Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Rethinking Post Colonial

Salman Rushdie presents several interesting arguments in his essay, Imaginary Homelands about the tension of the past and the present, the dependability of memory, and the importance of fragmented knowledge that keeps the writer in a constant search for meaning. The most compelling argument, however, resonates on a more humane and realistic level in its analysis of the definition of post colonialism. Rushdie writes:
Of all of the many elephant traps lying ahead of us, the largest and most dangerous pit fall would be the adoption of a ghetto mentality. To forget that there is a world beyond the community to which we belong, to confine ourselves within narrowly defined frontiers, would be, I believe, to go voluntarily into that form of internal exile which in South America is called “homeland” (19).
Rushdie cracks open the argument concerning the good and evil of colonialism and allows the reader to think of this phenomenon on anther level. Are we supposed to crawl into tiny balls and hide under our beds all day so we don’t interact at all? Do we avoid the risk of not agreeing? Absolutely not. This venture out of your own territory, Rushdie argues, is necessary to keep the world moving. Perhaps it is the mentality that is carried by those who colonize, who go to other lands only with the willingness construct their own homeland and replace a culture that they never gave a chance to, is where the problem of colonization arises. Not only must we leave our homelands to expand our world view, but we must break out of the shell of our internal homelands, and enable ourselves to feel the richness of other cultures. He asks the reader to look beyond the frozen image in a photograph (much like the one he describes hanging on a wall in the beginning of the article).
An important tension of breaking away from our homeland is the reality that we can never truly let go of our pasts. Rushdie’s reflections on this struggle reminded me of Subramaniam in Chandra’s Love and Longing in Bombay, who tells the narrator the stories that drive the text. Rushdie writes, “But the photograph tells me to invert this idea; it reminds me that it’s my present that is foreign, and that the past is home, albeit a lost home in a lost city in the mists of lost time” (9). I thought of Subramaniam as I read these words. I pictured him sitting in the seedy bar in Bombay, telling the narrator stories of people he may or may not have known, and may or may not have understood. The stories keep the book going. They are the past pushing against the present, Subramaniam’s way of making sense of the chaos occurring around him and simultaneously allowing the narrator and the reader a more complex look at Bombay.
We can’t let go of what has come before us, or hold our pasts tightly in our hands. They are gone, but not gone completely, and the struggle to move forward, and make sense of what has changed, is a challenge that resonates in the work of Chandra, Achebe, as well as our own lives. We are stuck in some state between the present and the past, where time goes by without asking, and people hurt each other for the wrong reasons only to go back and make the same mistakes. Chandra and Rushdie show the effects of Post Colonialism on more microscopic level, where specific cultures and religions are not clearly defined.

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