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Postcolonial Constellations and the Shaping of the African Diasporic Subjectivity: Olaudah Equiano’s The Interesting Narrative

Lokangaka Losambe

In Inventing Ireland: The Literature of the Modern Nation ( 1996), the Irish critic Declan Kiberd argued that “ postcolonial writing does not begin only when the occupier withdraws : rather it is initiated at that very moment when a native writer formulates a text committed to cultural resistance”. While I agree with Kiberd that postcoloniality cannot be said to be synonymous with post-independence or post-emancipation, in this paper I will extend his formulation by adding another subversive initiator of the postcolonial moment: the sympathizing radical activist within the metropolis.

My paper will provide an alternative view, as well, to Achille Mbembe’s recent analysis of the colonial character. In his examination of the concept of “ commandement” as deployed in the colonial context, Mbembe( 2001) blurs the distinction between the colonizer and the colonial(the official and the civil), and lumps all the colonial settlers into two types, the ruthless Hegelian and the shrewd Bergsonian. He then leaves out in the cold the liberal activist who should be regarded as an ally to the native. This analysis of the relationship between the colonial and the native is inadequate because it is uncritically based on Albert Memmi’s and Frantz Fanon’s theory of Manichaeism which does not give full account of the existence of subversive constellations of postcoloniality within the imperial order, as depicted, for instance, in Olaudah Equiano’s The Interesting Narrative (1789). I’ll also argue that in his narrative, Equiano depicts such constellations as enabling agents in his struggle to reconstitute his subjectivity within the space provided by the Middle Passage.

My paper will address the first three questions you’ve raised under the heading “ Other potential research questions” in your call for submissions.

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