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Post-colonialism has two distinct but often intersecting meanings. First, states and societies which underwent the historical experience of decolonization in the mid-to-late twentieth century are often described as 'post-colonial'. Second, post-colonialism (often without the hyphen!) is also taken to refer to a body of scholarly work which is often seen to have been inaugurated with Edward Said's Orientalism (1978), and has proved highly influential across a large number of disciplines in the humanities and social sciences. Post-colonial theory, especially in the field of history, often takes the form of critical reflections on colonial modernity in different societies.

In the session, we shall use 'post-colonialism' in a looser sense, to denote both the historical experience of decolonization and the specific forms of thinking and discourse this experience has given rise to. In order to understand this, in the first part of the session we shall focus on a deceptively simple text, The Colonizer and the Colonized by Albert Memmi, a French writer of Jewish-Tunisian origin. This text was published in 1957, in the middle of an upsurge in anti-colonial movements across the world. We shall use Memmi's text as an entry point into the lived experience of colonial domination, and also discuss the relationship between the ideas put forward in this text and the later field of postcolonial theory 'proper'.

In Memmi's account, he notes that the colonizers in Tunisia banned European films about the resistance to the Nazis in World War II. Film was particularly feared as a populist, ideological tool in the hands of colonized peoples. By the late 1950s, many felt that French conduct during the Algerian War (1954-1962) had tarnished the legacy of the French Resistance (see the work of Germaine Tillion). One of the most famous Algerian independence leaders was Saadi Yacef (1928-2021). After the war, he worked with Italian filmmaker Gillo Pontecorvo to make The Battle of Algiers (1966), an account of the war based on Yacef's memoirs. Algeria at the time had no national film business, and European support was necessary. It was not always a happy collaboration, but the film is a classic post-colonial text and continues to be a blueprint for resistance around the world. Please watch the film in advance of the session (it is available in the library and is also free on Amazon Prime), and read the interview with Yacef for the second part of our seminar.

Core Reading and Viewing:

  • Albert Memmi, The Colonizer and the Colonized (1957)
  • Gillo Pontecorvo, The Battle of Algiers (1966)
  • Saadi Yacef and Gary Crowdus, 'Terrorism and Torture in The Battle of Algiers: An Interview with Saadi Yacef', Cineaste 29:3 (summer 2004): 30-37. Available on JstorLink opens in a new window

Seminar Questions for Memmi:

  • What kind of colonialism is Memmi analysing? Is it the only kind?
  • To what extent are the sorts of social and psychological situations described by Memmi unique to societies under colonial rule?
  • ‘What sort of challenge does Memmi pose to the ‘leftist colonizer’ (‘the colonizer who refuses’?) Do you think this challenge still has any resonance in the post-imperial world?
  • ‘Thus, while refusing the sinister, the benevolent colonizer can never attain the good, for his only choice is not between good and evil, but between evil and uneasiness’. Discuss this statement.
  • Why is patriarchy a weapon in the hands of the colonizers?
  • ‘But perhaps the most important thing is that once the behavioural feature, or historical or geographical factor which characterizes the colonialist and contrasts him with the colonizer, has been isolated, this gap must be kept from being filled. The colonialist removes the factor from history, time, and therefore possible evolution. What is actually a sociological point becomes labelled as being biological or, preferably, metaphysical. It is attached to the colonized’s basic nature.’ What are the implications of this statement for postcolonial theory?
  • How do colonizer and colonized shape each other, according to Memmi?
  • Are the ‘situations’ Memmi describes for colonizers and colonized inevitable outcomes of the colonialism he analyses?
  • How does The Battle of Algiers depict the history and legacy of French colonial rule?
  • How do framing, sound, editing, and other aspects of cinematography persuade audiences to align themselves with the colonized? Is the same true for the depiction of the colonizers?
  • Discuss the representation of women in the resistance movement. Did the film marginalize women's actual participation?
  • What were and are the challenges of creating national historical films for post-colonial countries?
  • Does The Battle of Algiers escape the dilemma Memmi sees for the European Left facing the colonial struggle?

Further Reading and Viewing:

Octave Mannoni, Prospero and Caliban: Psychology of Colonization (1956)

Aime Cesaire, Discourse on Colonialism (1957)

Germaine Tillion, Algeria: The Realities (1957)

Frantz Fanon, The Wretched of the Earth (London, 1961)

Frantz Fanon, Black Skins, White Masks (London, 1967)

Jean-Paul Sartre, Colonialism and Neocolonialism (1964)

Edward Said, Orientalism (London, 1978)

Ashis Nandy, The Intimate Enemy: Loss and Recovery of Self Under Colonialism (Delhi, 1989)

Sara Suleri, The Rhetoric of English India (1992)

Homi Bhabha, The Location of Culture (1990) [esp. 'Of Mimicry and Man: The Ambivalence of Colonial Discourse']

Reina Lewis and Sara Mills, Feminist Postcolonial Theory: A Reader (2003)

Zohra Drif, Inside the Battle of Algiers: Memoir of a Woman Freedom Fighter (2017)