Veronique Darwin

Postcolonial Aesthetics?

In Literary Events on April 28, 2012 at 2:11 am

If I had read the name of this event put on by SFU World Literature prior to attending it, I would have asked myself: what the heck are Postcolonial Aesthetics? I hadn’t, so I asked the group of students behind me. “It’s a book talk,” they answered. “About post colonialism.”

It was clear the speaker, preeminent post-colonial scholar Bill Ashcroft, was here to tell us he wasn’t sure himself: the title, he revealed, was originally supposed to end in a question mark, as in Postcolonial Aesthetics?, anyone? Later in the evening,  in response to the final audience question, it was specified that “by postcolonial I mean post invasion, not post independence.” So there is my context for the evening.

I try to go to SFU World Literature events when I can, as I have been to some great ones in the past. One event last year was a discussion between several Japanese and Vancouver authors, including Steven Galloway and Timothy Taylor.

Though I didn’t learn as much about post colonial aesthetics as I might have had I read the 702 page textbook being launched, or Googled the term prior to attending, I did learn and get to think about several things I selfishly made relevant to my interests. It would have been best had I written this blog post immediately after the event, because now I am stuck decoding notes such as the word “hermeneutics” – circled, as though it was very important to me at the time.

1 Thing. Books aren’t intrinsically of a genre. I am not writing a book in order to write a Vancouver book about my generation’s search for its place in a changing world. However, if I ever finish my book, and anyone ever reads it, maybe that’s how it will be read. Books get placed in context, but they aren’t created in context. They come from a place that can’t help being that place, at that time.

Thing 2. Kant, in his discussion of the term “genius,” suggests that art comes from nature and not the individual. This releases the artist from any rules or constraints. The Warlpiri people of Australia also view art not as an individual creation, but as created by a community. However, in Warlpiri tradition, the artist paints within a certain pre-established design, passed down through the family. He cannot actually create anything original, but can only create within his tradition. Postcolonialism aesthetics look at how Western ideas have been imposed on non-Western peoples, and how we have misunderstood a lot of their traditions because of this.

Thing 3.Translations are beautiful because they carry the cadence of other languages into English. I have always loved French books translated to the English, and have been looking for the reason why I find this combination more beautiful than either language in its original form. The hybridity caused by the rhythm of French with the words of English might have created something with which I personally connect, being at once a French and Anglo Canadian.

Though the evening was basically a misunderstanding, I took a lot of notes to make up for it. I came in carrying a yoga mat and left with a business card of a fellow writer who asked an intelligent question with two parts to it.

I recommend attending talks likes these, far above my intelligence level, just to remember how nice it is now that I’m out of school to no longer be paying to sit in front of someone talk about something I don’t understand. This event was free, so I yawned contently during what happened to be the closing line of the talk, and coincidentally made eye contact with the speaker for the first, and last time.

  1. This is fantastic! I am so sad I missed this talk – Post Colonial studies made up the majority of my minor. This makes me want to go back to school. We should hang out and talk about this.

    • Thank you Holly! I think it would be great to meet up. I would love to learn about this from what I’m sure would be a bit more lucid source. Send me a message on Facebook and we can plan something.

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