Sunday, 15 August 2010

Putting the "Postcolonial" into "Postcolonial Rabbit"

When I first started this blog (almost a year ago now) I intended it to be a space in which I could muse as much about my frivolous interests as my serious ones. But of late the book  and exhibition reviews have been neglected in favour of a lot of makeup and nail polish posts. Not a bad thing in its self, but I haven't been deserving on my "postcolonial rabbit" moniker, just the "rabbit" bit.

So I thought I'd write today about the postcolonial side of things and start to redress the imbalance. To introduce the term, and to explain why I decided to pursue postcolonial studies as my area of PhD research and as my career, I thought I'd write a bit about my first experiences of it.

I grew up in a diverse area of North London (Wood Green) but moved to a very white area of Surrey when I was eight. I ended up going to a private secondary school, and the environment was sterile, conservative and very old-fashioned. As was the syllabus. I excelled in terms of results but as I chafed at the unbelievable narrow-mindedness of the school and the dullness of the subjects I studied.

Until my English teacher (an incredible, terrifying, awe-inspiring woman, and the finest teacher I've ever come across) set me To Kill A Mockingbird for my coursework during my GCSES. I'd been a voracious reader all my life, but it was the first time that I saw the political potential of literary writing, that it could talk about race, community, division, and exclusion, things I'd experienced in the move but that I'd never really read about in books. (I note that To Kill A Mockingbird has become a bit of a cliche: the novel celebrities tend to cite as their desert island book, because it makes them look intelligent and "deep." I wish I could say it was Midnight's Children that I was first introduced to, and that I stumbled upon them in the library aged 12, but that was a later literary milestone for me, during my A-Levels).

To Kill A Mockingbird was followed swiftly by my English teacher with A Heart of Darkness accompanied by Chinua Achebe's essay on the novel, during my A-Level English course. These two texts started a passion that have got me here: a PhD in postcolonial literature and a job working on a postcolonial research project.

Achebe's essay, which angrily reacts to the dehumanised representation of Africans in Conrad's classic novel, struck a very deep chord in me. I loved its passion and fire and the fact that it dismantled a literary text that everyone had held to be great for so many years, but which had never been addressed in terms of its racial politics. It showed me what criticism could do, to completely transform the way a text is seen and read, and then via that re-written text, transform the way we look at the world. It's why I opted for English and American Literature over art at university. The rest is a lot of book-reading and letters after my name.

Writing thing post has made me realise that this blog isn't quite the space for me to talk at length on postcolonial issues. I like the frivolity of this space, and I want to keep it light and mostly about pretty things. So, as if I'm not busy enough, I've started another blog, called Postcolonial Adda (a Bengali word for a special kind of "idle chatter"). If you like this post, please follow the Rabbit's little sister!

Hope to see you there!

1 comment:

  1. This was a very interesting post. I love to kill a mockingbird, even if it is a bit of a cliche it's still a great and important book :)
    Sadly i cant follow your new blog just yet as my reading list is entirely full up :(