other hand, a critical practice that simply devotes itself to the local and the fragmentary and does not begin to draw together whatever fundamental denominators may bind colonialist literature and colonized literature will evade attempting to articulate what the colonial experience is really all about. It's not so much a question of innovations, I think, as a question of the value of paradigm, and the value of specificity of examination, as such. Having said that, I should add that the two paradigms that seem to have a great deal of currency at the present time are, on the one hand, the question of hybridity and, on the other hand, the question of positionality. So much of the contemporary work in postcolonial studies tends to address those two issues. Those are paradigms that I personally find very problematic. The question of hybridity very often does not want to adequately distinguish between what Robert Young wants to call "colonial hybridity" and other forms of hybridity. Whenever two cultures or groups interact in any way, there is going to be hybridity. The way Bhabha defines hybridity--particularly the way he does so in his introduction to Fanon's Black Skin, White Masks, as ultimately the product of the play between demand and desire--it becomes applicable to any situation. Neither Bhabha nor Young satisfactorily distinguishes colonial hybridity from the hybridity that may characterize any other cultural interaction. So, those kinds of paradigms I find problematic, as well as the preoccupation with questions of positionality. Once again, questions of the subject position are important, but one needs to distinguish between the problematics of subject positions in general (or in gender or class situations) from colonial situations. What I think is almost always overlooked in discussions of both hybridity and subject positions is the issue of power, the unequal distribution of power within the racial or colonial situation. Those dynamics are rarely mapped out in any systematic way.

    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.

  39. SXG: What are some of the other strengths and weaknesses of your theoretical practices in Manichean Aesthetics and "The Economy of Manichean Allegory" that you have been able to re(ad)dress in your more recent work?

  40. ARJ: I continue to be interested in the definition of the specular (and the syncretic) border intellectual, by way of an attempt to map questions of positionality, and I continue to privilege the question of racial formation, which is an issue I find central to Western colonialism as well as to minority discourse. So, for example, relationships between Western forms of colonialism and other forms of colonialism, while legitimate in some sense, are not something that I would be interested in. It may be that a comparative analysis of racism in Arab colonization and Western colonization of Africa may yield all kinds of fascinating answers, but it's not something that I can do, mainly because I don't know Arabic. Whatever shortcomings a given work may or may not have, one needs to keep in mind that a critic can only work on so much at a given point, and one privileges certain things in relation to others.

  41. SXG: I presume, however, that you would be interested in these other colonialisms "comparatively" not only in the general sense, but specifically if they proved to have been mutually responsible for the formation of certain "Western" colonialisms that heretofore we have identified as the sole responsibility of Western political, economic and cultural practices?

  42. ARJ: Well, one can be interested in two senses: in the subjective sense--what one can achieve productively in one's lifetime--and the moral sense--what one "ought" to do. And it's not easy to untangle the two. That said, I think I would still be on guard against notions that we blame Western colonialism too much--unjustifiably or unfairly so--in contrast to other forms of colonialism. I think there is a good reason for negatively privileging Western colonialism, not because it was more cruel or more ruthless than other imperial endeavors (other empires may well have been more inhumane), but because it transformed the world in a way that no previous colonialisms ever had. Said takes this up in Culture and Imperialism, and I think it needs to be addressed more extensively. Western colonialism marked a world historical change both because it was a product of and because it introduced to the rest of the world a mode of production that was radically different from the modes that had prevailed until that point. Because it brought capitalism with it, Western imperialism fundamentally changed every local culture that it invaded, and of course the reach of this imperialism was global. Thus while one may fight Western colonialism and regain control of one's resources and labor, i.e. win or be granted one's "independence," one cannot easily change the mode of production that colonialism ushered in. Because we have no choice but to continue working within that mode of production, I don't think that Western colonialism has ended in any significant or substantive sense. Therefore, I have always had profound problems with the term "postcolonialism." I think the term "postcolonialism" can be productively replaced with "neocolonialism" (as many critics have suggested), but with the express understanding that such a switch entails an obligation to define the formal differences between older and newer forms of Western colonialism.

  43. SXG: An ongoing theoretical project is your effort to sketch complementary accounts of postcolonial and minority subject formations. Perhaps your major intervention in mapping the postcolonial subject has been your formulation of the "specular border intellectual." In that formulation, you draw on the work (and lives) of several intellectuals, especially Edward Said, Paulo Freire and Henry Giroux. What is striking to me about your method in "Worldliness-Without-World, Homelessness-As-Home: Toward a Definition of the Specular Border Intellectual" is your impulse to limn distinctions between the kinds of agency and social and political motivations underlying a range of postcolonial subject formations. Why did it seem to you important to devise a theory for classifying the subject formations of particular postcolonial scholars and writers?

