Colonial Extensions, Postcolonial Decentrings

Cultures and Discourses on the Edge

by Salhia Ben-Messahel (Volume editor) Vanessa Castejon (Volume editor)
Edited Collection 240 Pages


The essays assembled in this volume explore the meaning of the term "postcolonial" through various theoretical perspectives and disciplinary fields of expertise. They address issues ranging from culture, politics and history to literature and the arts, with particular emphasis on colonialist discourses within a postmodern and globalised world. Identity-formation, cultural space, indigeneity, colonial perspectives and anti-colonial struggles suggest that former imperial (and often marginalized) colonies/territories operate as decentring spaces, becoming dynamic postcolonial centres. The consequences of colonial history in postcolonial environments in the Americas, the Caribbean, the Middle East and the South Pacific regions are being analysed. This shows that postcolonial subjectivities call for a reconceptualization of the nation as political agency. The essays interrogate the social and psychological effects of colonialism, the political subjugation and instrumentalisation of colonial pasts and the perception of the self through the colonizer’s eyes, that may still surface in discourse on identity and belonging. The "postcolonial" is then a floating concept in a global environment where some individuals still experience a neo-colonial condition while others dismiss the colonial past but may yet re-enact colonial practices. The volume shows that the extension of a colonial centre, often raised in postcolonial criticism, is synonymous with the decentring of identity, and that the re-conceptualization of a Diasporic condition initiates a new postcolonial moment based in translation and on a new modernity.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Table of Contents
  • Introduction (Salhia Ben-Messahel / Vanessa Castejon)
  • Colonial and Postcolonial Localities
  • Postcolonial Memories and the Shattered Self (Paolo de Meideros)
  • Dorris and Erdrich’s The Crown of Columbus, or Building Up a Hybrid Version of 1492 for a New, Mixed-Blood America (Elisabeth Bouzonviller)
  • Alistair MacLeod’s Engagement with the Modern World in No Great Mischief (1999) and Island (2001) (André Dodeman)
  • Postcolonial Transculturalism
  • European Views of the Indigenous “Other”, A Study of Responses to Warwick Thornton’s Samson & Delilah (Vanessa Castejon / Anna Cole / Oliver Haag)
  • In Trans/Action: Materialising Cultural Dissent, Activising Asian Australian Communities (Paul Giffard-Foret)
  • Australian spaces, the Reconfiguring of Cultural Maps and Enrootings (Salhia Ben-Messahel)
  • The Transgression of Cultural Discourse
  • “What sort of world would they build on our remains”: Postcolonial Anxiety in Romesh Gunesekera’s Reef (Sabine Lauret)
  • Calixthe Beyala’s Fiction: Disguised Writing? (Laurence Randall)
  • Legacies of the Empire and Postcolonial Politics
  • The Evolution of the Black Cultural Archives: 1981-2015 (Sharon Baptiste)
  • Arab Post-colonial Ideologies versus Colonial Political Legacy: The Case of Arab Nationalism (Fouad Nohra)
  • Notes on contributors
  • Series index

← 8 | 9 →


The 21st Century, marked by discourses of war and peace under the umbrella of “globalization” is most certainly a time to reflect on the effects of the past and the extension of models inherited from imperial and/or colonial history. As political events show, former imperial or colonial nations sometimes re-enact colonial perceptions of otherness to advocate a sense of national identity and yet support multiculturalism as the tenet of a free and diverse society. Such a complex view operates on the balancing of colonial thought and postcolonial designs so that perceptions of “otherness” and “sameness” interact and subvert discourses of belonging to the nation. Colonial extensions, from the past to the present, initiate a systematic decentring of the postcolonial nature of former colonized places and tend to operate as “prophetic visions of the past” (Edouard Glissant) whereby the postcolonial engages with the traumatic histories of colonized and subaltern subjects, and in so doing generates a new and unpredictable future.

