ato quayson on the space and periodisation of postcolonialism


Ato Quayson, ‘Periods versus Concepts: Space Making and the Question of Postcolonial Literary History’, PMLA 127, 2,(2012).

extract in lieu of abstract:

Certain dates are now viewed as classic loci of the time and contradictory temporalities of the postcolonial: 1492 (Columbus’s arrival in America and the expulsion of Jews from Spain); 1603 (Lord Mountjoy’s colonization of the northern counties of Ireland); 1798–1801 (Napoleon’s Egyptian campaign); 1791–1804 (the Haitian revolution); 1810–25(the independence of Brazil and Spanish America); 1833 (the abolition of slavery in the British Empire); 1857 (the bloody Sepoy uprising in Kanpur); 1884 (the Berlin Conference and the scrambling of Africa); 1947 (the independence of India, its partition, and the birth of Pakistan); 1954–62 (Algeria’s war of independence); 1955 (the Bandung Conference); 1955–75 (the Vietnam War); 1994 (the end of apartheid). hese dates are as emblem- atic of the spatial dynamics generated by the events they mark as they are of period demarcation. Of the inaugural dates just listed, 1492 and 1947 may be taken as useful bookends for the discussion here. he explorer’s notorious “discovery” of America was to trigger a wide range of spatializing processes. Sidney Mintz points out that sugar cane was irst carried to the New World by Columbus on his sec- ond voyage, in 1493. In 1516 Santo Domingo was the irst Spanish settlement to ship sugar to Europe, and by 1526 Brazil was shipping sugar to Lisbon in commercial quantities (32–34). Columbus’s sugar cane signaled the progressive incorporation of the West Indies into the world capitalist economy through a particular spatial arrangement of centers and peripheries, the resultant inequalities of which are being worked through to this day. Equally dramatic is 1947, marking the independence and partition of India, which entailed the mass displacement of populations. hese dates appear nonequivalent on irst look, but they share features of historical violence and the processes of space making during and ater the colonial period.

 If postcolonialism is necessarily tied to the colonial owing to the simultaneous temporal and discursive framing of the field, it is the entire domain of colonial space making and its aterefects in the contemporary world that gives postcolonialism its significance today. Colonial space making is not merely the constitution of a geographically demarcated reality, though that is important. Colonial space making is first and foremost the projection of a series of sociopolitical dimensions onto geographic space. hese sociopolitical dimensions involve not just society and politics but also economy, culture, and a wide range of symbolic and discursive practices. Colonial space making is thus to be understood in terms of the relations that were structurally generated and contested across interrelated vectors throughout the colonial encounter.

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