Pre-postcolonialism: Postcolonialism by Robert J. C. Young

Not enough praise could be expressed for Oxford University Press’ ‘Very Short Introductions’.  They provide excellent surveys of a field of study with just enough depth to sensitise the reader to the potential of a set of disciplinary tools.  Unfortunately, praise for the series as a whole cannot be applied to every book.  Robert J. C. Young’s addition to the series is one those texts that does what it promised but in a fashion which seems alien to its topic.

Young admits that Postcolonial theory has been attacked for using obscurantist prose and jargon-laden approaches to topics that are potentially of great political relevance.  Consequently he proposes to provide a Postcolonialism-lite which engages the political, economic and social issues that contextualise postcolonial theory and which could serve as an illustration of the theory.  In this case, the theory never really had a place in the text and, as such, there was a sense of the unspoken throughout the book.  This was a frustrating read even though I am someone who is only mildly familiar with the topic in general and some of the primary texts.

A series of tantalising quotations floated across the page but without being substantively engaged in the Young’s narrative.  Bhabha, Spivak and Said are all mentioned but without sustained discussed of their ideas in light of the historical examples Young claimed to be using to situate postcolonialism.  This book rather seemed to suggest that a theory of postcolonialsim is needed but that what has been done so far has proved effective in only a limited sense.  This may well be true but Young never made this claim explicit and I doubt that is his thinking.

However, despite these failures, there are some redeeming qualities.  The insights into Fanon’s life, especially, the last section of the conclusion were useful and well-paced.  Young’s use of Rai music as an example of Hybridity was productive, but only because I had already read ‘The Location of Culture’.  Moreover, the discussion of translation and land did productively elaborate important ideas in this area.

The series is excellent but this book left much to be desired.  Instead, purchase Loomba’s Colonialism/Postcolonialism in the ‘New Critical Idiom’ series.


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