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Posts Tagged ‘Paul Gilroy’

The Postcolonial Study Initative.

September 16th, 2010 by Remco de Blaaij

Yesterday I was at the start of the Postcolonial Study Initiative, for unknown reasons abbreviated to PCI ( allthough some say it refers to the former Italian Communist Party). It was about time that initiatives were made and especially in this part of the world. Central speaker and former holder of the Treaty of Utrecht seat at the University of Utrecht was Paul Gilroy. I saw him several times speaking over the last couple of years here and this time it was no other than giving a smooth, understandable and urgent speech on cultural consequences so necessary to understand our situation we are in, maybe just for a little bit.

The Black Atlantic was one of the key works of himself that he referred to many times, a work that for the first time, in 1993, opened up an understanding of the cultural travel, consequences of slavery, black identity in an ever existing diasporic and dispersed idea of living, in minds of people other than the ones that suffered from atrocities that officially ended in 1863 in Suriname as a colony of The Netherlands and as one of the last countries in Europe to do this.

The talk of Paul Gilroy pretty much took up everything that is written and argued about in The Black Atlantic and took up this idea of modernity and the forming of black identity more. From the esthetics of clothes of the slaves towards an interesting geneology of the human rights ( as a secular US idea of freedom that was offered to the world) Gilroy navigated us through the oceans of identity forming and the commercial selling of this identity in order to come to terms with certain pasts. Pasts that we don’t know anymore ofcourse, or at least deny that they existed in forms and scales of any importance. The talk gave a very nice image of how black identity was formed through different media in the light of amnesia and how this is propelled in our new-modern time, even to the strategy of diplomacy that we see in the EU and USA, where cultural diplomacy, development and defence is part of the argument to engage in military orientalism or building up something like a world citizenship.

For me and others in the room I’m sure, it was clear that we are left with a total amnesia and cultural denial, at least on the ‘white’ side on what happened roughly before 1863 and the 250 years before this. My feeling on this amnesia and denial was represented in one of the anecdote’s that Gilroy told us about an interview with a British soldier who fought in Afghanistan;

At some point we came to the village and we were swiftly received by the local community by the words;”It’s been too long that you were here, last time you burnt down our whole village!”. The soldier was confused, because their unit was never there before, so it must have been special forces that secretly did something in that village. He explained, but the villagers said, “no, no, it was 120 years ago that you were here, but we still remember very well”. It was in another war that same representatives where there to conduct these activities.

It was a simple anecdote that left traces for me that are very important to understand modes of time and the understanding of history. In the same I can recommend the book of Anton de Kom in whcih he constantly sees these modes of perception also in the Surinam colonial times where cruelties happened for hundreds of years too. It is a mode of perception that does not contribute at all to a ‘white’ idea of collective rememberance, because it cannot see beyond the borders of the individual. In Anton de Kom’s book ( We, Slaves of Suriname) it is referred to as this:”You, the white reader, should know that these cruelties have never been part of the books of your history, but it has been in our souls forever”. It made me clear once again that this directed and choreographed amnesia is part of the soul of us, I am white there is no doubt about this, and it’s not in our books. It seems to me that we have to keep fighting also beyond the borders of the university to enlighten our historical perception that still is propelling us into the future everyday. Hopefully if we can be able to at least accomplish this for a very small part we would see what the real effects of crimes committed in the past knew how they find their way to the post-colonial people, but never to the colonial ones. We need also action in this rapidly on the visual level, as I think the visual and imaginary is at least a border or door that as a tool is close to remembrance. We should grab every chance to contribute to this. Yes, to the initative, yes to much more initatives,…


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