Postcolonizing the Commonwealth: Studies in Literature and Culture ed. by Rowland Smith (review)
- ESC: English Studies in Canada
- Association of Canadian College and University Teachers of English
- Volume 30, Issue 3, September 2004
- pp. 199-204
- Additional Information
“W ho am I? Who else is there?” is a figure of Rushdie the author, glorying in his rival creation. Although I disagree with Clark’s readings, I want to emphasize the value of his book. Clark reads Rushdie’s oeuvre as a widening gyre: where Grimus is relatively controlled by the narrative patterns of myth, the next three novels give in more and more to a hectic chaotic violence. Clark also offers a convincing explanation of the weakness of Rushdie’s fictional output since the fatwa. Although as full of allusions to mythology as the early novels, The Moor’s Last Sigh and The Ground Beneath Her Feet refuse to engage seriously with the paradoxes and challenges posed by the spiri tual. They are crude celebrations of the secular weakened by their own self-satisfaction. Neil ten Kortenaar University of Toronto Rowland Smith, ed. Postcolonizing the Commonwealth: Studies in Literature and Cu/ft/re Waterloo, Ontario: W ilfrid Laurier University Press, 2000. Pp. 216. $29.95" paper. Once upon a time there used to be a field called Commonwealth literature. Then Salman Rushdie wrote an essay called “Commonwealth Literature Does Not Exist” (1981), and lo and behold, Commonwealth Literature ceased to exist. Or, rather, it got repackaged as Postcolonial Literature(s), Postcolonial Studies, and Postcolonial Theory. I am old enough to remem ber that at my university the Department calendar used Commonwealth/ Postcolonial for a few years while the plastic surgery was in progress, dropping the Commonwealth altogether in 1993. A book with a title like Postcolonizing the Commonwealth: Studies in Literature and Culture, then, creates a certain dissonance in the mind, recalling bloodied battles of yore that did not really settle anything, but suppressed conflicts and disagreements through an exercise of hegemonic power. Not only does Commonwealth literature not exist any longer, one of its major patrons, the Commonwealth Institute has been privatized because the British government is no longer willing to fund it. The Insti tute’s library, so fondly mentioned by the late Jacqueline Bardolph in her contribution to this book, has been dismantled, its collection carted away to the British Empire and Commonwealth Museum in Bristol, under a great cloud of controversy that it will no longer be a “living library.” Book Reviews | 199 The reasons for this tectonic shift in discursive and material reali ties are not discussed in the volume, a collection of essays, edited, with an Introduction, by Rowland Smith, delivered in November 1997 at the “Commonwealth in Canada” conference, organized by the Canadian Asso ciation for Commonwealth Literature and Language Studies (c a c l a l s ), held at Wilfrid Laurier University in Waterloo, Ontario. Nor does the editor explain the enigmatic title which strikingly transforms the familiar adjectival “postcolonial” to a participial: “postcolonizing.” This reviewer is left puzzling about what would “postcolonizing” the “Commonwealth’ entail. For when the adjectival “postcolonial,” often used as a temporal marker, is changed to the participial “postcolonizing,” one is forced to think in terms of actors and their agency. For example, one wonders how would “postcolonizing” be different from “colonizing?” The “Introduction” informs us that one of the “original aims” of the triennial conference was “to use plenary sessions to discuss varying approaches to what used to be called ‘Commonwealth Literature’ in vari ous countries.” But, as usually happens at most conferences, “What did in fact emerge, however, was a series of papers ... that varied significantly in the ways authors conceived of the topic” (1). What we have here, then, are fourteen papers, by contributors from Australia, Canada, France, Jamaica, and South Africa. The editor seems somewhat anxious about the lack of “consistency of approach” (1) in the papers and wishes to forestall possible objections: “To those unaccus tomed to debate in ‘cultural studies’ this range may seem arbitrary. What do cowboy songs, Iranian feminists, fetal alcohol syndrome, the ascent of Everest, Natal women settlers and Afrikaans exile-poets have in common with discussions of the development of syllabus and teaching practice in French or Caribbean universities?” (1). Smith claims that the essays fortuitously acquire certain similarities: “Although written from varying perspectives, they return constantly to issues of difference and similarity, the re-examination...