Deborah Wyrick and Jonathan Beasley
North Carolina State University
Copyright (c) 1997 by Deborah Wyrick and Jonathan Beasley, all rights reserved. This text
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We meet up with the inhabitants . . . come out
this J'Ouvert morning to play ole mas and to take off
themselves and be another. . . . And in that congregation
were all kinds of people who had come through
the centuries to realize, at least carnival day, that they
were people, that man could be woman, woman could be man,
could be god, could be servant, could be master, could be
indentured labourer, could be enslaved, and revel with the
rebellion of the jab-jab band. . . .
--Lawrence Scott, "J'Ouvert," Witchbroom (1993)
There is no race . . .
There are no genders . . .
There is no age . . .
There are no infirmities . . .
There are only minds . . .
--MCI Internet television commercial (1997)
- Publishing a journal of postcolonial studies on the Internet involves certain
systemic paradoxes. First, computer-generated communication depends, absolutely, on
binary codes. Yet if a single project gives focus to the big, blurry field of postcolonial
studies, it is the critique of binary thinking and its material effects. This is why we selected
the name "Jouvert" for this journal: as the first epigraph suggests, the word and the event
imply that postcolonial hybridity is performed upon the binary grids of colonial histories and cultures. A 'post-binary' condition may be as impossible as a 'post-colonial' condition as long as the vexed and vanished hyphen signals a break rather than an aspiration, an opening between old and new breaths.
- Second, since binary processing is limited by computers' operational memory
and clock speed, character representation is confined to 256 symbols (ASCII), making it
impossible to 'transcribe' languages such as Chinese; in addition, high-level operating
programs (largely developed by U.S. technologists) are based on English, and on American English at that. Whereas colonial capitalist modernity spoke a variety of European languages, the information flow enabling the financial markets, labor internationalization, and individual mobility intrinsic to today's global capitalism speak more and more univocally. Yet postcolonial studies increasingly examine the immense power of United States hegemony throughout the world, and critique the role of the English language in transmitting and establishing this power, now and in the past.
- Third, the Internet's political history--it was created two decades ago to link the
U.S. government, particularly the Department of Defense, with its university contractors
(hence the net-address endings '.gov' and '.edu')--is just the sort of historiography that
postcolonial studies view with suspicion and wish to rewrite. Further, substantial concerns
about the political, geographical, and intellectual locations of the postcolonial subject, and the subject's complicities with these locations, run throughout the field, from the seminal works of Frantz Fanon and Edward Said to current debates about academic elitism, immigration versus exile, and border pedagogies.
- Fourth, the Internet carries a metaphorical history reminiscent of colonial
discourse and practice. On the one hand, terms such as 'the new frontier of knowledge' and 'the information superhighway' suggest imperial expansionism, Euro-American progressivist ideologies, and the ways in which science and technology have justified and enabled (neo-)colonial control. On the other hand is the alluring specter of the Global Village inhabited by shiny, happy virtual brains, its absentee landlords having conveniently disappeared. Representing the Internet as a Cyber-Utopian phantasm--nicely demonstrated by the MCI advertisement quoted in the second epigraph, an advertisement that has run frequently during telecasts of American football--mystifies its distinctly non-Utopian features, not to speak of its exploding commercialization. Cyber-Utopia bears disturbing similarities to romantic primitivism, to the daydream of brave new worlds inhabited by 'better' beings that helped fashion the colonial consumer at home and abroad. In one sense, Internet users are being constructed as exotic tourists; in another sense, we are being seduced by the illusory erasure of difference, a seduction that postcolonial studies correctly interrogate and usually resist.
