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A Guide to the Postcolony


If after a hundred years of colonial quibbling, the past is fragmented beyond recognition and leaves nothing to be remembered in its purity, just stick to your guns and remember the evils done to you and your people. That’s how nations are born. Just don’t forget to forget the evils you and your people inflicted on others.

But never lose sight of the fact that past traumas are borrowed traumas. That is why rather than reopening scabbed wounds to flare up old pains, it is far better to create your own pain and, therefore, your own pleasure. Your own traumas and, therefore, your own convalescence.

Failure to do this will result in mixing up nightmares and mistaking the fears of one generation with those of another.

Whatever you do, do not lose track of where one generation’s anxieties begins and where those of the other ends for fear of forgetting whose dream is whose.

As much as you like to think the contrary, you have not existed from the birth of your world, so take care that in holding on to the past, you are not simply bearing the trash and truths of all the worlds that came before you.

It is imperative that at all times you are aware of what items make up the burden of memories you are carrying into the future.

Most of all, when the past gets too heavy and the burden of continuity sad and weary, remember that you can always ditch the past and its pretensions to historical importance and find an absolute beginning in the dazzling emptiness of the present.

Photo Credit: Jos Wade. 1784. “”A Plan of the Fort and Factory on George Island in the River Sierraleon or Sierra Leona”

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I hold a doctorate in English from Duke University and recently joined the Marquette University English faculty as an Assistant Professor. I love teaching African fiction and contemporary British novels. Brittle Paper is the virtual space/station where I play and experiment with ideas on how to reinvent African fiction and literary culture.

2 Responses to “A Guide to the Postcolony” Subscribe

  1. Dave 2010/08/23 at 15:55 #

    Interesting piece. But isn’t it even easier to forget the past now because we can use technology to easily manufacture not only the present, but the future? Seems that if anything, a historical lecture — or at lease a debate — would do a good chunk of the American population some good. This would at lease spur some reflection and perspective prior creating all of these new identities online (and that seem to spill offline as well).

  2. admin 2010/08/31 at 09:32 #

    Thanks dave for your comment. I am with you on the idea of forgetting the past. It’s just that the past has always functioned as a powerful and highly contentious political concept, especially within the postcolonial context. But then the uses of the past cannot be restricted to mere remembering. This I think is kind of what you are concerned about. The question one could pose then is the following: is there any way of thinking about the past beyond the opposing tasks of forgetting and remembering? Or, how do we relate to the past in such a way that it does not hold us back but is also not simply erased like it never happened?

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