On the Postcolony (Dynanada)
On the Postcolony
Berkeley, University of California Press, 2001
Mbembe brings the philosophical insights of Hegel and Nietzsche to understand the ethics of the postcolony. Mbembe is very precise and succinct in describing the place marked by the colonial domination and is trying to reconceptualize itself.
According to Mbembe, “the notion of postcolony identifies specifically a given historical trajectory - that of societies recently emerging from the experience of colonization and violence which the colonial relationship involves. To be sure, the postcolony is chaotically pluralistic; it has nonetheless an internal coherence. It is a specific system of signs, a particular way of fabricating simulacra or re-forming stereotypes. It is not the economy of signs in which the power is mirrored and imagined self-reflectively. The postcolony is characterized by a distinctive style of political improvisation, by a tendency to excess and lack of proportion, as well as by distinctive ways identities are multiplied transformed and put into circulation.” ( Mbembe 102)
It is here in Mbembe's text one finds the political economy and aesthetics coming together on an axiological terrain. He recruits the Bakhtin's notions of obscene and grotesque in order to understand the banality of power in Cameroon. Mbembe argues that obscene and grotesque are indeed the characteristics that identify the postcolonial regimes of domination. Mbembe intends to explore why and how the “zombification” of the dominant and dominated has robbed the both of any ability to have an impact.
Mbembe very critically looks at the spectacles of the postcolonial government that commands its subject to participate in the displays of power. Analyzing the regime of Biya, the Cameroonian leader, Mbembe demonstrates the agonizing political realities of the place.
What is most relevant in Mbembe's analysis is his use of literary sources in order to understand the politics of the place. Though my reading of Mbembe's “On the postcolony” was centered on his essay entitled “The Aesthetics of Vulgarity”, his other essays give an in-depth analysis framing the postcolony as a space for ethnographic inquiry. Mbembe's analysis for the first time combines the ethnographical elements with the philosophical analysis in order to understand the contemporary complexities of the sub-Saharan realities.
Mbembe opens his text by critiquing the discourse about Africa. According him, it is part of the meta-text about animal-to be precise about the Beast- Its experience, its world and its spectacle. Mbembe argues that the discourse of the Africans unfolds under two signs: First is the sign of the strange and the monstrous and second the discourse of our times, under which African life is interpreted is that of intimacy. In this perspective , according to Mbembe, Africa is the object of experimentation.
Mbembe's text though is markedly different from this point of view. He is successful in his project to”'write Africa', not as a fiction, but in the harshness of its destiny, its power, its eccentricities, without laying any claim to speak in the name of anyone at all.” Mbembe's political and ethnographical analysis of the subject formation in the postcolony is extremely relevant to my project. Mbembe actually has taken a step towards Bhabha's project to write he histories of the dehistoricized.