ABSTRACT

The Empire Writes Back is the title of a recent critical work devoted to, in its subtitle's words 'theory and practice in post-colonial literatures'. 1 The title derives from a phrase of Salman Rushdie, which is the book's epigraph 'the Empire writes back to the Ce.ntre .. .' This phrase is, of course, a palimpset, its original serving as a leitmotif for US cultural imperialism, as represented in and by the blockbuster movie Star Wars. Such an irony is surely deliberate; the very act of rewriting 'the Empire Strikes Back' constitutes a non-Western subversion and appropriation of the media of modern Western Empire. But this strategic and symbolic gain is also something of a conceptual loss. What happens to the imperial power - (either the US of Star Wars or the Europe of the Age of Empire) - which has generated this post-colonial retaliation? It remains, paradoxically, frozen in power, and repressed, an absent 'centre', a hidden referent. Through conferring its name (Empire) to its 'peripheries' it remains intact by virtue of its very invisibility. This might stand as a metaphor for the current invisibility of imperial discourse within critical theory and practice, an invisibility both historical and geographical. On the one hand, as the subtitle of the volume implies, recent critical interest has centred mostly on issues of post-World War Two, that is, on post-colonial literary activities and theory. This privileging of contemporary discourses is salutary and important, but it also risks being premature and misleading, if it suggests that the present can be analysed in isolation from the imperialism which formally produced it, and which is only arguably a matter of history. Such imperialism in remaining unanalysed also remains, unwittingly albeit, hegemonic.