Hostname: page-component-cd4964975-pf4mj Total loading time: 0 Render date: 2023-04-01T18:07:17.267Z Has data issue: true Feature Flags: { "useRatesEcommerce": false } hasContentIssue true

Periods versus Concepts: Space Making and the Question of Postcolonial Literary History

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  23 October 2020


After being exiled from nazi germany and completing the extraordinary mimesis in istanbul in 1946, erich auerbach wrote from Princeton University in 1952, “Literary criticism now participates in a practical seminar on world history. … Our philological home is the earth: it can no longer be the nation.” Auerbach, who must be reckoned one of the great synthesists and literary historians of the twentieth century, was expressing a sentiment that will be familiar to anyone who has thought about world literature from a postcolonial perspective. While postcolonial literary studies may have helped define the parameters of the practical seminar on world history, its full implications are still somewhat obscured by the arguments about periodicity that are often taken as a terminological necessity in applications of the term postcolonial. This is the burden imposed by the temporalizing post-. However, closer scrutiny of the postcolonial suggests that it contains mutually reinforcing periodizing and spatial functions. Many of the most common ideas that circulate in the field, such as colonial encounter, neocolonialism, nationalism and postnationalism, hegemony, transnationalism, diasporas, and globalization, are organized around often unacknowledged spatial motifs. The concept of space that implicitly structures usages of postcolonialism is far from inert: there is an active dimension of spatializing in them that helps shape the field's distinctiveness. This is because even when the term is deployed exclusively for periodizing purposes, as in showing that the medieval period or Russia today is amenable to a postcolonial analysis, the nature of what is highlighted insistently invokes spatial practices. Once the spatial logic of postcolonialism is brought to the foreground, the complexity of its critical diagnostic as applied in the practical seminar on world history becomes clearer.

Theories and Methodologies
Copyright © 2012 by The Modern Language Association of America

Access options

Get access to the full version of this content by using one of the access options below. (Log in options will check for institutional or personal access. Content may require purchase if you do not have access.)


Works Cited

Abrams, M. H. The Mirror and the Lamp: Romantic Theory and the Critical Tradition. 1953. New York: Oxford UP, 1971. Print.Google Scholar
Ahmad, Aijaz. In Theory: Classes, Nations, Literatures. London: Verso, 1994. Print.Google Scholar
Allen, T. W.The Homeric Catalogue.” Journal of Hellenic Studies 30 (1910): 292322. Print.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Ashcroft, Bill, Griffiths, Gareth, and Tiffin, Helen, eds. The Post-colonial Studies Reader. London: Routledge, 1995. Print.Google Scholar
Auerbach, Erich. “Philology and Weltliteratur.” Trans. Edward Said and Marie Said. Centennial Review 13.1 (1969): 117. Print.Google Scholar
Barber, Karin. “Literature in Yoruba.” Cambridge History of African and Caribbean Literature. Ed. Irele, Abiola and Gikandi, Simon. Vol. 1. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 2011. 357–78. Print.Google Scholar
Bhachu, Parminder. Twice Migrants: East African Sikh Settlers in Britain. London: Tavistock, 1985. Print.Google Scholar
Castillo, Debra A.Coetzee's Dusklands: The Mythic Punctum.PMLA 105.5 (1990): 1108–22. Print.Google Scholar
Chakrabarty, Dipesh. Provincializing Europe: Postcolonial Thought and Historical Difference. Princeton: Princeton UP, 2000. Print.Google Scholar
Chrisman, Laura, and Williams, Patrick, eds. Colonial Discourse and Post-colonial Theory: A Reader. London: Harvester, 1993. Print.Google Scholar
Dunlap, A. R., and Moyne, E. J.The Finnish Language on the Delaware.” American Speech 27.2 (1952): 8190. Print.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Gates, Henry Louis Jr. “Tell Me, Sir, … What Is ‘Black’ Literature?PMLA 105.1 (1990): 1122. Print.Google Scholar
Ghai, Dharam P., and Ghai, Yash P., eds. Portrait of a Minority: Asians in East Africa. Nairobi: Oxford UP, 1970. Print.Google Scholar
Larson, Charles. The Emergence of African Fiction. London: Macmillan, 1978. Print.Google Scholar
Mahfouz, Naguib. Midaq Alley. Trans. Gassick, Trevor Le. Washington: Three Continents, 1988. Print.Google Scholar
Mintz, Sidney. Sweetness and Power: The Place of Sugar in Modern History. New York: Penguin, 1985. Print.Google Scholar
Patke, Rajeev. “Postcolonial Literature in Southeast Asia.” The Cambridge History of Postcolonial Literature. Vol 1. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 2011. 352–84. Print.Google Scholar
Quayson, Ato. Aesthetic Nervousness: Disability and the Crisis of Representation. New York: Columbia UP, 2007. Print.Google Scholar
Quayson, Ato. Calibrations: Reading for the Social. Minneapolis: U of Minnesota P, 2003. Print.Google Scholar
Quayson, Ato. “Postcolonial Literature in a Changing Historical Frame.” Introduction. The Cambridge History of Postcolonial Literature. Vol. 1. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 2011. 129. Print. 2 vols.Google Scholar
Spivak, Gayatri. Death of a Discipline. New York: Columbia UP, 2003. Print.Google Scholar
Thieme, John, ed. The Arnold Anthology of Post-colonial Literatures in English. London: Arnold, 1996. Print.Google Scholar
van der Kroef, Justus M.The Colonial Novel in Indonesia.” Comparative Literature 10.3 (1958): 215–31. Print.Google Scholar
Walder, Dennis. Post-colonial Literatures in English: History, Language, Theory. Oxford: Blackwell, 1989. Print.Google Scholar