on the double assertion of the term "transcolonial"
"Transcolonial" is a term that appeared for the first time in late 1990s and has been (re)invented ever since. Originally, it was an attempt at sharpening the postcolonial tool, that became somehow blunt with repeated use. In 1999, Harish Trivedi commented, in the introduction to the special issue of the Interventions, that the postcolonial is still a “white term”:
The postcolonial still bears the white historical burden of colonialism; the non-postcolonial is engaged instead with the newer and often quite autonomous problems and predicaments of independence which through local refraction are rather more variegated in colour (1).
The term "transcolonial" was thus an attempt at giving a stronger "coloration" to the terminology employed, stressing the protagonism of the colonised and the importance of the local and regional structures predating the colonisation. It could thus refer to the colonial transfers or links of solidarity between the elites of the colonized countries, especially in South Asia. The adjective may also refer to contacts or exchange between different colonies forming the same empire or belonging to different colonial empires.
Nonetheless, I reemploy this term, attributing to it a modified meaning. Transcoloniality is for me the stage of Verwindung, an utmost liberation from the postcolonial frame of mind. This new meaning given to the term serves me to form a basis for a larger project of transcolonial studies as a paradigm completing the postcolonial one. The whole process encompasses thus three stages. 1. The colonial marked essentially by multiple forms of symbolic oppression, leading to 2. -- the postcolonial, marked partially by remembrance and renegotiation of that symbolic oppression, and partially by repeating its forms with or without significant variations. This is why a 3rd stage appears as indispensable, which is the criticism of the postcolonial status quo, understood typically not as the process of the renegotiation with the ex-metropolis, but as a local (cultural, political, social) establishment that appeared to fill up the gaps remaining after the withdrawal of the colonial power.
At a certain stage of this reflection, I was asking myself if this 3rd stage deserves a proper denomination instead of the adjective still derived from the "colonial", to which only a new prefix is added. After a consideration based on my fragmentary case studies, I reach the conclusion that indeed this 3rd stage still presents some marks of the "colonial", as it puts into practice another renegotiation using the instruments built up during the postcolonial stage. In other words, transcolonial is still built on the groundwork of the postcolonial: it uses similar modalities of expression (such as a novel written in colonial/postcolonial language), institutions (such as a museum - see my Malaysian case), etc.
Nonetheless, I can see some traits that characterize the transcolonial as a separate stage of Verwindung - with all the semantic undertones of this philosophical term. In the tradition going from Heidegger to Vattimo, Verwindung brings such connotations as transgressing the limitations of the previous state, overwhelming, and ultimate healing. In this sense, at least in some optimistic approaches, the transcolonial may bring the final healing of the colonial wounds, redoubled by those inflicted by the new political, social and economical powers that occupied the place of the colonial agents. Typically it is connected to a new generation that ignores the colonial oppression, but on the other hand remains painfully conscious of the deficiency and shortcomings of the postcolonial generation. It is against these postcolonial fathers (often direct heirs of the colonial patriarchates) that the transcolonial generation revolts.
In a chapter dedicated to the intertextual relation between a short story of Honwana and that of Ondjaki, I tried to illustrate this idea:
The ethical stake of the transcolonial studies is no longer that of establishing justice, as it allegedly was the case of the postcolonial theory, but that of projecting and fostering an achievable Utopia of establishing horizontal relationships instead of the subaltern condition inscribed in pyramidal structures of dependence. The only transcolonial vindication is that of creating legacies, and the literary criticism should elaborate adequate patterns of reading to put this new message in the limelight. As the new texts cannot be pertinently read through the old lenses without losing their transformative potential, the methodological challenge of transcolonial theory consists in creating conceptual tools adopted to capture this cultural change. The crucial element of the new paradigm is the substitution of the former hierarchical structure of relationships, typical for the colonial society defined by the relations of hierarchical dependence generating the subaltern condition, with what may be resumed as a horizontal diagram of relationships. The well-known Spivakian category of the subaltern ceased to be productive. The question is no longer to create space for the silenced discourse of subalternity, but to explore – and partially to invent or foster the invention of – a new discourse of horizontality. (2)
Transcolonial studies deal thus with a heritage of memory and specific forms of post-memory, similar to those present in the Holocaust studies. Yet I must still insist that concomitantly with a heritage of victimhood there is also a heritage of violence: perhaps similar to inherited patterns of domestic violence studied by the psychologists. These double ends of the colonial and postcolonial victimhood have been suggestively exposed by Fatema Mernissi in her perspicacious vision of Maghrebian masculinities. Her project of reconstructing intimacy is on the other hand an excellent example of the transcolonial as the ultimate healing of the oppressed culture.
