Postcolonial Controversies

Three ongoing controversies in Postcolonial studies involving David Stoll and Rigoberta Menchu; Chinua Achebe and Joseph Conrad; and Justus Reid Weiner and Edward Said center on the issue of misrepresentation and engage, not only the academic world, but also the world at large.

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  Dialogues

The Stoll/Menchu Controversy

David Stoll's controversial book, Rigoberta Menchu and the Story of All Poor Guatemalans (1999), confronts alleged inaccuracies in Nobel Laureate, Rigoberta Menchu's testimonio, I Rigoberta Menchu (1983). Menchu's book, a narrative of her experiences as a Guatemalan indigena peasant growing up during the recent Civil War, details not only customs and rituals of her Quiche community, but also recounts the terror and oppression her people experienced at the hands of the Guatemalan Army. Stoll, an anthropologist, critically examines Menchu's text for factual contradictions. He also analyzes political violence in Guatemala and speculates on the academic community's responsibility in teaching controversial cultural texts.


Stoll's methodology included studying human rights reports, comparing newspaper articles to Menchu's accounts, and also interviewing peasants to substantiate his claim that there are inaccuracies in Menchu's testimonio. Elizabeth Burgos, the Venezuelan anthropologist, who transcribed and edited Menchu's taped narrative said, "At the end of the 1980's, I began to receive information that did not corroborate my book. I understood to what extent the guerrillas' strategy was a Jacobin effort, willful and dangerous" (Marti 80). According to Marti, both Stoll and Burgos criticize the fact that the political role of the guerrillas was not made clear in Menchu's book (Marti 80).


Stoll's published dissertation, Between Two Armies in the Ixil Towns of Guatemala (1993), posits that the Civil War in Guatemala was a conflict between the political left (Marxism insurgents) and the political right (U.S. backed military dictatorship that protected capitalist interests). Stoll views the conflict as political rather than merely cultural. This view pits him against human rights advocates who see the 36-year conflict as an extension of the 500-year victimization of the Mayan people by European colonization.


Stoll questions whether I, Rigoberta Menchu, is a truthful account by a poor oppressed Guatemalan Indian or a propaganda piece for a political purpose. Stoll contends that Menchu "drastically revised the prewar experiences of the village to suit the needs of the revolutionary organization she joined" (x). Menchu was in Paris at the time she taped the interview with Burgos on behalf of the 31 January Popular Front. If Stoll is correct, then Menchu's story becomes a sort of indigena cultural legend used for political purposes.


Stoll never questions the brutality and culpability of the Guatemalan Army (xi). What he questions is the reliability of the narrator, who, Stoll points out, has become an iconic figure. Stoll treats Menchu as a fallible human being who has mixed fact and fiction to suit her own, or other's, purposes. The truths that were cloaked or suppressed in the narrative eventually become apparent, and the deception casts doubts on the reliability of the narrator. As Marti says, "The bad thing is that today, those mistakes, half-truths, or full lies uttered by Rigoberta Menchu can discredit not only her own person but an entire movement, or color all the information that addresses the suffering of Central America's Indians" (Marti 81).


The questions Stoll raises are significant and should be carefully considered in regard to human rights and political activism as well as academic scholarship and pedagogy. Stoll wonders why the violence happened in the first place? What were the real conditions of the peasants? What were the real problems? How and why did the killing begin? (ix) Stoll contends that Menchu gains sympathy by focusing the reader's attention on the attacks against her Quiche community's rituals and values thereby sidestepping the real issue-the political struggle. In other words, Stoll believes there is more being hidden than revealed. He says he found a "considerable gap between the voice of revolutionary commitment incarnated by Rigoberta and the peasant voices I was listening to" (10). In a 1988 National Geographic article, reporter Griffin Smith, Jr., interviewed Guatemalans who said that the biggest change in the country had been the "relaxation of terror" on all sides" (780) indicating that Stoll's assessment may be accurate.


After interviewing peasants in Ixil and Uspantan, Stoll wonders if Menchu was "voicing a rationale for insurgency that did not really come from peasants, that instead came from someone claiming to speak for them" (9). In her narration, Menchu presents a socioeconomic explanation for the insurgency known as "immiseration" or "opposition thesis." The idea behind "opposition thesis" is if conditions of every day life become so bad, the common man has no choice but to revolt (9). In his interviews, Stoll did not find this to be the prewar conditions of these villages. He says that the 1960's and 1970's were times of modest gain for villagers who were using local elections and courts. Stoll believes that the guerrillas armed first, committed murders, which prompted the Guatemalan Army to come in and quell the violence (9). In the resulting clash, peasants were either conscripted by the Army or forced by the guerrillas to join the insurgency. The peasants, literally caught between two violent options, suffered extremely high casualty rates.


