Monday, November 19, 2012

Albert Memmi

In this post I am interested in reading Albert Memmi’s The Colonizer and the Colonized as an example of a nascent post-structuralist text. While The Colonizer and the Colonized does not mention Derrida specifically (in fact, I believe it was penned before Of Grammatology), it none-the-less employs notions of the binary opposition, play, and differance.

The title and structure of Memmi’s text reinforce the notion of the binary opposition. The text is titled to show that opposition between these two terms/groups and the book itself is divided into two major sections, one of which deals with the colonizer and the other with the colonized. Memmi shows that the colonizer is in a privileged position in relationship to the colonized. Even colonizers who claim not to gain from the colonial system still receive benefits (i.e. you may be a poor white French man in Algeria during the occupation, but if you go to the colonial run post office, you will be able to move to the front of the line ahead of the colonized). The privileged position of the colonizer also entails a level of violence. The colonial “master” is able, and encouraged by the colonizer/colonized binary to commit acts of violence because he sees himself as being over the one he punishes.

Asides from the binary opposition and violence found between the colonizer and the colonized, Memmi argues that the colonizer will do everything in his power to repress the colonized and keep the binary opposition in place. For example, Memmi points out that in later colonialism, religion and the church were sought to be marginalized by colonial administrators because, as Memmi argues, if the colonized got religion and shared a similar religion with the colonizers, then it was harder for the colonizers to punish the colonized because they were now somewhat like each other. To use Derrida here: the colonizers feared that the binary colonizer/colonized would collapse because if part of them (their Christian religion) could be found in the lower half of the binary, then the binary and their privileged position would be deconstructed.

Memmi concludes his text by saying that the binary opposition of colonizer/colonized must be completely dismantled for colonialism to come to an end. Since the collapsing of the binary opposition would end colonialism and the perks the colonizers receive from the system, the colonizers strive to keep the binary in place while the colonized must seek to deconstruct it.

Next time...Jessica Benjamin

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