In a postcolonial world, where structures of power, hierarchy, and domination operate on a global scale, writers face an ethical and aesthetic dilemma: How to write without contributing to the inscription of inequality? How to process the colonial past without reverting to a pathology of self-disgust? Can literature ever be free of the shame of the postcolonial epoch--ever be truly postcolonial? As disparities of power seem only to be increasing, such questions are more urgent than ever. In this book, Timothy Bewes argues that shame is a dominant temperament in twentieth-century literature, and the key to understanding the ethics and aesthetics of the contemporary world.
Drawing on thinkers such as Jean-Paul Sartre, Frantz Fanon, Theodor Adorno, and Gilles Deleuze, Bewes argues that in literature there is an "event" of shame that brings together these ethical and aesthetic tensions. Reading works by J. M. Coetzee, Joseph Conrad, Nadine Gordimer, V. S. Naipaul, Caryl Phillips, Ngugi wa Thiong'o, and Zoë Wicomb, Bewes presents a startling theory: the practices of postcolonial literature depend upon and repeat the same structures of thought and perception that made colonialism possible in the first place. As long as those structures remain in place, literature and critical thinking will remain steeped in shame.
Offering a new mode of postcolonial reading, The Event of Postcolonial Shame demands a literature and a criticism that acknowledge their own ethical deficiency without seeking absolution from it.
Timothy Bewes is associate professor of English at Brown University. He is the author of Cynicism and Postmodernity and Reification, or the Anxiety of Late Capitalism.
"Bewes has established himself as a leading theorist of negative affect. . . . Bewes's account of the materialization of shame that is less communicative than affective, and thus potentially transformative, should interest readers across the humanities and social sciences."--Choice
"I am extraordinarily impressed by this book's forcefulness of argument and originality. This compelling book deserves to be read widely, not only by specialists conversant with postcolonial and critical theory, but also by committed readers who are interested in the postcolonial novel and the politics of writing after colonialism. It is a true pleasure to read."--Rebecca Walkowitz, Rutgers University
"This is an exceptional book. Bewes has written the theory of the contemporary novel that literary scholars have been craving, and he has written a work of literary criticism that explains why scholars across the disciplines ought to be reading contemporary fiction if they wish to understand the twentieth century."--John Marx, University of California, Davis
"In arguing that shame takes a material form in literature, this book is a breakthrough. Bewes provides a genuine analysis of the aesthetics and ethics of postcolonial writing and makes his case pointedly. For these reasons, this book will be of great interest to students and scholars of postcolonial theory, critical and literary theory, global Anglophone writing, and the ethics of the literary form."--Emily Apter, New York University
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