I have had a loose but (hopefully) ongoing exchange with Adeline Koh, a professor of Postcolonial literature and digital humanist about attempting to find Postcolonial literature that is not soul- and spirit-crushingly depressing:
I have come up with my own 30-70 rule inspired by the exchange. But I hope this exchange goes on because I’ve learned lots from her (on this topic and on digital humanities) and it’s inspired me to think more and more about it. I think postcolonial theory can easily be applied to food history and cookbooks. It’s something I want to keep exploring in the future.
But back to PoCo lit, I can probably count the number of novels I’ve read that fit into the category. It’s limited because while riveting sometimes the genre it’s just too depressing for me to deal with on a regular basis:
Say You’re One of Them by Uwem Akpan
(This one I reviewed for Mosaic Magazine back in 2008)
God’s Bits of Wood by Ousmane Sembène
Purple Hibiscus by Chimamanda Adichie
The Inheritance of Loss by Kiran Desai
Crossing Borders: A Trilingual Anthology of Caribbean Women Writers edited by Nicole Roberts and Elizabeth Walcott-Hackshaw
(This one I can say with pride that I helped copy edit)
And come to think of it I don’t think it’s a stretch to say that Toni Morrison and Louise Erdrich (and others of their stylistic and thematic ilk) fit right in the postcolonial landscape, they are my two favorite writers, by the way; I’ve read just about everything they’ve written.
But what I realized during the exchange, is something that I know already. It’s something that’s like a hum in the background of my intellectual and public life, that thing that makes me a pro at code switching and makes me prefer living in Harlem or Jamaica to the rest of Manhattan, large swathes of Brooklyn and most of Queens, it’s that almost everything people of color do is constructed in a way as to make its/their otherness significant. This is done by white folks but also by people of color themselves. What I am saying here is that we set the standard, the norm as white and Euro. Not news. I know. But, because I don’t really approach life this way, when the background makes its way to the forefront, it really, really hits me.
This Twitter exchange followed my trip this afternoon to the American Folklore Museum’s Bill Traylor exhibit. He is categorized as what is called a folk or self taught artist. Not sure if the term primitive artist is as gauche and unacceptable in the art world as it would be in other fields these days, but it got me thinking that so very many Black artists are categorized in the same way. I’m sure an art historian would say that it’s more complex than that because folk or primitive art can include white/Euro folks, but is it really more complex when we are talking about people of color?
By the way is primitive art still an acceptable term?
This in my head as I start my special collections classes and crack open a copy of Faulkner’s As I Lay Dying.
But postcolonial theory and food. Now there’s something. I’ll be thinking and writing more about this in the nearest of futures, especially with the imminent publication of my friend and colleague Rachel Laudan’s Cuisine and Empire: Cooking in World History. I am hyped for it.
More to come…
*A play on the term pocomania, which is an African-derived religion in Jamaica that combines revivalism with elements of syncretic religions.