Amar Acheraiou

Scholar, Author, Editor & Translator

Questioning Hybridity reviewed in “Postcolonial Text”

Anjali Gera Roy (Indian Institute of Technology, Kharagpur) reviewed Questioning Hybridity, Postcolonialism and Globalization in Postcolonial Text (2012, vol.7-1)

PostcolonialText“Coming more than two decades after the emergence of postcolonialism as a disciplinary formation, Amar Acheraïou’s Questioning Hybridity, Postcolonialism and Globalization is a welcome interrogation of hybridity that challenges postcolonialism’s obsessive preoccupation with hybridity. The book’s greatest strength lies in its disengagement of hybridity from its privileged position in postcolonial theory and in the light it throws on how it has been historically perceived in Western and non-Western cultures. By deconstructing hybridity as a practice, discourse and ideological construction, the book unpacks the positive and negative meanings of hybridity through history and its imbrication with the discourse of metissage not only to demonstrate that hybridity has been a norm rather than an aberration in major world cultures and civilizations but also to ‘resituate the power dynamics and multi-rooted nature of hybridity.’ While the book expertly glides from ancient Greece, Persia and Rome to the present in order to juxtapose alternative perceptions of hybridity against its postcolonial valorization and deftly returns the concept to the material realities of individuals and groups living under the difficult conditions of postcolonialism, it stops short of proposing a demotic theory of hybridity. […].

It is in his invocation of anti-colonial discourse as a form of resistance to globalization that the author connects globalization with postcolonialism by projecting it as a form of neocolonialism and steers postcolonialism from its cultural and spatial turn to a genuinely counter hegemonic form of resistance to global capitalism. By emphasizing these links between colonialism and neocolonialism, the book sets a new agenda for postcolonial theory.

The book breaks new grounds in disentangling hybridity from the postcolonial hybridity discourse, in establishing the relationship between purity, hybridity and power and in interrogating the discursive appropriation of hybridity through its uses in the lived experiences of large populations. In pointing to the intersection between the colonial, postcolonial and neo-colonial in their convergence on the discourse of hybridity, it also sets a new direction for postcolonial studies.”

Rethinking Postcolonialism reviewed in “French Studies”

Charles Forsdick (University of Liverpool) recently reviewed Rethinking Postcolonialism in the journal French Studies (published by Oxford University Press on behalf of the Society for French Studies).

“Much recent scholarship has challenged the assumption that postcolonialism is predominantly presentist, with an interest only in modern and contemporary literature and cultural artefacts. While some of the most innovative recent postcolonial criticism has been concerned with earlier periods, Amar Acheraïou’s aim is to rethink postcolonial studies in the light of the legacies of classical literature. Though offering cautious historical contextualization, the study’s initial premise is that ‘[c]olonialism is an immemorial phenomenon’ (p. 3) and that scrutiny of the connections between ancient and new imperialisms will permit greater understanding of the ways in which classical thought has had a tangible impact on modern colonial cultures. Rethinking Postcolonialism is divided into two principal sections. The first offers a reflection on the lingering presence of Greek and Latin thought in the colonialist discourse of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. The second develops this analysis to assess the workings of fictional texts associated with colonial modernism. Acheraïou’s principal point of reference is the work of Edward Said, but he has an additional interest in colonialism as a ‘long story of borrowing and appropriation’ (p. 5). It is in exploring this notion that his book is most original. Classical culture, and in particular Greek and Roman representations of foreign peoples, is presented as a substratum by which the thought of modern colonizers has been shaped. Acheraïou describes a process of ‘colonialism-as-grafting’ according to which key terms associated with nineteenth- and twentieth-century imperial expansionism — such as barbarism, hegemony, and infantilism — are fashioned in a context of assumptions based on classical learning. By foregrounding the place of binary discourse in colonial taxonomies, the book contributes to a materialist critique of the ‘middle ground theory’ of critics such as Homi Bhabha. Acheraïou draws on a rich corpus of modernist French and English literature, focusing most notably on Albert Camus and André Gide, but also considering the impact of the legacy of imperial Rome on French colonial authors such as Louis Bertrand and Robert Randau. The second section of Rethinking Postcolonialism is devoted to case studies drawn from four authors (Joseph Conrad and Graham Greene, in addition to Camus and Gide), all of which suggest the ‘symbiotic, ambiguous relationships’ (p. 115) between modernism and empire, underlining the ways in which texts that challenge imperial expansion often also remain in tacit collusion with the ideologies on which such a process depends. Acheraïou’s conclusion is that there is a need to tease out the classical assumptions and associations embedded in the ‘cultural and ideological totalities that condition their outlook’ (p. 213). Engagement with classical thought and its legacies permits an understanding of colonialism as ‘an overreaching system of domination in which narratives of enlightenment and barbarism join forces to sub-humanise the natives and drain the colonies of their resources’ (p. 219). His conclusion is pertinent for all those engaged in colonial and postcolonial studies: ‘Continuing to romanticise the colonial encounters, as many scholars tend to do, may not be the best way to envision a truly post-imperial culture and build a genuine “planetary” consciousness’ (p. 219).”

