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postcolonial politics Arrow vol 6 no 2 contents
About borderlands Volume 6 number 2, 2007


Postcolonial Politics

Vijay Devadas & Chris Prentice
University of Otago



1. The essays in this issue emerge from a conference organised by the Postcolonial Studies Research Network at the University of Otago in December 2006, as well as papers solicited from scholars who speak to, from, with, and against the field of postcolonial studies. The motivation for a conference on the theme of Postcolonial Politics materialised, first, in response to the current state of the social fabric in the global 'war on terror', which has witnessed the brutalisation and victimisation of refugees, asylum-seekers, and minority communities across various geopolitical spaces (Australiasia, the US, Europe, and Africa), the production of multiple zones of exception and exclusion (both known--Guantanamo Bay, Woomera, and various offshore detention centers--and unknown), and the institution of measures curtailing the rights of citizens globally.   In other words, the conference was motivated as a response to the different forms of violence that animate the genealogy of the postcolonial present, violences that have curtailed, impeded and, in certain cases, extinguished the rights of a variety of peoples. In such a context, questions about a postcolonial politics emerge as crucial to challenge the proliferation of repressive techniques, acts, and rationalities in the contemporary postcolonial condition.

2. The theme also seeks to make a contribution to the field of postcolonial critique. First, it returns to the domain of politics as one of its central preoccupations, or more precisely to the commitment to producing a politics that challenges and disrupts established ideological and social formations, disciplinary boundaries and intellectual commitments. Second, it responds to more recent declarations that the very notion of a postcolonial critique is no longer productive, particularly as a way of challenging the production and dissemination of contemporary sovereign power (cf. Hardt and Negri, Zizek).

3. A very schematic look at the history of this field manifestly demonstrates the centrality of politics to the concerns of postcolonial critique. The founding works of the postcolonial project such as Aime Cesaire in Discourse on Colonialism (1953), Frantz Fanon in The Wretched of the Earth (1961) and Black Skin White Masks (1967), Albert Memmi in The Colonizer and the Colonized (1965), and Kwame Nkrumah in Consciencism (1970), express this quite clearly, as do the later works that have emerged. We have in mind here the project of the Subaltern Studies collective, and the works of Gayatri   Spivak (1992, 1999), Homi Bhabha (1994), and Achille Mbembe (2001), to name a few, which all affirm the centrality of politics to the postcolonial project. Our constitution of these contributions in terms of their take-up of politics as central to the postcolonial project would however be challenged by some because it collapses the two main trajectories of conceiving politics that dominate within postcolonial critique--a postcolonial politics of materialist critique and a postcolonial politics of textual and cultural critique.

4. On the side of a postcolonial politics of materialist critique we can include, among others, the works of Aijaz Ahmad, Neil Lazarus, and Benita Parry. On the side of a postcolonial politics of textual and cultural critique are the usual postcolonial suspects, Edward Said, Bhabha, and Spivak, who have been critical targets of the materialist camp. Ahmad, for example, charges the postcolonial with being apolitical, "subscrib[ing] to the idea of the end of Marxism, nationalism, collective historical subjects [whilst rejecting those] ... who do not quite accept this apocalyptic anti-Marxism" (1995: 10). The postcolonial is condemned for disinheriting Marx--a disinheritance that in his view removes politics from the agenda of much postcolonial critique. We can also find reverberations of such a proposition in Lazarus's declaration that his book, Nationalism and Cultural Practice in the Postcolonial World, "is intended as a self-consciously Marxist contribution to the academic field of postcolonial studies--one capable of suggesting a credible historical materialist alternative to the idealist and dehistoricizing scholarship currently predominant in that field in general" (1999: 1). While Lazarus states that his relationship to Ahmad is ambivalent, his call for a materialist critique as central to affirming a postcolonial politics is very similar to Ahmad's argument. Put another way, both Ahmad and Larazus condemn the politics of postcolonial critique in the 'textualist'/'culturalist' mode because it does not engage with Marx (and a materialist critique), and because it indulges in theoretical (or in Larazus' words, 'idealist') scholarship. To this body of scholarship which proposes that a properly postcolonial politics is a politics of materialist critique, we can add Parry's Postcolonial Studies: A Materialist Critique (2004), which calls for a shift from a politics of textualism and culturalism in postcolonial studies to a politics of socio-material conditions. Here is her charge in full:

The abandonment of historical and social explanation was soon apparent in the work of those postcolonial critics who disengaged colonialism from historical capitalism and re-presented it for study as a cultural event. Consequently an air-borne will to power was privileged over calculated compulsions, 'discursive violence' took precedence over the practices of a violent system, and intrinsically antagonistic colonial encounter was reconfigured as one of dialogue, complicity and transculturation (2004: 4).

