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  • “Postwestern”
  • Susan Kollin (bio)

In addressing the keyword “postwestern,” I am first prompted to attend to the power and ambiguity of the term “West” itself. Krista Comer takes up this task, noting how the “West” operates as a fluid concept, encompassing both a “geopolitical entity and physical topography” that shifts meanings when placed in the context of that larger entity, “Western civilization” (238). What does it mean to call forth a “postwestern” critique when the term references both a seemingly distinct locale and a geography that has held significance for global populations, from the ancient Greeks and Romans who saw it as the place of Elysium to the Europeans who set in motion a five hundred–year colonial matrix of power (Mignolo xiii; Kollin, “Environments” 2)? Rather than continually demarcate one West from another, the keyword “postwestern” acknowledges how each extends the other in a confirming and enabling relationship. In this way, Neil Campbell notes how regionality always involves “relationality” because it makes “encounters beyond itself”; regionality is “impinged upon by otherness and outside forces” and “necessarily transformed through its relations with its outsides” (141).

Relationality makes visible how the hemispheric division of the planet, the global colonial matrix of power, and settler colonial histories all underpin the dominant logic and founding myths of the American West (Mignolo; Kollin, “Introduction”). These histories are evident in the Western itself, that continually evolving genre so closely aligned with the mythical Turnerian struggle between savagery and civilization on an ever-shifting frontier. As I argue in Captivating Westerns: The Middle East in the American West, although the Western is typically framed as a US genre, it was produced through outside forces, having emerged from a larger tradition of European adventure stories that were once named after the sites of their exploits, [End Page 59] such as is seen in the African adventure tale or the “oriental” narrative (36–38). While the Western is often understood as a US and settler colonial genre, it has also traveled globally in places such as the Middle East, where the United States exerts colonial rather than settler colonial power and where it comes into contact with other nations’ Westerns, such as the Italian spaghetti Western, whose transnational popularity may be linked to its critiques of US global power and its ability to address postcolonial predicaments (188). “Postwestern” as a keyword may help us not only interrogate the exceptionalist frameworks that underwrite many of the region’s narratives but also recognize larger transnational developments that have shaped those very narratives. In doing so, we may develop new ways of knowing that enable a realignment of regional scholarship with a greater set of political allies and objectives.

In this context the term “post” deserves some scrutiny. As Ann Laura Stoler argues in the context of the postcolonial, no matter how it is reworked or “how ‘post’ one’s stance might be,” scholars might best regard the “post” with “skepticism,” recognizing the “artifice” in the “cut” (ix). Colonial “temporalities” are experienced in complex ways, she argues, and colonial realities exist in both “tangible and intangible forms” (ix). Stoler notes how “geopolitical and spatial distribution of inequalities . . . are not simply mimetic versions of earlier imperial incarnations but refashioned and sometimes opaque . . . reworkings of them”: she goes on to argue that colonial histories and “the affective charges they reactivate” are often so woven “through the fabric of contemporary life forms” that “they seem indiscernible” (4–5). Shifting from colonial to settler colonial realities in discussions of western American literature, Alex Tremble Young and Lorenzo Veracini likewise note the complex temporalities entailed in our critiques, particularly the difficulties of ushering in the “post,” situated as we are in “the settler colonial present” (18).

Because the colonial and the settler colonial are not past, their logics linger in our ways of knowing. For Mignolo, then, it is useful to examine the structures that have enabled “the conditions to build and control a structure of knowledge” (xv). As he argues, entities such as racism and patriarchy “made it possible to eliminate [End Page 60] or marginalize what did not fit into those principles that aspired to build a totality in which everybody would be included...


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