Not long ago, a dear friend and I bet on who could identify a scientific invention that has produced only beneficial effects for humankind. The astrolabe, the steam engine, nuclear power, and the like were quickly ruled out. Medical breakthroughs such as smallpox vaccine or artificial blood vessels were strong contenders, although a dyed-in-the-wool Malthusian could argue that such technologies have upset the balance of nature and have contributed to current problems of overpopulation and skewed allocation of resources. My friend finally proposed eyeglasses (perhaps because he knows I can't see farther than six inches without them). From Galileo onward, he claimed, achievements in applied optics--telescopes, microscopes, and camera lenses as well as prescription spectacles--have afforded people clearer vision of the world. He won the bet, and I forked over the money for tickets at our local cinemaplex.
Had I read Roland Barthes' "On CinemaScope"--published here for the first time in English translation--before I made (and paid) this bet, I might have saved some money. Barthes' short essay reveals that optical technology is anything but innocent. Even as he delights in the spectatorship made possible by CinemaScope, comparing it allusively to works by Plato and Michelangelo, he hints that the transformed viewer/screen relationship produces a 'master-of-all-I-survey' sensibility reminiscent of the colonial gaze and reenforced by the historical epics filmed with Chrétien's revolutionary lenses. James Morrison's trenchant commentary on this neglected 'mythology' brings to the foreground Barthes' anxieties, positing specific connections between CinemaScope and expansionist nationalism on the one hand, and between CinemaScope and the individual subject's vulnerability on the other.
Reading Barthes, and Morrison on Barthes, makes one appreciate how powerful minds raise questions for the future. Morrison indicates ways in which "On CinemaScope" predicts important themes in Barthes' own work-to-come, and suggests that the scopic regimes he mapped--at a time when European empires were beginning to crumble--remain in place during this postcolonial age. If Barthes were alive today, what would he conclude about the relatively new visual technology that brings real-time war footage into homes around the world? Would he identify the spectacular imperialism enabled by CinemaScope as a forerunner to the virtually intimate globalism enabled by videocameras and satellite relays?
Much of this issue of Jouvert addresses problems of vision and the cultural practices that interpellate visual meaning. Adrian Fielder's study of the Senegalese director Djibril Diop Mambéty's Hyènes, for example, discusses cinemagraphic staging of conflicting yet interpenetrating world views: traditional West African society and global capitalism. The film's ironic strategies and juxtapositions, in conjunction with its tragic narrative structure, resist naïve celebrations of postcolonial hybridity or postnational fluidity. Hyènes thus represents a part of Africa to itself in a manner antithetical to the photographic representation of the African soldier Barthes discusses in Mythologies. Ways of representing 'Africa' organized by a museum (a cultural institution very much implicated in colonial and imperial projects) are the subject of my review of Baule: African Art/Western Eyes; this exhibit questions its own viewing conventions by emphasizing differences between how indigenous and non-indigenous spectators see and understand art objects. Sujata Moorti's review also deals with sight--specifically, how cartographic and photographic technologies made the British Empire visible and knowable so as to justify territorial conquest and imperial control.
Dealing with the same imperial time periods as does Moorti, Philip Holden's review examines the narrative construction of a certain type of British bureaucratic subject; ideologies of self-sacrifice and patriotic duty promulgated by novels and memoirs as well as by official documents gave these subjects an idealized textual portrait of themselves. Textual (in)sight is discussed at more length in Stephen Sheehi's analysis of Salim al-Bustani's 1870 novel, Love in a Damascene Garden. Sheehi argues that trajectories of specular desire metonymically represent certain goals, and certain internal contradictions, in nineteenth-century Arab nationalism. Arab nationalism is viewed from a different perspective by Husam Mohamad. His historical study of the Palestine Liberation Organization illuminates factors shaping its development, factors that include early pan-Arabism, regional imperatives, Israeli policies, and Euro-American hegemony.
Another type of textual sight involves seeing and evaluating individual subject positions. Bronwyn Williams explores how Caryl Phillips, Hanef Kureishi, and Sunetra Gupta envision their identities as Black British writers. Their refusal to align themselves tidily on either side of the Black/British divide, Williams maintains, unsettles nation-state paradigms, disrupts dominant narratives, and complicates facile invocations of transnationality. The paradox of being both 'outside' and 'inside' a culture also runs through Jerome McElroy's poems, which grow from his experiences as a visiting educator in the Caribbean. A similar problematic informs the experimental novel No Road, reviewed by Ceridwen Spark, as the author/narrator criss-crosses various sorts of boundaries separating 'white' from 'aboriginal' Australia.
The Archimedean task of seeing and thus assessing one's institutional location is the subject of the articles by Laura Chrisman/Lawrence Phillips and by Peter Babiak. Chrisman and Phillips look at postcolonial studies in Britain, noting the factors that work against the field's radical potential. They suggest that standard pedagogical strategies and university conventions can marginalize students of various ethnicities in the very classes that should allow them to see themselves in useful, even liberating ways. In at least partial contrast, Babiak champions a text-based pedagogy predicated upon "slow reading." Drawing on his experiences teaching postcolonial studies in Canada, he critiques his own presuppositions as well as what he sees as weaknesses in "fast politics" approaches to these classes.
The provocative claims put forth in both articles--and the implicit disagreements between them--have led Jouvert to create a Forum discussion site. As this journal's audience is primarily an academic one, we suspect that many readers will have strong opinions about postcolonial pedagogy. The field's 'institutionalization' has provoked spirited debate, Gayatri Spivak's continuing interrogation of educational practices and the Journal of Advanced Composition's Special Issue on postcolonial teaching (Winter 1998, guest edited by Lahoucine Ouzgane and Andrea Lunsford) being two of many examples. We therefore invite you to extend this debate by submitting to the Forum your responses to the Chrisman/Phillips and Babiak articles. These responses will be posted automatically on the Forum Discussion Page. We hope this Forum generates a productive exchange of ideas and inaugurates future journal projects that make use of the flexibility offered by electronic publication.