5. The materialist's charge however has its detractors, and the constitution of the contributions of the likes of Bhabha, Said and Spivak as engaged in a postcolonial politics of textual and cultural critique has been challenged. In his review of Bhabha's 1994 The Location of Culture , Kwame Appiah (1994), categorises Bhabha as a Marxist. Returning to Parry's more general terms of "social and historical explanation", such a view is supported when we look at Bhabha's (1985) essay 'Signs Taken for Wonders,' republished in The Location of Culture, which charts out the menace of hybridity by returning to the historical moment of the "fortuitous discovery of the English book ... an insignia of colonial authority and a signifier of colonial desire and discipline" (1994: 102) to explain how the universal sign of the book, its capacity to speak for all, is disrupted by the Hindu native in the demand for an Indianised Gospel. The point here is that the charge of abandoning "historical and social explanations" (Parry, 2004: 4) fails to observe that the 'theoretical' point of hybridity is derived from a historical explanation. The same case could be made for Spivak's work; not only is she explicit about her Marxist intellectual commitments, but her analysis in 'Can the Subaltern Speak?', for instance, draws from a specific historical moment--of widow-sacrifice.

6. In pointing to these examples, we wish to make the following claims: first that the demarcation between a postcolonial materialist critique or postcolonial textualist or culturalist critique does not account for those moments where a historical or social explanation is employed to make a conceptual intervention. Nevertheless, the demarcation does persist, and remains quite powerful within the field of postcolonial studies. Second, the demarcation is premised upon and maintains a radical divide between 'politics' and 'theory'--those we have cited from the 'materialist' camp hold on to this founding polemicisation. Bhabha's 1989 essay 'The Commitment to Theory', also republished in The Location of Culture , is a response to such a polemicisation, and makes the argument that such a foundationalism is not only "a sign of political [im]maturity" (1994: 21), but is also highly unproductive. This is because such a proposition--the "popular binarism between theory and politics" (1994: 30)--fails to see that 'theory' and 'politics' "are both forms of discourse and to that extent they produce rather than reflect their objects of reference" (1994: 21). The task that Bhabha then sets himself is to articulate how we might break this polemic and produce a much more productive relationship between theory and politics:

The language of critique is effective not because it keeps forever separate the terms of the master and the slave, the mercantilist and the Marxist, but to the extent to which it overcomes the given ground of opposition and opens up a space of translation: a place of hybridity, figuratively speaking, where the construction of a political object that is new, neither the one or the other, properly alienates our political expectations, and changes, as it must, the very forms of our recognition of the moment of politics (1994: 25, italics in original).

