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Callaloo 25.2 (2002) 697-701
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Using the Master's Tools:
Resistance and the Literature of the African and South Asian Diasporas
Needham, Anuradha Dingwaney. Using the Master's Tools: Resistance and the Literature of the African and South Asian Diasporas. New York: St. Martin's Press, 2000.
The title of this book reformulates the title of an Audre Lorde essay, "The Master's Tools Can Never Dismantle the Master's House" in order to capture the hybrid strategies of resistance adopted by five authors representative of post-colonial diasporas. The observation that resistances are "products of specific historical circumstances and rhetorical exigencies" (2) is a good cautionary note against dichotomies of oppressor and resister. The author provides a clear reason for the book—to counteract the (mis)-representation of such authors in resistance studies within the human and social sciences, and in classrooms that deem some works 'resistant' and others not. The author describes well the context of prevailing discourses (Timothy Brennan, Benita Parry, Homi Bhabha, James Scott, Lila Abu-Lughod, Stuart Hall, and others are cited as examples). There is also a useful clarification of the context of 'diaspora,' a term often used loosely.
Given the diversity of the writers presented—C.L.R. James and Salman Rushdie (Section I), Ama Ata Aidoo and Michelle Cliff (Section II), and Hanif Kureishi (Section III)—Needham, with good reason, distinguishes between their strategies and recuperations that often discount the resistances themselves. However, the intention to portray the writers without critical filters, on the basis of 'evidence' only, gives her the dangerous privilege of claiming authenticity, since it reinstates the 'desire for purity' that she attributes to other students and scholars. This stance results in a close reading that describes resistances but does not attempt to probe their implications. Moreover, this stance is easily susceptible to contradiction and Needham does that when she [End Page 697] evaluates James's "explicit and implicit situating of women's concerns and positions" as symptomatic of his insurmountable structural limitations (31).
Despite the wish to supersede dichotomies, Needham identifies the selected countries primarily as "formerly colonized" and thus defined in relation to the "West." This reconstitutes the binary of "the West vs. rest" that is also evident in the book's back-jacket comments. Failing some language to identify countries in ways that recognize their histories over the last half-century, the binary further validates historical and geographical essentialisms when "emancipatory perspectives" are equated with those that are "excluded, suppressed, or marginalized by dominant representations" (51). While it is relevant, in the case of the writers selected, to say that resistance stems from a particular racialization or genderedness, one must also acknowledge the presence of those who are similarly categorized and who do not resist or protest, but recolonize or assimilate. If one were to allow that, based partly in their class-affiliations and their sexual orientations (the latter mentioned briefly in the chapter on Cliff), these authors appropriate "the dominant," then one might entertain the possibility that they borrow selectively from the suppressed, the excluded, or the native, to create their distinct versions of the "nation." In addition, colonial metropoles, not only those located in "the west," are intersections of imperial and anti-imperial influences. Thus, the discussion about "habitation within the dominant or hegemonic" (20) could be extended fruitfully to include how Aidoo and Cliff inhabit and portray metropoles in Ghana and Jamaica, to name only two examples. To modify the equation of "west" with "metropole," Kureishi's work can be seen not only in the immigrant post-colonial context but within England as a post-colonial nation.
There are two by-products of a reading that purports to remain "faithful" to text and author. First, even as the book states that it will explore the construction of the authors in and by the contemporary milieu, the impact of transnational marketing is largely ignored as a factor in the writers' self-construction. Second, and more important, the study glosses over the historical changes effected by...