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  • Post-Colonial Drama: Theory, Practice, Politics, and: An Introduction to Post-Colonial Theatre
  • Alan Filewod
Post-colonial Drama: Theory, Practice, Politics. By Helen Gilbert and Joanne Tompkins. London: Routledge, 1996; pp. ix + 344. $69.95 cloth, $19.95 paper.
An Introduction to Post-colonial Theatre. By Brian Crow with Chris Banfield. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996; pp. xiv + 186. $49.95 cloth, $16.95 paper.

Postcolonialism is, as Gilbert and Tompkins argue, at once a site of inquiry and a cultural strategy. In both cases, the notion of the postcolonial is endlessly differentiated because it positions the artist and the reader/spectator in changing structures of power, empire, and national formation. This would suggest that an analytical survey of postcolonial theatre is an ambition that can never be achieved; as Brecht once remarked, it is difficult to conceive of the laws of motion from the standpoint of a billiard ball. [End Page 384]

Perhaps the major differentiation of postcolonialism is in its discourses, which express the intellectual and artistic traditions of the various societies that have found the term useful. Gilbert and Tompkins write in the particular tradition of Australian postcolonial theory, which has had a considerable effect on and subsequent exchange with Canadian articulations (Tompkins is in fact a Canadian academic living in Australia). Their book can be—needs to be—read as a product of this exchange. It follows in the mode of The Empire Writes Back, the now-classic text on post-colonial literature by fellow Australians Bill Ashcroft, Gareth Griffiths, and Helen Tiffin. Like them, Gilbert and Tompkins focus on hybridization as they define their field and frame it with an impressive register of performances and playtexts.

In their model, the strategies deployed by writers in the postcolonial world to disrupt and reclaim subjectivities formed (and deformed) by imperial experience are defined as postcolonial. Their attention therefore turns to the former colonies and satellites of the British Empire, in which national cultures were fostered in the empire-building project of canonicity. Following Ashcroft et al, the authors distinguish between the kinds of nations thus formed, separating the settler/invader societies in which European-style nations were erected on the displaced bodies of aboriginality, and indigenous or enslaved cultures that constructed national formations in the process of decolonization.

This distinction leads to chapters on the breaking down and subversion of canons (with particular attention paid to Shakespeare), on the recuperation and strategic deployment of the traditional and the carnivalesque, on revisions of historical narratives, on the physical body (with its concomitant discourses of race and gender), and finally on the contradictions of neo-imperialism.

In contrast, Brian Crow (with contributions by Chris Banfield) chooses a much narrower focus: for him postcolonialism is the intersection (marked by resistance and strategies of opposition) between the First World and the Third—terms which Crow uses carefully, despite their lack of currency. In effect, Crow and Banfield (who contributed two chapters on subcontinental writers) propose the postcolonial as the indigenous or aboriginal response to colonialism. Their study examines the work of seven typifying writers: Derek Walcott, August Wilson, Jack David, Wole Soyinka, Athol Fugard, Badal Sircar, and Girish Karnad. Crow and Banfield offer lucid albeit brief readings of these writers, but these readings are contained in an unarticulated field of value. Thus Crow can write of Soyinka that his “achievement is remarkable, rivalled on the African continent only by Athol Fugard in South Africa” (93). This is the kind of inscription that Gilbert and Tompkins challenge with particularly acute effect, because it does not explain how value is recognized and conferred; nor does it question the discursive convenience that locates the two African playwrights who have been most widely circulated in the west as the two whose achievements are the most “remarkable.” In statements like this, Crow and Banfield come very close to reiterating the imperial trope that grants the western gaze primary authority against which the colonial other is defined.

From my perspective, the geographic middle of North America, the most striking absence in Crow and Banfield’s book is any discussion of the Native American aboriginal cultures, insofar that 500 years of invasion have utterly eradicated whole...

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