Ania Loomba’s Colonialism/ Postcolonialism: A Candid Discussion With My Students

Today we concluded our discussion of Ania Loomba’s introductory book to postcolonial studies in my undergraduate class. Toward the end of our class session, I asked my students if they had trouble reading, understanding, and consuming this text. Not surprisingly, quite a few of them had some interesting and quite aptly critical things to say about the book. Their comments can be summed up in the following few sentences:

  • The chapters are too long; it would have been better if the author had organized her chapters in short [thematic] sections.
  • She mentions a lot of authors we do not know about [Fanon, for example] without providing us any details about them.
  • She jumps from one topic to another, sometimes without giving us a warning or a hint.
  • The sentences are too long and the authors tends to repeat herself a lot.
  • She does not give us any precise definitions.

Needless to say, I agree with some of my students concerns: the book is, at times, hard to read, especially for undergraduates. Having said that, I disagree with their expectations of the text. I feel that the author cannot write an academic book–especially one that is introducing a complex field of study–purely from the point of view of making it accessible to its readers. The author has the liberty of presupposing a certain degree of theoretical knowledge on the part of students, especially those studying literature. I do think the book could have been better organized in terms of its chapters; maybe shorter, more focused chapters would have been helpful.

But again, coming back to my students side of the story, their comments also made me aware of the kind of consumer culture that structures their subjectivities. In a way, in my view, the book was also a product for their consumption that they as consumers had found “defective.” While most of them admitted that they did get something out of the book, the book was troubling to them as it did not provide a linear and reductive narrative that all of us have come to expect in our lives as consumers.

Personally, I had chosen the book after having read quite a few other readers on the subject. My main reason in choosing the book, surprisingly, was its very ambiguous and inconclusive discussion of postcolonialism as a field of study. I guess I have to do a better job of rendering the book more accessible to my students without simplifying things too much. I am, however, pleased that my students read a wonderfully complex book, took notes, and came back with their questions. Did I mention, I really like my students:))

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