STANFORD PRESIDENTIAL LECTURES IN THE HUMANITIES AND ARTS



African-American Criticism lecture at Yale:


Toni Morrison points out some changes in black women attitudes towards life, thirty years after writing "The bluest Eye":





Authors in previous study blocks have critiqued stable, fixed notions of identity, identity as a state, preferring to inscribe subjectivity within a fluid, variable, culturally determined and ongoing process. In this section the emphasis shifts, however, from gender or sexuality to ethnicity, race and the post-colonial subject. According to Ellis Cashmore in Dictionary of Race and Ethnic Relations, ethnic and ethnicity refer to a group possessing some degree of coherence and solidarity composed of people who are … aware of having common origins and interests. There is some confusion between ethnicity or ethnic group, and race. Whereas race stands for the attributions of one group, ethnic group stands for the collective response of a people who somehow feel marginal to the mainstream of society. The confusion may be clarified in terms of positive and negative group experience: race reflects the positive tendencies of identification and inclusion while ethnicity reflects the negative tendencies of dislocation and exclusion. Stuart Hall has noted a revisioning or splitting of the term ethnicity, between the dominant notion which connects it to nation and ‘race’ anda recognition that we all speak from a particular place, out of a particular history, out of a particular experience, a particular culture … We are all, in this sense, ethnically located. Hall’s linkage of particularity to commonality (“we all speak from a particular place”, etc.) enfolds ethnicities such as Englishness which have traditionally survived “by marginalizing, dispossessing, displacing and forgetting other ethnicities. The totalizing project of Englishness in colonies under British imperial rule, and its questioning by intellectuals and critics of the second half of the 20th century, lie at the heart of what has come to be known as post-colonial criticism. Within a poststructuralist environment and drawing on its methodology, post-colonial critics analyze the repercussions of European cultural and territorial expansion from its beginnings to the present day. They examine the mutually reinforcing enterprise of colonialism and the cultures of the colonizers, as well as the interaction between colonizers and colonized. Post-colonial aims at recovering the marginalized excluded or otherwise silenced voices of colonial or subaltern voices. Finally, post-colonial studies explore and theorize identity as determined by colonial and post-colonial experience, national affiliation and a globalised world.
The field emerged in the second half of the 20th century after WW II, when the colonial enterprise started breaking down and European colonial powers such as France and England granted independence to many of its colonies. Internal colonial situations such as those suffered by African Americans in the United States and the black majority in South Africa faced significant and mounting challenges to racist practices and abuse. Colonial hegemony had been enforced by the imposition of the colonizers’ language and cultures, and attention in the post-colonial studies turned to the role of literature which, as Michael Ryan notes, came to be seen as a privileged site for understanding the social structures, cultural codes, and psychological tropes of cross-cultural and inter-ethnic understanding and misunderstanding. Race and ethnicity interest us for the ways in which they are represented, mediated or otherwise signify through literary texts. Ryan reminds us that culturally constructed racial or ethnic identities bear a specific relationship to literature. Much of the most influential post-colonial criticism has been generated by authors who were born in formerly colonized nations. The Nigerian author and critic Chinua Achebe’s essay An Image of Africa: Racism in Conrad’s Heart of Darkness is a foundational text of post-colonial criticism. It exposes the racism that lies at the heart of Heart of Darkness, a racism in which Western culture is accomplice given the privileged status of Conrad’s text in Western canon. Palestinian-born American critic Edward Said’s Orientalism is one of the foremost landmarks credited with having laid the groundwork for the field. Interacting with the emerging poststructuralist theory, he was one of Michel Foucault’s most distinguished disciples, drawing on his studies of discourse and power, or discourse as power, to elucidate the function of cultural representations on the construction and maintenance of First / Third World relations. Said takes on the challenge of the post-colonial, to elucidate how knowledge that is non-dominative and non-coercive can be produced in a setting that is deeply inscribed with the politics, the considerations, the positions and the strategies of power (Orientalism Reconsidered). He put into circulation the term the other to describe the enduring stereotypes and thinking about the Orient generated by European imperialism.
Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak and Homi Bhabha, (Spivak is Bengali, Bhabha is Indian), have driven post-colonial criticism further down the route of imaginative interaction between theory and politics, analytical discourse and the anti-imperialist cause. Said and Spivak explore the structures of imperial domination and their material impact on the lives of the colonized subject construed as the Other or the Subaltern. Bhabha engages with deconstructive practice in order to critique certain violent hierarchies: the West and the Orient, the center and the periphery, the empire and the colonized, the oppressor and the oppressed, and the self and the other. Dismantling these binaries that conceptualize national cultures as stable, fixed and monologic, Bhabha argues that nationalities, ethnicities, and identities are dialogic, indeterminate, and characterized by hybridity. The lexicon he deploys, cross-reference, in-between, Third Space, dialogic, translation, negotiation, hybrid, point to a conceptualization of the subject as fluid, decentered and continually in-the-making.
One of the most influential African-American critics of recent decades, Henry Louis Gates Jr. has produced pioneering work in the field of race studies. Drawing on poststructuralism, he argues for a culturally-specific intertextual literary tradition in which African-American texts talk black to, or signify upon, one another. The dialogic intertextuality of African-American writing is not limited to black-on-black writing but includes black-on-white. The problematics of identity are also explored. Gates views race and identity as linguistically and culturally produced, rather than a matter of essential or pre-constituted qualities.


