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Anti-Empire: Decolonial Interventions in Lusophone Literatures$

Daniel F. Silva

Print publication date: 2018

Print ISBN-13: 9781786941008

Published to Liverpool Scholarship Online: May 2019

DOI: 10.3828/liverpool/9781786941008.001.0001

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(p.287) Conclusion
Anti-Empire: Decolonial Interventions in Lusophone Literatures

Daniel F. Silva

Liverpool University Press

Abstract and Keywords

The conclusion brings together the fundamental questions raised in each chapter and the interventions proposed by the texts analysed. In joining these, the book closes with a final concise reflection on possible trajectories against Empire.

Keywords:   Empire, Lusophone Studies, Decolonial Studies, Postcolonial Theory

The texts explored in this volume emerge from different colonial experiences spanning the last century and enunciate particular moments in the reproduction of Empire. More importantly, they offer valuable and nuanced contestations to Empire and propose decolonial alternatives to imperial subjectivity, historicization, and knowledge.

While the experiences laid out in these literary products – and behind their creation – contribute to the study of Lusophone literatures, they also tackle larger questions beyond geo-linguistic categories of cultural production. The writers studied here offer robust new inquiries into Empire not only as a system of economic and political power, but also and especially as a field of meaning, economy of desire, and mode of epistemological domination. This does not mean that these works have little to offer to the study of Portuguese colonialism and its particular legacies. Rather, they offer approaches to that history through its interaction with, and contribution to, the larger field of Empire. At a historical moment when imperial categories of time, space, and bodies undergirding Empire continue to be reinforced, not least with the rise of right-wing white nationalism in Europe and the Americas, decolonial perspectives on intersubjective existence have become increasingly urgent. In this respect, each work or writer offers a different perspective and blueprint for deconstructing and moving beyond Empire.

Mário and Oswald de Andrade articulated and interrogated the Brazilian postcolony a hundred years after Brazilian political independence and roughly a hundred and fifteen years after the formal decolonization of Latin America. The moment was arguably propitious for a critical rereading of the imperial historicization of (post)colonial Brazil and a theorization of how to break with imperial signification and knowledge. As a long-time Timorese exile in Portugal during the final decades of Portugal’s imperial project, Fernando Sylvan’s poetry and political/cultural essays toe the line between anti-colonial discourse and a celebration of the state-backed narrative of Portugal as a transcontinental and multiracial nation. In doing so, Sylvan’s (p.288) work has lent poetic expression to the plight of East Timor against different imperial forces while also inserting such an anti-imperial struggle into transnational frameworks of decoloniality. Through his literary oeuvre, Luís Cardoso has furthered this transborder approach to decoloniality in the late twentieth and early twenty-first century while imagining, through his assortment of characters, decolonial significations of bodies and spaces.

Isabela Figueiredo and António Lobo Antunes, for their part, experienced Empire, and specifically Portuguese colonialism, through their complicity in it – the former as a young colonist in Mozambique and the latter as a conscript and medical doctor in the Portuguese armed forces during the colonial war in Angola. Their experiences, as well as those presented through Antunes’s characters, serve a particular function in relation to dominant narratives of Portuguese colonialism and contemporary notions of Portuguese nationhood grounded in cultural syncretism and the erasing of colonial violence. Their political engagement with dominant Portuguese historical narratives offers, moreover, theoretical insights into how Empire historicizes its own power.

The poetry of Olinda Beja, meanwhile, reveals her own transnational experience and decolonial worldview as a São Toméan woman residing in Portugal and interpellated into European and Western signs of otherness at the intersection of race, sexuality, and gender. A tension sparked by residing within and questioning Empire while also forging a connection to her place of birth leads to a new mode of conceptualizing self and postcolony against the imperatives of Empire. In this vein, her poetry proposes a decolonial approach to identity as a scene of writing in constant flux, as an ‘infinite shore’ of borders and other sites of signification, toward the dismantling of imperial categories of time, space, and bodies.

Finally, Mário Lúcio Sousa’s O Novíssimo Testamento places this decolonial dismantling or ‘delinking’ at the core of the novel’s plot, beginning with the traversal of the figure of Jesus Christ across imperial categories of race and gender. Although no complete undoing of the gender binary is present, this crossing of boundaries nonetheless gestures toward that possibility by targeting the rigidity of imperial masculinity and queering gender performance. In this regard, the novel is less about a particular experience within Empire and more about a fantastic questioning of categories that span race, ethnicity, gender, class, and (dis)ability.

The texts discussed here, particularly in their decolonial ethics, offer necessary rebuttals and alternatives to the ongoing rhetoric of Empire, in and beyond Lusophone contexts. This is an ethics that emerges in opposition to Empire’s discursive field and the dominance over meaning contained therein. Speaking to the poststructuralist imagery contained in (p.289) these works, they point toward a critical open-endedness, the proposal of possibilities rather than a structured model through which to cope with, combat, question, and/or reformulate both the signifying field governing intersubjective life and the terms by which subjects interact with and come to know others.

A recurrent theme in these literary projects is the conscious avoidance and critique of totality and totalitarian modes of existence; that is, of the One, or the established epistemic standards to which subjects must become aligned. In this sense, the battle against Empire must not follow the same roadmaps toward the construction of new notions of normativity, of pureness, of origin, and authenticity. In the trajectory these texts set toward decoloniality, no path is more authentic, or more decolonial, than another. In charting new modes of signification, the center is always already decentered, the phantasmatic value and priority of origin is quickly erased. In enunciating a signifying chain, be it through the trope of a journey or the beach of borders, the linking of signifiers always seems to imply its own delinking. This would be the critical aspect of a decolonial posture – anything linked should be read as delinkable, indeterminate, and incomplete.

Moreover, this sort of stance cursorily traces the contours of decolonial subjectivities beginning with a revision of interpellation, and interrogations of other imperial forces of subjectivation. In contrast, a decolonial subject, rather than being circuited to the central desire of Empire via particular modes of knowledge and historicization, is radically unhinged from such epistemological limits. The subject is not ensnared in a particular narrative of time, space, and bodies, but perpetually opened to Beja’s infinity of borders. As such, the subject resists becoming a text within Empire – translatable to the imperatives of power, as Sylvan and Cardoso’s work demand.

The decolonial subject is ultimately one whose desire must be open to what Bhabha calls ‘the enunciative boundaries of a range of other dissonant, even dissident histories and voices – women, the colonized, minority groups, the bearers of policed sexualities’ (6). The subject will thus emerge as a scene of writing that produces meaning intersectionally in dialogue with other subject-positions – embodying, therefore, the trope of the border or boundary that ‘becomes the place from which something begins its presencing in a movement not dissimilar to the ambulant, ambivalent articulation of the beyond’ (Bhabha 7; emphasis original). In this spirit, the decolonial mission and trajectory laid out in these texts demand a persistent search beyond the limits of signification and its subsequently enacted violence.