I have had the privilege of attending the inaugural seminar session of the Literature and Cultural Identity in Post-Colonial Contexts series, arranged by the Department of English, Jahangirnagar University held on Saturday, 17 June 2006. The seminar took place at room 103, Faculty of Arts and Humanities. It presented two lectures : “Theoria, like Vodka, can Do Crazy Things: Some Questions about Post-al Theory" by Dr Azfar Hussain and "Seas, Slaves and Cents: Reading Political economy in Wide Sargasso Sea and A Small Place” by Dr Melissa Hussain.
Dr Azfar Hussain taught at Bowling Green State University (BGSU) before his recent move to North South University (NSU). Hussain has published in both English and Bangla nearly a hundred academic, creative, and popular pieces, including translations from several languages. His fourth book-in-progress titled Towards a Political Economy of Land, Labor, Language, and the Body has recently been solicited by Routledge for publication in the Routledge series called "Literacy Theory and Cultural Criticism". Hussain previously taught at Jahangirnagar University and Washington State University.
Dr Melissa Hussain's research interest includes twentieth-century American literature, third-world literature in English, feminism, contemporary rhetoric, postcolonical theory, Marxisim and political economy, cultural studies, comparative ethnic studies etc.
Dr. Melissa Hussain is interested in the questions of political economy in relation to European imperialism and colonialism. In her paper 'Seas, Slaves and Cents' she argues that it is impossible to examine imperialism and colonialism adequately without simultaneously analysing political economy, particularly the political economy of capitalism as it remains fundamentally tied to imperialism. Besides, she says, 'In this paper, I argue a case for how the analytical tools of political economy can be used to read modernist and post colonial literary texts emanating from the "third world".
Dr. Azfar Hussain's lecture was a presentation-performance-one-man-show rolled-in-one. It covered multidimentionally his own theory of 'Land, Language, Labour and the Body', his severe que of the 'uncritically high held' theorists, such as, Michel Foucault and Jacques Derrida, and his witty criticism of post-al (post-colonialism, post-modernism, post-structuralism, post-feminism, post-anything!).
Hussain attacks Foucault for being Eurocentric. He points Foucault's negligence towards the micrologies and macrologies of capitalism, for his silence on Algerian revolution, and for his concentration on White Body. Besides, Foucault's dismissal of Frantz Fanon infuriates Hussain. Nor does he forgives Derrida's theory of 'endless texuality', raised in Derrida's famous essay "Structure, Sign, and Play in the Discourse of the Human Science". Hussain finds the theory of 'endless texuality', politically problematic in the sense that it does not let us stand on our own or allow us to say/resist. Empire must write back to the centre, if there's no centre to whom the oppressed Empire will write back?
Focusing on his own theory, Hussain points the four sights of oppression: land, labor, language and the body. He thinks the concept of freedom involves these four areas' freedom. He also points the four evils that resist the true freedom: capitalism, imperialism, patriarchy and racism. In response to an audience's question about his conception of 'body', Hussain says that whenever he thinks of the body he keeps Lalan's 'Dehatatwa' in mind. Body, to Hussain is the one which is oppressed, the one that delivers labour and language, who fights for land. On my questioning the relevance between Hussain's theory and the question of diaspora, he enthusiastically explained how the very absence of land, lingual fetishism, exploitation of middle-class diaspora labour and the loss of body brought by disembodiment relate his theory with the questions and issues of diaspora.
In the question of diaspora, Melissa, comes forward and points the plight of immigrated labour. She explains how the poor women immigrated from third world as labour are mistreated and dehumanised by the white women of first world. She points to the irony that those white women fights for feminine rights but practice the dichotomised standards when dealing with third world poor women labour. She also focuses on the importance of concentrating on the 'poor diaspora' rather than the upper and middle- class. Criticising the globalization fever, she points to the fact that Europe, underdeveloped Africa and that First World cannot exist without Third World.
On the question of 'minority', Hussain says paradoxically 'Minority is Majority: together all the oppressed minority makes the majority. He adds, 'Oppression makes you minor'. In this point he also criticises Hegel for his racism. Hussain mentions how Hegel in his book 'Philosophy of History' claims that the African has no history.
Being a student of post-colonial literature and theory, I am impressed by the seminar and hail JU for the effort which will undoubtedly lead to a better understanding of this area of studies. Finally, I can't resist thanking Shamsad Mortuza, chairperson, department of English, JU and Mashrur Shahid Hussain, chairperson, seminar committee, 2005-2006, for the brilliant effort.