7. In addition to this debate about what the nature of a postcolonial politics might look like (materialist or textualist and culturalist), and about the relationship between politics and theory, the motivation for the theme of Postcolonial Politics comes from recent pronouncements that postcolonial critique does have much purchase on the current state of affairs because the very language of critique has been appropriated and is now part of the global present. This is the argument made by Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri in Empire (2000), and Slavoj Zizek in Revolution at the Gates (2002). We will focus on the former to establish the proposition. Hardt and Negri set up the cartography of the global present in this way: globalisation is now the norm, and with this "we have witnessed an irresistible and irreversible globalization of economic and cultural exchanges. [And] along with the global market and global circuits of production has emerged a global order, a new logic and structure of rule--in short, a new form of sovereignty" (2000: xi). What this new form of sovereignty marks is the reconstitution of power--that is, a shift away from the older arrangement of power invested in the nation-state to a new form that is much more diffused, that "establishes no territorial centre of power and does not rely on fixed boundaries or barriers. It is a decentered and deterritorialising apparatus of rule that progressively incorporates the entire global realm within its open, expanding frontiers" (2000: xii). The name for this new form of sovereignty and power is Empire. The marking of the end of the dialectics of modernity (the older form of power relationship built on strict binary divides) however "has not resulted in the end of the dialectic of exploitation." (2000: 43). Rather, as the authors point out, "the geographical and racial lines of oppression and exploitation that were established during the era of colonialism and imperialism have in many respects not declined but instead increased exponentially" (2000: 43). While this may be seized as legitimate grounds for affirming the potentiality of postcolonial critique and its commitment to challenging processes and conditions of exploitation and dominance, Hardt and Negri suggest otherwise: they argue that postcolonial critique which concerns itself with "critiquing and seeking liberation ... [continues to] combat the remnants of colonialist thinking" (2000: 137). In other words, postcolonial critique today is still focused on a critique of "the world of modern sovereignty ... a Manichean world, divided by a series of binary oppositions that define Self and Other, white and black, inside and outside, ruler and ruled" (2000: 139). The constitution of sovereignty, sovereignty itself, has shifted, and postcolonial critique "fail[ed] to recognize adequately the contemporary object of critique, that is, they mistake today's real enemy" (2000: 137). This is because today's enemy constitutes itself in "a new paradigm of power, a postmodern sovereignty" (2000: 138). In this paradigm of power, they go on, a politics of difference, which threatens modern sovereignty, and which is affirmed in postcolonial critique against the rigidity of identity politics is no longer effective or radical. While crediting postcolonial critique for opening up "the possibility of a global politics of difference" (2000: 142), they maintain that because difference is now the norm, part of the new sovereign power, the radicality that it once had is no longer there. Put summarily: postmodern sovereignty, for Hardt and Negri, has appropriated difference for its own end, blunting the radical potential of postcolonial critique and its affirmation of difference. The work of Bhabha on difference and hybridity is held up as exemplary of postcolonial critique, but is also held up for critique for failing to recognise the constitution of a contemporary form of sovereignty.

8. Such pessimistic pronouncements about the ineffectivity of postcolonial critique, however, in our view, overlooks both the ability of that critique to respond to the shifting constitution of power and sovereignty Hardt and Negri identify (an ability well demonstrated in the essays in the current issue), and perhaps most importantly, the political motivation to do so--the impulse precisely to critique 'difference' in the name of the other, all the more abjected, excluded, and oppressed, once 'difference' has been appropriated to the system. To the extent that a new form of sovereignty is manifesting itself, it becomes important to grasp its appearance of working through the older arrangement of power constituted around the idea of the nation-state as symptomatic rather than fundamental. The manifestation of increasingly protected and guarded national borders and national sovereignties, where national territories, rights, and claims are becoming so much more pressing an issue, must be acknowledged as the level on which oppression and suffering are experienced by so many, while those very borders and sovereignties are retrenching in the face of incursions, and of their own uncertain status, within global conditions. The violence of the Australian and American nation-state against asylum-seekers, refugees, migrants (legal and illegal); the building of fences along the United States border with Mexico; the killing of Muslims and Hindus in the Indian subcontinent in the name of the nation; the imposition of security measures on citizens during the APEC gathering in Sydney, Australia; and the tightening of border security during this time of a 'war on terror', might better be understood as the panicked death-throes of   modern sovereignty. Its violence in attempting to re-secure itself with reference to the Manichean divide that defines along specific grounds--racial, cultural, national--who can and cannot belong as part of the nation, who can and cannot come into the nation, should not prevent a careful analysis of contemporary realignments of economic and sovereign power, or of how forms of domination and exploitation, inclusion and exclusion continue to operate. Postcolonial critique remains productive to the extent that it brings its commitment to the analysis of all violent sovereignties that have followed colonialism's modern moment.