  44. ARJ: In mapping the positionality of these specular border intellectuals, I am focusing on a typology of agencies as well as social and political motivations that underlie the textual productions of these intellectuals. My aim was to articulate the intentionality imbedded in textual production, which then allows us to map the textual subject position, as opposed to a biographical subject position. This seems important to me because so much of postcolonial theory and criticism seems preoccupied with a biographical rather than a textual notion of subject position. I don't find the former preoccupation particularly productive because it seems to be underwritten by the assumption that once you've identified the kinds of subject positions that constitute you as an individual subject, you are somehow freed from the determination of those discourses that formed you. I don't think freedom from one's formation is so easily achieved. On this topic, I am deeply suspicious of the way Foucault has been appropriated. I am increasingly persuaded by Freudian and Lacanian views that subjects are formed, in a very deep sense, by social, political, and biographical processes and that the affective components involved in these formations produce deeply sedimented and effectively "finished" subjects who cannot simply reformulate themselves by discursively reexamining their positionalities. I think one almost needs to have a nervous breakdown to have any hope of effectively changing one's subject position. In mapping specific specular border intellectuals, I am trying to determine what it is in their affective and intellectual investments that causes them to continue on certain trajectories in spite of other interests that they may profess to have. The same kinds of things could be said, in a way, about the syncretic border intellectuals. What I tried to do in my article about Achebe and the syncretic nature of Things Fall Apart was to locate the synthesis, in the text, between oral and written narrative structures, rather than in Achebe's explicit notions of narrative structures.

  45. SXG: As part of your thoroughgoing examination of the specular border intellectual that you began in your 1992 essay ("Worldliness"), you have devoted considerable time and effort to critiquing the insights and blindnesses of several "master" theorists, who themselves theorize "on the border" so as to construct alternative historiographies, epistemologies, and processes of individuation. For example, you have charted the limitations of Foucault's theorization of power, especially as it relates to his "disavowal" of Marx's theory of value ("Refiguring Values"), and of his analytics of sexuality at the point "where the deployment of sexuality intersects with the deployment of race" ("Sexuality On/Of the Racial Border" 94); furthermore, you have teased out various implications of Freire's border pedagogy, suggesting possible applications of his strategies to pedagogical sites other than those he discusses ("Some Implications"). Where is your analysis of race, subjectivity, and agency on the border leading you? Are these related theoretical investigations part of a larger project?

  46. ARJ: My interests in the socio-political dimensions of intentionality and subject positions are linked to, if not determined by, my interests in political agency. Thus, in these articles as well as in my current work on Wright, I am trying to chart the roles of "consent" (in the Gramscian sense) and "resistance" in the processes through which the subjection of counter-hegemonic intellectuals takes place. I am particularly interested in distinguishing between and in mapping the complex interactions of conscious and unconscious "consent" and "resistance." In other words, I am interested in the relative efficacy of the way in which "resistance" gets constituted in the very process of subject formation. My hypothesis is that "resistance" is not something that a subject can "arrive at" at the end of its formation, if, that is, the "resistance" was not already a part, in however embryonic a form, of the process of formation. That, I think, is the agenda that connects these essays and that will culminate in my book on Wright, where I will argue that it is precisely Wright's decision to examine the racial processes that attempt to constitute him as a "Black Boy" that provide the basis for his "resistance" and later a point around which he can reconstitute a new subject position. I have explored some of this in my essay on Wright's autobiography.

    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.

  47. SXG: Breaking filiation, according to the schema you sketch out, for a bourgeois white intellectual who feels compelled to transcend his filiative ties--for example, a failed "democratic" establishment in the Jim Crow South--by affiliating with oppositional races/ideas/groups/classes would seem an equally bold, though not necessarily a braver, affiliative formation as that which Wright settles on. In other words, how are Wright's "resistant" affiliations more profound than a white intellectual's decision to found the Southern Poverty Law Center? Can we locate the answer in their respective filiative ties/bonds? How, too, do these sorts of paradigms begin to account for factors such as class and gender that intersect with racial formation?

  48. ARJ: I am less concerned, in this project, with classifying and evaluating the relative boldness of a given stance of "resistance," which is what I take you mean by implying the need to evaluate "resistance" on an intellectual plane. I do not mean to imply that one should not be concerned with evaluating the efficacy of different strategies or tactics of "resistance." What fascinates me more, however, is the affective structure and dynamics of resistance--how and why does a given individual choose to resist at a given point while others do not? In the case of Wright, "bravery" consists in his refusal to "consent" to Jim Crow racial formation at a time when he had almost no support from anyone around him and at a time when he is surrounded by overwhelming and almost totally monolithic apparatuses of racial subjection. It is clear to me that as he is growing up in the deep South, Wright's commitment to resist racial formation is a deep emotional commitment, even though he did not seem to have a very clear strategic or tactical plan about the eventual outcome of his resistance. Now, the decision of someone like Morris Dees to found the Southern Poverty Law Center is clearly a "bold" one in the sense that his decision to sue and bankrupt racist organizations is tactically brilliant. This in itself, however, does not tell us much about how he came to break the bonds of filiation or how, when, and why be became a resisting individual.

    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).

  49. SXG: This seems like a potentially slippery slope to head down, drawing, quartering, and classifying types of Black intellectuals.

