Subject to Colonialism

African Self-Fashioning and the Colonial Library

Subject to Colonialism

Book Pages: 216 Illustrations: Published: June 2001

Author: Gaurav Desai

African Studies, Gender and Sexuality > Feminism and Women’s Studies, Postcolonial and Colonial Studies

Subject to Colonialism provides a much needed revisionist perspective on the way twentieth-century Africa is viewed and analyzed among scholars. Employing literary, historical, and anthropological techniques, Gaurav Desai attempts to generate a new understanding of issues that permeate discussions of Africa by disrupting the centrality of postcolonial texts and focusing instead on the cultural and intellectual production of colonial Africans. In particular, Desai calls for a reevaluation of the “colonial library”—that set of representations and texts that have collectively “invented” Africa as a locus of difference and alterity.
Presenting colonialism not as a singular, monolithic structure but rather as a practice frought with contradictions and tensions, Desai works to historicize the foundation of postcolonialism by decentering both canonical texts and privileged categories of analysis such as race, capitalism, empire, and nation. To achieve this, he focuses on texts that construct or reform—rather than merely reflect—colonialism, placing explicit emphasis on processes, performances, and the practices of everyday life. Reading these texts not merely for the content of their assertions but also for how they were created and received, Desai looks at works such as Jomo Kenyatta’s ethnography of the Gikuyu and Akiga Sai’s history of the Tiv and makes a particular plea for the canonical recuperation of African women’s writing.
Scholars in African history, literature, and philosophy, postcolonial studies, literary criticism, and anthropology will welcome publication of this book.


“Learned, lucid, critically self-conscious; recommended to all undergraduate and graduate libraries.” — K. Tölölyan , Choice

"[A] scholarly, judicious, and sometimes audacious book. . . . I hope Subject to Colonialism is a harbinger of new thinking in literary and post-colonial studies."

— Herbert S. Lewis , American Ethnologist

"[A]n outstanding feature of Subject to Colonialism is a self-reflexivity that insists on marking the limits of its theoretical approaches. . . . Although Africanists will read Desai for his study of cultural anthropologies in their relations to the construction of colonial subjectivities, Subject to Colonialism should interest all postcolonialists for its significant contribution to broad epistemological concerns." — Kevin Hickey, Interventions

"Gaurav Desai has written a very good first book, full of thought-provoking insights. . . . Desai’s argument is persuasive. . . . [Subject to Colonialism’s] insights make it worth the attention of scholars interested in the history of anthropology and colonialism. . . ." — Timothy Cleaveland , International Journal of African Historical Studies

"This book locates itself at the intersection of several disciplines, utilizing different modes of inquiry, most of which Gaurav Desai commands with fluency. . . . [A]t ease with and effective in articulating excellent theoretical principles. . . . [T]he book has a remarkably ambitious reach of geographical and disciplinary scope that is wholly admirable." — Susan Andrade, Research in African Literatures

"This study . . . makes a significant contribution to the ongoing critique of the colonial archive, and to the theorization of African self-fashioning in and through language." — Olakunle Goerge , Comparative Studies of South Asia, Africa and the Middle East

“A thoroughly original work. Subject to Colonialism establishes Desai as a new authority in the study of African letters and thought across the twentieth century.” — David William Cohen, author of The Combing of History

“Gaurav Desai has adopted in this study an original and productive approach to postcolonial literature by situating the discursive practices generated by the colonial encounter in a more comprehensive perspective than is usually offered in studies of this kind.” — F. Abiola Irele, Ohio State University

“With its unassuming honesty, clarity of style, and fine balance of argument and information—virtues not often displayed in ‘postcolonial’ writing—this book is bound to find the readers it deserves beyond the narrow circle of the experts and the converted.” — Johannes Fabian, University of Amsterdam


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Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

Gaurav Desai is Associate Professor in the Department of English and the Program of African and African Diaspora Studies at Tulane University.

Table of Contents Back to Top

Introduction: Dangerous Supplements

1. “Race,” Rationality, and the Pedagogical Imperative

2. Dangerous Liaisons? Frustrated Radicals, Master Professionals

3. Colonial Self-Fashioning and the Production of History



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Paper ISBN: 978-0-8223-2641-0 / Cloth ISBN: 978-0-8223-2635-9
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