Author: Charles Forsdick, French Studies (2011) 65 (4): 559-560.

 

Joseph Conrad and the Reader reviewed in “The Year’s Work in English Studies” 2011

Andrew Radford reviewed Joseph Conrad and The Reader in Year’s Work in English Studies on May 12, 2011:

‘Amar Acheraïou’s Joseph Conrad and the Reader: Questioning Modern Theories of Narrative and Readership adopts an innovative, theoretically informed approach to the fiction by construing Conrad’s “slippery, nomadic aura” (p. 19) through the lens of urgent debates about visual strategies, audience expectation, and the ethics of authorship. Acheraïou is at his most persuasive when gauging Conrad’s imaginative debt to nineteenth-century French novelists such as Flaubert, whose “theory of authorship” Conrad “elaborates” in surprising ways (p. 17). The discerning textual analysis of Under Western Eyes operates to show that for Conrad “the modern writer is not dead, nor exiled, nor epistemologically irrelevant”, as deconstructionist pundits propose. Rather, Acheraïou demonstrates that “the modern author haunts the interstices of his/her indeterminate, multilayered narratives” (p. 186). Such an authorial revenant underscores that “the writer in modern texts” rarely “ceases to be a potential epistemic and signifying site of power” (p. 186). Yet this power, as the closing chapters indicate, is “always chameleon-like, functioning stealthily, by means of veiling and subtle manipulation” (p. 185). That Conrad’s treatment of reader-response theory and narrative form exemplifies the presence of a “constant dialogue” (p. 185) with ancient as well as modern concepts is admirably borne out by some ingenious analysis of Lord Jim and A Personal Record.’

Rethinking Postcolonialism reviewed in “English Studies in Canada”

Paul Matthew St Pierre devotes a large section of his review article “Some self-reflections on colonialism and postcolonialism” (ESC, June 2009) to Rethinking Postcolonialism. He writes:

“[…] Amar Acheraiou posits the concept of “rethinking postcolonialism” as a means to reconsider and re-evaluate literatures produced during the period of colonization, to reconfigure oneself as a postcolonial subject, and to render arbitrary the politically determined boundary between colonialism and postcolonialism, like the critically determined boundary between modernism and postmodernism, and thus to expand postcolonialism’s historical and cultural capacity. Rethinking Postcolonialism: Colonial Discourse in Modern Literature and the Legacy of Classical Writers is distinguished by the scope of its subjects, ranging from Conrad to Gide, Kipling to Camus, in the context of an actual colonialism, as distinguished from a historicized one. Acheraiou’s rethought colonialism is more a personal interpretation of a human tendency to dominate members of their own species than a conventional postcolonial theory of literature, oral production, art, and culture, because Acheraiou prefers to see colonialism as “an immemorial phenomenon” (3), as distinguished from the time-specific phenomenon of various hegemonic European empires in the New World over the past five hundred years. Thus, in the arc of his discussion he addresses how classical writings have influenced colonial discourse over the last two centuries and how constructs of modernism and empire are interrelated.

