Secularism, Elitism, Progress, and Other Transgressions: On Edward Said's "Voyage in"

Bruce Robbins
1994 Social Text  
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more » ... Duke University Press is collaborating with JSTOR to digitize, preserve and extend access to Social Text. In what has come to be called colonial and postcolonial studies, there seems to be a gathering consensus that the institutional rise of the field is somehow an anomaly and an embarrassment.' To judge from recent essays and conference presentations, the best thing to do with its success story, as perhaps with any success story, is to subject it to the most scathing critique possible. A certain sarcasm about the field's sociogeographical position, which seems irresistible even to observers who are otherwise quite opposed to each other, like Aijaz Ahmad and his many critics, takes the characteristic form of a more or less personal belittling of the field's practitioners, identified as upwardly mobile in terms of both their place of origin (Third World) and their class of destination (bourgeoisie). According to Kwame Anthony Appiah, "Postcoloniality is the condition of what we might ungenerously call a comprador intelligentsia: of a relatively small, Western-style, Western-trained, group of writers and thinkers who mediate the trade in cultural commodities of Western capitalism at the periphery."2 According to Arif Dirlik, "Postcoloniality is the condition of the intelligentsia of global capitalism," and "the popularity that the term postcoloniality has achieved in the last few years has less to do with its rigorousness as a concept or with the new vistas it has opened up for critical inquiry than it does with the increased visibility of academic intellectuals of Third World origin as pacesetters in cultural criticism." For "Third World intellectuals who have arrived in First World academe," Dirlik argues, "postcolonial discourse is an expression not so much of agony over identity, as it often appears, but of newfound power."3 Such attacks on the field's metropolitan location and the power, privileges, and priorities that stem from that location raise one immediate tactical objection: they forget that the legitimacy and the institutional toehold enjoyed by such studies in the metropolis remain extremely fragile. It is often claimed that critical attention to the (post)colonial deviously serves the interests of neo-imperialism. Unfortunately, nothing obliges neo-imperialism to agree that its interests are so served, and there are no guarantees that it will think or act accordingly. Indeed, there are many signs that post-Cold War nationalism in the United States does not wish to recognize its supposed interest in sustaining all those left-wing critics, many of them originally from Third World countries, who are teaching unpatriotic lessons to American youth. And if the tendency to delegitimate and defund continues, the ultra-left paranoid view of the rise of postcolonial Bruce Robbins
doi:10.2307/466794 fatcat:n4sbk5jeq5bmzfxbiip2hlkkte