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The Ethnic Conflict Research Digest

1999, Vol. 2 No. 1 .

Dangerous Liaisons
Edited by Anne McClintock, Aamir Mufti & Ella Shohat

(Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press, 1997)
551pp. Index. Bibl. ISBN 0-8166-2648-0. Pb.: ISBN 0-8166-2649-9

Postcolonial criticism, and postcolonial theory, although semantically and substantively somewhat distinct, address the various aspects of the postcolonial condition. Dangerous Liaisons is an edited project which uses postcolonial analysis, theory and criticism to address the constructions of nation, race, and gender in the Third World. In addition it also addresses issues of multiculturalism and diasporic identities in a postcolonial world. Previously published articles are used with newly written ones, to organize the book around four thematic parts entitled "Contesting Nations", "Multiculturalism and Diasporic Identities", "Gender and the Politics of Race," and "Postcolonial Theory".

Part I includes a set of essays which highlight (a) the racialized and gendered nature of imperialist discourse, (b) the nation "as a form of struggle against imperialism" (p. 3), and (c) the nation as "a historically produced, unfinished, and contested terrain" (p. 4). For postcolonial scholars, the imperialist encounter has been a decisive moment in the creation of the enduring hierarchies of the world and the systematic structuring of ethnic, racial and gender conflict. This encounter has not only depended on force, but also on the creation of a racialized and gendered discourse. For Gauri Vishwanathan, the connections between culture and power are nowhere more visible than in the construction of the "ideal Englishmen" who epitomizes liberal ideas of justice and fairness, a "mental artifact" who is far removed from his real status as oppressor and subjugator. Edward Said's "Zionism from the Standpoint of its Victims", and Ella Shohat's "Sephardism in Israel: Zionism from the Standpoint of its Jewish Victims" discuss how the Zionist discourse about non-Jews uses the "cultural currency" of a racialized imperialist discourse to justify the creation of Israel. That the construction of Israel has made the Palestians homeless, and marginalized the "Arab Jews" also called the Sephardi Jews in Israel, is not addressed in the discourse of Zionism.

Whereas Anne McClintock suggests that the "domestic genealogy" of the nation is both racialized and gendered in which women become the symbolic markers of nationalism, Rob Nixon address the widely accepted assumption that cultural and ethnic identity is an acceptable basis of nationalist self-determination. Highlighting the connections between ethnicity, self-determination, and violence, Nixon warns us of the dangers of "biological nationalism" as experienced in the Yugoslavia.

Part II addresses the current debates on multiculturalism and diasporic identities which seek to situate Eurocentric knowledge in a historical and economic context and to unveil the diversity of global knowledge (Retamar). The voices of ethnic communities (African-American, Asian-American, Chicano, and Native-American), gender communities, and the "new" comunities of sexual identification (such as gays, lesbians, and bi-sexuals) have revealed the tensions in the politics of "home" and location as exempified by Lubiano, Hanchard, and Mercer. Stuart Hall and Robert Stam provide outstanding contributions in this section. Discussing the intersections of globalization and diasporic identities, Stuart Hall distinguishes between an older more defensive nationalism which guards against any penetrations of difference in the nation, and a corporate more exploratory nationalism which is "trying to live with - and at the same moment overcome, sublate, get hold of, and incorporate - difference" (p.183). Robert Stam addresses the older more defensive nationalism' myths about multiculturalism in a detailed and systematic manner.

Part III critiques the universalisms and epistemic authority of First World white feminism by exploring the practices through which racialized and gendered subjects are produced (Carby, hook, Jaimes and Halsey, Lorde, Stoler) (p.7). In addition, Jaimes and Halsey bring Native American women to the forefront of the indigenous rights movement. Problematizing the representations of Third World women in Western feminist discourse Chandra Mohanty's classic "Under Western Eyes" demonstrates the staying power of imperialist discourse.

Although there is now a substantial literature on postcolonial criticism and theory, the articles included in section IV stand out for their clarification, analysis, and critique of "the postcolonial". The poststructuralist origins of postcoloniality utilize the Foucauldian power-knowledge nexus to unsettle the received authority of imperialism, nationalism, and modernization discourse (Appiah, Diawra, Dirlik, Prakash). Thus the postcolonial scholar, according to Shohat and Mufti, can also thought of as post-nationalist, or Post-Third Worldist. Arik Dirlif's critique of postcolonialism comes from precisely this. Equating postcolonial criticism with the pathology of Third World intellectuals in the first World, he suggests, that the term postcolonial is so inclusive and vast that it losses any sense of accuracy and meaning.

Although the book is a fascinating and interestingly varied collection of pieces on postcolonial perspectives, there are several criticisms, that I have of the book. The first criticism is organizational. Leaving postcolonial theory to section IV, is a serious misjudgement in my mind. For a reader not experienced in postcolonial theory who may look for guidance in delineating postcolonialism and the usefulness of postcolonialism to contemporary analysis, it may have been useful to have theory in the first section. Although the introduction by Mufti and Shohat introduces us to postcolonial perspectives, and indeed it is very useful, it is mostly an introduction to the book and not to postcolonial theory. Secondly, although the book's subtitle is 'Gender and Nation and Postcolonial Perspectives', gender is not the common thread that ties these chapters together. Race is much more of a common thread-thus it might have been more appropriate to have Race, Gender and Nation in postcolonial perspectives. It would more accurately reflect the postcolonial condition.

Geeta Chowdhry, Northern Arizona University

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