‘Making the Difference: Postcolonial Theory and the Politics of Memory’ in Janet Harbord & Jan Campbell, eds., Temporalities: Auto/biography in a Postmodern Age (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2002), pp. 35-52. ISBN: 0 71905575X
Temporalities: Auto/biography and Everyday Life reflects the fact that autobiography has recently become a primary medium for cultural theory, at the centre of debates about subjectivity, history, memory, authority and ethics. Narratives of the self have materially located abstract theoretical paradigms, challenging the tenets of an anonymous post-structuralism and a decentred postmodernism. The collection purposefully expands the concept of autobiographical practice to take into consideration recent work on the role of the intellectual, and the areas of cultural geography, historiography and new technologies.
The key research questions that frame the collection include: What are the consequences of replacing macro narratives of modernity with the personal micro-narratives of postmodernity, and does self-reflexivity threaten the efficacy of theory? How far can personal accounts challenge official histories, and how is authority acquired by different versions? How is autobiography constructed through, or inflected by, the environment? Is autobiography a particularly compelling medium for narratives of diasporic or nomadic existence, flux and displacement? Is the idea of the sovereign self constituted through, or challenged by, new technologies?
My chapter brings together three long-standing research interests: colonial and postcolonial autobiography, cultural memory, and the politics of postcolonial theory. It explores the relationship between autobiographical practice and postcolonial cultural theory by proposing that forms of self-narrative might resist the homogenizing and depoliticizing tendencies of theoretical intent. It analyses three different autobiographically inflected texts/projects in order to argue that an attention to a situated concept of cultural memory might be mobilized for the reconfiguration of contemporary postcolonial critical frameworks. Rigoberta Menchu’s testimonio, I Rigoberta Menchu (1984), Leslie Marmon Silko’s novel Ceremony (1977), and Paul Gilroy’s The Black Atlantic: Modernity and Double Consciousness (1993) are addressed for the very different ways in which they mediate cultural memory and offer forms of resistance within the troubled space of the ‘postcolonial’.