Comparative Literature Studies 40.1 (2003) 99-104
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Decolonization Agonistics in Postcolonial Fiction. By Chidi Okonkwo. New York: St. Martin's Press, 1999. xiv + 236. $55.00.
The end of the twentieth century has undoubtedly witnessed the emergence of a congeries of "postcolonial" cultural and literary theorists, whose common theoretical persuasion threatens to undermine the authenticity of the contradictions generated by the colonial impulse. Driven by current global social and cultural contingencies, these scholars seeking to erase the historicity of colonial outcomes have both been provocative and engaging; provocative in their breathless assault on the cultural forms of ex-colonized peoples (even while having as their subtexts various neo-colonial interpellations), and engaging as their theories are couched to reflect postmodern and poststructural sensibilities. Thus, newly reconfigured postcolonial theories have sprung up full-panoplied under the rubric of "poststructuralism" and "postmodernism." These, precisely, are the energies Chidi Okonkwo seeks to curtail in his book Decolonization Agonistics in Postcolonial Fiction.
In Decolonization Agonistics, Okonkwo rejects the rapidly spreading impetus to assimilate the literatures created by ex-colonized peoples for social, political, and psychological remediation by drawing attention to the [End Page 99] roots of decolonization literatures and offering his own alternative postcolonial mode of critique. While he may or may not have been surprised by the stance taken by postcolonial cultural and literary theorists against the historicity of colonial effects, the very frameworks within which postcolonial theorists operate create liberties for such shifting positionality. Poststructuralism, in essence, reproduces constructionism, permitting social actors to constantly construct and reconstruct social reality thereby making meanings arbitrary. If meanings were constantly reconstructed and arbitrary, such meanings would need updating from time to time in line with current social, political, and cultural exigencies. Also, postmodernism, in general, disavows traditional approaches to historical analysis and therefore views the notion of causality and structure with deep skepticism. However, to counter the entrancement of this new theoretical disposition, Okonkwo seeks to reread and redefine decolonization literatures using the literatures of formerly colonized peoples to predicate his alternative critique in Decolonization Agonistics.
Okonkwo's choice of the literatures of formerly colonized peoples in Decolonization Agonistics was restricted to Anglophone Africa, Polynesia and the West Indies, concentrating on the pertinent literatures emerging from these regions from the late 1940s to the early 1990s. He based his decision on their colonial experience under a common imperial power, namely, the British, as well as the acquisition of the art of writing concomitant with their colonization. The proclivity of postcolonial theorists to subordinate decolonization literatures equally played a part in his choice. He maintains that an analysis of the clash between indigenous (mainly oral) forms of "esthetic representation" and their exogenous (inherited) forms would presage a wider interest in the comparative analysis of such literatures.
Decolonization Agonistics is divided into five chapters. In the first chapter, Okonkwo addresses the identity crisis that has roiled the appropriate development of postcolonial discourse. He argues that "postcolonial" literary discourse is wrongly inspired by "postmodernist theories of knowledge and culture" in spite of the motives expressed by its proponents that the new approach integrates all marginalized literatures and empowers marginalized peoples and their cultures "by asserting the validity of their colonial, cultural products and world views in opposition to the universalist claims of imperial power" (2). Such rationale, though clothed with plausibilis, supplants the basic tenets of decolonization literatures with, in Okonkwo's words, "a universalist, homogenizing discourse" (1). By this very act the experiences [End Page 100] and priorities of ex-colonized peoples are relocated within the "strategic priorities" of the West. Okonkwo is also profoundly skeptical of a concept of postcoloniality that includes not only the former colonies of Africa, Asia, and South Pacific but English-speaking "European Diaspora-dominated" countries such as Australia, New Zealand and the English-speaking part of Canada as well, and excludes all non-English speaking European Diaspora countries. He attributes such exuberance to the need to historically reposition English-speaking European Diaspora undermining the reflectiveness required by the issue in question. Citing several examples of the use of "cross-cultural studies" and "multiculturalism...