Our final readings examine the larger picture of postcolonialism. What was the initial drive to colonize? Capitalism, of course. While some may say that colonialism is in the past, capitalism is certainly still present and that means the drive for resources and labor still exists. It has just taken a different form in our modern world. Dirlik outlines how the embrace of postcolonial studies masks instead of confronts the capitalistic world:
“The complicity of postcolonial in hegemony lies in postcolonialism’s diversion of attention from contemporary problems of social, political, and cultural domination, and in its obfuscation of its own relationship to what is but a condition of its emergence, that is, to a global capitalism that, however, fragmented in appearance, serve as the structure principle of global relations” (563).
As postcolonialism is embraced by universities, it is then used to create one voice of studies that are naturally diverse and complicated. As Dirlik notes, there is a “contradiction between an insistence on heterogeneity, difference, and historicity, and a tendency to generalize from the local to the global while denying that there are global forces at work that may condition the local in the first place” (571). Ignoring the global force of capitalism, all while participating in the capitalist institution that many universities have become, is indeed problematic.
Ashcroft, Griffiths, and Tiffin succinctly explain Wallerstein’s World System Theory as “the capitalist system [that] has been the world economic system since the sixteenth century” and that “one cannot talk about economies in terms of the nation-state, nor of ‘society’ in the abstract, nor of ‘stages’ of development, because each society is affected by, indeed is a part of, the capitalist world economy” (223). There isn’t a clear linear path for the development of a nation because many marginalized nations are purposely kept in a state of dependency in order to benefit dominant nations. This is a crucial point, as some would use “undeveloped” states as examples of inferiority when in actuality these nations are purposely made dependent in order not to challenge the dominant states.
The other part of our assignment this week was focused on Rushdie’s collection, East and West. Though I have approximately one thousand pages to write in the next week (hyperbole?) and a new curriculum coming, I became hooked on this work and read all of the stories instead of two. I think this is called “academic procrastination”—avoiding work with optional work. I loved all of them, but the two I’m going to focus on in this post are “The Prophet’s Hair” and “At the Auction of the Ruby Slippers.” I selected these two works because I believe they are the best examples of magic realism in East and West. Ashcroft, Griffiths, and Tiffin state that in texts with magic realism “the rational, linear world of Western realist fiction is place against alter/native narrative modes that expose the hidden and naturalized cultural formations on which Western narratives are based” (119). There is obviously an inclusion of mythic or magical elements in these stories as well. In “The Prophet’s Hair,” the curse of the hair is not given a logical explanation. It is truly a curse that is consistent and effective. The characters do not outsmart it and there is no scientific reason or allowance that the events may have been a coincidence. Hashim retains the hair, as he says, for its worth as a collectible rather than a religious relic:
“So, by keeping this hair from its distracted devotees, I perform—do I not?—a finer service than I would by returning it! Naturally, I don’t want it for religious value…I’m a man of the world, of this world. I see it purely as a secular object of great rarity and blinding beauty. In short, it’s the silver vial I desire, more than the hair” (Rushdie 44).
Hashim becomes oppressively religious after gaining the hair, giving credit to its power and the curse.
The second story I selected, “At the Auction of the Ruby Slippers,” combines so many of the themes of this week’s reading (and the entire course in general). The slippers symbolize home and safety:
“ ‘Home’ has become such a scattered, damaged, various concept in our present travails. There is so much to yearn for. There are so few rainbows any more. How hard can we expect even a pair of magic shoes to work? They promised to take us home, but are metaphors of homeliness comprehensible to them, are abstractions permissible? Are they literalists, or will they permit us to redefine the blessed word? Are we asking, hoping for, too much?” (93).
In this story we have magic realism, the quest for home (or at least the feeling of being at home), the yearning for identity, the combination of various cultures, and, of course, money: “It is to the Auctioneers we go to establish the value of our pasts, of our futures, of our lives” (101).
I loved this story. It’s beautifully written and encompasses so much of what we have studied this semester. On a related note, I did receive word that I will be transferred to a history position next year—most likely 11th grade World History—so I’ve been working on a unit plan on magic realism across different geographic locations for my final project. I double majored in undergrad in English and History and have always believed that the study of history and culture is essential to the understanding of a novel–and the study of novels is essential to understanding history. I’m looking forward to designing a hybrid course that ties these two fields together. It appears that with the ever-increasing focus on standardized test scores and the dreaded PVAAS, Social Studies is one of the few remaining areas that a teacher can be creative and independent. Our English classrooms are receiving curriculum and texts that are fairly scripted and do not allow for much deviation, and so I’m thankful to still have the opportunity to create in the classroom.
I was grateful to have the opportunity to take this course. I’m not trying to knock my undergraduate education–because I did have some excellent professors–but DeSales wasn’t too keen on including non-Western courses. I don’t think I had a single course that was dedicated to the study of the history or literature of a non-Western area. There was a course on literature of immigrants, but many of these works were still featuring Western immigrants. It was a pretty big deal to read Amy Tan’s The Joy Luck Club. Knowing the marginalization of non-Western literature will help me to be aware and inclusive as I design my own courses in the future. I also appreciated the emphasis on theory because that’s another one of my weaker areas…I like to read novels, but I’m not disciplined enough to read theory for fun. The format of the course was more engaging and more of a community than I experienced in my online M.Ed. After I completed that program, I had sworn off online classes because I thought I was just doing busy work. After taking this course–and Dr. DeLong’s Victorian Prose last year–I think that online classes can definitely be challenging and engaging when the work is meaningful. This is my last group class before I graduate in the fall and I’m already a bit sad at how quickly the semester went! Thank you all for a great course.