Stoll believes that Menchu misleads the reader by portraying the guerrilla movement as supported by the Mayan people. According to Arturo Arias, Stoll was more concerned with exposing the masked political narrative in Menchu's text than in accusing Menchu of lying" (134). Stoll is particularly concerned with the way the text justifies the use of violence by the EGP (Guerrilla Army of the Poor) and in fact, contributed to the continuation of violence long after the war should have ended. In speculating that Menchu speaks more for the guerrilla movement than for the Mayan peasant, Stoll suggests the wisdom in questioning Menchu's account in order not to be misled by mythologies disguised as truth, not to be caught up in romantic representations of indigenous people, and not to suspend our critical faculties and end up playing into the hands of political factions (xv).


Two of several incidents Stoll questions in Menchu's book are the portrayal of the land dispute in Chimel and the death of Menchu's brother. In I, Rigoberta Menchu the community is constantly harassed by ladinos who want their land. The Menchu family, exhausted from working on the fincas (plantations on the south coast) move to Chimel north of Uspantan in the highlands to farm. According to Stoll's investigation, the ladino landowners, the Martinezes and the Garcias never evicted the Menchus from Chimel (51). After speaking with inhabitants at Chimel, Stoll believes the real dispute was between Vincente Menchu and his father-in-law's brother, Antonio over 45 hectares of land. Stoll researched government documents at the INTA (National Institute for Agrarian Transformation) and found only one of nineteen petitions filed by Vincente Menchu was against a ladino. The rest of the petitions were filed against other indigena peasants (31). Stoll also discovered that Antonio, not the ladinos, had evicted the community from Chimel twice and also had Vincente Menchu put in jail (32). Stoll says the book "does echo faithfully the tendency of Uspantan peasants to blame someone else-government functionaries or ladinos-for their land conflicts with each other (40). However, "the Vincente Menchu who emerges from recollections of the land feud may seem hard to reconcile with the figure portrayed by Rigoberta" (37).


In the case of the death of Menchu's brother. Stoll found that residents of Chajul denied that anyone was ever burned alive in the town square. Stoll concludes that Menchu's brother was killed first, then burned and that Menchu herself was not present in Chajul at the time (63-70).


The land dispute and the death of Menchu's brother are only two of several inconsistencies in Menchu's book that Stoll details, but they will serve as examples to illustrate what Stoll is questioning. In raising these questions, Stoll acknowledges that the reliability of his own sources is open to question. John Beverly said, "It would be more accurate to say that what Stoll has been able to show is that some rather than 'much' of Menchu's story is not true" (220).


Stoll also raises the question of culpability when one questions the factuality of Menchu's text. He has been accused of being a racist and politically incorrect. Like one who uses circular reasoning to defend the authority of the Bible, Stoll suggests that supporters claim that what Menchu says is true because Menchu says it is true. In an interview by Dina Fernandez Garcia, Stoll says, "When a book becomes almost sacred, it is a sign that it hides contradictions that ought to see the light of day" (Garcia 68). What needs to be questioned, Stoll says, is not Menchu's testimonio, but "the wish to create quasi-religious cults around it" ("David Stoll Breaks His Silence" 120).
When Stoll cautions the reader not to believe everything Menchu says, he insists that he is not confronting Menchu herself, but is instead confronting how the international community allows itself to be misled by never questioning the obvious contradictions in the text. Stoll also voices the fear of many conservatives that in teaching Menchu's book educators are mainly teaching a political viewpoint rather than a cultural text.


In conclusion, Stoll suggests that Menchu's narrative is not only untrue in many details, but also that it fails to reveal the invisible force behind the surface details-a Marxist backed guerrilla insurgency. Therefore, the reader is left in the dark as to the real political situation. Stoll cautions readers not to be misled by a powerful narrative voice. "What makes, I, Rigoberta Menchu so attractive in universities is what makes it misleading about the struggle for survival in Guatemala. We think we are getting closer to understanding Guatemalan peasants when actually we are being borne away by the mystifications wrapped up in an iconic figure" ( 247). Stoll plants the seed of doubt that Menchu's story is not a true reference of reality, but only a true reference of a personal reality.

 

The Achebe/Conrad Controversy

In a lecture delivered at the University of Massachusetts on 18 February 1975, Chinua Achebe raised the issue of racism in Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness (1899), a critique of European imperialism and Belgian colonialism.


