Is the Post- in Postmodernism the Post- in Postcolonial?

Critical Inquiry 17 (2):336-357 (1991)
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Sara Suleri has written recently, in Meatless Days, of being treated as an "otherness machine"-and of being heartily sick of it.20 Perhaps the predicament of the postcolonial intellectual is simply that as intellectuals-a category instituted in black Africa by colonialism-we are, indeed, always at the risk of becoming otherness machines, with the manufacture of alterity as our principal role. Our only distinction in the world of texts to which we are latecomers is that we can mediate it to our fellows. This is especially true when postcolonial meets postmodern; for what the postmodern reader seems to demand of Africa is all too close to what modernism-in the form of the postimpressionists-demanded of it. The role that Africa, like the rest of the Third World, plays for Euro-American postmodernism-like its better-documented significance for modernist art-must be distinguished from the role postmodernism might play in the Third World; what that might be it is, I think, too early to tell. What happens will happen not because we pronounce on the matter in theory, but will happen out of the changing everyday practices of African cultural life.For all the while, in Africa's cultures, there are those who will not see themselves as Other. Despite the overwhelming reality of economic decline; despite unimaginable poverty; despite wars, malnutrition, disease, and political instability, African cultural productivity grows apace: popular literatures, oral narrative and poetry, dance, drama, music, and visual art all thrive. The contemporary cultural production of many African societies, and the many traditions whose evidences so vigorously remain, is an antidote to the dark vision of the postcolonial novelist. 20. Sara Suleri, Meatless Days , p. 105. Kwame Anthony Appiah, professor of philosophy and literature at Duke University, is the author of a number of books, including For Truth in Semantics , Necessary Questions , and In My Father's House , a collection of essays on African cultural politics. His first novel, Avenging Angel, was published in 1990

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Kwame Anthony Appiah
New York University

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