  50. ARJ: I think such an endeavor would be more than slippery if one's aim were to classify intellectuals in some absolute moral or politically correct hierarchy. I am more interested in developing a genealogy of resistance than with passing judgment on individuals. So I think one can only focus on specific instances and identify specific genealogies. Part of the problem is that in some instances we may have adequate biographical information available to allow us to pinpoint those spaces where resistance begins to form itself as such, in other cases we may not have the biographical information, so we may never know.

  51. SXG: I was a bit confused about the term earlier, and as you have again raised the issue of how "biography" relates to your theoretical formation of the specular border intellectual, I wonder if you might speak more precisely about how you are defining the "biographical"? I sense some biographical materials are pertinent for your critical purposes, while other so-called biographical data seem irrelevant to your work.

  52. ARJ: Yes, I have been using the term "biographical' in rather contradictory ways. On the one hand, I am saying that any data, biographical or autobiographical, is useful in defining, say, the genealogy of the affective point of resistance. Such data has to be treated with a certain amount of skepticism since we are all prone to misrepresenting our experiences in some form or another. However, that kind of skepticism is, for me, different in kind from the suspicion I have of the tendency of contemporary critics to incorporate their own "subject position" in their criticism. (I also referred to this earlier as biographical as opposed to textual subject position.) I am suspicious of this move because I think it is accompanied by an assumption that if a critic articulates her/his subject position then her/his criticism is somehow freed from the biases produced by social determinations. Now, I don't believe that my articulation of my subject position necessarily frees me of my biases: these biases are very often unconscious; in fact, I think they operate largely at an unconscious level and manifest themselves as blindness, disavowal, etc., which are very difficult for the conscious subject to overcome.

  53. SXG: If, as you note, Freire believes that "articulations and negotiations of antagonism . . . alone make social transformation possible" ("Some Implications" 250), your own theoretical practice seems drawn to the same principle. What do you see as the key antagonisms that you are engaged in negotiating and articulating?

  54. ARJ: My almost exclusive--perhaps it should not be exclusive--but, at any rate, my predominant concern is racial formation as the point of antagonism, and that is why I am fascinated by Wright's preoccupation with the formation of the Black male subject. I strongly feel that the tendency of groups to draw exclusive and violent antagonistic boundaries around race or ethnicity is so pervasive and pernicious that it needs concentrated attention. This is my "interest" in both the senses that I identified earlier.

  55. SXG: What should we be doing paradigmatically in postcolonial studies that we are not? More specifically, what are the possible "frontiers," to use a loaded term, of postcolonialism?

  56. ARJ: I have identified the three central issues that I think ought to concern us. 1) The assumption that epistemic resistance is automatically equivalent to political resistance. I feel we need to examine that equation in a very rigorous way, which is not to say that epistemic resistance or theorization that might allow us to begin to move away from prevailing Western hegemonic paradigms is without merit. But the political efficacy of those sorts of moves seems to be assumed rather than demonstrated. 2) I think we need to examine the different forms of Western colonialism. It seems quite probable to me that our present moment, the moment in which "postcolonialism" flourishes, is simply a transitional moment in a move to a "new world order," a new form of colonialism. 3) I suppose we ought to be keeping one of our collective eyes on the utopian possibilities of an alternate social formation.

  57. SXG: A project whose pioneering spirit resembles that informing Manichean Aesthetics is the collection of essays that you and David Lloyd edited for Cultural Critique in 1987 and republished as The Nature and Context of Minority Discourse (1990). In what ways have you found it useful to interrogate issues involving "minority discourse" in the United States while simultaneously theorizing issues in postcolonial studies? Has there been a cross-fertilization between these ostensibly discrete critical endeavors that has proven beneficial for you?

  58. ARJ: For me, personally, the move from postcolonial to minority discourse studies, particularly as situated in the United States and African American literature, is based on my view that the nature of either colonial and/or racial oppression--and I think quite often they overlap in very significant ways--is most dramatically discernible in the African American context than in the postcolonial or colonial context. And I've alluded to the reasons for this before: whatever the nature of colonial oppression, colonialism was never able to immediately or completely eradicate indigenous cultures in such a way that a given colonized subject could not have recourse to his/her indigenous culture in some empowering way. The oppression of the colonized subject, then, is in my opinion never quite as drastic as the oppression and the formation of the African American subject--given slavery and Jim Crow culture, given the systematic stripping away of the bulk of the African cultures the slaves brought with them. My point is that there is no better record of the systematic oppression of a subject group, and also of the systematic resistance mounted by that subject group, than the evidence we have available in African American literature and culture. If one wants to study the now famous question that Spivak posed--"Can the Subaltern Speak?"--we have in African American culture, in individuals like Douglass and Jacobs, Hurston and Wright, subalterns who became intellectuals.

