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Postcolonial Theory and Literature

Edward W. Said, First Wave: Colonial Discourse, Mahasweta Devi, W. E. B. Du Bois

Postcolonial theory, often said to begin with the work of Edward W. Said, Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak, and Homi K. Bhabha, looks at literature and society from two broad angles: how the writer, artist, cultural worker, and his or her context reflects a colonial past, and how they survive and carve out a new way of creating and understanding the world. One of the earliest critical works to present this point of view is Robert J. C. Young's White Mythologies: Writing History and the West (1990).

When Said published his path-breaking book Orientalism in 1978, it established a trend that was, for some years, loosely described as "colonial discourse studies" rather than "postcolonial theory." Although Said ostensibly wrote about the Middle East being constructed as the "Orient" by French intellectuals of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, it was the Spanish and British empires that formed the main fields of colonial discourse studies. Although Said's main thesis was that the West constructed something called the "Orient" as an object of investigation through varieties of cognitive, disciplinary, and administrative practice, colonial discourse studies was broader in its focus and conclusions.

Said, an Arab-American of Palestinian origin, continued to influence colonial and subsequently postcolonial studies and its offshoots (cultural studies, women's studies, ethnic studies) with his writings and his political journalism. Important works are Covering Islam (1981), The Question of Palestine (1979), The World, the Text, the Critic (1983), and Culture and Imperialism (1993).

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