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Zones of Instability

Literature, Postcolonialism, and the Nation

Imre Szeman

Publication Year: 2003

Attempts by writers and intellectuals in former colonies to create unique national cultures are often thwarted by a context of global modernity, which discourages particularity and uniqueness. In describing unstable social and political cultures, such "third-world intellectuals" often find themselves torn between the competing literary requirements of the "local" culture of the colony and the cosmopolitan, "world" culture introduced by Western civilization. In Zones of Instability, Imre Szeman examines the complex relationship between literature and politics by exploring the production of nationalist literature in the former British empire. Taking as his case studies the regions of the British Caribbean, Nigeria, and Canada, Szeman analyzes the work of authors for whom the idea of the"nation" and literature are inexorably entwined, such as Chinua Achebe, Wole Soyinka, C.L.R. James, Frantz Fanon, and V.S. Naipaul. Szeman focuses on literature created in the two decades after World War II, decades in which the future prospects for many colonies went from extreme political optimism to extreme political disappointment. He finds that the "nation" can be read as that space in which literature is thought to be able to conjoin two things that history has separated—the writer and the people.

Published by: The Johns Hopkins University Press


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pp. ix-x

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pp. xi-xii

This book was written with the assistance of fellowships from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada, travel funding from the Ford Foundation, and, at the very end, a grant from the Arts Research Board at McMaster University. ...

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Introduction: The Politics of Postcolonial Nationalist Literature

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pp. 1-21

At the confluence of these quotations from the writer José Martí and the philosopher Paul Ricoeur it is possible to locate both the highest hopes for literature in the formerly colonized world, as well as the most serious challenge to the attainment of these hopes. For Martí, literature is an important sign of the existence of the nation; ...

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1. The Nation as Problem and Possibility

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pp. 22-64

The nation and literature have had a long history together. The intimate connection between land and community that is the foundation of the link between the geographical and cultural specificity of the nation is often traced back to Romanticism, and in particular, to the writings of Johann Gottfried Herder.1 ...

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2. Caribbean Space: Lamming, Naipaul, and Federation

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pp. 65-115

Any account of West Indian literature seems to have at its core the question of exile. This is in part because discussions of Caribbean literature have centered to a very large degree on the major writers of the ‘‘boom’’ period of the 1950s and 1960s, the majority of whom spent these decades in England in a condition of self-imposed exile. ...

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3. The Novel after the Nation: Nigeria after Biafra

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pp. 116-151

Basil Davidson, the preeminent contemporary historian of Africa, has described the nation as ‘‘the black man’s burden.’’1 His discussion of the development of nations and nationalisms in Africa in the twentieth century follows what has become an entirely familiar way of characterizing recent African history: ...

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4. The Persistence of the Nation: Literature and Criticism in Canada

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pp. 152-198

In the decades following World War II, the Canadian federal government began an ambitious series of programs whose intention was to identify, foster, protect, and develop Canadian culture in order to assert and maintain Canadian political sovereignty. The period from 1950 to 1970 witnessed the implementation and completion of a number of projects ...

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Conclusion: National Culture and Globalization

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pp. 199-208

In this book I have focused on the different ways in which the notion of the nation has been taken up as an issue for literary production in three postcolonial situations. I argued that the literature and criticism of the period most commonly associated with an explicit nationalism in the projects of political and literary decolonization ...


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pp. 209-236


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pp. 237-245

E-ISBN-13: 9780801881534
E-ISBN-10: 0801881536
Print-ISBN-13: 9780801868030
Print-ISBN-10: 0801868033

Page Count: 264
Publication Year: 2003

OCLC Number: 70726428
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Zones of Instability

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Commonwealth literature (English) -- History and criticism.
  • Nationalism and literature -- Commonwealth countries -- History -- 20th century.
  • Postcolonialism -- Commonwealth countries.
  • Commonwealth countries -- In literature.
  • Danticat, Edwidge, ǂd 1969- ǂx Criticism and interpretation ǂv Handbooks, manuals, etc.
  • Postcolonialism in literature.
  • Decolonization in literature.
  • Nationalism in literature.
  • Nigeria -- In literature.
  • Canada -- In literature.
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