Curiously, the transcolonial renegotiation, addressed rather to local oppressors that to the metropolitan one, often brings a surprising recuperation and development of the cultural and intellectual heritage of the former oppressor. Such striking treats are to be discovered in the pronounced Gallicism of Meddeb and other Maghrebian intellectuals.
Numerous aspects of the transcolonial phenomena remain thus peculiar. Redesigning of global maps is one of these characteristic traits. One of the main achievements of the transcolonial stage is the final erasure of the colonial palimpsests. A transcolonial culture redesigns its vision of the wold in an utmost oblivion of the coordinates dictated by the ex-metropolis. Not only the scheme of alliances and animosities is changed, but also new external zones of activity are discovered. As a consequence, the transcolonial culture becomes able to participate in the globalization as an autonomous entity. My view on the transcolonial process focuses thus on the emergence of independent imago mundi in the formerly colonized culture. I consider that the defining trait of the colonial empire is its pretension to mediate the relationships between the subdued culture and the global context. As a consequence of this specific kind of symbolic violence, postcolonial cultures initially maintained the global maps and patterns of relationships created for them by the ex-empires. Officially promoted programs, such as Francophony and Lusophony, were designed to conserve the phantasmal outlines of the empires that had ceased to exist as political realities. But during the last decade or so, such programs as the Lusophony have been not only criticized, but also - at least partially - replaced. Boldly expressed program of dismantling the Luophony has been formulated by a group of Brazilian scholars in search of their African roots. Their return to "Afro-rhizome" is supposed to establish an alternative in relation to the Lusophone system: so called "Atlantic convergence" ("convergência atlântica").
As I already mentioned, the transcolonial is marked by the emergence of a new set of problems and questions. The defining element is precisely the rupture of the link established by the most typical postcolonial activity: "writing back" to the ex-metropolis. Also other forms of symbolic dependence, such as subscribing to the metropolitan canons or even adopting schools of literary criticism should be taken into account. And in fact, such a process of creating autonomous canons and even schools of reading can be observed.
Finally, a striking treat, apparently connected with many transcolonial phenomena, is a propensity to symbolic expansion. Nearly as if the transolonial recuperated some initial trait of the colonial. In the study concerning the transcolonial museum, I've reached a striking conclusion that in a certain way it recuperates the typical traits of the colonial exposition and puts into practice similar strategies of manipulation to build images of symbolic supremacy in a planetary macroscale. During the last decade, Fatema Mernissi, the feminist writer I've just mentioned, has been interested not only with Moroccan intimacies. Her increased prestige and symbolic power has taken her as far as Bahrain and made responsible not only for her local or regional context, but for the healing of a global Arabic culture.
Chronologically, I would say that transcolonial studies deal essentially with a very recent period, even if I tried to enlarge the scope studying Brazil - a country that faced its decolonization very early and as a consequence started to rebuild its peculiar mapamundi much earlier than the remaining parts of the ex-Portuguese empire. The precise chronological frames must evidently vary for different regions, but roughly I would say the transcolonial period starts about the second half of the 90ties or coincides with the turn of the millennium.
For a decade or so, the "death"of the postcolonial paradigm has been repeatedly announced. It is no longer possible to explain the cultural reality in many regions of the world as a continuous process of renegotiation between ex-metropolis and ex-colonies. What determines the transcolonial state of mind is the return to diverse problems that previously had been covered firstly by the fact of colonial symbolic violence and secondly by the necessity of its postcolonial renegotiation. With the advent of the transcolonial, many issues swept under the carpet reemerge, many dimensions of pluralism reduced to the postcolonial fictions of nationhood claim their right to exist, as I try to show in my collected case studies.
(1) Harish Trivedi, "The postcolonial or the transcolonial? Location and language”, Interventions: International Journal of Postcolonial Studies, vol. 1 (1999), no 2, p. 269.
(2) Ewa Lukaszyk, “Ondjaki's classmates read Honwana: towards a transcolonial theory”, World Literature and the Postcolonial: Narratives of (Neo)Colonization in a Globalized World, Elke Sturm-Trigonakis (ed.), Stuttgart, J.B. Metzler, 2020, p. 178.
Warsaw, February 2016 - Lisbon, March 2022.
my research in transcolonial studies
The thread of research leading me to this formulation of a transcolonial concept started in 2006 with a study concerning African "intelligentsia" (this conceptual frame was imposed to me by the research project, while I would rather prefer to talk about fully individualized figures of intellectuals), active in Portugal during the 90ies and at the beginning of the 21st century. At this stage, I formulated the concept of "meek symbolic violence" related to the attractiveness of the former dominant culture in the eyes of the former colonized. The Africans in Lisbon in the 90ties were no longer minor or subaltern subjects. The metropolitan politics switched from marginalization to a tempting inclusion, promoting the grandiloquent ideal of Lusophony ("community of speech and historical destiny") and founding thousands of scholarships for African students.
