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university of toronto quarterly, volume 73, number 2, spring 2004 KANISHKA GOONEWARDENA Postcolonialism and Diaspora: A Contribution to the Critique of Nationalist Ideology and Historiography in the Age of Globalization and Neoliberalism ON ACADEMICS AND ACTIVISTS How do B or should B Sri Lankans belonging to Toronto=s left activist circles engage the political situation back home? This question, which landed on my lap last fall more by circumstance than choice, ended up raising several further unresolved questions that seemed central to both >postcolonial theory= and >diaspora studies= B two prominent endeavours in contemporary critical theory and cultural studies. These involved, among other things, demands of definition and political clarity. What is the >postcolonial condition= and what are the politics associated with it? How might such politics be distinguished from B or linked with B other kinds of left or radical politics? And, how are diasporas political? Again, do diasporic subjects produce political practices that are distinct from B or in alliance with B those of other >radical= subjects? My own reasons for addressing these questions here, in addition to scholarly interest, involve a personal political dimension as well, which is best explained by way of an anecdote that will also help us weave our way through several contentious issues of postcolonialism and diaspora while dealing with a few Sri Lankan (and some other) affairs as well. Last October I was invited to deliver the second annual Kumar Murthi Memorial Lecture, in order to honour the memory of an exemplary Sri LankanBTamilBCanadian peace activist and gifted dramatist, by the Tamil Resource Centre (TRC) in Toronto, itself an organization distinguished by courageous peace activism. The organizers of the lecture left its topic open, but I was informed clearly about who would be in the audience: mostly Tamils (and perhaps a handful of Sinhalese like myself) who had been politically active in Sri Lanka before >landing= in Canada, more often than not as refugees. Many had continued their left political activism in Toronto, usually with anti-neoliberal and anti-war coalitions, or in alliance with labour unions. I was also asked to expect a few hundred people B out of some 150,000 Sri Lankans living in Toronto. So I confronted the question: what could I, a student of globalization, nationalism, and urbanism, trained in critical theory and cultural studies, offer to such a politically experienced 658 kanishka goonewardena university of toronto quarterly, volume 73, number 2, spring 2004 and knowledgeable but non-academic audience of >radical= Sri Lankans living in Toronto? If the invitation had come my way fifteen years earlier, then I might have easily avoided this question. Before entering the academic world of >theory,= it would have been conceivable for me to talk sensibly enough simply on the basis of my own political experiences with radical student groups struggling against the Sri Lankan state in the mid- to late 1980s on various fronts, ambivalent as they were (if only in retrospect) B alloyed by nationalist and socialist moments, alternating between peaceful and violent means, split along intellectual and activist lines, uncertain about rural versus urban emphases, not entirely unlike the revolutionary anti-colonial politics theorized by Frantz Fanon in the Algerian context. The point, however, is moot: I came to North America in 1989 as a graduate student, with hopes of becoming a writer or a teacher. Now I am both, although almost exclusively within a community of >scholars.= What use, if any, is my present location and vocation to those Sri Lankan Canadians who invited me to talk to them? POSTCOLONIAL DIASPORA: THEORY AND POLITICS A certain family resemblance between the concerns of my likely audience and some questions I encounter from time to time under the headings of >postcolonial= and >diaspora= theory impressed me immediately, not least because I have been, in recent years, an invitee to and a willing participant in academic proceedings concerned with such theory as well. Yet, the more I thought about it, the less inclined I became towards lecturing on the most fashionable themes of these theories. Homi Bhabha=s deconstructive meditations of >hybridity= and >third space= would, I feared, be both too obscure and too obvious to them. To raise the...


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