The Postcolonial Bazaar: Thoughts on Teaching the Market in Postcolonial Objects
What seems an eternity ago, Kwame Appiah argued that the “post” in post-colonial was a theoretical space-clearing gesture.1 His critique of the use of neotraditional artifacts in a globalized late capitalist economy has been addressed, extended, and reframed by almost all major postcolonial critics from the early 1990s. Vijay Mishra and Bob Hodge, among others, suggest that the postmodern emerges as a western strategy of absorbing, organizing, and consuming all “othernesses” (“native,” “ethnic,” “non-western”) that once signaled the fall of modernist epistemologies.2 In their view, the postcolonial actually precedes the postmodern, but functioning within a global cultural economy—a bazaar for non-western artifacts—the category panders to the needs of that global market, producing ever more reified versions of “other” worlds. Amid the clamor of these debates on the correlations and intersections between the postcolonial and the postmodern, departments made way; niches and nests were set up to accommodate the field, and badges of diversity were donned. And then the inevitable: a market for postcolonial texts providing a sampling of a world honed to the fashionable emphases on postmodern hybrids (on the left) and on globalized cultures or villages (on the right).
In this essay, I attempt to envision an interventionist postcolonial pedagogy through the advocacy of an international cultural studies, a praxis that would position classroom knowledge and skills within the demands and constraints of transnational cultural economies. While my own position in the First World academy, complete with its institutional and economic ramifications, clearly enables even this occasion to speak, here I am less preoccupied with theorizing the politics of my self-location. My primary focus will be the pedagogic imperative: a teacher’s analysis of the practices and objects that demarcate postcolonial studies, a field well-suited to “preparing” students in the American academy for their future, and almost inevitable, participation in global exchanges. But as a postcolonial critic, given the complex and contentious issues in the field, I feel that it is crucial to first chart out the theoretical space that frames and constitutes the kinds of praxes envisioned here.
Certainly, much of the contemporary soul-searching by postcolonial intellectuals living and teaching in First World locations has circulated around the question: does the institutionalization of the postcolonial evacuate it as a form of resistance to continuing western imperialism? Carol Breckenridge and Peter van der Veer, in an anthology devoted to the problem of knowledge-construction in postcolonial studies, characterize the “growing awareness of the role of academic disciplines in the reproduction of patterns of domination” as the central “predicament” of the postcolonial intellectual (1). A more vigorous critique based on a reading of global markets in the postmodern era is undertaken by Arif Dirlik in his attempt to locate the itinerary of the postcolonial in First World epistemologies and institutions.3 Delving into the postmodernity of critical discourse itself, Dirlik suggests that the emergence of the category “postcolonial” should be understood as a First World response to the conceptual needs generated by the rapid transformations of a world capitalist order; in the changing relationships within the world market, “Third World” intellectuals “arrived” in the First World academy, and serviced that First World through their various forms of crisis-management. As early as 1988, Gayatri Spivak had moved toward a similar reading of the economy of postcolonial studies, by suggesting that First World intellectuals do not recognize to what extent the U.S. academy is sustained by the manipulation of Third World labor: “it is possible to suggest to the so-called ‘Third World’ that it produces the wealth and the possibility of cultural self-representation of the ‘First World’” (“Practical Politics” 96). My point here is that these conversations should find articulation beyond scholarly exchanges: that is, the questions of value and labor (raised by Spivak and Dirlik) as they overdetermine epistemological necessities (the very “need” to learn about the postcolonies) should become a crucial part of any course in postcolonial studies, so that students can reflect on the conditions that make possible the very objects they study, the practices they undertake, and their teacher’s...