Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Welcome to Postcolonial Hawthorne

A big CitizenSE hello to my Seinan Gakuin University students taking (or thinking about taking) my Postcolonial Hawthorne course. In today's post, I want to follow of up on one of the issues that I discussed with you in class today, which we'll be expanding on next week in class--namely, the relation between postcolonial studies and American studies, or, more simply, "How is 'postcolonial Hawthorne' not an oxymoron?"

Because there's a tradition in postcolonial studies that argues for the value of distinguishing Europe's former colonies that gained their formal independence in the twentieth century from those that gained it in the eighteenth or nineteenth centuries, it's worth taking this question quite seriously. The term "postcolonial" is baggy and contested enough, some critics argue, that it's just not worth it to open the door to former white settler colonies like the U.S., Canada, Australia, and New Zealand, places where the descendants of the European colonizers came to hold and largely still hold political power over those places' indigenous peoples and their descendants. More generally, the question of where to stop arises: if U.S. literature is postcolonial, or at least has a postcolonial period, then why not any formerly colonized nation, any nation that once was under the power of a foreign empire and has since gained its political independence? (For instance, England under the Roman Empire, Hungary under the Ottoman Empire, Poland under the Russian and Soviet empires, Korea under the Chinese and Japanese empires, and so on.) To which I ask, why not?

I've argued in a recent conference paper that there is much to be gained from this expanded definition of postcolonial studies. As preliminary evidence, look at some of the work I've highlighted in this blog: Jee Yoon Lee's on The Scarlet Letter as well as my own on Hawthorne and Maryse Conde, Mahasweta Devi, and Paule Marshall (for example). Throughout the semester, we'll consider other evidence for the value of considering Hawthorne as a postcolonial writer and antebellum U.S literature as a postcolonial literature.

Today in class, I listed several reasons why it might make sense to do this. The United States's political independence coupled with its cultural and economic dependence; the shaky state of its nationalism; the role literature was expected to play in shaping a sense of nationalism and patriotism among American citizens; the ways in which American writers relied on and revised English models--all these (and more) begin to make the case for considering Hawthorne to be a postcolonial writer.

Tomorrow Saturday Next Monday, I'll discuss my case for a new periodization scheme for U.S. literatures, which will not only provide some historical background for Hawthorne's career as a writer, but also will help me flesh out a connection I suggested in today's class between early American literature and the literature of newly independent African, Asian, and Caribbean nations following World War II.

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