The lecture was published in The Massachusetts Review (18(1977): 782-94) and can also be found in the Norton Critical Edition of Heart of Darkness (1988).

Achebe is one of the first literary critics to question the way Conrad represented Africa and Africans in Heart of Darkness. Achebe feels that the African characters are not presented as individuals but as stereotypes, and in creating stereotypes Conrad devalues the African people. Achebe charges Conrad with using "Africa as setting and backdrop . . . as a metaphysical battlefield devoid of all recognizable humans, into which the wandering European enters at his peril. Can nobody see the preposterous and perverse arrogance in thus reducing Africa to the role of props for the break-up of one petty European mind?" (257). Using one country as a scapegoat to make another look good is bad enough, but even worse, Achebe points out is the "dehumanization" of the people and the country that this attitude promotes (257). The main question Achebe raises is whether or not a novel that is built on demeaning an entire people and their nation can really be considered "a great work of art" (257).

Achebe accuses Conrad of racism alleging that Heart of Darkness reveals the prejudices, not only of its author, but also of its unquestioning Western readers. Achebe builds his case by pointing out the way Conrad describes the African characters in the novel: "Fine fellows-cannibals-in their place," or "they had faces like grotesque masks," or "She was savage and superb, wild-eyed and magnificent." After giving examples such as these, Achebe concludes: "The point of my observation should be quite clear by now, namely that Joseph Conrad was a thoroughgoing racist" (257). Achebe finds the book "offensive and deplorable" (259). "I am talking about a book," Achebe says, "which parades in the most vulgar fashion prejudices and insults from which a section of mankind has suffered untold agonies and atrocities in the past and continues to do so in many ways and many places today" (259).

In addressing the issues that Achebe raises literary critics point out that Achebe is confuting author and narrator. More than once Achebe refers to Conrad as "Marlow/Conrad". Of this counter argument, Achebe says, "Marlow seems to me to enjoy Conrad's complete confidence-a feeling reinforced by the close similarities between their two careers" (256). Achebe is referring to the fact that both author and narrator navigated a steamship up the Congo River. Achebe feels that even if Conrad did intend to separate his views from his narrator's, he failed to do so by not providing "an alternative frame of reference" (256). Scenes in which Marlow appears empathetic to Africans, such as in the grove of death where Marlow says, "They were dying slowly-it was very clear", Achebe dismisses as "bleeding heart sentiments" (256).

As a student Achebe was dismayed at the way Africa and Africans were portrayed in Western European texts. He decided to become a novelist to provide a different perspective (http://www.wmich.edu/dialogues/texts/arrowofgod.html and http://www.wmich.edu/dialogues/texts/thingsfallapart.html). In his novels Achebe portrays the Igbo people and their culture as an established complex society predating the arrival of the Europeans. Noting that he is the first to address the issue of racism in Conrad's venerated and canonical text, Achebe says it is an indication of how willingly and blindly the Western reader has accepted an imaginary and harmful depiction of a people. The question Achebe asks us to consider is this: "whether a novel, which celebrates this dehumanization, which depersonalizes a portion of the human race, can be called a great work of art. My answer is: No, it cannot" ( 257).


The Weiner/Said Controversy

The Weiner/Said controversy is similar to the Stoll/Menchu debate. In a September 1999 essay in Commentary entitled, "'My Beautiful Old House' and Other Fabrications by Edward Said," Justus ReidWeiner accuses Edward Said of misrepresenting his family's connection to Palestine in Said's 1999 autobiography, Out of Place: A Memoir..

Weiner, an American who resides in Israel, is a scholar in residence at the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs and has worked for Israel's Ministry of Justice. Weiner has a law degree from the University of California and Berkley and has worked for a Wall Street Law Firm. He was the visiting professor at Boston University School of Law. Edward Said, a writer, was born in Jerusalem in 1933 to Protestant Palestinian parents. He is a leading spokesman for the Palestinians. He teaches literature at Columbia University. Said is a member of the Palestine National Council and is an outspoken critic of Israel's occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

Specifically the controversy involves Weiner questioning Said's claim that his Palestinian family was forced to leave Palestine in late 1947 just before Israel became a nation in 1948. Said wrote, "My parents, sisters, and I spent most of 1947 in Palestine, which we left for the very last time in December of that year" (Out of Place 107.) Contrary to what Said claims in his autobiography, Weiner alleges that Said actually spent his childhood in Egypt and the Said family never owned the house mentioned in the autobiography. Weiner says, "Thus, he mentions a number of dates - occasions when he was present in Palestine between his birth in 1935 and 1947, then repeats them endlessly, suggesting to the listener or reader that he was continuously in Palestine during this twelve-year period. As it turned out, however, Said spent his entire childhood-except for a few summers and other visits abroad-living in a prestigious neighborhood in Cairo, surrounded by butlers, maids and the like. This was his life, and it had almost nothing to do with Palestine (http://www.meforum.org/wires/weiner.shtml)

