Burn the Archives 01: Lee Maracle

Burn the Archives o1: Lee Maracle

“The ‘Post-Colonial’ Imagination”

FUSE 16.1, Fall 1992

I’m drawn to this short piece by Lee Maracle from 1992 because it highlights some of the key criticisms of the term postcolonial. Perhaps the most problematic implications of the term itself stem from the fact that it implies colonization is a historical period that’s over—as the mechanisms of genocide grind on here in Canada, we know this isn’t true. As a literary discipline, postcolonial studies has been called out for all kinds of shortfalls, among them its perverse focus on English language literature and its overemphasis of diversity and multiplicity at the expense of systemic critique. [1] These issues came up at last night’s editorial meeting as we discussed our call for submissions, and the risk we’re taking by highlighting such a contested term (postcoloniality) over, say, decolonization. In pursuing the possible strategic uses of the term, we are following Rumina Sethi’s arguments in The Politics of Postcolonialism, in which she argues that postcolonialism describes both a lived experience and a political orientation. She argues for the leveraging of the term for the purposes of resistance to colonialism/capital, which she works towards through an incorporation Marxist critique into the cultural theory of postcolonial studies. We can look forward to editorial collective member Leila Timmins’s review of Sethi’s book in the upcoming FUSE issue on Egypt.

In contrast to Sethi’s arguments, Maracle upholds the critique of the postcolonial as a premise for a field of study, claiming that until there is a sea change in the discipline’s orientation, the use of the term is disingenuous. Writing from Canada, her diagnosis points to a prevailing colonial condition in literature, symptoms of which include the standards to which all literature is upheld, set by “abusive industrial British parent[s],” the gulf of misunderstanding separating colonizer and colonized, and the very necessity of post-colonial conferences on literature. [2] Her counter to the postcolonial imagination is the concept of dreamspace, in which it is possible to recall and study memories, to construct a counter-narrative of the process of colonization from the perspective of its survivors. Along with this dreamspace come criteria for a “good” story, and they boil down to the story’s ability to disrupt received narratives and standards, bring colonial realities into relief, and provoke shifts in subjectivities. In other words, she sees the postcolonial in literature as a worthy, if distant, goal. I look forward to re-reading this alongside Sethi, who is really asking us to think the postcolonial outside of the disciplinary bounds we’ve cast it in, and to push its application as a tool for the political project of decolonization.

Also worth mentioning, this issue is one example of FUSE design that I really love—restrained and still playful. Put together by the Blackbird Design Collective, it’s a 48-pager in greyscale, and includes components that have since been phased out: letters to the editor and an index of volume 15 compiled by Rob Butz.

—Gina Badger

[1] Sethi, Rumina. The Politics of Postcolonialism: Empire, Nation and Resistance. London: Pluto Press, 2011.

[2] Maracle, Lee. “The ‘Post-Colonial’ Imagination,” in FUSE Magazine 16:1 (Fall 1992), 12-14.


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