Edward Said, Nationalism Colonialism and Literature [Field Day Pamphlet, No. 15] Derry 1988), 24pp.

On W. B. Yeats, in Nationalism, Colonialism and Literature: Yeats and Decolonization [Field Day Pamphlet, No. 15] Derry 1988, 24pp.:

‘For Yeats the over-lappings he knew existed between his Irish nationalism and the English cultural tradition that both dominated him and empowered him as a writer was bound to cause an over-heated tension, and it is the pressure of this urgently political and secular tension that one may speculate caused him to try to resolve it on a “higher”, that is, non-political, level. Thus the deeply eccentric and aestheticised histories he produced in A Vision and the later quasi-religious poems are elevations of the tension to an extra-worldly level.’ (p.13.)



Yet for all its success in ridding many countries and territories of colonial overlords, nationalism has remained, in my opinion, a deeply problematic ideological, as well as sociopolitical, enterprise. At some stage in the anti-resistance phase of nationalism there is a sort of dependence between the two sides of the contest, since after all many of the nationalist struggles were led by bourgeoisies that were partly formed and to some degree produced by the colonial power; these are the national bourgeoisies of which Fation spoke so ominously. These bourgeoisies in effect have often replaced the colonial force with a new class-based and ultimately exploitative force; instead of liberation after decolonization one simply gets the old colonial structures replicated in new national terms.

[...] The other problem is that the cultural horizons of nationalism are fatally limited by the common history of colonizer and colonized assumed by the nationalist movement itself. Imperialism after all is a co-operative venture. Both the master and the slave participate in it, and both grew up in it, albeit unequally. One of the salient traits of modern imperialism is that in most places it set out quite consciously to modernize, develop, instruct, and civilize the natives. An entire massive chapter in cultural history across five continents grows up out of it.

The annals of schools, missions, universities, scholarly societies, hospitals in Asia, Africa, Latin America, Europe, and America, fill its pages, and have had the effect over time of establishing the so-called modernizing trends in the colonial regions, as well as muting or humanizing the harsher aspects of imperialist domination-all of them bridging the gap between imperial center and peripheral territories ... And out of that learning process millions grasped the fundamentals of modern life, yet remained subordinate dependents of an authority based elsewhere than in their lives. Since one of the purposes of colonial education was to promote the history of France or Britain, that same education also demoted the native history. There were always the Englands, Frances, Germanys, Hollands as distant repositories of the Word, for all the contradictions developed during the years of productive collaboration. Stephen Dedalus is a famous example of someone who discovers these facts with unusual force. (US Edn., p.74-75.)

Before this can be done, however, there is a pressing need for the recovery of the land that, because of the presence of the colonizing outsider, is recoverable at first only through the imagination. Now if there is anything that radically distinguishes the imagination of anti-imperialism it is the primacy of the geographical in it. Imperialism after all is an act of geographical violence through which virtually every space in the world is explored, charted, and finally brought under control. For the native, the history of his or her colonial servitude is inaugurated by the loss to an outsider of the local place, whose concrete geographical identity must thereafter be searched for and somehow restored. From what? Notiust from foreigners, but also from a whole other agenda whose purpose and processes are controlled elsewhere. (Ibid., p.77.)

The search for authenticity, for a more congenial national origin than that provided by colonial history, for a new pantheon of heroes, myths, and religions ... along with these nationalist adumbrations of the decolonized identity, there always goes an almost magically inspired, quasi-alchemical redevelopment of the native language. Yeats is especially interesting here. He shares with Caribbean and some African writers the predicament of a common language with the colonial overlord [...] (Ibid., p.79.)

‘On sees the drive backward in such enterprises as Senghor’s négritude, or in Soyinka’s explorations of the African past, or on the Rastafarian movement, or in the Garveyite Solution, or all through the Islamic world, the rediscoveries of various unsullied, precolonial Muslim essences.’ (Ibid., p.82.)

‘[To accept nativism is to accept] the very radical religious, and political differences imposed on places like Ireland, India, Lebanon, and Palestine by imperialism itself. To leave the historic world for the meetaphysics of essences like kegritude, Irishness, Islam, and Catholicism is, in a word, to abandon history.’ (Idem; all quoted in Roxanne Dunbar Ortiz, 'Joyce and the Tradition of Anti-Colonial Revolution’, 1999, pp.10-11.)


Sundry Quotations

Edward Said calls Joyce’s work ‘a recapitulation of those political and racial separations, exclusions, prohibitions instituted ethnocentrically by the ascendant European culture throgh the nineteenth century.’ (The World, the Text, the Critic, Cambridge UP 1983, pp.48-49.)

‘In the United States [...] the patriotic master narrative taught in schools for generations has been disputed by native Americans, women, workers, ethnic “minorities”, whose massive contributions to the making of the United States have simply been left out. (‘Afterword: Reflection on Ireland and Postcolonialism’, in Claire Carroll & Patricia King, eds., Ireland and Postcolonial Theory, Cork UP 2003, p.180.)

‘Myth does not analyse and solve problems. It presents them as already analysed and solved.’ (Orientalism: Western Conceptions of the Orient, Penguin 1995, p.313; quoted in Loredana Salis, ‘“So Greek with Consequence”: Classical Tragedy in Contemporary Irish Drama’, PhD Diss., UUC, 2005.)

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See also extracts from -
Edward Said, Culture and Imperialism (1993) - as infra.
Edward Said, Orientalism: Western Conceptions of the Orient (Penguin 1995) - as infra.
 
Nationalism, Colonialism and Literature: Yeats and Decolonization [Field Day Pamphlet, No. 15] Derry 1988, 24pp.: ‘For Yeats the over-lappings he knew existed between his Irish nationalism and the English cultural tradition that both dominated him and empowered him as a writer was bound to cause an over-heated tension, and it is the pressure of this urgently political and secular tension that one may speculate caused him to try to resolve it on a “higher”, that is, non-political, level. Thus the deeply eccentric and aestheticised histories he produced in A Vision and the later quasi-religious poems are elevations of the tension to an extra-worldly level.’ (p.13.)

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