The Painted Marionette Speaks : Postcolonialism and its Svengali

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Akshat Khare

A lot of debate goes on about the ‘logic’ and ‘correctness’ of postmodernism.  Jameson has famously remarked – “I believe that the emergence of postmodernism is closely related to the emergence of this new moment of late, consumer or multinational capitalism. I believe also that its formal features in many ways express the deeper logic of that particular social system. I will only be able, however, to show this for one major theme: namely the disappearance of a sense of history, the way in which our entire contemporary social system has little by little begun to lose its capacity to retain its own past, has begun to live in a perpetual present and in a perpetual change that obliterates traditions of the kind which all earlier social formations have had in one way or another to preserve.” Any critique, as extremist-sounding as it may be, should be allowed to pursue the question in detail because “critical thought, which does not call a halt before progress itself, requires us to take up the cause of the remnants of freedom, of tendencies toward real humanity, even though they seem powerless in face of the great historical trend.”(Adorno).

— Editor

Akshat Khare

We are now entering the third decade of the unending wake of postmodernism. Many movements have claimed to supplant it over the years, to varying degrees of success, ranging from ambivalent posturing to catastrophic failure. It may perhaps be said that Postmodernism first began to die in the nineties, but precisely as people began to tire of its vampiric nature, it found itself a robust host to sink its fangs into; Postcolonialism.

Postcolonialism rejuvenated the dying threads of postmodernism and staved off its demise or supersession indefinitely. The movement of narratives and ideas began to flow in more directions than one. Simultaneously providing a platoon of PoMo academics with continued relevance and sustenance and creating spaces for academics from the ‘Third World’ in Western Journals and Universities. With this PoMo achieved some semblance of the Inclusiveness and Diversity that had been part and parcel of its promise as it supplanted Modernism. A representation of Identities in the Cultural space can best be surmised as Vulgar Tokenism. The recognition of the problems that were created by PoMo’s Hyper-Irony, Absence of Authentic Engagement, and the painting over of what was essentially a Eurocentric Cultural movement with representation from Academic elites of the global south, caused many individuals to formulate Post-Postmodern movements of their own. And so Metamodernism, Renewalism, Altermodernism, Remodernism, and so on entered the cultural space with their emphasis on the global citizen and ‘creolization’ to supplant Postmodernism. Unmistakeably as Eurocentric as its ancestors and carrying the same promises of representation repackaged in a different language. First as Tragedy, Then as Farce.

In this era of the beginning of the end of postmodernism, the average Postcolonial Academic can rest easy; their representation being doubly critical in the success of any Post-Postmodern paradigm. The creation of a New Modernism that is characterized by a New Sincerity is an admirable project, but it is one that is haunted by the uneasy pact that was made between Postmodernism and Postcolonialism decades ago, that of Representation.

In an interview with Engelhart, Žižek abruptly declared “Also, I really hate all of this politically correct, cultural studies bullshit. If you mention the phrase “Postcolonialism,” I say, “Fuck it!” Postcolonialism is the invention of some rich guys from India who saw that they could make a good career in top Western universities by playing on the guilt of white liberals.” This was followed by an understandable and largely justified explosion from the Postcolonial Academics from India and across the global south. Objections were made to Žižek’s Eurocentric streak and his espousal of a secular Christianity in so far as it serves as the ideological basis and predecessor of Enlightenment values and Marxism. (Refer to the practically unknown Žižek-Menon debate, if an eighteen-minute interjection by the interlocutor and then a small essay can be called a Debate.)

But when we consider the problem of Representation, Žižek has hit a very touchy nerve that exists in Indian Academia and is a general trend in Postcolonial traditions in Africa, Latin America, and the Middle East: namely that the Postcolonial Academic, Fluent in the languages of the Coloniser is more often than not someone from a privileged or elite background. Postcolonial projects that are used to gain representational currency in Western Academia are choked with elites who have greater access to economic and cultural currency than the oppressed and the subaltern that they claim to represent. Any step towards a “Post-Postmodern” solution would first need to deal with the fetishization of ‘the local’ and the ‘nation’ as it exists in Postcolonialism. The representation of the ‘Nation’ as a whole conveniently puts the postcolonial writer into the position of the oppressed and the exploited while glossing over the past and present privilege that they gain from their caste and class and their role in the oppression of their nation’s subaltern.

The continued failures of these ‘New Modernism(s)’ against the Postmodern Zeitgeist are due to economic and cultural factors. While I can’t offer an immediate solution for the former, I will say something on the latter: Those in the West who are attempting to synthesize Post-Postmodernisms need to address the ways in which they engage with the Postcolonial, and who and what that Postcolonial really is while being open to the possibility that the solution may already exist in the global south and is in need of European representation and adjustments instead of the other way around. Postcolonial narratives are critical to Western Academia and continually help in dynamically critiquing Imperialism, both economic and cultural. But for those of us outside Academia, we need to aim higher than simply being satisfied with an endless critique of ‘the cultural logic of late capitalism’ but to look for new methods and strategies that can end it once and for all.

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Akshat Khare is an Indian novelist, poet, and playwright whose experiments with writing are directed towards developing a post-postmodern poetics. He is the author of Delhi Blues and Other Poems (2020), The Book of Saudade(2022,PANK) and Truth Be Told: A Tragedy in the Making. He can be contacted at akshatkhare97@hotmail.com
This article was first published in In Parentheses.

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