ethnography, anthropology, political science, philosophy, literature, art and like Benita Parry, Aijaz Ahmad and Nicholas Thomas completely disagree with. Marxist methodology such as Aijaz Ahmad, Talpade Mohanty essay ‘The Politics of Literary Postcoloniality’. Aijaz. Ahmad’s attacks on postcolonial theory. Type: Article; Author(s): Aijaz Ahmed; Date: ; Volume: 36; Issue: 3; Page start: 1; Page end: 20; Check for local electronic subscriptions.

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Aijaz Ahmad is the author of many influential books on literature, politics, and cultural theory, including In TheoryLineages of the Presentand In Our Time: He is also one of the more perceptive commentators on current events and U. Ahmad corresponded with us through email to discuss the history and status of leftist publishing, the Arab Spring, and his own formation as a thinker, writer, and political activist. Can you describe the function of institutions like Verso and the New Left Review in gathering a unique constellation of social theorists?

What role do you think publishing institutions like these have for a younger generation of critics and theorists who confront a more fractured media and publishing landscape? You have referred to NLR. There have of course been other journals of the Left, even Marxist Left, but these two histories are special, not only because of the regularity and longevity of the journals but also because each established, on either side of the Atlantic, a publishing house of its own with distinctive standpoints.

This was even more true of the U. Until the campus explosions of the s there was hardly any coherent Marxist teaching in the American universities. In that atmosphere of hysteria and witch-hunt, the founding of Monthly Review was an extraordinary event.

The founders were loudly Marxist, but had also broken with theories and practices associated with the Soviet Union since the rise of Stalin. They defied McCarthyism by making no secret of their support for anti-capitalist movements around the world.

And, they came with the ambition of founding, within the United States, a powerful intellectual tradition of Marxist thought. For them, this enterprise had three components: Over roughly half a century, they assembled a postcolonialty archive that served to help raise the intellectual level of the left.

Well before the founding of NLRBritain had acquired a powerful tradition of Marxist thought and a widespread leftwing intellectual culture, especially in the postwar years. NLR contributed to strengthening that tradition in many ways.

A distinctive contribution of NLRand of Verso which came somewhat later, is that it brought into the English language a large body of highly sophisticated Continental thought that was either directly Marxist — Gramsci, Althusser and so on — or ahmd closely allied with Marxism, as in the case of Badiou, or more broadly on the Left and of great merit.

What is the function of such journals and their publishing houses? How has it changed over time? Well, when Marxism suddenly arrived as a serious academic subject in American universities, in the aftermath of the s campus explosions, archives assembled by these two journals and their publishing houses proved to be a major resource for teaching at a very high level of theoretical integrity and academic engagement.

There have been many, many other resources, but the example of these two can be used to illustrate how theoretical projects of this kind can be crucial for the intellectual formation of students, thinkers, and militants of a later moment. They have inherited a much wider intellectual culture of the left than was available in the U. Has this function changed for a younger generation of critics and theorists?

I am not sure what that means. Certainly, excellent Marxist work is now published by great many more journals and publishing houses; and the centrality of any one has declined correspondingly. The left now includes many more strands than Marxism, and Marxism itself is being thought in many distinct modes, leading to very complex conversations.

And the internet of course facilitates something resembling a global conversation. A lot of all that is circulating on the net, virtually every print journal finds it necessary to be available on the net, and some very high-caliber political analyses from the Left are produced only on the net.

Serious theoretical journals could doubtless be produced exclusively in the electronic medium, without going through the intermediation of print.

But that is no more significant than people such litsrary myself who used to write with pencils and pens learning word processing. However, has the book been replaced by the web? Hundreds of millions go to movies but the astonishing fact is that politocs people are reading novels in this electronic age than ever before in history. Journals of the kind we are discussing perform a very special kind of task that requires a great deal of intellectual labour.


Technological reproduction has become easier and more various in its forms, but the theoretical labour of tue itself has become more complex, partly because the field of knowledge keeps widening very fast. Young critics will have to engage with this fact. How much of it is done on paper and how much through any other medium is immaterial. Yet you have also written more reflective pieces like your remembrance of Michael Spinker in the New Left Review. While history never slows down especially if we take into account its proper geographical sweepdo you find yourself more easily falling into one mode or the other postco,oniality a result of the relative calmness or tumultuousness of the times?

Michael Sprinker was a close personal friend, a commissioning editor at Verso and very much a part of the milieu at the NLR. So, when the editor of NLR asked me to write something in his memory I readily agreed.

The politics of literary postcoloniality

That kind of personal writing is very rare and uncharacteristic of me. My original grounding as a writer was actually not in the English language but in Urdu, and not in political writing or the social sciences but in literature — poetry and fiction more than literary criticism. Even political writing came first in Urdu and only later in English. In my theoretical writings, I have no inhibition about the meandering compound sentence, for example, and actually love the complexities and rhythms of it.

They require a different kind of prose. And they have to do with what one is writing about. Even in my theoretical writings, though, I have such a strong prejudice in favour of intelligibility that some people in U. My view is that one should use technical terms only when necessary, and one should try to achieve complexity of thought with as little academic jargon as possible.