  59. SXG: I'm hearing that for you, the move away from postcolonial/colonial discourse to minority discourse is the most productive and appropriate one. In contrast, R. Radhakrishnan, for example, writes from the position of a diasporic subject. For him, and I'm citing from his introduction to Diasporic Mediations, "The postcolonial-diasporic-ethnic conjuncture is a way of making the United States remember its own many ethnic pasts, its genocide of Native Americans, and its slavery-centered sense of freedom so that every contemporary history of all-America may recall its own past: the profound legacy of hatred, slavery, racism, sexism, and xenophobia" (xxvi-xxvii). Thus, for Radhakrishnan, there seems to be a more mutually productive, perhaps even constitutive, dialogue between postcolonial and minority studies in the United States, in contradistinction to scholarly discussions that occur in discrete and separate spheres.

  60. ARJ: What I hear Radhakrishnan saying or calling for is the formation of antagonisms, the staking out of territories along which battles are going to be fought, to use a very crude and military sort of metaphor. I think the introductory statement in the 1995 PMLA special issue on postcolonialism, which defines the field as "a broad anti-colonialist emancipatory project," also gestures towards the formation of such antagonisms. I am perfectly in sympathy with this sort of position, with the view that political change does not take place until one has articulated antagonisms in a very clear way, and that antagonisms then mean these broad formations within which all kinds of differences exist and have to be negotiated. In critical theory today there is a large premium on the celebration of differences, which is all very well in itself; nonetheless, unless you articulate antagonisms, unless you identify the stakes and the issues along which lines are going to be drawn, you are not going to have any kind of political movement. This is what I hear Radhakrishnan saying in a way as well.

  61. SXG: In a letter to the editor that responds to the PMLA special issue on "Colonialism and the Postcolonial Condition" (January 1995) that you alluded to, Houston A. Baker, Jr. expresses a concern with the "definitional vagueness" he finds haunting postcolonial studies. Specifically, he criticizes various working definitions of "postcolonialism," such as the one you cite above that the editors include in their introduction, which he calls "unexceptionable." In addition, Baker registers misgivings about intelligibly locating postcolonialism in history. Finally, he objects to the field's sprawling critical practice, suggesting that postcolonialism has not yet provided a satisfactory justification for--or even attempted to demarcate--its objects of study. Perhaps underlying Baker's criticisms is a concern shared by scholars in related fields that postcolonialism is coopting critical terrain staked out by African American Studies, Women's Studies, Cultural Studies and Ethnic Studies departments. Do you agree with his critique?

  62. ARJ: As I've stated, I think Radhakrishnan is partly right. Yet I think people like Baker are partly right as well. My position, then, is in some sense in the middle. Baker is correct to suggest, as Ella Shohat points out in her article "Note on the Post-Colonial," that the term postcolonial and the assumed agenda of that endeavor are received in the American academy far more benevolently or far more easily than other more pointed agendas. In her essay, Shohat talks about how at her university, as soon as she defined a given project as "postcolonial," the curriculum committees were all very pleased to accept it where otherwise they were not. So one ought to be very suspicious about the academy's receptivity to postcolonialism. Baker is also addressing the issue from a related angle: that postcolonial studies is so broadly defined that it loses any kind of coherence. That is an absolutely accurate criticism. I've already referred to an instance of this, Bhabha's introduction to Fanon, which articulates hybridity in such general terms that it is applicable to all human interactions and loses all its discernible specificity regarding colonial, or gender, or race, or class relations. Somehow these broad theoretical constructs get labeled "postcolonial." That is the kind of imperialism inherent in postcolonial theory that I find Baker militating against and I am in total agreement.

    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.

  63. SXG: How do we reconcile these critical "turf wars" with the desire of scholars to work interdisciplinarily? In other words, can work in African American Studies, Ethnic Studies, English and other departments be conducted profitably without obfuscating the distinctions between the various disciplines' critical practices? Is it necessary to maintain those distinctions?

  64. ARJ: I think that there are contradictory tendencies at work here. On the one hand, I find that increasingly younger scholars, including graduate students, tend to cross these boundaries in their research. For instance, these scholars tend to discuss aspects of the subjection of American minorities alongside the aspects of the subjection of or in "Third World" cultures. I think that the disciplinary preoccupation with research makes those kinds of interventions increasingly productive and fruitful. On the other hand, pedagogical needs in various university departments militate against that kind of work. That is to say, there is a perceived need to hire people who will teach and be experts in designated areas that are drawn around ethnic and diasporic boundaries and so forth. How to balance those needs, both of which I think are legitimate, becomes a complicated and crucial problem. I'm not sure how this dilemma will be resolved. In addition, I think what we have to consider is the increasingly hostile and negative reaction of right-wing groups to the academy. We've seen this revealed in the recent attacks on the NEH, and in the ongoing attempt to disband the NEA, as well as in the various movements against affirmative action. I would not be surprised if this crisis manifests itself in some more specific intellectual prohibitions and interventions as well. They may well materialize in guised forms, but their effect may be to militate against the kind of diasporic and interdisciplinary linkages that are being made implicitly by the research of scholars.

    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.

