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A Study of W. J. Mitchell's “Postcolonial Culture, Postcolonial Criticism”

What changes does Mitchell notice in the field of literature and criticism?

W. J. Mitchell in his article “Postcolonial Culture, Postcolonial Criticism” discusses the changes that he had found in the present world’s literary culture. He considers “the process of imperial decline”, decolonization and the transferences and changes that are taking place in the world’s literary culture.

American Empire

Though the idea of empire can not properly apply in the case of America, Mitchell suggests that Americans have to acknowledge their status as an empire. Thereby, they will be able to achieve a clearer understanding of imperial decline and of decolonization. The recent transferences and reconfigurations taking place in the world’s literary culture will help them in this regard.

A critical Transformation

A radical transformation has been occurred in literature. The most significant new literature is emerging from the former colonies, and the most provocative new literary criticism is coming from the imperial centers that once dominated them- the nation of Europe and America. In this context Mitchell cites Horace who long ago understood that the transfer of empire is always accompanied by a transfer of culture and learning. But today the cultural transfer is no longer one way. He undertakes to examine the nature of the transference between the declining imperial powers and their former colonies.

Nobel Prize

This shift in literary culture is evidenced by recent statistics. On Nobel Prize, outside the mainstream of European and American literature, Naguib Mahfouz[ first African to win the prize (1986)] won the prestigious Nobel Prize for literature. Nigerian Wole Soyinka became the first African writer to win the Nobel Prize for literature in 1986.


Booker Prize

The shift is also accusing in the field of other prestigious prize namely “Booker Prize.”(Keri Hulme from the remote West- coast of New Zealand.)


In America

The literary map is also undergoing a great change in the American Continent. Some examples of writers like Carlos Fuentes, Gabriel Garcia Marquez and Julio Cortazar are enough to suggest a cultural “translatio” from South to North, from Spanish to English, from the “circumference” to the center. Afro- American writers like Toni Morison, Zora Neale, Hurston and Alice Walker are also widely read in and out of the classroom, suggesting a shift in centre-margin relationship. There is also a “translation” from East to West. Milan Kundera, Joseph Brodsky, Jerzy Kozinsky are showing instances from so-called “Evil Empire”, who are reading adopted by the American readers. This also may prove the anti-imperialist self image of America.

Age of criticism

The critic and novelist Randall Jarrell mournfully declared that Europe and United States entered an “age of criticism”. He noticed the victory and influent of criticism on academics, mass media like magazine, journals etc. The critics had become celebrities among the audience. Even the most ordinary academic critic can now aspire to participate in a global network what Edward Said has called “Traveling Theory”. Critics fly between conferences on semiotics, narratology and paradigm change in places like Hong Kong, Camberra and Tel Aviv.

Contemporary criticism tends to subvert the imperial authority. Skepticism, relativism and anti foundationalist modes of thought such as pragmatism and deconstruction come to the Third World from the First. But they lack the authoritative force of traditional imperial culture. On the contrary critical movements such as feminism, black studies, and Western Marxism can hardly be said to speak with the authority of the imperial centre.

Thus, according to Mitchell changes have taken place in the fields of creative literature and criticism. While the former colonies are producing excellent creative, new literature the traditional centers are producing criticism. Though many imaginative writers of the Third World namely, J.M.Coetzee in South Africa, Ian Wedde in New Zealand, Toni Morrison in African America look with cautious fascination on contemporary criticism. They are unsure whether it is a friendly collaborator in the process of decolonization or a threatening competitor for limited resources.

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