I am an avid reader and frequent teacher of people like Hegel and Marx, so I am not opposed to difficult prose as such. However, the difficulty of prose should not greatly exceed the complexity of the thought contained in it, as is the case with much of what passes for theory these days.

This is one of the great lessons of poetry as such. Poetry teaches us that it is possible to achieve depth, complexity, eloquence, intellectual challenge, emotional and aesthetic effect with very fine and lively economies of language. Many of the thinkers of your generation had a focal event to organize their political projects.

Aijaz Ahmad

For others it was their experience in post-colonial constellations or in your case, a resistance to much post-colonial discourse, as demonstrated in Politlcs Theory. Do you think that the Occupy Movement or the Arab Spring have the capacity to serve as these focal events that will retain a hold on a new generation of thinkers for years to come? And if so, do you imagine a differentiation in thinking between, say, participants in postcolonialitu movements, smaller national movements like the Indignados in Spain thw the mass protests in Chile, and those perhaps witnessing events from a distance?

Perhaps because I come from outside the Euro-American zones, I postcoloiality never lacked events. One of my earliest memories, as a toddler, is that of the Indian flag going up in my village on the day of our Independence from British colonialism. A few years after that, my family bought its first radio set because it wanted to follow news of the Algerian War of Independence. American invasions and slaughters, from Korea to Vietnam to Afghanistan to Iraq, have been to ahmqd a continuum — a perpetual Event, so to speak.

He has never deviated from that kind of work in relation to all corners of the world that have been subjected to those processes.

If, however, your main motivation is the sense of outrage at cruelty and injustice — fascism, imperialism, what capitalism does to the vast majority of human beings — then you may not aikaz the stimulation of good news to keep yourself going in ahmda then becomes for you an obligation.

This is perhaps a strange and silly question, but where and when was it easiest for you to be a Marxist or at least to be identified as a Marxist and where and when has potcoloniality been the most difficult?


It is easiest to be a Marxist when one is dealing with things that are properly the object of Marxist theory and practice. It is very difficult to explain to people that there are lots of things in life and the world on which Marxism as postcolonialiy has no opinion, let alone a position. I have overcome the slavish nature of that difficulty quite some time ago and I have learned to treat his errors as errors, with a shrug of the shoulder, unless someone can show me that I am the one in error.

However, I am not altogether unhappy for having had that reverential attitude, or having had to fight against it. Religious people assume that I would have contempt for religion; devotees of Dalai Lama think that I would be pro-China.

Then there is what postcolonialjty might call the American academic situation, the self-censorship in the teaching situation, which I have had to often negotiate. How do you do that if you are a serious Marxist? But I sympathize with the predicament of those who do have such stakes.

Do you find this surprising? Dennis Brutus, a famous poet and great veteran of anti-apartheid struggles, gave an interesting answer: So it really depends pooitics the kind of life you live. If you are engaged in the problems of your time your art will respond to it anyway, regardless of whatever idea you may have about artistic freedom. In the West, there have been rather interesting mutations. Even ah,ad you discount the earlier Christian allegory and so forth, even if you begin with the novels of Voltaire and Rousseau, and then think of Goethe or Hugo or Blake or Shelley or Whitman or Arnold or T.

Eliot, it was simply assumed for a very, very long amhad that the writer had a responsibility. In this you could be a political radical like Shelley or a conservative monarchist like Eliot, but you did think that literature had a responsibility. But then something began to change.

As the Cold War progressed and anti-communism became fashionable in many left circles, that position came under increasing attack and those who launched the attack predictably included luminaries such as Adorno. No other kind of writing enjoys such a sacralized space in the collective imagination — not a historian, economist, journalist, politician. Do you see these conditions as eventually bringing students and young militants in line with workers, or is this an enduring tension?

Well, frankly, the article was written hastily and some of my formulations are so opaque as to be at least partially wrong. Seventy percent of Egyptian population is below the age of So, one cannot easily make that kind of distinction between workers and young people; most people who are in the work force are young.

Neoliberalism has devastated Egyptian agriculture and industry equally, so that majority of the work force is really polittics what litersry called the informal sector; and a lot of youth including large sections of the educated youth are ahmd low-income servicing jobs, so that what might appear as white-collar lower middle class is really a new working class of the neoliberal economy. The valid distinction is this: Among them, the affluent were the most responsive to the Democracy promotion networks organized by the same U.

The Muslim Liteeary and the Salafists have been receiving countless millions — probably billions — from the Gulf monarchies for over three decades. These funds made it possible for them to build charities, schools, clinics, shelters, etc. Over time, these networks also became the social base for new kinds of popular piety.

The Brotherhood had been participating in od under the previous regime as well, and therefore had a well-oiled poliics machine across the country.

The new forces unleashed in the course of the revolution itself could not possibly match such financial and organizational resources. That is the real secret behind the Islamicist electoral sweep.

The Politics of Literary Postcoloniality | University of St Andrews

As to your question about future possibilities, there is now a clear demarcation. On the other side, you have the various forces of the organized and unorganized workers, unemployed and semi-employed youth, women, radicalized sections of the middle and lower middle classes, etc.

There are contradictions inside both these blocs but this basic polarization has taken place.