My subsequent attempts at introducing the term "transcolonial" into the Polish-speaking discourse originated from thread of research, contrasted, in the meanwhile, with further experiences gathered in such places as Malaysia - a country I visited in 2011, and Brazil - a country I have never visited, by to which I dedicated an extensive research in literary history. It became interesting for me in this new perspective as I decided to ask the questions concerning the deconstruction of the Eurocentric canons in the Brazilian cultural products forcing their entrance on the global markets.
my case studies
A Maghrebian example shows very clearly what is at the core of the transcolonial: consider the emergence of the Amazigh question. The origin of the phenomenon is obviously pre-colonial; potential antagonisms had been covered by more pronounced, colonial distinctions. At the end of the colonial era, the problems had been initially out of the scope of renegotiation. Accentuating Arab/Berber dualism in such countries as Morocco had been seen as a danger for the early postcolonial concept of national state till the end of the 90ties. Only recently, the new policy of royal patronage over the project of Amazigh linguistic and cultural emancipation inverted this trend, at the same time marking, in my eyes, the watershed between the postcolonial and the transcolonial.
In the Moroccan case, the colonial gap between the autonomous past and the autonomous present has been closed. Even if I admit that the other countries of the Mediterranean region may not be equally lucky, the changes initialized by the so called Arab Spring may bring about a very similar turn, marking the progression from colonial and postcolonial oppression (epitomized by apparently modernizing, yet insufficiently democratic regimes) to a future that yet remains to be defined.
Similar questions emerge also in other parts of the world and the transcolonial may be understood in universal terms as a criticism concerning postcolonial realities at a social, political or cultural level. If one reads the prose of Mia Couto written in the first and the second decade of the 21st c., one may observe the reduced importance of typically postcolonial aspects. On the other hand, a different set of problems, dealing essentially with domestic tensions, injustice and locally produced symbolic violence, can be observed. I'm also persuaded that the main scope of the criticism in such writers of the younger African generation as Ondjaki is directed mainly toward the local sources of injustice and figures epitomizing violence that have emerged already during the years of deficient and imperfect, postcolonial freedom.
Another aspect that interests me in this context is the emergence of a transcolonial literature understood as a kind of commentary on the postcolonial one. The example of this new phenomenon is the short story by Ondjaki, Nós chorámos pelo Cão Tinhoso, establishing an obvious intertextual relationship with the masterpiece of Honwana, Nós matámos o cão tinhoso.
Finally, what characterizes, in my opinion, the transcolonial cultural order is the emergence of a new figure of the intellectual, transgressing the limitations imposed to this figure by postcolonial conditions. If the postcolonial intellectual typically lived in diaspora, often in the ex-metropolis, the transcolonial intellectual becomes "organic" as a voice epitomizing, in a higher degree, a local reality, living the life of the local culture, in a growing independence of the former symbolic center.
Malaysia is a country that can be at the same time compared and contrasted with the Lusophone Africa, because its historical encounter with the Portuguese had been so differently located in time and circumstances. Nonetheless, also in this case the vehemence of early post-colonial criticism, visible in such texts as Panglima Awang by Harun Aminurrashid, contrasted with the climate determined by the economic and cultural enthusiasms of the 90ties, as well as growing intellectual refinement of the current century. Malaysia also gave me the idea of analyzing not only the texts, but also other kinds of cultural formulation, such as the ways of conceiving museums and expositions. In a recent article for Kultura i Społeczeństwo (currently in print), I contrast Portuguese, British and Malay museums, treating the IAMM, Islamic Art museum in Kuala Lumpur, as an illustration of a transcolonial way of rebuilding the imago mundi in a culture that has left its colonial past far behind. The emergence of the intellectual, exemplified in my studies by the figure of Farish Noor, signifies a moderating presence that was typically absent (or silenced by violent means) in most of those "insufficiently democratic" postcolonial regimes all over the world.