9. Perhaps, though, the normativity of a politics of difference is too reductive in failing to recognise the power of the inevitable other, the singular other that cannot be appropriated and normalised. This brings us back to a crucial difference between Bakhtin's notions of organic and intentional hybridity, and to the point that Bhabha takes up the latter as the basis of radical intervention. Organic hybridity is about the natural, evolutionary and historical translations and transmutations that language undergoes. In this use, hybridity can be conceptualised as creolization, as involving "mixing and fusion, ... [which] gives birth to new forms of amalgamation, rather than contestation" (1995: 21). The notion of hybridity set forth here is built upon a politics of addition, which adds 'difference' onto the social fabric, but which in adding up only serves to reaffirm hegemony or produce a new hegemonic order. This is how Hardt and Negri see hybridity, what they mean when they write about the appropriation of difference and the normalisation of hybridity, but it misses the force of Bhabha's own use of the term. To conceptualise hybridity in this manner, as fusion, in terms of the notion of intermixture and as a 'lived' reality of the social condition fails to recognise Bhabha's use of hybridity as producing "no stable new form but rather something closer to ... a radical heterogeneity, discontinuity, the permanent revolution of forms " (Young, 1995: 25, emphasis ours). Intentional hybridity, Robert Young writes, "describe[s] the ability of one voice to ironize and unmask the other within the same utterance (1995: 20). Here, hybridity is staged in terms of a strategy of contesting, dividing and separating the absoluteness of language by opening utterances to more than one possible meaning. Intentional hybridity as rupture is described by Bhabha in terms of a supplementary space that "suggests that adding 'to' need not 'add up' but may disturb the calculation" (1994: 155).

10. While it is incontestable that difference is now part of the global present and multiculturalism is the norm, difference itself cannot be seen as a universal category; in other words, we must be attuned to different differences. While multiculturalism and cultural pluralism are foundational templates which most nation-states use to define their national-social collectivity, announcing a pluralist ethos, not all differences are welcome within the national sphere. Some, simply, are not! The denial of entry to asylum seekers into Australia, the refusal to recognise indigenous rights and sovereignty in self-declared multicultural nations such as Australia, New Zealand, Canada, and the United States--who all refused to sign the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples--and the increasing production and circulation of hate against minority communities within national communities, reinforce our point that a 'postmodern', celebratory concept of difference has obscured its own production of abject others, those who are not welcomed and celebrated as 'different', those who cannot belong, and whose lives are subject to calculation as useful or otherwise for the nation. Discrimination in these terms most crucially continues to function as a central axis through which national communities define themselves, albeit within global networks of economic, political, military and cultural power that problematise the self-determination of those very national communities. In drawing up this other scenario in this way to constitute the global present, we are confirming calls for a reconceived engagement of postcolonial studies with 'the politics of difference'.

11. So far we have provided a schematic map of some of the key motivations, debates, concerns and contradictions that inform and have contributed to our thinking around the theme of Postcolonial Politics. Quite surely, the cartography that we have mapped remains incomplete in the sense that there are other positions, voices, conceptual or analytical insights that speak into a concern with postcolonial politics. Further, the various arguments that we have charted to produce a dialogue on the theme of postcolonial politics open up the necessity of what Spivak calls a "persistent dredging operation" (1999: 1) that must inform postcolonial critique. This persistent dredging operation among the (contentious) criticisms and debates to which we have alluded constitutes a call to rethink the commitments, trajectories, connections and foundational preoccupations of postcolonial critique. The essays in this issue attempt to precisely do just that: both explore the notion of a postcolonial politics and at the same time participate in the 'persistent dredging operation' of the field. Hence they ask what we might mean by postcolonial politics?; w hat is a postcolonial politics?; how might such a politics be constituted?; what concerns animate contemporary postcolonial politics?; where are the spaces of politics?; where and what are the stakes?; what are the terms of political contestation and transformation?; and how are the forms and concerns of postcolonial politics shifting? The papers in this issue address a range of approaches to the questions of what constitutes the politics of the postcolonial, and the postcolonial of politics. At the same time, there is coherence and implicit engagement among the contributions as they take up different approaches to similar concerns.