Weiner researched Said's past through school enrollment records, Jerusalem telephone and business directories, the registry of deeds and other public records. Weiner says, "Several months of extensive research made clear that there was something fundamentally wrong with the picture Said presented of himself-that of a Palestinian exile/refugee deserving of reparations from Israel. When I began discovering discrepancies in Said"s frequent autobiographic references, I telephoned his office at Columbia University to request an interview, but Said did not return the call (http://www.mefourm.org/wires/weiner.shtml)

Weiner insists that the issue is credibility. "He (Said) is wrapping himself in the Palestinian flag to give himself immunity from questions and doubt" and "In re-telling the facts of his own personal biography over the years he has spoken anything but the plain, direct, and honest truth" (http://www.wmitchell.edu/calendar/weiner.html). Weiner accuses Said of distorting the truth and of "outright deception and of artful obfuscations."

Implicit in his accusations is Weiner's belief that Said has no right to be a Palestinian spokesman.

The Weiner/Said controversy was covered in the following publications: London's Daily Telegraph, the New York Times, and the Chronicle of Higher Education.

Said's defense can be gleaned from his literary theories. He points out the inability of language to accurately represent reality. "In any instance of at least written language, there is no such thing as a delivered presence, but a represence, or a representation (Orientalism 21). Said believes that Weiner attacked him in a right wing publication which would like to discourage Jews and Jewish sympathizers from listening to Said's political views, which include a belief that Israel should "become a state of its citizens and not of the whole Jewish people" http://www.theatlantic.com/unbound/interviews/ba990922.htm

 

  Notes

In response to Stoll's accusations, Menchu suggests that critics focus on the real issues the controversy raises, such as, what voices are silenced and what voices are allowed to be heard (http://www.cccusa.org/news/99news18.html). Menchu also points out that she won the Nobel Peace Prize, not the Nobel Prize for Literature and that anyone concerned about accuracy of details should study the Truth Commission in Guatemala Report. She says, "The thousands of testimonies represent the collective memory of the victims, and 80 percent of those come from Mayan indigenous people of Guatemala" (http://www.ncccusa.org/news/99news18.html). Menchu stresses that she was a collective voice of her people and was not intentionally writing an autobiography. "For common people such as myself, there is no difference between testimony, biography, and autobiography. We tell what we have lived (collectively) not just alone" (http://www.ncccusa.org/news/99bews18.html).

Chinua Achebe: "The European critic of African literature must cultivate the habit of humility appropriate to his limited experience of the African world and purged of the superiority and arrogance which history so insidiously makes him heir to" (Morning Yet on Creation Day: Essays 6).

To examine the main approaches of scholarly criticism to Heart of Darkness from its publication through1954 see Robert F. Haugh's essay "Heart of Darkness: Problem for Critics" in Norton's Critical Edition. Guyanese critic, Wilson Harris and C. Ponnuthurai Sarvan of the University of Zambia defend Conrad in their essays, "The Frontier on Which Heart of Darkness Stands" and "Racism and the Heart of Darkness", both of which are included in Norton's Critical Edition. Sarvan feels that Conrad merely reflects the attitudes prevelant in his day, but "was ahead of most in trying to break free" (285). Frances B. Singh in "The Colonialistic Bias of Heart of Darkness" agrees with Achebe that Africa is used by Conrad to represent an "evil and primeval force" (271).

Robert Kimbrough, editor of the Norton Critical Edition, believes the best scholarly criticism of Conrad is Albert J. Guerard's Conrad the Novelist.

Edward Said: "Of course I read Weiner's piece, and was struck by the enormous fabrication of lies and, how shall I put it, maligned construction . . .and then of course the most preposterous thing of all is that Weiner never spoke to me" (http://www.theatlantic.com/unbound/interviews/ba990922.htm)

Edward Said: "London, Conrad says in Heart of Darkness, is no less a 'dark place' than the Congo. No one can draw a self-bolstering European patriotism out of Conrad and claim at the same time to be reading what Conrad actually wrote" (Reflections 103).

Edward Said: "Far from rejecting or disqualifying canonical writers because of crudely political considerations, my approach has tried to re-situate writers in their own history, with a particular emphasis on those apparently marginal aspects of their work which because of the historical experience of non-European readers have acquired a new prominence" (Reflections xxix).