Last but not least, I consider also the possibility of speaking about Polish transcolonial literature. An episodic reading of Paw królowej by Dorota Masłowska inspired me to put in evidence some similarities between recent Polish prose and the transcultural phenomenon that I've been studying. Even if the colonial character of the Polish past, once suggested by Ewa Thompson, and thus the pertinence of the postcolonial studies as a way of understanding ourselves has never been fully accepted, such literary texts as Paw królowej or Wojna polsko-ruska pod flagą białoczerwoną may support a reading in transcolonial terms. What calls my attention in the former is the emergence of the feminine intellectual subject in clear opposition to instances that may be interpreted as epitomizing the postcolonial oppression (the novel's ending suggests a discharge that might be more than just a fusillade of insults: "Ognia, panowie!"). The implicit progression is thus clear: unrecognized and unhealed trauma of colonization by Russians leads to the persistence of an oppressive postcolonial stage (a phantasmal "war without number" - "chciałaby zapomnieć w jakim kraju żyke strasznym o dziwnej nazwie Polska, w którym jakby jeszcze trwała jakaś spoza numeracji wojna"). The final step is yet to be decided: either accepting the challenge of transcolonial renegotiation epitomized by the female writer or trying to bring about a ritualistic breakthrough by sacrificing this figure. All circumstances being different, the core situation remains the same as presented by the Amazigh writer Lhoussain Azergui: the community has to decide if they finally kill the journalist released from a postcolonial prison, or they let him live, accepting the full burden of transcolonial autonomy and self-consciousness. Either back into the eternal circle composed by remembrance of oppression and repetition of violence, - or forward, into a Verwindung and transcolonial future.
we are all natives
transindigenous studies and the cause of global solidarity
my papers & chapters in transcolonial & transindigenous studies
“Language – audibility – marginalisation. On dying tongues and creative participation”, Logos & Littera. Journal of Interdisciplinary Approaches to Text, issue 7/2020, p. 1-11. ISSN 2336-9884
The essay is dedicated to the problems of linguistic revitalisation and the dynamics leading to language death. Among such factors as colonial oppression and policies of state centralisation, a special attention is paid to the causes of language relinquishment and the situations in which minor languages are abandoned in favour of major ones. The author muses on the lure of larger, more attractive speech communities and the importance of language choice in building global solidarity and networks of exchange of ideas. The main question asked is how to foster the participation and visibility of native creators and intellectuals representing minor ethnolinguistic communities, making the diversity of outlooks and cognitive moods associated with minor languages available and enriching for global majorities.
“Wielość Gwinei. W poszukiwaniu kategorii opisu dla transkolonialnej Afryki Zachodniej” [“Plurality of Guineas. In search of analytic categories for the transcolonial West Africa”], Intelektualiści afrykańscy wobec doświadczenia dyktatur, Wojciech Charchalis, Renata Diaz-Szmidt, Marcin Krawczuk, Małgorzata Szupejko (eds), Warszawa – Poznań, ASPRA-JR, 2018, p. 243-256. ISBN 978-83-7545-873-2
“Narodziny intelektualisty transkolonialnego: Couto – Azergui – Masłowska” [“The birth of transcolonial intellectual: Couto – Azergui – Masłowska”], Kultura – Historia – Globalizacja, no 25/2019, p. 217-227. ISSN 1898-7265 http://www.khg.uni.wroc.pl/files/18%20khg_25%20Lukaszyk.pdf
Um riochamado tempo, uma casa chamada terra by Mia Couto, Le pain des corbeaux by Lhoussain Azergui and Paw królowej by Dorota Masłowska exemplify the global convergence of the transition patterns from the post- to the transcolonial stage in culture. Transcolonialism is understood as an ultimatere covery and regeneration of cultural orders which were previously distorted by colonial violence. The rise of the transcolonial intellectual marks the passage from orality to literacy as well as the emancipation of the marginalised. Significantly, this new figure bridges the ancestral world of traditional cultures and the global modernity.
"Od podległości do horyzontalnego diagramu relacji. W stronę studium procesów transkolonialnych" ["From subalternity to horizontal diagrams of relations. Towards the study of transcolonial processes"], Debaty Artes Liberales, vol. X: Perspektywy postkolonializmu w Polsce, Polska w postkolonialnej perspektywie, Jan Kieniewicz (ed.), Warszawa, Wydział "Artes Liberales", 2016, p. 87-103.
„Modele interakcji kultur w kontekście globalnym. W poszukiwaniu paradygmatów poza studiami postkolonialnymi” ["Models of cultural interaction in the global context. In search of new paradigms beyond the post-colonial studies"], Kultura – Historia – Globalizacja, nr 12/2012, p. 103-115. ISSN 1898-7265
"Semiofory pogranicza: od postkolonialnej emancypacji do transkolonialności (zapiski z Kuala Lumpur)" ["Semiophores of borderland: from postcolonial emancipation to transcoloniality (notes from Kuala Lumpur)"], Kultura - Historia - Globalizacja, nr 14/2013, p. 165-177. ISSN 1898-7265
"'The ongoing life of native cultures'. Non-Europeans and the globalized humanities", Kultura - Historia - Globalizacja, nr 13/2013, p. 43-56. ISSN 1898-7265
international journals in transindigenous studies
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