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utopiaHere’s the first few bars of an interview that I recently conducted with Bill Ashcroft (November 2016). You can find the full interview over at the Hong Kong Review of Books.


Grant Hamilton interviews cultural and literary critic Bill Ashcroft about his new book on utopia and postcolonial writing. They discuss the concept of utopia and why it finds its way so forcefully into the literature of previously colonized nations.

Bill Ashcroft, Utopianism in Postcolonial Literatures (London: Routledge, 2016) 238pp.

Bill Ashcroft is an Australian Professorial Fellow in the University of New South Wales, Australia. He is author and co-author of sixteen books, including the seminal text The Empire Writes Back (1989), and is one of the leading figures in Postcolonial Studies. Here we were able to ask him some brief questions about his latest book as part of the HKRB Interviews series with writers of new books in critical theory.

Grant Hamilton: For those of us who have been reading your work for a number of years now, it is clear that you have had a very considerable interest in the notion of transformation. How does this feed into your newest work, Utopianism in Postcolonial Literatures?

Bill Ashcroft: My interest in transformation stems from a long-standing uneasiness with the habit of postcolonial theory to see the relationship between the colonizer and colonized as purely hierarchical, the only response of postcolonial societies being one of opposition. This tended to frame postcolonial subjects as cyphers identifiable only by their subjection to imperial domination, without agency and without any recourse to a self-articulated future. In fact, the response of postcolonial societies has been much more subtle and the critical demonstration of this is the appropriation and abrogation of the English language. Postcolonial writers appropriated the language of the colonizer while abrogating its dominance and centrality. This led to a transformation of English, which has underpinned the radical innovation of postcolonial literatures. The transformation of language and literature into a locally relevant discourse is just one example of the transformative cultural power of postcolonial societies. In all kinds of cultural spheres these societies found that the most effective form of resistance to the tide of imperial control lay not in trying to dam it up but to redirect it into discourses over which those societies could maintain control, particularly the control over self-representation. Utopianism is crucial here because transformation can only be driven by the possibility, indeed the certainty, of change. Utopia is an unachievable place but it lies there shimmering in the imagination as a way of driving the utopian belief that things can be better and that freedom is possible. The idea of perfection has given the term ‘utopia’ the character of a dream or an illusion, but the utopian spirit persists in postcolonial societies as the very definition of the possibility of a better world. As Ernst Bloch puts it: utopia may be a fantasy but without hope we cannot live. So postcolonial utopianism arises from the fact that successful resistance is transformative, and transformation rests on the belief in an achievable future.

… visit the Hong Kong Review of Books.

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