Paul Gilroy – Postcolonial Melancholia


Paul Gilroy, Postcolonial Melancholia, Columbia Univ Press, 2004.

Paul Gilroy’s Postcolonial Melancholia questions the place of “race” in political culture from the nineteenth century imperialism through anti-colonial and national liberation struggles of the mid-twentieth century to dismissal of multiculturalism of the present. Analyzing race politics or politics of race and tracing its history back to the imperial policies of race hierarchy which enabled and justified colonial dominations and racial inequalities through the process of biopolitical power exercise and discursive elaboration, Gilroy seems to adopting Foucauldian concepts of power, discourse, and biopolitics.

Especially when he writes about DuBois’s project, he clearly announces his perspective: “by ‘race’ I do not mean physical variations or differences commonsensically coded in, on, or around the body.” Instead, for him, “‘race’ refers primarily to an impersonal, discursive arrangement, the brutal result of the raciological ordering of the world, not its cause” (39). This kind of argument is resonant with E. Said’s point of view. Said shows in Orientalism, which also might be another Foucauldian application especially to the discursive analysis of Orientalism, how the Orient and Orientalism are produced not existed as an immutable truth: “knowledge of the Orient … creates the Orient, the Oriental, and his world” (40). In the same vein, Gilroy seems to claim that racism is a system of knowledge about the race and the concept of race is a historical product of imperial colonialism and the “rational irrationalities of raciology.” At this point, the problem of race and the problem of nation meet. Where the Orient was fabricated is where the Blackness (or whichever color is) was made. Racism and nationalism are two sides of a coin, the aftereffect of imperial colonialism.

There is no doubt that, at the center of contemporary raciology, dismissal of multiculturalism, a new imperial power, the United States has been emerged: “the resurgent imperial power of the United States has made multiculturalism as aspect of the clash of integral and incompatible civilizations, thereby transmitting an additional negative energy into this delicate postcolonial process” (1). “As successor to the European empires”(3), the US aggravates the multicultural situation of the world. “In the name of cosmopolitanism and humanitarianism”(59), “war on terror” and the invasion of Iraq, committed by the US and neglected by the UN, have been ethically and politically justified. As “there is something neurotic about Britain’s continued citation of the anti-Nazi war”(89), the US also seems to be obsessed by cosmopolitanism and globalism in its own sense, under the neocolonial assumption that there is a hierarchy in civilizations and that the inferior civilization should be eliminated by its superior one—this kind of pathology might be a result of victorious WWII and neurotic Cold War period.

It is important that Gilroy is paying attention to the function of a “deep cultural biology” (6), which transforms genomics and biotechnology into “self-conscious biocolonialsim” (38). Interpretation of Genetic information and privatization and commercialization of its result has a tendency to contribute to biopolitics of race, which classifies and justifies an inequality and difference of race deepening the race absolutism. With this kind of technology, human being itself is colonized and power of colonization is internalized embodied.  

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