Postcolonial Studies and Race and Ethnicity Studies
Postcolonial studies examines the global impact of European colonialism, from its beginnings in the 15th up to the present. Its aims are: to describe the mechanisms of colonial power, to recover excluded or marginalized subaltern voices, and to theorize the complexities of colonial and postcolonial identity, national belonging, and globalization. One major issue concerns the nature of representation. Following Edward Said’s Orientalism, postcolonial critics have examined the ways in which Western representations of third world countries serve the political interests of their makers. Postcolonial critics problematize “objective” perception, pointing out the unbalanced power relations that typically shape the production of knowledge. The West has constructed the third world as an Other. Such ideological projections typically become the negative terms of binary oppositions in which the positive terms are normative representations of the West. These damaging stereotypes circulate through anthropological, historical, and literary texts, as well as mass media such as newspapers, television, and cinemas. A related line of inquiry in postcolonial theory studies how institutions of Western education function in the spread of imperialism. Historical documents such as Thomas Babington Macaulay’s Minute on Indian Education show that education, including the study of English literature and the English language, plays a strategic part in ruling over colonized peoples. As it inculcates Western Eurocentric values, literary education supports a kind of cultural colonization, creating a class of colonial subjects often burdened by a double consciousness and by divided loyalties. It helps Western colonizers rule by consent rather than by violence.
The nature of this enterprise has led some such as Ngugi wă Thiong’o and others to call for the dismantling of institutions of Western education in the third world. The realization of the extent to which the cultures of colonizers and colonized interact has prompted reflections on the hybrid nature of culture. No culture is ever pure. This is evident in our era of globalised post-industrial capitalism. The nationalism that claims notions of pure culture is questioned by the international flows of commodities, money, information, technology, and workers. These dynamics of globalization, hybridization, and nationalism preoccupy scholars of postcolonial studies. Postcolonial literary criticism focuses on literatures produced by subjects in the context of colonial domination, most notably in Africa, Asia, and the Caribbean. Building on knowledge of the institutions of Western education and the hybrid nature of culture, the analysis of postcolonial literature explores the complex interactions and antagonisms between native, indigenous, pre-colonial cultures and the imperial cultures imposed on them. The concerns of postcolonial literary studies overlap with those of race and ethnicity studies, a broad field that examines a wide array of topics (including literature) related to minority ethnic groups.
In North America these would include African, Asian, Hispanic, and Native peoples, among others. African Americans’ history has included deportation, slavery, oppression, and struggle. Some scholars argue that the black community in the United States has evolved a distinctive and separate way of life, neither Anglo-Saxon nor African. The character of African American arts is communal rather than individualistic, their psychology is repudiative rather than accommodative of racism, and their tradition is oral-musical rather than textual. They possess their own values, styles, customs, themes, techniques, and genres. In the past, mainstream white critics have found the black arts to be grotesque, humorous, variously; sometimes adopting white values and forms, or rejecting them outright, or blending them into a hybrid. Literary critics engaged in race and ethnicity studies analyze the nature and dynamics of minority literatures, focusing on one literature but occasionally examining as well the context of dominant cultures (thereby overlapping with postcolonial studies).
Ethnic, Postcolonial and International Studies (Ryan)
The last half of the 20th century witnessed the end of the colonial domination. Most previously colonized countries achieved independence. Ethnic minorities (Africans in the USA) struggled to end practices of racist mistreatment and to achieve equality with local ethnic majorities. In this geo-political situation, attention turned to the differences in culture and literature between the various ethnic groups around the world, to the way literature engages such issues as inter-ethnic relations, racial identity, homeland, exile, diaspora, nationhood and the like. In severe racial oppression like the USA and South Africa, literature was seen as a privileged site for understanding the social structures, cultural codes and psychological tropes of cross-cultural and inter-ethnic understanding and misunderstanding. While science doubts human spices divides into ethnicities and races, race and ethnicity remain powerful cultural and social categories. And while external traits such as skin colour can express internal ethnic essences or separable genetic identities, they are the visual language of human difference and human community. They are why people band together or fall apart, even if the racial identities they represent have no existence apart from the differences in legible traits. History speaks a different language from science, and to read a work of literature in English by someone of colour is to read something marked by a history of mistreatment, disenfranchisement, and dispossession. Race and ethnicity are not erasable marks, rather effective and compelling determinants of cultural difference and of literary specificity. Literary criticism that takes race and ethnicity as its concern has helped foreground the importance of racial identification in society and question the hitherto unquestioned ethnic norms of racially unmarked literary study. Ethnic criticism displaced the notion that universality spoke a white dialect, and it focused attention on the bleaching out of other non-dominant ethnic experiences by the privilege, always implicit and sometimes explicit, given whiteness in Eurocentric and North American literary study. Two major consequences: recognition of the importance of ignored ethnic experiences and literatures and the reconsideration of the history of white discourse from an interracial perspective. The new ethnic criticism explores ethnic identities whose cultures have been marginalized during the era of white normativity, and by exploring the history of the various ethnicities and of their lives together, it destabilizes the moral self-assurance of white European-descended culture. Ethnic studies obliges the canon (mainly white and male) to review its imbrication with the violent subordination of others. We have to consider questions such as: how might a work have helped foster and maintain negative and harmful racialist attitudes and stereotypes? How might the entire canon be reconsidered with this question in mind? How might the introduction of literature to the canon by or about people of colour mitigate the harmful effects of such cultural imperialism?