Theorizing the Postcolonial Self: Arabo-Islamic Modernities, Modernisms, and Modernizations

By Hala Ghoneim.

Published by The International Journal of Critical Cultural Studies

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Catching up with the developed world without losing authentic cultural identity is identified by many Arab cultural theorists as the way out of the current socioeconomic and cultural crises in the Arab world. This seemingly clear-cut formula has proved to be extremely difficult to put into practice. Catching up implies resentment, admiration, and envy of the Other, against whose progress the Self’s own progress is measured and whose experience both inspires and poses an annihilating threat on the Self. A fixation with an immutable indigenous tradition, which has become the bearer of cultural identity in the postcolonial Arab states, may thwart the Self’s passage into modernity. The past could be a trap of narcissism, delusion, or self-pity; the West could be a trap of self-betrayal or colonial mimicry. Simplistic attempts to take what is useable from both traditions could lead to confusion and loss of authenticity. Modernity and its sibling terms modernism and modernization inherently seek to replace tradition. But postcolonial modernity, modernism, and modernization are fashioned to preserve, rework, and reinterpret tradition in order to remain products of the specificity of their own time and place. This paradoxical relationship between the Self and its indigenous tradition goes hand in hand with a paradoxical relationship with Western tradition, which is at once espoused and resisted, admired and resented. This paper investigates manifestations of alliances, tensions, and negotiations between indigenous and Western traditions in cultural theorization, literary theory, and criticism through conducting a comparative analysis between a number of Arab and Western authors of different ideological orientations. I map out four attitudes that address this problematic ranging from wholesale acceptance (or rejection) of indigenous or Western traditions and simplistic attempts at reconciling them to identifying paths to modernize indigenous tradition and indigenize Western ones.

Keywords: Postcolonialism, Modernity, Modernism, Arab-Islamic Cultural Theory, Arab-Islamic Literary Theory and Criticism

The International Journal of Critical Cultural Studies, Volume 10, Issue 4, pp.15-24. Article: Print (Spiral Bound). Article: Electronic (PDF File; 267.969KB).

Dr. Hala Ghoneim

Assistant Professor, Department of Languages and Literatures, University of Wisconsin-Whitewater, Whitewater, Wisconsin, USA

I am a native of Egypt. I received my Ph.D. from the Department of African Languages and Literatures at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. I am Assistant Professor of Arabic in the Department of Languages and Literatures at the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater. I earned my M.A. degree in African languages and literature from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and my B.A. degree in English literature and translation from the University of Ain Shams, Cairo, Egypt. My areas of specialization are Arabic and Anglophone African Literature, Postcolonial theory, modernism, Arabic language, Literary theory, and Islam.