  65. SXG: Are you implying that scholars teaching in Black Studies, Asian American Studies, Chicano Studies, etc., ought to redirect concerns they may have about encroachment at the institutional level--specifically by postcolonial intellectuals in terms of academic appointments and/or the formation of fledgling departments--towards how the profession encourages the folding of research into pedagogy in such a way that both minority and postcolonial scholars are at a disadvantage?

  66. ARJ: Not exactly. I'm saying that those two contradictory needs--research and pedagogy--must be reconciled at some level. Moreover, pressures at the theoretical level that we've been talking about, between the need for large, paradigmatic generalizations and for more local specificity, are relevant here. Pedagogical needs can be matched quite easily with the demand for "local" scholarly investigation, and that reality can be at odds with the kind of more general theoretical work that is required to link all of these various "local" antagonisms. Given the shrinking resources in humanities departments, this has become something of a crisis; inversely, and perhaps unfortunately, the crisis seems to be manifesting itself as a battle over resources, as a battle between postcolonial and ethnic scholars.

  67. SXG: Did you know that one of the largest increases in advertised positions for English departments in 1996-97 (according to MLA employment data) was in "postcolonial studies," though a number of those positions were joint appointments or jobs that required teaching responsibilities in several areas?

  68. ARJ: What I would be curious to find out--and my curiosity stems only from anecdotal information available to me--is how often scholars hired as "postcolonialists" are, in reality, required to teach something quite different. For example, a scholar hired as a "postmodernist" who happens to be a Chicano often finds that s/he is required to teach courses on Chicano literature. Thus that scholar, of necessity, is required to retool himself or herself as a Chicano specialist. In that regard, I am curious what the actual teaching responsibilities of these new professors being hired as postcolonialists are. The crux of the matter is not whether or not there are courses available to professors hired ostensibly as postcolonialists or with a specialty in postcolonialism. Rather, my focus would be on the battle that must be waged in order to change curriculums to accommodate those postcolonialists' specific pedagogical interests. I am arguing that the institution thrives on this fundamental contradiction; the inertia is always on the side of the disciplinary boundaries, which are specified either historically, or according to genres, or in terms of national boundaries. In other words, ideological agendas, in my experience, often manifest themselves as "confusions" that cannot be thought through adequately. The inertia or "confusion" will not allow solutions to be worked out.

  69. SXG: In the past year or so, postcolonial critics seem to be expressing increasing bewilderment about the political--as opposed to the merely discursive or epistemological--objectives of postcolonial critical practices. What do you believe are the dominant political strategies postcolonial critics have relied on in the past? What have been the possibilities and limitations of those strategies?

  70. ARJ: I'm inclined to make a distinction between postcolonial critics from the past as opposed to postcolonial intellectuals from the past. In light of Gramscian categories, that may be an important distinction to make. In other words, when I reflect on the past, what I see salient is the work of a certain kind of colonial intellectual who ended up as a political leader: I'm thinking of people like Nkrumah, for example, or Nyerere, or Kenyatta, and many others who were simultaneously intellectuals and political leaders, or what Gramsci would call organic intellectuals. What is interesting to chart is how they were oppositional and then how, once in power, most of them became possessed by a need to collaborate. Their situation was significantly different from the situation of what we might identify as the postcolonial critic: i.e. people who are in the position of traditional intellectuals within the academy. I think the contradiction for these more traditional postcolonial critics is that whereas some of their sympathies and preoccupations may be organic and oppositional, they find themselves in the role of traditional intellectuals; that is, within the academy. Much of the nature of contemporary postcolonial criticism is dictated by this contradiction between organicist sympathies and traditionalist professional positionalities. Many of us "postcolonial critics" are not in a position where we can be involved in some kind of meaningful practice. This is so either by circumstance or by choice.

  71. SXG: Or both.

  72. ARJ: Right. To speak of my own instance, as an Indian from Kenya, I am in no position to be involved in any sort of political practice in Kenya. Ethnic or racial divisions invalidate my capacity to be political and be involved in organic formations in any way. I have no choice but to be a traditional intellectual. I think many of my compatriots are not necessarily in that position: they could be aligned in some way with organic formations within their own culture, but they choose not to be, and choose then instead, you know, to write articles about those organic obligations. So this is a complicated and convoluted issue. For me personally, the only category that begins to make any sense is the Foucauldian one of the specific intellectual, for whom, in the academic setting, the pedagogical terrain itself becomes the only terrain for practice. So that one's writing and one's teaching cohere in some kind of way as some sort of practice. I think this type of practice has dramatic drawbacks, however. Namely, I'm not sure about the political efficacy of pedagogy in the traditional institutional setting. I don't think there is a lot of significance at stake for the student. Most minority students, postcolonial students, whatever, have access to the ladder that will take them to comfortable places within the hegemony rather than leading them to take up platforms as organic/oppositional intellectuals.

  73. SXG: Given that the hegemony of the university setting, as it presently functions, precludes a certain kind of political efficacy and advocacy, should the university student be the intellectual's only outlet for pedagogical efforts? I think we all would agree that the left has done a miserable job exploring alternative venues for sharing its research and pedagogy: other media, other extra-academic forums, etc. The right wing, by contrast, seems to have been highly innovative and effective in getting out the message to alternative constituencies.

