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This chapter considers the trajectory of Mina Loy's writing life from its beginnings in distinctly European avant-gardes through the influence of her early visits to the United States to a late poem titled America A Miracle. Loy's writing moves along a spectrum from reaction against futurist precepts in the language and style of European artistic movements to a late articulation of similar principles. Loy's early poetry is equally marked by her location among European avant-gardes. In New York, modernists were less interested in outraging cultural norms and less political in opposing specific cultural institutions than European avant-gardists. Loy's stylistic innovation in part imitates and in part extends Futurist aesthetics, just as she is both inspired by Futurist practices of art and energized to formulate her rejection of its ideas. Like Loy, Hilda Doolittle published under a name independent of the patronymics of her father and husbands.
Some of you know that my grandfather was a cook for the British in Kenya, and though he was a respected elder in his village, his employers called him “boy” for much of his life.
—Barack Obama, president of the United States, speaking to the Parliament of Ghana, Accra, 11 July 2009
How do you say khaki in fourteen languages? assuming that the answer is, in most cases, more or less khaki, what might that word mean? This question occurred to me three years ago as I was sitting in my Minnesota office with a student—a brilliant sophomore economics major from Hanoi—trying to understand a thorny text from Cameroon. The text before us was the Vietnamese translation of Ferdinand Oyono's landmark 1956 francophone anticolonial novel Une vie de boy, which I had been pondering for years. A central figure in the novel, the village's French commandant, was often depicted in “son short kaki” (“his khaki shorts”). Though I don't speak Vietnamese, I could make out enough of its modified Latin alphabet to recognize kaki several times in the 1997 translation. In seeking its Vietnamese meaning, I knew that at least six languages were already in play: kaki came to Oyono's French from English, which got the word in the mid-nineteenth century from Hindi-Urdu (where it means dust-colored), which got it from the Persian (transliterated “khakeh”), meaning dust (“Khaki”). What is more, Oyono's novel purports to be translated from the Ewondo, where kaki certainly meant something too. But in Vietnamese? My instinct was that khaki, at least in Vietnam, would signify what it did in Cameroon: the iconic colonial oppressor's fabric. But when my student, Phuong Vu, saw the word in Vietnamese, she immediately searched for an image on her laptop, then showed me a photo of the great anticolonial leader of Vietnam: the khaki-wearing Ho Chi Minh. Seeking a further data point, I asked my dean, the Somali scholar Ahmed Samatar, what khaki meant in his mother tongue. His reaction, too, was instant: “my grandfather was the first man in our village to wear khaki: it signifies modernity!” Khaki: one word, worldwide. But clearly not a monosignifying word, since it means, at minimum, dust, dust-colored, modernity, colonization, and anticolonial resistance. To paraphrase Langston Hughes, what kind of a translation can you make out of that?
The enormous twenty-seven-nation post-Soviet sphere—including the former Soviet republics and the former “East Bloc” states—is virtually never discussed in the burgeoning discourse of postcolonial studies. Yet Russia and the successor Soviet Union exercised colonial control over the Caucasus, Central Asia, the Baltics, and Central and Eastern Europe for anywhere from fifty to two hundred years. The present essay interrogates the possible postcoloniality of the post-Soviet sphere, including Russia. The investigation is complicated by Russia's seeming Eurasian status and its history of perceived cultural inferiority to the West. A broad range of theoretical, historical, cultural, and geographic positions are examined, and figures such as Curzon, Conrad, Lermontov, and Shohat are addressed. In conclusion the essay argues against the current occidentocentric privileging of Western European colonization as the standard and proposes a fully global postcolonial critique. Overall, it critiques both too narrow post-Soviet studies and too parochial, too Anglo-Franco-focused postcolonial studies.
Toute position inscrite est une position conquise. (Every inscribed position is a conquered position.)
Marcel Griaule, Les Saô légendaries, 66.
I suppose I could do worse than to begin by answering the following question: Why is a feminist literary theorist discussing accounting in a book written by economists interrogating the natural? In August 1991, I had the dubious honor of being present in a room full of two thousand academic accountants at the Opryland Hotel in Nashville, Tennessee, listening, not to Johnny Cash or Waylon Jennings, but to the distinguished economist Rudiger Dornbusch and his keynote speech to the American Accounting Association on the future of the global economy. Though Dornbusch understandably left out the feminist literary angle, he too felt compelled to address the accounting–economics relationship at the beginning of his talk, and did so by saying, essentially, that the only thing factual that economists talked about was accounting information – everything past that was mere theory.
A ripple of unease with the speaker's ignorance filtered through the large audience as, theoretically aware or not, the assembled accountants noted to themselves how wrong he was, since every accounting number ever produced has been, to say the least, highly contestable. What Dornbusch revealed in his off-the-cuff remark was that accounting had achieved, at least in the eyes of certain major economists, the ultimate goal of the rhetorician's art: to be perceived as not rhetoric at all.
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