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The Time of Imperialism or a Postcolonial Determinism: A Study of Ayi Kwei Armah's The Beautyful Ones Are Not Yet Born
Stockholm University, Faculty of Humanities, Department of English.
2016 (English)Independent thesis Advanced level (degree of Master (Two Years)), 20 credits / 30 HE creditsStudent thesis
Abstract [en]

Time and history feature prominently in debates on imperialism in the humanities and literary scholarship, with contrasting positions taken up by different theorists. In this paper, I aim to scrutinize critically one such position that has come to dominate postcolonial scholarship, the position that advocates anti-historical temporal difference. This position, taken up and articulated by Dipesh Chakrabarty, states that the transition temporality of modern historical consciousness is derived from European culture and is imposed on and exported to the rest of the world, thus making it inherently a projection of European cultural imperialism (i.e., Eurocentrism). Following this position, many postcolonial theorists have interpreted key canonical texts along similar lines, that is, as challenging the transition time of modern historical consciousness and  as portraying time as non-transitional, cyclical, repetitive etc., in other words, highlighting temporal difference by showing the inadequacies of historical time and/or by portraying  traditional forms of temporal consciousness in the Third World.

By focusing on one of these canonical texts, Ayi Kwei Armah’s The Beautyful Ones Are Not Yet Born, I critically analyze and challenge this postcolonial reading of the novel as well as its more general theoretical positions and assumptions on two levels. Firstly, I question the assumption that transition and non-transition/cyclical/ repetitive time are externally related, the former being in the realm of modern historical consciousness and the latter outside of it. I argue that modern historical consciousness is better thought of as being constituted by the contradictory unity between transition and non-transition/repetitive temporality. Secondly, I question the assumption that Eurocentrism is ultimately a temporal relation. This assumption leads to theories that reify time as an a priori civilizational given and posit temporally deterministic arguments regarding imperialism. I argue instead that temporality has to be contextualized in social and power relations and the narratives that justify/mystify and challenge such relations. In questioning these assumptions, I propose a radically different interpretation of Armah’s novel: one that views the novel’s production of time as embracing (not going against) historical consciousness, thereby engaging imperialism as a primarily social and power relation (not a temporal one).

Keywords: Eurocentrism; imperialism; postcolonial theory; historical time; temporal difference; temporal determinism; Dipesh Chakrabarty; Ayi Kwei Armah

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
2016. , p. 53
National Category
Languages and Literature
Identifiers
URN: urn:nbn:se:su:diva-138931OAI: oai:DiVA.org:su-138931DiVA, id: diva2:1069893
Presentation
2017-01-11, 13:00 (English)
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Examiners
Available from: 2017-02-03 Created: 2017-02-03Bibliographically approved

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