  74. ARJ: I'm personally very pessimistic about the sorts of scenarios to which you are alluding. There is no place in the United States for public intellectuals on the left. In Britain and France, there is a long tradition for that sort of intellectual: people like Raymond Williams, for example, who can be both a traditional scholar and a public, organic intellectual by working with the Labor Party. In fact, what seems to have frustrated Williams most in this respect was the Labor Party's refusal to take seriously his proposal to establish adult education centers for the working class where left intellectuals could operate. As you are implying, those are the sorts of institutions that have an impact beyond the traditional academy. In the United States, there is no tradition like that for the left. If you want to get onto the public stage, you are going to have to compromise in order to become acceptable. I remember Edward Said saying to me at one point that he was simply fed up with appearing on the McNeill/Lehrer News Hour because every time he was a guest on the show he was asked to "explain" the "terrorist position," and after a while he stopped appearing on the program. There are very few spaces for liberal intellectuals then, even on PBS. The right wing has been able to do a great deal by funding think tanks such as the American Enterprise Institute. By pouring enormous amounts of money into non-traditional settings, they can create positions for intellectuals who are not obliged to the academy and who then have a platform from which to address the formation of a right wing agenda.

  75. SXG: Why doesn't the left develop more of these sorts of institutes, think tanks, etc.?

  76. ARJ: I don't see who would fund them, support them; it is not really in the interest of corporations and king makers to support left intellectuals. For me, it's not an accident that the greatest organic Black intellectual of this century, Martin Luther King, came out of the Black church. Look at the enormous difference he was able to make because he had a base in an institution that commanded a certain kind of commitment from its members and from which he could articulate positions capable of drawing in many more people. The fact is that Jim Crow segregation ushered in that moment of crisis and he was at the right place to articulate the problem and propose solutions, which leads me to the second reason why I am pessimistic about what you are proposing. I don't think changes happen without crisis. When there is no crisis, the status quo has a relatively easy time chugging along, no matter how many radical critiques are mounted from the left and how sound they may be. They fall on deaf ears.

  77. SXG: What about the work that environmental groups are doing throughout the country to draw attention to environmental crises both within the US and around the globe, influencing public policy, effecting change, etc.?

  78. ARJ: Those problems are being addressed in a very systematic way by what Althusser would call the educational state apparatus, and I don't mean just the university. My nine-year-old daughter comes home from school every day pumped full of information about the environmental crisis, and a whole moral compass to address it. All the excitement she conveys has to do with recycling, etc.: there is nothing being said in those institutions about the exploitation of human beings. She doesn't come home talking about the exploitation of child labor in some "Third World" countries or sweat shops in the U.S. or anything like that. I think the liberal educational establishment, then, is very, very sanguine about certain forms of capitalism. The response to the whole ecological crisis is motivated by a desire for "capitalism with a happy face." There is no adequate focus on the fundamental problems of the capitalist political economy, which cannot indefinitely continue to exploit labor and natural resources at the present rate. Until we have a Chernobyl, or two, or three, nothing is going to change significantly.

  79. SXG: If you, Said, and others are correct, that there is no appropriate platform for left-wing intellectuals to disseminate their ideas beyond the university, one would think there would be enormous repression not only for you but for the constituencies that you would ostensibly speak to and for. We thought that was what the LA Riots symbolized, but the country seems to have moved beyond that disturbance: the economy is strong, affirmative action is being dismantled, and resistance, violent or otherwise, is virtually nonexistent. If violence does take place, it seems to emanate from the right. How do you account for these contradictions?

  80. ARJ: Liberalism is morally and intellectually bankrupt. The right-wing onslaught is being conducted with the clear perception that liberalism is bankrupt. After the Civil Rights Movement and the liberal programs of President Johnson, people felt they had done enough, that everything was fine. Now liberalism has withered under the right wing assault and there is no will to make the kinds of sacrifices and commitments that are necessary to follow its older agenda. Given the crisis of liberal ideology, the left-wing intellectuals have no audience: they are talking to themselves.

  81. SXG: The energy and enthusiasm have gone right out of this room in the past ten minutes. I suppose this is a microcosm of the left's larger social laboratory. It feels like we're collaborating on a dirge for the left.

  82. ARJ: To witness the moment of hope in this country in the '60s and '70s in the liberal/progressive response to the crisis caused by the Vietnam War and by the Civil Rights problem, and then to see that momentum dissipate in a matter of decades, makes me profoundly pessimistic.

  83. SXG: So the left lacks the organization and the will to create what postcolonial scholars vaguely identify as progressive postcolonial futures, and minority scholars identify as a more just society?

