Richard Cavell: Transvestic Sites: Postcolonialism, Pedagogy, and Politics
In the spring of 1993, I taught a graduate seminar at the University of British Columbia called "Cultural Transvestism and Postcolonial Discourse." By the phrase "cultural transvestism" I sought to indicate the borderline tendencies of postcolonialism-its hybridity-as well as to provide a base from which to argue the intersections and complications of gender, race, class, and colonialism. My agenda in the seminar was to facilitate the demonstration of "postcolonialism" as a theoretical position that could bring together texts normally not considered in conjunction with one another in the academy and, in so doing, to provide a forum for critiquing such texts, the academic constraints that keep them separate, and "postcolonialism" itself (which, I felt, was rapidly becoming commodified as a core set of specific texts). While
crossdressing was the focus of the seminar, I hoped to examine other forms of crossing as well. In addition to canonical postcolonial texts such as Coetzee's Foe, Naipaul's The Mimic Men, Findley's Not Wanted on the Voyage, Rushdie's Shame, and Hulme's The Bone People, I also introduced texts designed to trouble essentialized readings of postcolonialism as canonized-texts such as Aquin's Blackout, Burroughs's Tarzan of the Apes, Cliffs No Telephone to Heaven, Furphy's Such is Life, Grenville's Joan Makes History, Hwang's M. Butterfly, Lawrence's Seven Pillars of Wisdom, Moodie's Roughing It in The Bush, Stowe's Uncle Tom's Cabin, and Kureishi's "With Your Tongue Down My Throat." The seminar was designed interactively, partly to emphasize that its production was a collective responsibility and partly to displace the notion that "postcolonialism" was a specific "content." I presented as many texts to the students as I could think of, they added yet others, then we decided collectively which texts would be studied and in what order. (Much of this was done informally, during the term preceding the seminar.) The results of this process were instructive: Coetzee got in, but Findley did not; Hulme but not Furphy; Kureishi but not Naipaul; Cliffbut not Stowe; and Hwang but not T. E. Lawrence. It appeared that a certain disciplinary imperative was operating here, whereby issues of race were not to be complicated by issues of class, and according to which the category of the "postcolonial" was to be associated with texts that had been produced "outside" of Europe (with Kureishi being an interesting exception) in the second half of the twentieth century. This "historical bias" might not seem at all odd, given that postcolonialism is supposed to have arisen after the end of the great European empires. But it was precisely this historical linearity I wanted to question, both because it did not take neocolonialism into account and because it is insensitive to the complexities of resistance-a resistance that often exists coterminously with colonization itself.