- In Memoriam:Edward W. Said1
I had written the words that follow on the day before the death of my friend and ally, the founder of postcolonial studies, Edward W. Said. I want the occasion of this important translation to mark our tribute to our magisterial colleague.
The translation of A Critique of Postcolonial Reason into Serbian is an instructive event for me. The relationship of postcolonial theory to the Balkan as metaphor is a crucial task for our world. You will have to translate your translation for me, so that I can at least follow along, as postcolonial theory unmoors itself from its provisional beginnings and transforms itself in the process. Every postcoloniality is situated, and therefore different. A Critique of Postcolonial Reason was to some extent provoked by Kant's use of the West Australian aboriginal. How will this travel to the "European" imagination of the "Balkan" today? Mark von Hagen has expanded postcolonial theory to reconstellate Soviet Eurasia. What will you add to it? My anti-colonialism has little patience with nationalism, at home and in the diaspora. How will you displace that impatience?
In response to students in the Slavics Department, I wrote as follows:
"Colonizer" and "colonized" can be fairly elastic if you define scrupulously. When an alien nation-state establishes itself as ruler, impressing its own laws and systems of education, and re-arranging the mode of production for its own economic benefit, one can use these terms, I think. The consequences of applying them to a wide array of polical/geographic entities would be dire if we thought colonialism had only one model. On the other hand, if we noticed how different kinds of adventures and projects turn into something that would fit the bare-bones description given above, we would have a powerful analysis of the politics of progressivism, of one sort or another. How do political philosophies of social justice relate to the overdeterminations of practical politics? This venerable question would receive interesting answers if we considered the irreducibility of the colonial in a situation-specific and flexible way. Additionally, if we cast our glance at the place(s) colonized (according to the rarefied formula), we encounter great heterogeneity. This provides us an opportunity to study the politics of cultural and epistemic transformation.
Feminism and postcolonial theory have a certain concern for social justice. I would like to think that this would be the case for all Humanities and Social Science work, perhaps for all work. But too narrow a definition of political commitment leads to work with foregone conclusions coming to the same dull litany time after time. I have always found such "research" tedious. I also don't think one chooses a theoretical model and then applies it to primary material. I think the production of theory is itself a practice and the matter studied participates in this production. I therefore think one studies all kinds of theories for their "own sake" in depth, so that one's own reading practice is altered. The actual reading "norms" the theory, every time. If the matter studied is read as an "illustration" of a theory studied as an instrument, it is invariably what escapes the reading that generates interest for more robust users of "theory."
How will you revise this?
The entire text is feminist in impulse. How will you graft on to your gender politics, your gender history, the philosophical lines of your gendering?
Your translation is a contract for ongoing work. I thank you for making me a part of it. And I dedicate our shared future to Edward Said.2
1. This is the Preface to Obrad Savic's Serbian translation of A Critique of Postcolonial Reason.
2. In response Obrad Savic wrote:
We received your preface to Critique of Postcolonial Reason: it made us happy, but also very sad... The words with which you addressed friends gathered around the Belgrade Circle are in fact words directed to our spiritual mentor—Professor Said. I think I understand the void you must feel now after Edward Said is gone... You must have been one of his most loyal friends and associates. In...