Book dis­cussed in this essay:

Michael Mey­er, ed. Word and Image in Colo­nial and Post­colo­nial Lit­er­a­tures and Cul­tures. Ams­ter­dam & New York: Rodopi, 2009.

Lucy Weir is a PhD can­di­date in the depart­ment of his­to­ry of art at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Glas­gow, research­ing Ori­en­tal­ist ten­den­cies in the devel­op­ment of 20th cen­tu­ry con­tem­po­rary dance.

The lega­cy of colo­nial­ism has undoubt­ed­ly had a tremen­dous effect on the devel­op­ment of visu­al and lit­er­ary cul­tures across the globe, leav­ing its mark on the soci­eties of both the colonised and the colonis­ers. In view of this, Michael Meyer’s dense anthol­o­gy brings togeth­er a broad range of texts illus­trat­ing the sig­nif­i­cance of lin­guis­tic and visu­al rep­re­sen­ta­tion in inter-cul­tur­al rela­tions. His col­lec­tion explores not just a range of time peri­ods and civil­i­sa­tions, but also an impres­sive vari­ety of media, from pho­tog­ra­phy and fea­ture film to children’s pic­ture books and pop music. The vol­ume is rough­ly divid­ed into two sec­tions, ‘Colo­nial’ and ‘Post-Colo­nial Rep­re­sen­ta­tions,’ though the major­i­ty of mate­r­i­al falls under the lat­ter cat­e­go­ry. The assort­ed arti­cles are cer­tain­ly diverse in sub­ject mat­ter, yet can be loose­ly grouped togeth­er by con­ti­nent; the ‘Post­colo­nial’ sec­tion begins with a range of essays explor­ing African text/image rep­re­sen­ta­tion, before mov­ing on to Asian dias­po­ras, and final­ly the Anglo-Abo­rig­i­nal world.

The arti­cles with­in Meyer’s col­lec­tion high­light mark­ers of colo­nial­ism and cross-cul­tur­al influ­ence in a com­bi­na­tion of lit­er­ary and visu­al media. Cer­tain essays stand out as par­tic­u­lar­ly engag­ing; for instance, Gisela Feurle’s text regard­ing African stu­dio pho­tog­ra­phy is poignant and enlight­en­ing, con­tain­ing beau­ti­ful repro­duc­tions of the Malian, Ghana­ian, and Kenyan pho­tog­ra­phers she describes in some detail. Such images rep­re­sent the merg­ing of tra­di­tion­al­ism and moder­ni­ty, but also social aspi­ra­tion; cou­ples in nation­al dress wear­ing West­ern wrist­watch­es, or men in sharp suits pos­ing with icons of mod­ern liv­ing such as tele­phones, alarm clocks, and radios. Susan Arndt’s piece on J. M. Coetzee’s nov­el Dis­grace and the issue of ‘racialised mark­ers’ is also excel­lent, inves­ti­gat­ing the idea of the implied racial ‘Oth­er’ in South Africa’s post-colo­nial landscape–that is, the iden­ti­fi­ca­tion of a character’s race through the use of care­ful lin­guis­tic word play and racial sym­bol­ism the read­er is arguably socialised to inher­ent­ly under­stand. In a sim­i­lar vein, Jens Mar­tin Gurr’s essay rounds off the col­lec­tion, dis­cussing rep­re­sen­ta­tion of Native Amer­i­can mas­sacres in Jim Jarmusch’s revi­sion­ist West­ern Dead Man; his is anoth­er explo­ration of the explic­it­ly unsaid but implic­it­ly revealed, through the use of strik­ing visu­al clues.

As an anthol­o­gy of what could per­haps be termed ‘imagol­o­gy’ issues in colo­nial and post­colo­nial stud­ies, Meyer’s col­lec­tion suc­ceeds in gath­er­ing a great range of mate­r­i­al cov­er­ing exten­sive stretch­es of time and space. While this ben­e­fits the read­er in terms of the breadth of writ­ing sur­veyed, group­ings of essays can be slight­ly too eclec­tic at times. Nonethe­less, while much of the mate­r­i­al is dis­parate in focus, as one works through the vol­ume, cer­tain com­mon themes emerge, and it is per­haps unsur­pris­ing that the ghost of Edward Said is pal­pa­ble through­out the texts in this col­lec­tion, his the­o­ry of ‘Ori­en­tal­ism’ being applied to new con­texts and ter­ri­to­ries. Over­all, Meyer’s col­lec­tion is not aimed at the (post) colo­nial stud­ies ini­ti­ate, giv­en the very spe­cif­ic sub­ject mat­ter of each essay con­cerned. Equal­ly, cer­tain con­tri­bu­tions are stronger than oth­ers in terms of the­o­ret­i­cal engage­ment or writ­ing struc­ture. Despite these minor points, tak­en as a whole, Word and Image is a weighty and thor­ough anthol­o­gy that explores a num­ber of niche ele­ments of colo­nial and post-colo­nial image and lit­er­ary cul­ture, adding fresh voic­es to the ongo­ing dia­logue between cul­tur­al stud­ies and anthro­po­log­i­cal themes.

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