Devoting only two of his eleven chapters to the almost obligatory betes noirs of Conrad’s Almayer’s Folly and Heart of Darkness, Acheraiou leaves himself room to address the more compelling questions of rethinking a postcolonialism that may never have been thought through in the first instance and recovering thoughts of colonialist discourse. His theory of postcolonialism is ideologically expansive and culturally inclusive, historically bold, and reminiscent of empire in that he reminds readers that colonialism has never ended and may be a universal system without an end boundary. Much of his discussion pertains to imperial ideologies, attitudes, and practices as informing specific works of literature and as evident textually. His commentary on the texts is insightful and engaging in its didactic energy. For example, on the titular character in Conrad’s story “Karain: A Memory” (1897), he observes, “The ghost-ridden, superstitious Karain is a prototype concentrating the Malays’ features. He is made paradigmatic of his race, culture and environment typifying the very Malay essence and tropical nature. In semiotic terms, Karain becomes a mere metonymy–the part that represents the whole–mirroring his own people. He is reduced to a generic type, organically connected to his cultural and geographical milieu” (43). The subtle rhetorical transitions apparent here, from prototype to paradigm and metonym, and from race, culture, and environment to cultural and geographical milieu, are typical more of Acheraiou’s pedagogy than of his style of writing.

Pedagogical rhetoric marks an important property of this book, in that Acheraiou, rather than simply theorizing about “rethinking postcolonialism,” engages his readers in a discourse that instructs in and even fosters new modes of thought distinct from the conventional outcome of a convincing scholarly argument. In reference to Ulysses, Acheraiou positions Leopold Bloom in a colonial paradigm but not as an imposition of his thesis: “The choice of Bloom as a protagonist of a novel that addresses the genesis of colonialism is in this case very appropriate. Owing to his dual identity (Irish citizen of Jewish descent) Bloom stands for the portrait of the colonised par excellence, enacting a modern Irish colonial subject and an ancient colonised Israelite. As such, he connects modern British imperialism to the most ancient imperial power, the Egyptians” (106). Rather than merely arguing that Bloom is an imperial subject, as by acknowledging his “choice” and the appropriateness of his “case,” Acheraiou concedes that Bloom “stands for the portrait of the colonised” in the manner of a metonym. By inviting readers to consider Bloom according to a new model, as an imperial subject, Acheraiou actually draws attention away from Joyce’s protagonist to “the portrait of the colonised,” to the prototype he discusses throughout the book. Rather than rethinking Bloom, or indeed Ulysses, readers rethink colonialism by forging a continuum between two colonial powers, British (a present type) and Egyptian (an ancient prototype). Although I already know what I think about the boundless continuum of colonialism, Acheraiou’s new models of “rethinking postcolonialism” provide welcome alternatives to what I must now concede is always already known: his pedagogical rhetoric has some efficacy. The rationale of his paradigm of rethinking thought through “rethinking postcolonialism” is not simply instructional, however. In addition his paradigm emphasizes how colonizers, including some colonial writers, drew on ancient colonial models such as Egypt, Greece, and Rome.

Acheraiou problematizes “rethinking postcolonialism” by aligning it with how colonizers conceptualized colonialism. In his conclusion as throughout the book he stresses “the intricate connections between ‘new’ and ancient imperialism” (214), he notes that “ideological inconsistencies … can also be easily discerned in the works of those criticising empire, such as Conrad, Forster, Woolf, Green, Gide and Camus” (217), and he cautions that “failing to acknowledge that imperialism was for the majority of the natives an odyssey of dispossession, humiliation and alienation may be just as mystifying as reducing the colonial encounters to smooth, balanced transactions” (219). His argumentative purpose seems to be to identify scholarly complacency as a hazardous attitude that is common to the perpetrators of both colonialism and postcolonialism and thus to destabilize even his own pedagogy and the knowledge readers gain from his book. This epistemological ambivalence points to the originality of his study and the danger as well as insight that is a consequence of tampering with the prevailing view of postcolonialism as an epistemological duration following an indisputably complete historical and interpretive record. […]”

 

Reference:

Paul Matthew St Pierre, “Some self-reflections on colonialism and postcolonialism,” English Studies in Canada 35.2-3 (June 2009).

Joseph Conrad and the Reader reviewed in “Choice”

In September 2010, John G. Peters (University of North Texas) reviewed Joseph Conrad and the Reader for Choice: Current Reviews for Academic Libraries as follows:

“In this volume, Acheraïou considers a topic that has received relatively little attention: the relationship between author and reader in Conrad’s works. The author argues for a relationship between the two in which each contributes to the meaning of Conrad’s works. He also believes Conrad’s views regarding the reader come out of both classical and 18th-century narrative traditions. Though in places Acheraïou belabors certain aspects of his argument, overall he offers a solid treatment that suggests a new way of looking at Conrad’s works and their relationship to narrative and audience. A useful contribution to the field of Conrad studies. Summing Up: Recommended. Upper-division undergraduates through faculty. — J. G. Peters, University of North Texas”

Rethinking Postcolonialism reviewed in “The Year’s Work in English Studies” 2010

In June 2010, The Year’s Work in English Studies released reviews of Rethinking Postcolonialism in sections “XIII – The Nineteenth Century: Victorian Period” and “XIV: Modern Literature”.

