Workshop: 14 June 2018

Theorizing Literary Practice: Between the Postcolonial and the Decolonial
one-day workshop organized by DECODE

Theorizing Literary Practice:
Between the Postcolonial and the Decolonial

one-day workshop organized by DECODE,
a cooperation between Terra Critica
and the Middelburg Decolonial Summer School

Workshop Participants

Birgit M. Kaiser (Comparative Literature, UU; Terra Critica)
Rolando Vazquez Melken (Sociology, University College Roosevelt; affiliated researcher Gender Studies, UU; Middelburg Decolonial Summer School)

invited guests:
Anirban Das (Associate Professor in Cultural Studies, Centre for Studies in Social Sciences, Kolkata)
Madina Tlostanova (Professor of Postcolonial Feminisms, Linköping University)

confirmed participants:
Jesse van Amelsvoort (University of Groningen)
Ana Avalos Abril (Utrecht University)
Sruti Bala (University of Amsterdam)
Paul Bijl (Utrecht University)
Mayte Cantero Sánchez (University of Barcelona)
Eamonn Connor (Utrecht University)
Aneesha Goswami (Utrecht University)
Aline Hernandez (Free University Amsterdam VU)
Sophie Hsin-lin Su (Utrecht University)
Astrid Kerchman (Utrecht University)
Neil ten Kortenaar (University of Toronto)
Juliana Mejia Jaramillo (Utrecht University)
Eric Patel (AKV St. Joost Den Bosch)
Isabella Pinto (University of Rome)
Ilse van Rijn (Gerrit Rietveld Academie/University of Amsterdam)
Subro Saha (Utrecht University/Amity University Kolkata)
Zuleika Sheik (Erasmus University Rotterdam)
Kathrin Thiele (Utrecht University; Terra Critica)
Rosa Wevers (Utrecht University)

Workshop Programme

June 14, 2018

9.30-10.00 coffee

10.00-12.00 session one

epistemic justice: strategies of postcolonial and/or decolonial critique

12.00-13.30 lunch break

13.30-15.30 session two

ways of un/doing in Bengali literature and Cricassian art: artists, authors, communities

The workshop was made possible with the generous financial support of the Modern and Contemporary Literature Research Group at Utrecht University.




The workshop Theorizing Literary Practice: Between the Postcolonial and the Decolonial  engaged non-western literatures and the arts as a meeting point of decolonial and postcolonial critique. Within western academia, both strands of critical thought have taken interwoven but different theoretical routes as they emerge from different historico-political entanglements.

In the 1980s and 1990s, the postcolonial gained momentum notably after Said’s Orientalism (1979), Spivak’s In Other Worlds (1986) and Bhabha’s The Location of Culture (1994), who analyzed the West’s different colonial projects – especially (but not limited to) their late-18th to mid-20th century British and French imperial forms in Asia and Asia Minor. Postcolonial  literary-aesthetic and social criticism investigated ways to destabilize and unwork the discursive, material and psychic mechanisms that kept the colonial in place; also forging alliances – among others – with the poststructuralist critiques of history (Foucault), difference (Derrida) and desire (Lacan). The postcolonial critical gesture might be described by what Nikita Dhawan, following Spivak and Lorde, has called the “affirmative sabotage of the master’s tools” (in Decolonizing Enlightenment, 2014) or what Spivak herself calls an affirmative deconstruction of the “enabling violence” that is the hegemonic western Enlightenment-cum-national-colonial project.

Also in the 1990s, the decolonial began taking shape among Latin American scholars (Dussel, Lugones, Mignolo, Quijano, Walsh) as a collective research agenda building on the long historical trajectories of anti-colonial thinking in the Americas (Guaman Poma de Ayala, Mariategui, Marti, et al.), the legacies of critical thought from the 1960s, the theory of dependency in political economy, Black and Caribbean liberation thought (Fanon, Cesaire, Glissant), the philosophy of liberation (Dussel) and the theology of liberation, the insights of Black and Chicana feminisms (Wynter, Anzaldua) and Afro and Indigenous thought (Garcia, Luna, Diaz). Another important source of decolonial thought has been the epistemic innovations of social movements, particularly indigenous liberation struggles such as the Zapatista in Chiapas. Decolonial thought is a collective effort that challenges the eurocentric, patriarchal and anthropocentric nature of the dominant model of civilization. Decolonial thought does not seek to claim a non-eurocentred modernity but rather to delink from modernity and the western project of civilization. It works towards epistemic, political, ecological and aesthetic forms of autonomy and the configuration of a pluriversal horizon. In the last decade or so along with reconstructing and digging out the erased and forgotten memories and local histories decolonial thought has turned to decolonizing the present in the form of various epistemic, aesthetic and other interventions (e.g. decolonizaton of universities, museums, etc.).

Additionally decoloniality has acquired popularity and has expanded in locales originally unconnected with its genealogies such as Eastern and Central Europe, the Balkans, Russia/USSR and its ex- and present colonies or, in other words, zones of the external imperial difference. These decolonial reflections originate from the socialist (second-rate) modernity and its darker colonial side adding complexity and intersectionality to the original decolonial formulations.

In this light, our workshop  asked after the characteristics of the postcolonial and the decolonial, their distinct theoretical and political underpinnings, their potential points of convergence and political alliances. Questions that we addressed in and with this workshop were: How do they respond to the epistemological violence of colonialism, its silencing of difference? How are both entangled with feminist critiques? And what are the distinct roles of literature and the arts in/for both projects to un/work the hegemonic, colonial episteme? How can we put their moments of convergence and divergence to forge coalitions in line with the idea that “divergence refers to the coming together of heterogeneous practices that will become other than what they were, while continuing to be the same” (de la Cadena 2015, 280)?

The workshop contributed to the Comparative Literature Seminar at Utrecht University as well as the broader context of literary, gender and postcolonial/decolonial studies connected to the Institute for Cultural Inquiry (ICON) and was organized in a collaborative endeavor of Terra Critica: Interdisciplinary Network of the Critical Humanities and the Middelburg Decolonial Summer School. Our two invited guests, Madina Tlostanova (U Linköping) and Anirban Das (CSSSC, Kolkata), each opened the morning and afternoon session with a brief statement, after which we moved to a plenary discussion. For that purpose, all participants prepared the following readings in advance:

  • Anirban Das, “Aesthetizicing Law into Justice. The Fetus in a Divided Planet” in: The Borders of Justice, ed. by Étienne Balibar, Sandro Mezzadra and Ranabir Samaddar (Philadelphia: Temple UP, 2012), pp. 123-144.
  • Boaventura de Sousa Santos, Epistemologies of the South. Justice against Epistemicide (Routledge, 2014), Introduction and chapters 7 and 8
  • Rabindranath Tagore, “Punishment” (transl. by Supriya Chaudhuri) in: Rabindranath Tagore, Selected Short Stories, ed. by Sukanta Chaudhuri (Oxford: Oxford UP, 2000), pp. 110-120.
  • Madina Tlostanova, “Postcolonial Theory, the Decolonial Option and Post-Socialist Writing”, in: Postcolonial Europe? Essays on Post-Communist Literatures and Cultures, ed. by Dobrota Pucherova and Robert Gafrik (Brill, 2015), pp. 25-45.
  • Madina Tlostanova. “The Bedana and the Stranger” (a short story)

Additional reading:

  • Madina Tlostanova. “Decolonial Art in Eurasian Borderlands”, in: Madina Tlostanova. Postcolonialism and Postsocialism in Fiction and Art. Resistance and Re-existence (Palgrave Macmillan, 2017), pp. 45-72.