12. In 'Thinking the Postcolonial as Political', Mark Devenney posits the axiom of equality as characteristic of the political; while democracy defends the principle of equality, it naturalises structural conditions of inequality. Postcolonial politics, understood as antagonistic rather than agonistic, involve the demand for equality under conditions of inequality, which fundamentally implies a rearticulation of the body politic. The political task of postcolonial studies, then, is to specify the structural limits on equality. This set of principles underpins his analysis of the emergence of an 'actuarial' politics of life and death, a bio-politics with global reach, in which the rise in life expectancy, wealth, and consumption in the West is mirrored by their fall in the poorest, often postcolonial states and societies. As new forms of private property emerge in the materials and capacities of life itself, and life is accounted for in calculation of investment risk, power deployed by supposedly neutral technologies of information colonises the future in notions of investment and return. The resulting famine, disease, debt and war for the poorest nations is complicated by the difficulty in determining the targets and agents of effective political struggle under conditions of globalisation and its effects on the role and power of the nation-state. Devenney looks to the construction of   "a postcolonial order that does not depend on the privatisation of the commons, does not reduce politics to deliberation, and reconstitutes the terms of inclusion of productive and reproductive life in the polity".

13. In 'Scarred Geographies: War, Space, Postcolony', Suvendrini Perera specifies a particular context of the interconnection of spaces articulated through a politics of life and death. With reference to the war in Lanka, she examines and critiques the construction, through the modern geopolitical imagination, of a hierarchised visualisation of space--'here'/'there', 'First World'/ 'Third World'. She focuses on the boundary-breaking figure of the suicide bomber in urban space to reveal the multiple, intersecting and discontinuous geographies of 'here' and 'there', 'inside' and 'outside', 'war' and 'peace', extending to Lanka itself as a postcolonial war zone connected to other spaces, circuits, distributions and relations of power. Bringing spatial theories such as those of Lefebvre into encounter with themes of sovereignty and territoriality in the context of European colonialism, she proposes that "the power of suspect figures in the urban terrain is their ability to reveal the interconnectedness of spaces and bodies and the impossibility of securing the space of civility from the space of war". Perera's specific charge to postcolonial politics is a call to address the failures of both post-independence states and of postcolonial theory's own acknowledgement of these failures.  

14. Lorenzo Veracini further develops the concerns with spatial relations of interconnection, and the silences or blindspots of postcolonial theory. His essay, 'Settler Colonialism and Decolonisation', begins with the observation that literatures on, or historiographies of, decolonisation have tended to neglect the specific structures and forms of settler colonialisms, while literatures on settler colonialism have largely omitted questions of decolonisation from their critical agendas. He examines the effects of this mutual silence as ignoring many colonised peoples and their struggles, while enabling disavowal and continuation of other forms of colonial practice. Posing the problem for indigenous peoples within settler states and societies as one of negotiating sovereignties within rather than between polities, he points to certain constitutional reforms and enabling legislations that have taken place, for example in Australia, Canada and Aotearoa-New Zealand, but which have been shadowed by retrenchment and backlash. At the same time, they can be seen to have taken the easier route of adopting partnership models that have not fundamentally decolonised the forms of settler sovereignty itself.  

15. Rebecca Stringer's essay, ' A Nightmare of the Neo-Colonial Kind: Politics of Suffering in Howard's Northern Territory Intervention', focuses on one such settler (post)colonial state, Australia, to reveal some of the problems facing indigenous sovereignties in settler states. Through the case of Prime Minister John Howard's mid-2007 federal government intervention into 73 Northern Territory Aboriginal communities in the name of addressing the problem of 'intra-racial child sexual abuse', she contests the adequacy of the term 'postcolonial' to describe Australia. Rather than the old chestnut of 'still being colonised', however, she takes account of the need to address new conditions and forms of colonisation itself. She proposes that

even if we are to understand the 'post' in postcolonial as signaling a reverberative aftermath of colonisation rather than a period somehow beyond colonialism's historical conclusion, then the term postcolonial is inadequate for Howard's intervention ... [T]he intervention must be regarded as a neo-colonial moment ... in which the objectives, relations and effects of the colonial syndrome do not merely reverberate but resurge.

