Post- colonialism & its Practice in Literature: The “Other” and the “Oriental”

The sub- genre of literary theory known as Postcolonialism, like post- structuralism,
seeks to deconstruct the notion of its content base. Traditionally “high literature”, or literature
worth discussing on an intellectual basis, is Euro- centric, meaning that the source of texts is
predominantly educated male, Caucasian western European(or American) writers. Literary
theorists Edward Said and Ngugi Wa Thiong’o challenge this long- followed trend and emphasis
a need for “other” literature, “other” being African– American, Oriental, and non- European
based literature and means of learning. White western writing is displaced by this move towards
more global literature. Postcolonial theory is a response to the effects of Euro-centric ideologies
imposed on what could be considered secondary cultures. Postcolonialism both acknowledges
the stifled literary history of the “other” and removes the relatable universality of European
literature, bringing light to the specific and unique experiences that various factions of global
society offer in writing and the modes through which that writing is expressed.
In his piece Orientalism, Said offers a Postcolonial critique as he write “to speak of
Orientalism is to speak mainly, although not exclusively, of a British and French cultural
enterprise”(Said, 1993). Postcolonialism is not so much that nations are past their days of being
colonized or imperialized, but about its aftermath on literature, learning, and a global
understanding of one another. One cannot mention colonized or imperialized territories/ nations
without acknowledging the imperializers, who made these natives “others” by labeling anything
exotic, peculiar, or unfit for western European society as Oriental or “precivilized”. You were
either European or you weren’t, as cultural duality was a widely unaccepted ideology by white
Europeans. The notion of “doubleness”, or performing/ behaving in a specific manner to fit
various social situations developed and became a survival tactic for the understudied “other”.
These writings are distinct in that Edward Said chooses to focus his discussion on the effects of
colonialism on the Oriental, while Thiong’o’s Post– colonialist writing is focused through the
lense of African literature, or a lack thereof.
According to philosopher Friedrich Hegel, we as people exist in relation to others-
therefore, we only understand the culture of others in comparison to our own, which is why most
historical and literary pieces/ accounts were and still are written from a male, Caucasian,
westernized point of view. The issue with this is how does an African- American, Asian or
Latino learn about their own culture or those of other minorities or “uncivilized” territories in a
meaningful way, if those cultures are never taught or written about in any other way but white?
Not that only white middle- aged men write about these subjects, but if we never get the chance
to see the writings on these topics by the “other”, it might as well be that way.
“White” writing does not take into account, nor can its linguistics capture or properly
present, the cultural context or social importance of events or ideas. Thiong’o believes that by
beginning with African literature at the center of learning, and accepting orature as a supplement
to learning, we can experience the world in ways besides as “defined and reflected in the
European experience of history”(Thiong’o, 93). This does not necessarily apply exclusively to
African literature as per Thiong’o’s example ; any efforts to bring to the forefront any pieces
from around the world would satisfy the Postcolonialist need to truly globalize world literature.
Postcolonialism seeks to universalize literature, but in a different sense: through creating access
to the global cultural diversity offered by the neglected writings of the “other”.
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