Double Critique: Disrupting Monolithic Thrusts

The Postcolonial Turn and Double Resistance

The subaltern theatre scholar becomes the translator of a body of writings that was “formed elsewhere and whose archeological questions, most of the time, he/she hardly doubts. Frightened by the intellectual production of the West and by a process of accelerated accumulation, the researcher is satisfied with constructing, in the shadow of the Western episteme, a second knowledge that is residual and that satisfies no one.”12 His/her task is made more difficult and risky. The provincialization of Eurocentric theatre scholarship can only be achieved by recovering the irreducible plurality and age-old interweaving between European theatre with other histories and traditions. How to retrieve such repressed histories and articulate subaltern positions in their name without falling into the essentialist creed of ‘wild difference’, ‘deviant nationalism’, or worse, as Chakrabarty puts it, “the sin of sins, nostalgia”, still constitutes one of the fundamental difficulties facing postcolonial historians and critics.13 Our re-siting of the intercultural theatre debate in the post-colony known today as the “South”14 raises the following questions: What is the task of Arabic performance research in an era of globalization? Is there still a global divide between affluent countries and wretched ones as far as theatre practice is concerned?

The Napoleonic military expedition to Egypt and Syria (1798–1801) has ever since marked the beginning of a conflicting interplay between modernity and colonialism. The ‘Molièrization’ of Arab stages and the desire of the Arabs to appropriate Western models of theatre production came as an effect of this interplay.

Napoleon’s15 introduction of theatre was aimed to serve two main objectives: 1) as a means of entertainment for the soldiers and 2) as an agency aimed at changing people’s traditions and implementing the French civilizing mission. Indeed, the Napoleonic aspirations echo Karl Marx’s thesis on British colonialism and its double mission in a supposedly backward India: “England has to fulfill a double mission in India: one destructive, the other regenerating the annihilation of old Asiatic society, and the laying the material foundations of Western society in Asia.”16 The destructive task led to the breaking up of the native communities and the uprooting of the local industry, whereas the regenerative undertaking pursued the path of modernizing India. The impact on India was so deep that Indians found themselves between two exits: that of the East that refuses to close totally and that of the West that refuses to open far and wide. Khatibi provides an important reading of Marx’s terrifying statement: “the murder of the traditions of the other and the liquidation of its past are necessary so that the West, while seizing the world, can expand beyond its limits while remaining unchanged in the end. The East must be shaken up in order to come back to the West.”17 The introduction of European theatrical traditions was utilized as a means to bring the East back to the West. Theatre in the Arab world was from the start ‘deterritorialized’, perhaps even trapped in an ambiguous compromise and confronted with the necessity to interpolate between different performance cultures and discursive structures. The result is not a return to any illusive authentic state, but a creation of what Homi K. Bhabha calls “thirdness” as both a ‘de-sovereignizing’ and ‘aporetic’ space and an openness of ‘binarity’. It is precisely this openness that makes the ‘Interweaving Performance Cultures’ project an urgent call for transcending the polarities of East/West within a global environment.

The postcolonial turn requires an evaluation of all different ‘Occidents’ and ‘Orients’ that produced us as postcolonial subjects. Accordingly, double critique invites us to redeem postcolonial performance history from its interminable oppositional thinking “by shifting the postcolonial subject’s fixation on the Other/West to an inward interrogation of his political and ideological self-colonization and self-victimization.”18 The two disparate paths chosen by the people of the Maghreb as a means to re-construct a postcolonial society risk relapsing into essentializing creeds: in choosing to seek refuge in the past, they turn their backs on the Western influence that has become part of our heritage ever since Greco-Roman presence in Tamazgha and other parts of what is now the Arab world. This tendency has led some to worship ancestral ways of performing everyday life and, eventually, to a nostalgic quest for an elusive origin. The rebirth of theatrical pan-Arabism in the late 1960s exemplifies such a painful process of renewal. Arab nationalism, as has mostly been performed on Arab stages, seems to reenact the same violence against its internal others, including the native non-Arabs such as the Imazeghen people in North Africa (also known as Berbers). However, in choosing to blindly appropriate the Western path, they also revert to another kind of essentialism, which sees European theatre as a unique and homogeneous epitome that should be disseminated all over the world even at the expense of other peoples’ performative agencies.

Decolonizing the Maghrebi theatre practice from Western ‘Telos’ or ‘Vorhaben’ does not mean a recuperation of a pure and original performance tradition that pre-existed colonial encounters, past and present. Arabocentrism, Tamazghocentrism, Afrocentrism all inevitably lapse into inverted violence and dangerous quests for purity. Does there even exist the possibility of returning to an ‘authentic’ state? There is no way back to an authentic or pure state, since all locations are somehow contaminated and criss-crossed by various encounters past and present. The Maghreb is made up of so many different cultural and historical influences and one cannot simply turn one’s back on any of them. In line with Erika Fischer-Lichte’s inspiring Interweaving project, I believe that cultures absorb material vestiges, remnants, echoes, remains and tattoos of a silent history that is quite literally inaccessible until subjected to an archaeology of silence and a process of transcription or translation. Double critique re-evaluates that very landscape and highlights the multiple crossroads and palimpsests of interweaving and underlying acts of arche-writing.

  1. Khatibi, A., “Double Critique: The Decolonization of Arab Sociology”, p. 16. []
  2. Chakrabarty, D., “Postcoloniality and the Artifice of History”, Representations, no. 37, pp. 2–4. []
  3. As the site of diverse historical, literary, cultural and artistic convergences, the South has been and continues to be the quintessential postcolonial space for created hybridities and cultural pluralism. While ample attention has been given to this space in its historically global relations, it is equally important to further investigate, as Hardt and Negri put it, “the production of locality”. The SOUTH within the current global economic system is literally the rest of the world, located outside of the G8 countries of the North and of what Spivak calls “the Feudal North in-the-South”. []
  4. On 22 August 1799, Napoleon wrote an important note to his successor, General Kléber, explaining the imperative of theatre activity: “I have already asked several times for a troupe of comedians. I will make a special point of sending you one. This item is of great importance for the army and as the means of beginning to change the customs of the country.” []
  5. Marx, K., “The Future Results of British Rule in India”, New-York Daily Tribune, August 8, 1853; reprinted in the New-York Semi-Weekly Tribune, no. 856, 9 August 1853. URL: www.marxists.org/ archive/marx/works/1853/07/22.htm [last accessed: 04.12.2011]. []
  6. Khatibi, A., “Double Critique: The Decolonization of Arab Sociology”, p. 12. []
  7. Hamil, M., “Interrogating Identity: Abdelkebir Khatibi and the Postcolonial Prerogative”, Alif: Journal of Comparative Poetics, no. 22, 2002, pp. 72–86. []

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