  84. ARJ: Yes. It's not a question of blaming the right wing. I don't think the right wing rhetoric is really persuading people so much as consolidating the interests of certain groups. I don't think it is even, in some sense, a matter of blaming the ineffectiveness of left wing leaders or intellectuals, though I think that criticism is valid. What I'm saying ultimately is that the kinds of sacrifices that are needed for significant political and social transformations to take place don't come about until suffering gets to be so great, and is perceived in a certain way, that there develops a will to change, and a commitment and a sacrifice to that end. One of the reasons a significant portion of the nation got behind the Civil Rights movement, which made it successful, was the sustained perception through television of the injustice of the South. What was being broadcast was so opposed to the professed needs of the liberal democratic culture that the contradiction was too overwhelming. King was able to address precisely the utopian desires as manifested both in Western Christian culture as well as in American democratic institutions. Consequently, you had a movement, developed at a great cost, but with a strong will and an evolving complex agenda. Yet, as soon as the injustices were legislatively "undone" and King was assassinated, the whole intellectual fervor began to dissipate. One of the saddest moments in the movement was when, upon the assassination of Martin Luther King, nobody picked up the banner until much later, when Jesse Jackson tried to reoccupy the platform of the Black churchman who might articulate a moral, political, and economic agenda. But it was too late and Jackson did not have the talent or the charisma of King.

  85. SXG: Critics of this discussion might say that one ought to move beyond a harangue and suggest a specific agenda or platform that ought to be followed, articulate why such an agenda is not being followed, and state what one can do to ensure the potential success or viability of that agenda in the future. They might claim, in other words, that the critique of the left that has been articulated so far has been more fatalistic than productive of a praxis-oriented future.

  86. ARJ: I don't think that I'm articulating a type of fatalism so much as a realistic pessimism. Denis Brutus, the South African poet and activist, once suggested to me, before the apartheid regime fell, that upon the liberation of South Africa, there would be a ripple effect throughout the rest of Africa. He claimed that the euphoria caused by that event would be so powerful that all the dictators and puppet regimes, etc., in other part of Africa would be swept aside. As we talked, I was persuaded by the logic of his vision. As it turned out, the effect was negligible. One of the fascinating things for me about a certain Marxian theoretical preoccupation is to puzzle through people's capacity to tolerate systematic oppression for very long periods of time--sometimes one suspects that the capacity of tolerance is indefinite--before they decide to do anything about it. Which leads to the issue of agency. It is the perceived lack of agency that I think is crucial. Why don't people perceive themselves as agents of their own destiny under certain ideological and hegemonic formations? The answer will tell us much about why people put up with so much for so long. I go back to what I'm trying to do in my own work, which is to examine how Wright perceived society's attempt to form him as a "Black Boy," and to analyze his view that the negation of his agency was central to that formation. He dedicated almost all of his fiction to puzzling through, to imagining the precise socio-political and psychological mechanisms used at various points in his life in the attempt to truncate and channel his agency. For me, personally, the only kind of work that is valuable is to theorize this kind of meditation, with the hope that in the long run I may make some contribution to an understanding of why people can sustain oppression for so long.

    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.

  87. SXG: In other words, one's writing and pedagogy, to use the Foucauldian construct of the specific intellectual that you cite, can still have an effect and be praxis-oriented despite the limitations inherent in the position of the academic or traditional intellectual.

  88. ARJ:Yes.

  89. SXG:So then perhaps more modest professional expectations and ambitions are called for?

  90. ARJ:Yes and no. When you cite various postcolonial scholars calling for broad coalitions and alliances, I think what their collective voices symbolize, on an affective level, is a desire for that to take place. I think it's unrealistic to expect that such a coalition will, in fact, manifest itself. Nonetheless, that desire is not unproductive. After all, that desire is necessary for us to do the kind of painstaking work that we do in the mistaken hope that it will have this immediate effect. In addition, we cannot always judge the effect of our work or the timing of that effect.

    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.

  91. SXG: While all that seems right, I still wonder whether or not intellectuals on the left need to become more adaptive and responsive to present circumstances even as they may be theorizing in anticipation of future conflicts. For example, the major publishing houses have embarked on a vast and lucrative enterprise centering on educational technology software. The potential effect of this software on the education of children and adults in the United States and around the globe is mind-boggling. In many respects, the electronic technologies that these products are capitalizing on are transforming the present and future function of the academic intellectual and the university. This journal, for example, can be read around the world in a way that most print journals cannot, and students in Belize may soon be able to take courses at Berkeley via electronic technology without ever leaving their country. Instead of being displaced by innovative software products and new electronic technologies, prominent intellectuals--postcolonial, minority, and other intellectuals--might more actively participate in the transformation of their educational future and reserve an ethical and responsible place in it for themselves, their objects of study, and their various constituencies.

  92. ARJ: I share your sentiment. Yet even at the level of determining the pedagogical needs of the institution that we are in, the university, liberal intellectuals are atrociously disengaged.

  93. SXG: As editor of Cultural Critique and the "Cultural Margins" series from Cambridge University Press (dedicated specifically to titles in colonial and postcolonial studies), how are you using these forums to stimulate dialogue on issues involving the dialectic between the intellectual, the university, and the non-institutional setting of which they are a part?

