- The Marketing of Postcolonial Authors
The author is not dead: he is a marketing tool. In Sarah Brouillette's hands, this contention—which, surely, every reader of contemporary literature must recognize, even if we'd sometimes prefer not to think about it—is far from cynical. Reminding readers of the author's survival is, rather, the point of departure for an argument that ends by specifying a "form of responsive authorial agency" (177). Brouillette argues that select writers have found ways to shake off the "excessive burden within specifically postcolonial literatures" of "the association between an author and a national authenticity" (177). Even though Brouillette argues that "postcolonial authorship" is "in part a generative and saleable feature" (7), she does not suggest that writers are dupes of a global publishing machine. Rather, Brouillette is interested in how writers respond to the market's dictates. They do so, she argues, by writing novels that display a keen understanding of an author's function.
By scrutinizing a discrete set of canonical (and near-canonical) postcolonial books, Brouillette tracks a "trope of self-authorization," which writers acquire "through awareness of the political uses or appropriations of one's works" (74). In short, figuring out how writers work with and against the publishing industry is what Brouillette is after. Her argument is a bracing account of authorship that ought to make it harder for scholars to trot out the habitual romanticist and modernist account of writers as the innocent victims of an increasingly global market in cultural goods. Postcolonial Writers in the Global [End Page 811] Literary Marketplace also adds new complexity to the familiar contention that writers participate in the marketing of their marginality.
Brouillette acknowledges that books sold as "postcolonial literature" have come to fill an important niche in a highly segmented book trade. The characteristics of such writing in its most salable form are easily recognized: "it is English-language fiction; it is relatively 'sophisticated' or 'complex' and often anti-realist; it is politically liberal and suspicious of nationalism; it uses a language of exile, hybridity, and 'mongrel' subjectivity" (61). Even as the appearance of poetry and prose fitting this description helped diversify the stock of books being sold worldwide, Brouillette reminds us that not only "the locus of production" but also the taste-making headquarters for transnational publishing remained entrenched "in a few key cities" in Europe and North America (56). Postcolonial writing shapes and is shaped by what she describes as the simultaneous extension and centralization of the publishing business.
This dynamic favors writing that updates a worldly modernism, the likes of which Raymond Williams described as the product of immigrant communities of artists in London and New York at the beginning of the twentieth century.1 The most marketable of post-colonial prose, Brouillette argues, combines that urban, cosmopolitan aesthetic with the sort of local color that strikes contemporary editors and reviewers as exotic. Amazing but true, the exotic is still with us. Brouillette starts her book by explaining its continued appeal, and by distinguishing her argument about how authors manipulate the pleasures of exoticism from Graham Huggan's influential 2001 tome, The Postcolonial Exotic.2 Brouillette contends that Huggan imagines "postcolonial writers/thinkers" who can be neatly distinguished from the "market readers" who crave exotic prose (18). He critiques "an unnamed cosmopolitan consumer who seeks mythic access to exotic experience" and in so doing implicitly posits "a group of educated, elite, distinguished consumers who actually have access to the reality that the other consumer can only [End Page 812] ever wish to possess" (19). In place of such a contest between bad, touristic readers and good readers with access to insider knowledge, Brouillette finds it "more fruitful to understand strategic exoticism, and likewise general postcolonial authorial self-consciousness, as comprised of a set of literary strategies that operate through assumptions shared between the author and the reader, as both producer and consumer work to negotiate with, if not absolve themselves of, postcoloniality's touristic guilt" (7).
Brouillette's first example of how this works appears in...