For the Victorian period (XIII), Pr. William Baker writes: “In Rethinking Postcolonialism: Colonialist Discourse in Modern Literatures and the Legacy of Classical Writers, Amar Acheraiou makes some interesting observations. The work ‘analyses colonialist discourses in modern literary and nonliterary texts and explores key philosophical concepts in forming colonialism’. Acheraiou’s study is divided into two. First, there is ‘discussion of the ways in which classical writings influenced colonialist discourse’, and secondly ‘examination of the relationship between modernist literature and empire’ (p. 3). Such a framework provides an interesting foundation for insight into various authors, including H. Rider Haggard and Rudyard Kipling.” (Baker, p.14)

In the section XIV devoted to Modern Literature, Aaron Jaffe states: “For specialists in the life and work of E.M. Forster and Joseph Conrad, 2008 offered a dizzying variety of book-length monographs, new annotated editions and inventive critical essays. […] Amar Acheraiou’s Rethinking Postcolonialism: Colonialist Discourse in Modern Literatures and the Legacy of Classical Writers interrogates postcolonial discourse analysis and posits a new model of interpretation that resituates the historical and ideological resonance of the ‘colonial concept’. In chapters on Forster and Conrad he questions key issues, including hybridity, Otherness and territoriality. Acheraiou is convincing when showing that hybridity as both a theoretical tool and a historical construct is not ‘a linear, flat narrative of cultural exchange’ but a ‘twisted, multilayered imperial tale’ of ‘forced encounters and unequal relationships’ (p. 2). However, Acheraiou’s contention that Forster and Conrad each held ‘an idealised image of Greece’ (p. 82) is counterbalanced by enigmatic ambivalence towards ancient Greek culture. The reading of Forster’s 1903 story ‘Albergo Empedocle’ presents ‘ancient Greece as a rampart against modernity’s discontents’ while at the same time pointing towards its ‘impotence’ as a fund of ‘aesthetic and ideological’ rehabilitation (p. 83)” (Jaffe, p.18-19).

References:

The Year’s Work in English Studies Advance Access published online in June 2010

“XIII – The Nineteenth Century: Victorian Period” by William Baker, Anna Barton, Jane Wright, Alexis Easley and David Finkelstein

“XIV – Modern Literature” by Aaron Jaffe, Andrew Radford, Mary Grover, Sam Slote, Andrew Harrison, Bryony Randall, Nick Bentley, Rebecca D’monte, Graham Saunders, Matthew Creasy and Maria Johnston

Review of “Joseph Conrad and the Reader” by Laurence Davies

On May 22, 2010, Laurence Davies, Honorary Senior Research Fellow in English Literature at the University of Glasgow and co-editor of The Collected Letters of Joseph Conrad (Cambridge, 1983-2007), published a review of Joseph Conrad and the Reader on NBOL-19.org website:

“There is much to enjoy here, much to appreciate, much to ponder, and a certain amount to challenge. Acheraïou begins by denying that authorship has now been interred for good and all in the cemetery of dead ideas. He advocates the literary equivalent of restorative justice, acknowledging author, text, and reader as hermeneutic entities, none of them endowed with absolute powers. Acheraïou’s purpose is not to restore the idea of an originating authority whose life and cultural circumstances are all the critical reader knows or needs to know. Instead, he offers a theory of dissemination, whereby ‘the author neither vanishes from the text nor is impotent within it’ (19). He finds this concept embodied in Conrad’s comments on his fiction as well as in the fiction itself. Using Conrad’s own words to make the point, Acheraïou proposes that the novelist ‘remains to a certain extent a figure behind the veil, a suspected rather than a seen presence–a movement and a voice behind the draperies of fiction’ (A Personal Record, qtd. 18). Thus, writes Acheraïou, ‘where Barthes dismisses the writer as a total absence, Conrad grants the novelist a real, though unstable footing in his writing’ (19) …”

To read the full review, download the attachment:  Review_LaurenceDavies_May22,2010_nbol-19

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