Postcolonial Temporalities and the Violence of History
Posted: 26 Mar 2014
Date Written: 2014
In The Philosophy of History, Hegel jettisons the entire continent of Africa from the study of world history, announcing, At this point we leave Africa, not to mention it again. For it is no historical part of the World; it has no movement or development to exhibit What we properly understand by Africa, is the Unhistorical, Undeveloped Spirit, still involved in the conditions of mere nature, which had to be presented here only as on the threshold of the Worlds History (157). The view of Africa as both unhistorical and undeveloped becomes an integral part of colonial discourse and its epistemic violence, whereby colonial expansion is not only the natural progression of (Western, Eurocentric) History, but also a mechanism by which the rest of the globe can be integrated into this History. At the center of colonial discourse is a will to remove colonial others from the universal narrative of history, a temporal distancing that erases precolonial history and understands the colonial others present in terms of the Western subjects past. My paper examines African novels written within ten years of formal political independence, which in my view is a time period ripe for scholarly reconsideration because of the negotiation of time and history occurring in postcolonial narratives to address and redress the violence of colonial discourse of erasing a precolonial past. As case studies, I read Armahs Fragments, Sembènes Gods Bits of Wood, and Ngugis A Grain of Wheat for their construction of what I call a temporality of waiting. Waiting, as theorized by postcolonial African novels, may be figured in postcolonial narratives as an oppressive distortion or forced deferral of historicity or justice, or a strategic suspension of linear time. Revisiting the definitions associated with the verb to wait in the Oxford English Dictionary reveals both active and passive overtones. To wait can entail delay, deferral, and submissiveness, from which we get the sense of waiting as waiting upon others as a servant or to continue in expectation of or even to remain for a time without something expected or promised. But older meanings of waiting suggest strategy and scheming, as in the sense to lie in wait for, to keep hostile watch and to take precautions. Waiting may risk repeating the violence of colonial discourse by encouraging formerly colonized peoples to stay in what Dipesh Chakrabarty calls the waiting room of history, but in my paper I argue that waiting can also be a strategic, active space for maintaining a dynamic relationship between the past, present, and future. These post-Independence novels, I argue, utilize waiting as an ambivalent temporality that is central to the formulation of postcolonial temporality, history, and political critique.
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation