The postcolonial theory draws upon key ideas and concepts developed in the anti-colonial struggle. It would not be accurate to say that postcolonial theory originated with Edward said- though he certainly generated the modes of ‘postcolonial reading’ that we now so everywhere- because much of his much of the idea of resistance, cultural nationalism, nativism emerged in the contexts of anti-colonial struggle in Asia, Africa, and South America.
Writing in the 1960s in the context of Algeria and its French colonial occupation, Frantz fanon has been an influential figure in postcolonial theory. His The Age of the Earth (1963) and later Black Skins, White Masks (1967) rank with some of the most influential texts in the 20th century.
Fanon was fascinated by the psychological effects of colonialism on both the colonizers and the colonized. He argued that, for the repressed and suffering native, colonialism destroyed the very soul. The colonial master’s constant representation of the native as a non-human animalized ‘think’ annihilates the identity of the native. Fanon’s insight into the psychology of colonialism was simply this: when the colonial paints the native as evil pagan and primitive, over a period of time the native begins to accept this prejudice and realized the view as true. As a result, the native comes to see himself as evil, Pagan, and primitive. The black man loses his sense of self and identity because he can only see himself through the eyes of the white man. Fanon argues that for the native the term man itself begins to means white man because he does not see himself as a man at all. In terms of culture, the native extends this accepted notion to believe that the only values that matter are those of the white man.
One of the most influential books of the modern era, Edward Said’s Orientalism (1978) may be said, quite accurately, to have inaugurated the postcolonial field. Written with breathtaking erudition and an engaging style, Orientalism was a book whose time has come. Appearing around the same time as the words of The wors of Derrida, Foucault, Althusser, and the French feminists, it set in motion intellectual turbulence that altered the shape and canon of Western and eastern academia.
Edward said saw colonialism as a project that was, undeniably military-political. To word it differently, discourses that constructed the Orient in certain ways contributed to the political and military power of the European over the native. Said’s major contribution was to see colonialism as rooted in an epistemological inquiry and project: constructing the Orient. Orientalism is the European construction of the East as primitive, savage, pagan, undeveloped, and criminal. Such construction and enables the European to justify his presence: The poor, weak native needed to be governed and ‘developed’, and it was the task of the European to do so. Oriental ‘reality’ is interpreted in particular ways, ways that are usable by the Europeans.
Said also argued that European identity in the 18th and 19th century evolved through a confrontation and engagement with such non-European culture, ‘Europe’ and the ‘Orient’ were discursively representative in literature and history as binary opposites. Europe was all that the orient was not: developed, Christian, civilized. Europe saw the orient as different and treated this difference as negative. As Said puts it, the Orient is Europe’s ‘contrasting image, idea, personality, experience’. In what is a classic the deconstructed move, one can see the argument in Said very clearly: European identity was established only because it had the East to contrast itself with. In the other words, the orient was integral to the very formation of a European identity. Gayatri Spivak, therefore, opens her essay ‘Three Women’s Texts and a critique of Imperialism’ (1999 ) with a very Saidian statement that illustrates this theoretical move within postcolonial studies.
It should not be possible to read 19th-century British literature without remembering that imperialism, understood as England’s social mission was a crucial part of the cultural representation to England to itself. The role of literature in the production of cultural representation should be not be ignored.
Orientalism demonstrated the political nature of the culture of the ideological basis of acts of imagination (literature) and in material effects of particular kinds of representation. Said located ‘culture’ as central to the empire, and thus demonstrating the materiality of this discourse and rhetoric. He asked us to see the real literary and other texts ‘contrapuntally’ against the gain in order to detect the racialized, imperialist discourse within it and to resist it. Postcolonialism is possible through such a resistant reading, where we identify the ideological grids of the so-called literary texts when we begin to develop a different historical narrative other than the one handed down to us by the colonial discourse.
Contemporary literary criticism and cultural theory adopted Edward Said, and the early critics in order to read diverse cultural practices. Postcolonial studies’ is a holdall kind of term to describe postcolonial theory (especially in the field of literary studies), cultural studies (in the film and museum studies), and diaspora studies.