Postcolonial theoretical approaches often relate to the supremacy of the centre over the margins to deconstruct narratives of the nation and the perceptions of alterity. In her celebrated article “Can the Subaltern Speak?”, published in 1988, Gayatari Spivak insists on the necessity to give a voice to those forgotten Others or the “Other Object” of colonialism, arguing that voicing otherness would subvert and deconstruct the orientalising of colonial history. Her theoretical work on the perception of otherness from the perspective of the colonizing powers reflects the deconstructionist approach of Jacques Derrida. Spivak initiated a transnational feminism questioning such issue by confronting West and East (Anne Berger). Her contribution on feminist perspectives and essentialism extends Edward Said’s critical gaze on Imperial history but also highlights the continuous tensions and divergences that may operate within postcolonial discourse.

Said’s analysis, in line with Frantz Fanon’s work on colonialism and its effects on both colonized and colonizer, brings to the fore the ← 9 | 10 → understanding of terms such as “postcolonial” and its hyphenated form “post-colonial”, “postcoloniality”, and the political significance of such labelling. Postcolonial theory from Frantz Fanon to Edward Said, Homi K. Bhabha and Gayatari Spivak is explored through a range of academic fields for its capacity of analysing the sustaining of colonial thought and imagination and raising sensitive issues such as “race”, immigration and racialisation, hybridity of identities, gender, colour and class dominations in the postcolonial nation or, as termed by Achille Mbembe, in the “postcolony”.

The psychological consequences of the colonial past certainly bear their marks on a postcolonial present and the decolonising process still interact with a postcolonial reality so that the extension of the colonial centre on a periphery may imply a decentring of identity and culture. In The Empire Writes Back (1989), Bill Ashcroft, Gareth Griffiths and Helen Tiffin, have highlighted some of the major traits of the “post-colonial” terminology arguing that the deliberate use of the term, spelt with a hyphen, is a means to investigate the culture which is affected by imperial practices from the moment of colonisation to the present. Thus, how can one account for the prominent role that cultural communities play at a social and political level in postcolonial countries and to what extent do they interrogate the nation? To what extent can the tie with the former colonial power be still maintained when the present is marred with displacements and cultural transfers?

Homi K. Bhabha insists on the idea of a Third Space, an in-between space, as the space of a transnational culture encroached upon by hybridity. Notions such as “hybridity” and “syncretism” are central in dealing with the relationship between the cultures of “centre” and “periphery”; they strike a balance between a multiple identity and a positioning resulting from displacement, migration, and exile. Thus, what role can diasporas play in the construction of local and national discourse? Is there, in fact, a tangible relation between the diaspora and the nation-state, especially when the nation-state advocates ethnic homogenization or when the diaspora has an effect on the creation or re-population of the nation-state?

The book’s focus on post-colonial/postcolonial discourse as the extension or decentring of the home-territory interrogates the genealogy of diasporas, from local acculturation to specific references, and their ← 10 | 11 → ability at designing a real or mythical territory. In issues ranging from culture, politics, history, literature and the arts, the “postcolonial” surfaces as a floating concept, especially in a global environment where some individuals still experience a neo-colonial condition while others dismiss the colonial past but yet tend to re-enact colonial practices.

The anticolonial stance that animates postcolonial discourse and that emerged during the anticolonial struggles in the formerly colonized nations is analysed through the appropriation of space, the complexity of identity formation, the representation of Indigenous American, Australian, as well as Caribbean and Middle-Eastern societies, the preservation of historical data and management of the past, stories of slavery or migration, the effects of migration on former colonial nations and on the construction of Diasporic space.

Stuart Hall’s idea that the “post” of post-colonialism as a signifier for a “beyond” and not an “after” resonates in this volume and suggests that the post-colonial invariably induces a deconstruction of facts, discourses and images that tend to operate on a duality between two supposedly antagonistic poles and rely on the imposition of dividing lines. Hall’s work is a reminder that this conception of the world and society is unproductive and that while what came before never disappears, it is nonetheless just an illusion maintained by hegemonic perceptions of the world. Thus, as the volume shows, the “beyond” of the post-colonial expresses, above all, the paradox of colonization, of migrations that stands for “the explosion of the imperial world outside its own borders” (Hall, 1996).

