Research in African Literatures 33.4 (2002) 202-203
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Postcolonizing the Commonwealth:
Studies in Literature and Culture,
Postcolonizing the Commonwealth: Studies in Literature and Culture, ed. Rowland Smith. Waterloo, Ontario: Wilfried Laurier UP, 2000. 222 pp. ISBN 0-88920-0 cloth.
This is a collection of fourteen essays encompassing topics from the current state of Caribbean cultural and literary studies, the voices of Iranian feminists, inquiry into the status of Native American women, analyses of Afrikaans fictions, essays about rural women of South Africa and their policies of resistance, a giant leap to North America and "Cowboy Songs and Indian Speeches," and, even more incongruous, a view from the top of Mount Everest and the "Culture of Ascent" (51). If anything could—or should—bring these disparate entities together, it is the political focus on colonialism and its effects on culture, literature, and language in so many different parts of the world, the only truly unifying theme being the conventional trop of "indigenous people and invading colonizer" (10). All but one of these articles was originally presented at the "Commonwealth in Canada" conference held in Ontario in 1997. Surprisingly, or not, not one focuses exclusively on Canada.
The editor of this volume, Rowland Smith, attempts to make connections by defining the current status of "commonwealth literature" as opposed to "postcolonial studies." The former he oversimplifies as texts dealing with "the writing of areas colonized by a major European power," and the latter as the attempt "to explain the common elements in writing [End Page 202] from the margins of a world colonized physically and imaginatively from a metropolitan centre" (4). Political arguments are minimized or ignored; Smith states in his introduction that the articles he includes do not "suggest crisis, but the constant movement towards reassessment [. . .]" (10). Perhaps "crisis" might have been preferable, or at least more rewarding reading. Perhaps also, as one of the authors included in this anthology suggests, postcolonial studies has hit a midlife crisis, and we, as scholars in the field, "have gotten awfully good at reading the post for its moral and ethical blindnesses" (34). So what we clearly need, now that we of the Twentieth Century studies are already anachronistic, homeless ourselves in the Twenty-First Century, is a new place to go, a new way to evaluate the old and new texts that is not merely a condemnation. This book does not provide the map, and certainly not the ticket to get there, if any book at all could do that in the first place.
Barbara Hill Rigney
Barbara Hill Rigney is Professor of English at The Ohio State University.