The Angel of Progress: Pitfalls of the Term "Post-Colonialism"

Anne McClintock
1992 Social Text  
His face is turned towards the past.... The angel would like to stay, awaken the dead, and make whole that which has been smashed. But a storm is blowing from Paradise; it has got caught in his wings with such violence that the angel can no longer close them. This storm irrestistibly propels him into the future to which his back is turned, while the pile of debris before him grows skyward. This storm is what we call progress. Walter Benjamin To enter the Hybrid State exhibit on Broadway, you
more » ... on Broadway, you enter The Passage. Instead of a gallery, you find a dark antechamber, where one white word invites you forward: COLONIALISM. To enter colonial space, you stoop through a low door, only to be closetted in another black space-a curatorial reminder, however fleeting, of Fanon: "The native is a being hemmed in."1 But the way out of colonialism, it seems, is forward. A second white word, POSTCOLONIALISM, invites you through a slightly larger door into the next stage of history, after which you emerge, fully erect, into the brightly lit and noisy HYBRID STATE. I am fascinated less by the exhibit itself, than by the paradox between the idea of history that shapes "The Passage," and the quite different idea of history that shapes the "Hybrid State" exhibit itself. The exhibit celebrates "parallel history": Parallel history points to the reality that there is no longer a mainstream view of American art culture, with several "other," lesser important cultures surrounding it. Rather there exists a parallel history which is now changing our understanding of our transcultural understanding.2 Yet the exhibit's commitment to "hybrid history" (multiple time) is contradicted by the linear logic of The Passage ("A Brief Route To Freedom"), which, as it turns out, rehearses one of the most tenacious tropes of colonialism. In colonial discourse, as in The Passage, space is time, and history is shaped around two, necessary movements: the "progress" forward of humanity from slouching deprivation to erect, enlightened reason. The other movement presents the reverse: regression backwards from (white, male) adulthood to a primordial, black "degeneracy" usually 84
doi:10.2307/466219 fatcat:hga722dfijcetivb4vby6hfoay