Landscapes of Hope


While Ahmad makes some valuable contributions to postcolonial discourse studies (particularly, her focus on early 20th-century South Asian/American periodicals), this books has some mighty flaws. My reading of this work is that it really should have been two projects: one on nonfiction sources (the periodical _Young India_ and Richard Wright's book on the Bandung Conference, _The Color Curtain_) and the other on fiction. It is unclear to me why Ahmad classifies the nonfiction sources as "utopias" (Wright's is clearly an "anti-utopian" source by Ahmad's own definition, but is still included in a chapter on Pauline Hopkins's and W. E. B. Du Buois's fictional utopias); as she points out in her epilogue, wishing for utopia does not make a work utopian. She also commits a category error by reading her nonfiction sources through her fictional ones (this is a particular pet peeve of mine in literary and cultural analysis; Eve Koskofsky-Sedgwick was another scholar who often succumbed to this logical fallacy). Really, scholars should read their fictional subjects through nonfictional works not vice versa; why, for example, should Wright's work be read in the light of what Du Bois wrote? Is there evidence that Wright read and admired _Dark Princess?_ No there is not; therefore what can be gained by such analysis other than a misperception of causality and an analysis that is quickly fated to become out of date because it is not internally coherent or even relevant? Another problem is that Ahmad is not internally consistent in her evaluation of her sources. While she finds much to admire in the anti-colonial literature she studies, she also finds much that is problematic. This is as it should be, but she never attempts to wrestle with these internal contradictions, instead simply presenting them as they are; she does mention in the epilogue that she thinks that _some_ of the features of these utopian works should be resurrected, but gives no clear idea how to do this without also resurrecting their problems as well. Particularly problematic is Ahmad's endorsement of "positive" Orientalism over "negative" Orientalism. To me, BOTH are problems because they both rely on stereotyping and tend to make the subject of analysis monolithic while ignoring internal contradictions and differences. Yes, it's nice that Du Bois has some nice (albeit unrealistic) stereotypes about India instead of the degrading nasty kind, but it still causes his utopian alaysis problems that are insoluble (as Ahmad herself points out in her comparison of Du Bois with Lala Lajput Rai). This work is altogether a mixed bag: some valuable scholarship awash in a muck of dross.

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