  94. ARJ: Briefly, Cultural Critique is doing what it has always tried to do: to look at the question of cultural formation from a neo-Marxist perspective. "Cultural Margins," in contrast, is a more discrete endeavor. One of my ambitions with this series is to bring together in publication the conjunction of postcolonial and minority studies and to privilege texts that begin to make those links. If we go back to our earlier discussion about the contradiction between the postcolonial and the minority camps at the institutional level, these are venues in which you can bracket out those contradictions. One of the books, for example, that is forthcoming is a sustained examination of the border intellectual, with gender as the border. It examines a number of feminist scholars working on the border of male-dominated disciplines--Freud and H. D., Hurston and Boaz, Breton and Frida Kahlo, and so forth. Those are the kinds of books that I would like to see published more often, and which I am soliciting for the "Cultural Margins" series.

Works Cited

Ahmad, Aijaz. "Jameson's Rhetoric of Otherness and the `National Allegory'." Social Text 17 (Fall 1987): 3-25.

Baker, Houston A., Jr. "Letter." PMLA 110.5 (1995): 1047-48.

Bhabha, Homi K. "Introduction." Black Skin, White Masks. By Frantz Fanon. London: Pluto, 1986.

---. Location of Culture. London: Routledge, 1994.

Dirlik, Arif. The Postcolonial Aura: Third World Criticism in the Age of Global Capitalism. Westview P, 1997.

Hutcheon, Linda. "Introduction: Complexities Abounding." Colonialism and the Postcolonial Condition. Spec. issue of PMLA 110.1 (1995): 7-16.

Jameson, Fredric. "Third-World Literature in the Era of Multinational Capitalism." Social Text 15 (Fall 1986): 65-88.

JanMohamed, Abdul R. "The Economy of Manichean Allegory: The Function of Racial Difference in Colonialist Literature." Critical Inquiry 12 (Autumn 1985): 59-87.

---. Manichean Aesthetics: The Politics of Literature in Colonial Africa. Amherst: U of Massachusetts P, 1983.

---. "Negating the Negation as a Form of Affirmation in Minority Discourse: The Construction of Richard Wright as Subject." The Nature and Context of Minority Discourse. Eds. Abdul R. JanMohamed and David Lloyd. Oxford: Oxford UP, 1990. 102-123.

---. "Refiguring Values, Power, Knowledge or Foucault's Disavowal of Marx." Whither Marxism?: Global Crises in International Perspective. Eds. Bernd Magnus and Stephen Cullenberg. New York and London: Routledge, 1995. 31-64.

---. "Rehistoricizing Wright: The Psychopolitical Function of Death in Uncle Tom's Children." Richard Wright. Ed. Harold Bloom. New York: Chelsea, 1987. 191-228.

---. "Sexuality on/of the Racial Border: Foucault, Wright, and the Articulation of `Racialized Sexuality'." Discourses of Sexuality: From Aristotle to AIDS. Ann Arbor: U of Michigan P, 1992. 94-116.

---. "Some Implications of Paulo Freire's Border Pedagogy." Cultural Studies 7.1 (January 1993): 107-117.

---. "Sophisticated Primitivism: The Syncretism of Oral and Literate Modes in Achebe's Things Fall Apart." ARIEL: A Review of English Literature 15.4 (1984): 19-39.

---. "Worldliness-without-World, Homelessness-as-Home: Toward a Definition of the Specular Border Intellectual." Edward Said: A Critical Reader. Ed. Michael Sprinker. Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1992. 96-120.

JanMohamed, Abdul R., and David Lloyd. "Introduction: Toward a Theory of Minority Discourse: What Is To Be Done?" The Nature and Context of Minority Discourse. Eds. JanMohamed and Lloyd. New York: Oxford UP, 1990. 1-16.

Laclau, Ernesto, and Chantal Mouffe. Hegemony and Socialist Strategy: Towards a Radical Democratic Politics. London: Verso, 1985.

McClintock, Anne. "The Angel of Progress: Pitfalls of the Term `Post-Colonialism'." Social Text 31/32 (1992): 84-98.

Radhakrishnan, R. Diasporic Mediations: Between Home and Location. Minneapolis: U of Minnesota P, 1996.

Said, Edward. Beginnings: Intention and Method. New York: Basic Books, 1975.

---. Culture and Imperialism. New York: Knopf, 1993.

---. Orientalism. New York: Vintage, 1979.

---. The World, The Text, and the Critic. Cambridge: Harvard UP, 1983.

Shohat, Ella. "Notes on the Post-Colonial." Social Text 31/32 (1992): 99-113.

Spivak, Gayatri. "Can the Subaltern Speak?: Speculations on Widow Sacrifice." Wedge 7.8 (1985): 120-30.

---. In Other Worlds: Essays in Cultural Politics. New York: Routledge, 1988.

Thieme, John. Editorial. Journal of Commonwealth Literature 31.1 (1996): 1-2.

Williams, Raymond. The Country and the City. Oxford: Oxford UP, 1973.

Back to Contents Page || Back to Jouvert Mainpage