Examining the terms of Howard's intervention, Stringer reveals the workings of the politics of the 'state of exception', and explores the arguments for seeing the move as compounding violence by calling on the apparent moral unassailability of the 'protection of children' to introduce 'special measures' with fundamental impact on the sovereignty of Aboriginal communities in favour of mining, nuclear power, tourism and property development interests. She shows that the various measures comprising the intervention point to a programme of 'assimilatory neoliberation'. At the same time, the very terms in which the problems of child sexual abuse were cast re-entrenched the racist framing of 'the other'.

16. The resistance to subsumption within the horizon of 'the same', and questions of openness to 'the new' are important aspects of Sudesh Mishra's essay, 'Heterographies and Other Assemblages'. Recounting a number of the theoretical traditions within which the notion of 'assemblage' has been invoked, Mishra reflects on the spatio-temporal complexities of assemblage, disassemblage and reassemblage, as each bears witness to a prior operation of one of the others. Thus while they name collections or collectivities, they also point to discontinuities, and these discontinuities can give rise to new, unanticipated forms. Treating assemblages as theoretical enactments in themselves, Mishra explores specific sites of assemblage, all related to diasporic Indian, and mostly Fiji, contexts: a museum gallery's exhibit of artefacts associated with indentured Indian labourers in the late-nineteenth-early-twentieth century, pointing to girmit, or indenture as itself the reassemblage of previously disassembled cultural and economic system and signs; the miniature paintings of the Liverpool-based Singh twins, that used the form of the Mogul miniature to mount a bricolage of images and cultural references; the heterophonic qualities of the Fiji rock band, Black Rose; and the attempt by Fiji's colonial administrators to institute the Indian Panchayat system of governance in parts of the country settled by ex-indentured workers. Unlike Simone Drichel's privileging of the temporal dimension in the openness to the other, Mishra differentiates hybridity's temporal dynamic from his own focus on the spatial quality of assemblage as elements speaking to each other 'cross-purposefully and non-relationally'. With reference to the debates around the question of introducing the Panchayat, he characterises it as inevitably "a re-assemblage that bears only a nominal link to the context of disassembly". This is not to be lamented but rather welcomed as such 'heterographies' inscribe new possibilities and open futures. He points to the different social relations and different effects that would be produced by introducing the system where diverse sites, castes, and practices in India would be reassembled in proximity in Fiji, and casts the failure of the system to materialise as the reluctance of colonial administrators to take the risk of assemblages whose shape could not be anticipated or predetermined. This failure of openness to the new recalls Veracini's conclusion regarding the failure to decolonise settler sovereignties.

17. The question of an ethical relation to the other is one that Simone Drichel takes up in 'Of Political Bottom Lines and Last Ethical Frontiers: The Politics and Ethics of "the Other"'. She casts this in the context of a concern that postcolonial studies' commitment to political rather than ethical questions perpetuates the problems of epistemic violence as revealed in the assumptions and processes of representation. Taking her cue from Homi Bhabha's question, Drichel argues that the other is both ethically and politically fundamental, and it is the ethical intervention that casts the singular other as the undeconstructable 'bottom line'. Levinasian ethics offers a critique not simply of representation, but of ontology itself: yet, she argues, it is not a matter of giving up representation (politics) in a postcolonial context, but of remaining vigilant towards the ethical corrective. Bringing this argument to bear on the settler postcolonial context of Aotearoa-New Zealand, and its statutory biculturalism, she argues that "no bi- or multiculturalism could ultimately hope to have anything productive to offer to postcolonial articulations of cultural otherness". She explores Derrida's 'friendship to come' as the 'promise' that helps locate an ethical relation to the singular other within a realm of politics, justice, retaining the radical openness and indeterminacy in seeing the "political other reinscribed through the singular alterity of the ethical other".  

