Rajeev S. Patke
National University of Singapore
The American critic Yvor Winters castigated the literary and American version of this criterion as the fallacy of national mimeticism. The nationalist and indigenizing frame of mind may resent having to feel obliged to the Colonizer for its model of betterment; it may feel frustrated at its continued dependency on the Colonizer and it may be infuriated to find that the dream of the Universal gets realized only in terms of European versions of that chimera. Nevertheless, I think that the nationalist or indigenizing impulse is less committed to the legitimation of knowledge than to the legitimation of the indigenous through knowledge. Indigenization as an expression of the will to self-legitimate can become stultifying whenever the urge to individuate and the desire to progress along self-determined lines forces formerly colonised societies or nations into believing that they had better reinvent the wheel. Even if this were done, after much expenditure of energy, it would not legitimate the wheel of knowledge, but rather new nations that must overcome their own illegitimation.
I prefer those parts of Professor Kom's diagnosis that try to account for why so many formerly colonised nations (in and outside Africa) have failed to deliver on the promise of independence in terms of a combination of other factors such as poverty which breeds corrupt rule and administration; lack of education which traps entire classes of society in intellectual stagnation, social immobility and economic disability; poor social planning; the inability of administrators to free themselves from a colonial mindset (and the self-demonising that Fanon described as colonialism's Manicheanism); and the failure to sustain (or sometimes even to acquire) a pragmatic ethics (which is more a matter of a rational pursuit of competence, efficiency, and accountability than of religious idealism) in matters of governance and management. Two additional factors are worth noting, which perhaps affect Africa even more than Asia: the West's lead in secularizing and industrialising society has drastically (if not permanently) disadvantaged communities entering belatedly into nationhood; and natural disasters (such as disease, drought, flood, famine) and man-made disasters (such as genocide, manipulated communal strife) which have aggravated what is already a parlous state of affairs. Even if sentiments like Kipling's legitimation of Empire as "the white man's burden" are read as disingenuous hypocrisy, the evidence of so many ex-colonial nations' failure to administer themselves competently does place nationalism's cry for self-rule in a bitterly ironic light, confirming the truth of a remark such as Foucault's, that the "practice of liberation is not in itself sufficient to define the practices of freedom". Professor Kom concludes, "we have only ever had a superficial knowledge of the Other". I think that the failures of post-colonial nations need not be laid first at the door of the intellectual, because the fabric of society can be changed, not by the labour of any small, elite group, but by a transformation of society through the widest dissemination of knowledge. That would be the legitimation of knowledge.
However, I concur with his recognition that if we have been superficial in our knowledge of the Other, we have been even more superficial in our knowledge about ourselves and about what was entailed in making new nations legitimate grounds for the creation of new knowledge. But such recognitions inhibit me from invoking neo-colonialism as the principal enemy of legitimately autonomous knowledge in the new nations and from casting my thoughts in the old dichotomous mould of Us versus Them, and Centre versus Margin, whereas Professor Kom seems willing to fall back upon the same Manichean binarism that he had earlier identified as a hangover from a colonial mindset. I am also a little worried at Professor Kom's despair of "phantom States in search of an undiscoverable democracy". If we contrast the military repression of democracy for over half a century in a country like Pakistan with its costly survival in India, I should think that democracy is not altogether undiscoverable, and definitely preferable, despite all its problems. That some of them fail is not a good reason for throwing out democracy per se. Likewise, I am uneasy at Professor Kom's rejection of what he calls "extrovert economies", because the rejection seems to require, or point in the direction of a wilful and ahistorical isolationism, illustrated most recently by Malaysia's (perhaps partly, but only partly, justified) paranoia. If we accept modern economies as the diffusion of globalism across nations, how best to utilize the energies of the process for one's nation seems a more constructive plan than to reject it as neocolonial exploitation. I would not be so presumptuous as to think that I have some panacea at hand for all the distressing problems of post-coloniality that are at their ugliest in so many parts of Africa. But if nations like Japan can rebuild themselves and if smaller nations like Taiwan or Singapore can become economically prosperous, the reasons for their success do suggest possible lines of extrapolation. There can be no alternative to sustained self-discipline and hard work; there is no alternative to education. There are choices to industrialization as policy, but hardly to whether new nations should or should not walk that path. Of course, none of this would immediately eliminate corrupt rulers, lazy mindsets and communal divisiveness. But if anything can, eventually, I think it is the widespread dissemination of knowledge, accomplished in such a way as to avoid the schism between an aggressive-defensive localism versus a disingenuous universalism. We could distinguish between the types of knowledge that are universal and those that grow into localisms without having to serve an agenda or fulfil an idea as ideology.
Rajeev S. Patke was born in Poona, India. He gained his BA, MA from the University of Poona, going on to do his M.Phil. and D.Phil. at the University of Oxford as a Rhodes Scholar. He taught in India for a few years and is currently Associate Professor in the Department of English Language and Literature in the National University of Singapore. He has recently completed work for the Open University on a multi-authored book on Postcolonial Literatures in English; produced two audio Compact Discs of local poetry from Singapore; and is working on a book which explores the writings of Walter Benjamin and Theodor Adorno viewed from a postcolonial perspective. He is the author of The Long Poems of Wallace Stevens: An Interpretative Study (Cambridge, 1985) and has co-edited Institutions in Cultures: Theory and Practice (Rodopi, 1996). Recent publications include "Postcolonial Yeats", in W.B.Yeats Critical Assessments, David Pierce (ed.): Helm Information, 2000, and "antinomial Walter Benjamin"in The European Legacy, 4: 4 (1999). Forthcoming publications include an article on the Indian Subaltern Historians in Colonies, Missions Cultures in the English-speaking World, Gerhard Stilz (ed.): Tuebingen; "Is there any intellectual in this room?", in Social Knowledge: Heritage, Challenges, Prospects, Syed Farid Alatas (ed.): Singapore; an article on Benjamin in Benjamin's Blind spot, Lise Patt(ed.); two articles on Benjamin in CD-ROM format from Haifa; and an article on "Asian Extrapolations from Adorno" in a book on The reception of the Frankfurt School outside Germany.