In his article, Paolo de Meideros refers to Edward Said and other postcolonial theorists and argues that colonial relations affect both the colonized and the colonizers. He shows that postcolonial selves are enmeshed with the ghostly and the phantasmatic, and that addressing the past and, above all the ghosts of colonialism, is necessary. Taking as a perspective some former colonies and their relations with Europe, he examines how memory and trauma may shape different but yet convergent forms of postcolonialities envisaging hybridity as a problematic concept. The postimperial challenges brought up by Achille Mbembe, especially in his examination of postcolonial Africa are looked upon with a call for varied responsibilities, suggesting that the postcolonial reality of Africa, like that of other former colonized places, ← 11 | 12 → originated in the acts of colonizing and being colonized. Mbembe’s idea of the postcolony as “a specific system of signs, a particular way of fabricating simulacra or re-forming stereotypes” implies that it is also a space “made up of a series of corporate institutions and a political machinery which, once they are in place, constitute a distinctive regime of violence” (A. Mbembe, Provisional Notes on the Postcolony, 1992). Mbembe’s ideas are addressed to suggest that the postcolony cannot ignore the ghosts of the past nor turn its back on the colonial experience.

De Meideros’s analysis of the writing of Toni Morrison and reference to the colonial history of the United States finds resonance in Elisabeth Bouzonviller as she interrogates the postcolonial nature of Native-American writings through the spectrum of postmodernism. She refers to Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak and the idea of the subaltern when she explores neo-colonial imperatives of political domination and cultural negation. With a particular focus on Michael Dorris and Louise Erdrich’s novel, The Crown of Columbus, she focuses on the use of “postcolonial” and “hybridity” pointing out to structural conflicts within the American mainstream but also among the Native peoples. She thus shows how Dorris and Erdrich write back to the myth of the discovery of the Americas by Christopher Columbus, in 1492, and more precisely to the celebrations of this so-called discovery, 500 years later. Bouzonviller also demonstrates how both authors approach the Native post-colonial issue arguing that they draw the picture of an America that should no longer sustain the myth of the vanishing Indian and that they, in fact, support the emergence of a modern nation of mixed-blood heritage as a means of envisioning a peaceful and modern hybrid future despite the recurrent presence of a painful past.

Homi K. Bhabha’s use of the concept of hybridity and the examination on how cultures are in fact represented by processes of iteration and translation through which their meanings are vicariously addressed to and/or through an “Other”, surfaces in the article and is again apparent in André Dodeman’s essay. Dodeman’s reading of Canadian author, Alister McLeod takes as a starting-point the post-colonial condition generated by colonialism and imperial history to tackle the existing tensions within a community confronted to tradition as well as assimilation. Dodeman demonstrates that McLeod’s writing is characterized by a strong sense of place and character and that the ← 12 | 13 → novelist tackles universal values from the particular experience of a minority formed by a Gaelic community. Relying on the theoretical approach of Bill Ashcroft, he analyses the intermingling of languages and their hybrid constructions arguing that the actual global world, despite its celebration of diversity, tends to affect oral cultures. Ashcroft’s idea of the “metonymic gap” is illustrated to show that such a gap marks an absence inscribed in the text and that language variance is a signifier of difference, resisting the incorporation in a Canadian or in a global mainstream.


ISBN (Softcover)
Publication date
2017 (December)
Bruxelles, Bern, Berlin, Frankfurt am Main, New York, Oxford, Wien, 2017. 236 pp.

Biographical notes

Salhia Ben-Messahel (Volume editor) Vanessa Castejon (Volume editor)

Salhia Ben-Messahel is an Associate Professor at Université de Lille-SHS. She is the author of Mind the Country, Tim Winton's Fiction (2006) and Des Frontières de l'Interculturalité (2009). She has also published Globaletics and Radicant Aesthetics in Australian Fiction (2017). Vanessa Castejon is an Associate Professor at University Paris 13. She has explored Indigeneity and politics in Australia (Les Aborigènes et l’apartheid politique australien, 2005), the representation of Indigenous people in Europe and transcultural history through Ego-histoire (Ngapartji, Ngapartji, in Turn, in Turn: Egohistoire, Europe and Indigenous Australia, 2014).


Title: Colonial Extensions, Postcolonial Decentrings
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242 pages