18. Jon Stratton also focuses on questions of space--discourses of separation that disavow inextricable relations of power, recalling Devenney's and Perera's essays--and the production of the heterotopia, the exceptional space or state, less in terms of a newness to be welcomed than the site for the exercise of 'colonial' power relations, as Stringer discussed. In 'Separation Anxiety: Zionism, Colonialism, Messianism', Stratton examines the wall that divides Israel and the Palestinians, revealing its overdetermination as a fantasy of the Israeli state, a product of a Zionist idea of Jewish homeland, and articulating colonialist myths about the Palestinians as well as the messianic discourse of a Jewish return to land bequeathed by Abraham. He points to the wall's disavowal of the development of economic, administrative, service and personal interconnections between Israelis and Palestinians over years of Israeli occupation. Instead, the initially linear wall, a defensive gesture of exclusion, has modified into one that encircles and appropriates much of the land of West Bank Arabs, to define a heterotopic space of Otherness. Stratton interrogates the complex spatial discourses of 'inside' and 'outside' that characterise the forms of settlement colonialism, and relates the advent of the wall and its effects to other contexts of 'settler postcolonialism', including the relation between 'settler' Israeli and 'indigenous' Palestinian. Referring to the separation anxieties that have constituted discourses around the wall, Stratton looks forward to "the end of that world.... [and] the beginning of another, non-Zionist, non-colonialist, non-apocalyptic, world." In this, he echoes the spirit of most essays in this issue, seeking not simply to describe the world, but at least to suggest the terms in which it might be changed.

19. Anthony Burke develops Stratton's focus on reading the 'separation wall' within the terms of settler-colonial experience, and its disavowal of the tangled web of interdependence between Jews and Palestinians. Burke argues that political discourse in the postcolonial settler state perpetuates injustice and conflict through the use of narratives of origin and identity that obscure the violence of their founding and deny the responsibilities that are thereby generated. This in turn produces aporetic and pathological forms of identity that generate even further violence and alienation, which has steadily worsened since the beginning of the Al-Aqsa Intifada in 2000. Presenting a critical engagement with the philosophical and political writings of Emmanuel Levinas and Martin Buber, Burke establishes a productive dialogue with Drichel's discussion of the possibilities of a Levinasian ethics for the reformulation of political relations between settler and indigene. He advocates a move beyond diplomacy and tactics to a deeper renegotiation of each group's identity and relationship with the other. Burke describes Levinas and Buber as offering 'conceptual resources for a new kind of politics: one that could re-imagine the nation-state and its relationship to violence and difference'; not as a 'fully worked out template for politics, but a series of potential routes towards it'.

20. Any attempt to answer the question of what is a postcolonial politics, to say, with some kind of finality, that this is what we mean by postcolonial politics, would close down debate and critical dialogue. It would, as Burke suggests, shut down 'potential routes towards it'.   Hence we hope that the essays in this issue have animated how we can potentially think through the notion of postcolonial politics, what are some of the impasses that we must address, explore and challenge, and at the same time provide ground for further engagement and exchange to materialise. The geo-political range through which the notion of postcolonial politics is explored, and the conceptual breadth and depth that is brought to bear on the theme of postcolonial politics by the essays in this issue, testify not only to the significance of questions around the theme of postcolonial politics; more significantly, we hope that the geo-political range and conceptual breadth and depth that characterise these essays continue to produce further debate about the conditions that animate the global stage, about the field of postcolonial critique, and most crucially provide possible and potential circuits, tactics, for transforming the conditions of the global present. In this sense, 'Postcolonial Politics' is about possibilities and potentialities.

21. We would like to dedicate this issue to our friend, colleague and fellow postcolonial scholar and traveller Bella Te Aku Graham, who was with us at the conference -- continually animating discussions while asking the most thought provoking questions -- and who unexpectedly passed away in August 2007. The questions, debates, and anxieties about postcolonial politics that pervade this issue are for you.

Vijay Devadas (University of Otago, Aotearoa) teaches and supervises research in the areas of critical and cultural theory, postcolonial theory and media studies. He is co-editor of the forthcoming special issue of the journal Sites with Chris Prentice and has published a number of articles on postcolonial theory, South Asian diaspora, Tamil cinema, and Southeast Asian literatures.

Chris Prentice (University of Otago, Aotearoa) teaches, supervises and researches in the areas of postcolonial literatures and theory and cultural theory. As well as co-editing the forthcoming issue of Sites with Vijay Devadas, she has published articles and book chapters on Australian reconciliation, biculturalism in Aotearoa-New Zealand, postcolonial 'benevolence', and literary invocations of 'cultural difference' in the context of globalization.


Our thanks to the anonymous referees and the rest of the Borderlands team (especially Jane Mummery) for all their work in getting this issue together.


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