"One of the changes [in the location of anglophone writers of Indian descent] has to do with attitudes towards the use of English. Many have referred to the argument about the appropriateness of this language to Indian themes. And I hope all of us share the opinion that we can't simply use the language the way the British did; that it needs remaking for our own purposes. Those of us who do use English do so in spite of our ambiguity towards it, or perhaps because of that, perhaps because we can find in that linguistic struggle a reflection of other struggles taking place in the real world, struggles between the cultures within ourselves and the influences at work upon our societies. To conquer English may be to complete the process of making ourselves free."

The theoretical and scholarly debate about language is addressed in detail in The Empire Writes Back (1989). Bill Ashcroft, Gareth Griffiths and Helen Tiffin explore the ways in which writers encounter a dominant, colonial language. They describe a two- part process through which writers in the post-colonial world displace a standard language (denoted with the capital "e" in "English") and replace it with a local variant that does not have the perceived stain of being somehow sub-standard, but rather reflects a distinct cultural outlook through local usage. The terms they give these two processes are "abrogation" and "accommodation":

"Abrogation is a refusal of the categories of the imperial culture, its aesthetic, its illusory standard of normative or 'correct' usage, and its assumption of a traditional and fixed meaning 'inscribed' in the words." (38)

"Appropriation is the process by which the language is made to 'bear the burden' of one's own cultural experience. . . . Language is adopted as a tool and utilized to express widely differing cultural experiences." (38- 39)

The authors are careful to point out, however, that abrogation alone, though a vital step in "decolonizing" a dominant language is not sufficient, in that it offers the danger that roles will be reversed and a new set of normative practices will move into place.

The great West Indian writer and historian, C.L.R. James, once asserted that cricket and Shakespeare were the two great gifts brought to him as a young boy at a colonial school in Trinidad. The attraction of each was the same: a bright local youth could reformulate either, restoring to the art of cricket or to the interpretation of Shakespeare a beauty and rigour which once they had, before they were commodified by the mindset of commercial and imperial Victorians. In his classic Beyond a Boundary, James suggested that the lure of cricket for colonial peoples lay in its notion of a boundary drawn by the white man but breachable by his opponent. The mastery of cricket by Indian or Caribbean peoples may be likened to what is now achieved in literature by writers such as Salman Rushdie, Amit Chaudhuri or V.S. Naipaul. A persistent theme of these authors is that of an affluent, charismatic person who comes from India or Jamaica to an England which looks increasingly like a Third World country and which frustrates all his or her high expectations of it. "For a man like Saladin Chamcha," writes Rushdie of the protagonist of The Satanic Verses, "the debasing of Englishness by the English was a thing too terrible to contemplate."

The "writing back" in post-colonial literature is based on a frequent reinterpretation of the masterpieces of European culture. If Joyce's Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man is a subversive revision of the Bildungsroman, a novel such as Things Fall Apart by the Nigerian Chinua Achebe is written to question and rewrite the portrayal of Africans in Joyce Cary's Mister Johnson and Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness. In these books, native intellectuals often learn how to criticise masterpieces which misrepresented them, or which were written on the blithe assumption that they might never intervene in literary debates, much less write their own books about them. Equally, a novel such as Tayib Salih's Season of Migration to the North is a clever inversion of Heart of Darkness: for in this case an Arab worker leaves his people and goes to Europe in search of employment, finding in the process that he has indeed entered his own heart of darkness. Such writing has its counterpart in the literary criticism practised by a Palestinian such as Edward Said or an Indian feminist such as Gayatri Spivak: each fulfils the role of "reverse anthropologist", for instead of moving from First to Third World, to use there the sophisticated techniques of an advanced

Previous chapter/page Back Home Email this Search Discuss Bookmark Next chapter/page
Copyright: All texts on Bibliomania are © Bibliomania.com Ltd, and may not be reproduced in any form without our written permission. See our FAQ for more details.