Journal of World History 14.1 (2003) 116-118
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Refashioning Futures: Criticism after Postcoloniality. By DAVID SCOTT.Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1999. 233 pp. $49.95 (cloth); $16.95 (paper).
Since the 1970s, a loosely interconnected body of analysis known as postcolonial studies has marked one of the most important and dynamic forms of criticism in the postwar academy. The success of postcolonial studies has been, and continues to be, in part, its grounding in the social, cultural, and political contingencies of the present in order to craft a framework of analysis for understanding our collective global pasts. The seminal work in this regard was, of course, Edward Said's Orientalism, which marked an important turning point in the form of criticism now known as postcolonial studies. Said's Orientalism ushered in a new set of categories—colonial discourse analysis, representation, and constructivism—in order to understand the relationship between culture and politics during the age of nineteenth-century imperialism. It is no coincidence that this work emerged when it did, curing the dusk of the imperial project itself and at the moment, however fleeting it may have been, of Third Worldism's political maturity. David Scott's [End Page 116] Refashioning Futures: Criticism after Postcoloniality offers a series of meditations on the present state of postcolonial studies, looking particularly at Jamaica and Sri Lanka. It asks a series of trenchant and timely questions: What are the contingencies in which scholars and critics presently find themselves? How have these contingencies changed since the foundational moment of postcolonial studies? In what ways are new constellations of forces and interests shaping the direction of our analyses of the present and the past? Have postcolonial studies shown the necessary flexibility and commitment to evolve in accordance with the new contingencies, or are we presently situated at the moment of its eclipse?
Scott's answers to these questions do not form a systematic agenda for a renewal of Postcolonial criticism today, but he does offer a series of provocative interventions and experimental modes of analysis based mostly on his training as a theoretically informed anthropologist of Sri Lanka and Jamaica, modes of analysis that can be considered suggestive of the possible futures—as he calls them—available to postcolonial studies. In the case of Sri Lanka, for example, Scott works to push the boundaries of postcolonial criticism by interrogating one of the founding texts of critical Sri Lankan historiography, R. A. L. H. Gunawardana's "The People of the Lion." Gunawardana's text is described by Scott in terms of the by-now-standard fare of postcolonial criticism; it is a text that deconstructs the national imaginary of Sri Lankan identity by decoding the narrative of continuity that has constituted its notion of nationhood. Scott argues, however, that this form of analysis engages in the deconstructivist discursive exercise without asking the question of how these narrative structures fit into the broader apparatus of modern knowledge. As Scott argues, "it is in virtue of that past ...that the privileged claim to priority in the institutional apparatus of the nation-state is to be judged not only plausible and creditable, but persuasive" (p. 98). Scott suggests that the politics of imperial knowledge and the discursive practices of the nation-state take us only so far in understanding postcolonial cultural formations. What Gunawardana fails to explore, according to Scott, is the broader epistemic questions of modernity and how these epistemic forms entered into Sri Lankan consciousness. The construction of Sri Lankan history's narrative of national continuity tells only part of the story; more important, Scott suggests, is how the concept of history in its modern formulation entered into modern Sri Lankan culture.
Scott, then, seems to be suggesting a renewed focus on uncovering a history of the deep structures of modernity and how these epistemic forms entered into colonial and postcolonial societies. In making this [End Page 117] case he introduces the decidedly Foucauldian notion of "colonial governmentality" as the mechanism through which the deep structures of modernity's epistemic forms entered into colonial—and ultimately...