- These paradoxes underwrite the choice to publish Jouvert on the Internet. It's less an issue of using the master's tools to dismantle the master's house than of using these
tools to occupy, and redirect, at least part of it. In addition to their primary scholarly
purposes, refereed academic journals on-line set up spaces in which to question the silent
assumptions and histories of the Internet and from which to influence its growth. For grow it will, exponentially: we already see its metastasis in the areas of commercial sales and promotion, junk information, and technopop personal exhibitionism. An academic journal, in contrast, is a collective, non-profit endeavor that disseminates information and analysis for the benefit of a group--an interest group, to be sure, and one composed of people with personal agendas, but nonetheless an interest group united by transindividual concerns of teaching and scholarship. It is important, we think, to claim formal space for these concerns in the very medium that we use, increasingly, for our professional research and communications as well as for our personal entertainment. That this space can be visited by people outside academia is all to the good.
- Internet publication is especially useful in postcolonial studies. Quickly and
freely accessible on all continents, an on-line postcolonial journal can provide a forum for
serious discussion to a much greater number of people than can a print journal. Although
Jouvert is based in the United States, electronic distribution allows the journal to have an
international board of editors and invites an international readership and contributorship; as
we receive submissions in languages other than English, the flexibility of an on-line format
permits dual-language publication. Further, because post-Cold War structures of knowledge and power are increasingly tied to communications technologies, and because studying these structures is a significant part of our job, postcolonial scholars can ill afford to ignore phenomena like the Internet. Finally, the shrinking budgets of university departments and libraries, the growing problem of information storage, the individual burden of subscribing to a host of professional journals, and the impossibility of attending all the relevant conferences held throughout the world, suggest that electronic publication furnishes a more feasible way of conducting academic business--particularly business that is transnational and transcultural in nature--than many other options.
- The transnational and the transcultural are crucial concerns of contemporary
postcolonial scholarship. Most material in Jouvert 's first issue engages with these concerns, yet it approaches questions of diasporic identity, artistic and political practice, and the postcolonial itself from widely differing perspectives. Ella Shohat reads recent Middle Eastern and North African film texts as documents in an emergent Post-Third-Worldist culture, in which nationalist ideology and its representations are challenged by multiple locations and displacements. Her attention to the politics of location and to the languages employed in these films links her argument with Alfred Arteaga's work, which marshals a variety of languages to create heteroglossic poetic forms describing and critiquing New World resituations. Jenny Sharpe explores another type of dialogical relationship, viewing Salman Rushdie's Shame through the real-world resistance efforts of Southeast Asian immigrant women in Britain, efforts that include reassigning and reappropriating meaning of culturally charged words. In contrast, Bharati Mukherjee asserts an aesthetic autonomy that works against seeing what she calls 'new immigrant writing' as any sort of national allegory; nonetheless, she discusses with her interviewers--Tina Chen and S. X. Goudie--the political dimensions of her work and its reception by postcolonial critics with whom she often disagrees.
- Transculturation is not limited to recent global dislocations. Poonam Arora
examines the romantic hero Devdas in pre- and post-Independence Indian film, showing how this cinematic tradition presents a complex masculinity crucially shaped by British colonial figurations. Neither are transculturation and questions of the nation specific to colonized and formerly colonized groups. Tim Watson, for instance, concentrates on the way that the experience of Empire--in particular, the 1865 rebellion in Morant Bay, Jamaica--shaped England's way of imagining itself as a national 'family. Watson's use of non-literary archival material as well as literary works highlights the importance of historical reclamations to cultural discourse and practice, an emphasis reflected in other articles in this issue.
- Postcoloniality--the efforts of social groups to disengage from colonizing
systems, systems that from first contact onward were always already transnational and
transcultural--is a dynamic process that unfolds in distinct ways in distinct places, through
distinct cultures, and against distinct histories. The process is lived and performed in the
metropole and in the margins; postcolonial experience, struggle, and awareness are
fundamentally inflected by race, class, gender, and ethnicity. It is theorized not only by
academic intellectuals but also by writers, artists, filmmakers, musicians, and political activists. We look forward to providing a continuing site for revelling and rebelling, and we thank our contributors and editorial board members for helping create an inaugural issue demonstrating the range, interest, and importance of postcolonial studies.