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Star of the Sea : A Postcolonial/Postmodern Voyage into the Irish Famine

A Flexible Foundation, the Broader Postcolonial Definition

Walter Rodney, renowned writer and critic of colonialism once stated: “to be colonized is to be removed from history” (Gugelberger 757). According to Helen Tiffin’s definition, Rodney is partly right. After a colonizer takes a colony, the native people disappear into the colonizer’s history and do not become postcolonial until the colonizers leave. However, the notion should be revised since the crisis of identity and culture happens before the colonizer leaves. Therefore, it is important to create a broader definition that can better illustrate postcolonial studies. Dr. Dawn Duncan, an English and Global Studies professor at Concordia College in Moorhead, Minnesota, did exactly this. In Relocating Postcolonialism, she wrote a chapter that created a new and broad definition: A Flexible Foundation. In this chapter, Dr. Duncan states that: “I would like to create a foundation that is not so rigid that it will crack under the pressure of global realities, nor so fluid that it cannot provide a basis for the participants who share in the dialogue” (321). These qualifications are important because a theory needs to be rock-solid in order to withstand the test of time. It was named ‘a flexible foundation’ due to the similarities to the building structures that are used in modern societies to keep a building standing, just like this foundation keeps the postcolonial studies standing. In addition, she coined the words "continentalization" and "colorization" that highlight how the old definition fails to take into account the colonies that were inside Europe and mostly white-skinned.

One of the main problems with Tiffin’s definition was the conception of the “post”. While ‘post’ does mean ‘after’, it does not make sense that an identity crisis happens after the colonizers leave. Wouldn’t the identity crisis happen when the colonizers arrive and the native people first are subjected to colonial oppression? This is confirmed by Dr. Duncan as she explains: “The after reference for post-colonial more fittingly applies to after the onset of colonization, when the identity conflicts originate and shape the contributing cultural identities for years to come” (325). This new definition of 'post' proves at the onset of colonization is when the problems start to arise. By using this definition, it is clear that Tiffin’s definition is too narrow and does not coincide with the onset of the identity crises.

According to Firdous Azim, “The strength of post-colonial theory, after all, lies in the links that it makes between literary and cultural production, and economic and political processes” (247). The Flexible Foundation manages to combine all these aspects of postcolonial theory and points out three different intersections. These three intersections focus on different parts of the Flexible Foundation and provide a broader view on the literary theory.

The first point of intersection deals with ontological issues, meaning the identity crises and development existing in a postcolonial work or situation. It includes three open-ended questions: “Who am I? How did I come to be who I am? To whom am I connected?” (Duncan 328). ‘Who am I’ deals with a postcolonial character attempting to figure out his/her own identity in a colonial situation. ‘How did I come to be who I am” looks at how the past has influenced who they are, and where they come from. Lastly, ‘To whom am I connected’ focuses on where the character feels they belong, and not necessarily where they were born or grew up. When placed together these three questions provide a complete picture of the ontological issues that arise in a postcolonial identity crisis. 

The second point of intersection deals with the contextual issues, meaning the problems or actuality of the surroundings from a contextual point of view. According to Dr. Duncan, this is the “sociopolitical domination of a native people by an encroaching alien power” (328). In addition to social and political issues, this also includes the economic issues, as the colonizer will have total power over the nation’s economy. In order to illustrate this, Dr. Duncan created a mnemonic device that illustrates what is called the ABC’s of colonialism.

This system shows that there are three motives for colonization: gold, glory, and God. In order to get gold, the colonizer needs land and merchants to acquire the money. Similarly, if the motivation is glory, then they need control over the law in order to achieve glory by using the military as their agents. Lastly, if the motivation is to spread the word of God, they need knowledge or control over the language in order to spread the word by using missionaries.

The third point of intersection explores the textual issues, often referred to as storytelling. Storytelling is explained by Dr. Dawn Duncan in her chapter: “Because of the struggle that always has at least three sides—the native history, the state construct, and the individual—we will hear a story that is layered, made of fragments attempting a whole” (329). When studying a postcolonial text, it is essential to focus on all three sides. If not, then it does not provide a full picture of the conflict, and may continue to uphold prejudiced perceptions.

These three points of intersections in the Flexible Foundation illustrate how complex postcolonial studies can be. A scholar will not be able to fully study it unless all sides are included, because the writing will be prejudiced or incomplete. In a postcolonial situation, both the colonizer and the colonized are influenced by one another. Therefore, both sides need to be able to communicate their own story. In addition, there also needs to be a focus on the individual versus the society; namely, how the history of colonization affects the society and the individual in a postcolonial situation. The Flexible Foundation provides this layered outlook on all aspects of postcolonial theory, and the broad definition is essential when studying postcolonial works.
Works Cited
Azim, Firdous. “Post-Colonial Theory.” The Cambridge History of Literary Criticism: Twentieth-Century Historical, Philosophical and Psychological Perspectives, vol 9. Ed. Christa Knellwolf and Christopher Norris. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2001. Print.

Duncan, Dawn. “A Flexible Foundation: Constructing a Postcolonial Dialogue.” Relocating Postcolonialism. Ed. David Theo Goldberg and Ato Quayson. Oxford: Blackwell Publishers, 2002. Print.

Gugelberger, Georg M. “Postcolonial Cultural Studes—1. Origins to the 1980s.” The Johns Hopkins Guide to Literary Theory & Criticism, 2nd ed. Ed. Michael Groden, Martin Kreiswirth, and Imre Szeman. Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 2005. Print.
Researcher/Writer: Ellen-Marie Pedersen
Technical Designers: Derek Heilig and Sara Juntunen
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