"To take an axe to Edward Said is to swipe at one of the more fruitful and elegant trees in the orchard of human intellect. Said is one of the leading literary theorists of our century, a commentator on music - opera in particular - a historian, pianist and political essayist. Most famously, he is the world's most instantly recognizable and tenacious exponent of the Palestinian cause. He is the living example of that maxim coined by Theodore Adorno, another radical refugee who came to New York, then from the Third Reich: 'For a man who no longer has a homeland, writing becomes a place to live'."
(http://www.dawn.com/weekly/mazdak/991002.htm)

ooks by Edward Said include: Beginnings: Intention and Method (1975); Orientalism (1978); The Question of Palestine (1979); Covering Islam (1980); The World the Text and the Intellectual: The Reith Lectures (1994); Peace and Its Discontents: Essays on Palestine in the Middle East Peace Process (1996); Entre Guerre et Paix (1997); and Out of Place: A Memoir (1999). Recent publications include The End of the Peace Process: Oslo and After (2000), Reflections on Exile and Other Essays (2001), and Power, Politics, and Culture (2001).

  Links
Stoll/Menchu Controversy:

http://www.salon.com/news/1999/02/12newsa.html Rigoberta Menchu responds to her critics.

http://past.thenation.com/cgi-bin/framizer.cgi?url=http://past.thenation.com/issue/990208/0208granding.shtml
Review of David Stoll's book and defense of Menchu.

http://www.salon.com/col/horo/1999/01/nc_11horo.html
Conservative essayists dismisses Menchu as a fraud.


http://www.warren-wilson.edu/~socanth/coursepages/433readings.html
The following readings are from The Rigoberta Menchu Controversy, 2001, edited by
Arturo Arias, Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press: Pratt, Mary Louise. ...

http://www.popecenter.org/clarion/1999/May/0599cover.html
Clarion May 1999
... is not limited to opinions about the controversy ... participated in the discussion were
sympathetic with Menchu's ... Guatemalan Civil War contained in I, Rigoberta Menchu

http://www.newark.ohio-state.edu/~kborland/csh201.htm
Comparative Studies in the Humanities 201
... 4/25 Student Presentations. Guatemalan Genocide 1960s-1990s The Rigoberta
Menchu Controversy Testimonial as a literary/political form. ...


http://www.wmich.edu/dialogues/texts/irigobertamenchu.html
I, Rigoberta Menchu
... Teaching the I, Rigoberta Menchu Controversy. Rare is the indigenous woman who receives
a Nobel Prize; rarer still that she should do so without controversy.

http://www.columbia.edu/cu/libraries/reserves/barnard/course/20021ANTH3868X001.html
. Arias , Arturo. Rigoberta Menchu controversy


http://www.frontpagemag.com/archives/academia/leo1-20-99.htm
Academia's Lust For Lies and Disregard For Truth examines the issue of honesty in the academy.


http://www.americas.org/curriculum/menchu.htm
Rigoberta Menchu: The Prize that Broke the Silence
... Controversy about Rigoberta Menchú

Achebe/Conrad controversy:

http://shop.store.yahoo.com/africanworld/0865438404.html
Chinua Achebe elaborates on the controversy in an excerpt from an essay "Africa's Tarnished Name", found in Wylie and Lindfor's Multiculturalism and Hybridity
In African Literature.

http://www.failuremag.com/arch_history_chinua_achebe.html
Chinua Achebe interview

http://www.wwnorton.com/nael/nto/20thC/postcolonial/chachebefrm.htm
This site has an excerpt from Achebe's essay, "An Image of Africa: Racism in Conrad's Heart of Darkness".

http://www.chrisster.com/jillweb/sdsu/heartdark.htm
This site entitled "Backgrounds on Africa" is rich in links to other sites on Colonialism.

http://faculty.pittstate.edu/~knichols/carib.html
A link to how Europeans viewed Africans during Colonialism entitled "Nineteenth Century Attitudes Toward Africa". This is a jack pot site. It includes e-text of Heart of Darkness; notes and novel guide; map of Africa; biography on Conrad; discussion of Imperialism and Postcolonialism; discussion of the race controversy; Achebe's essay; other Achebe essays on the controversy; and responses to Achebe.

http://www.nigeriansinamerica.com/articles/goddy1.htm
Entitled "Conrad the Bloody Racist" this site gives a Postcolonial critical history of Heart of Darkness.

http://www.cocc.edu/cagatucci/PIPSab/Sab96bib2.htm
Extensive bibliography of texts on multiculturalism , education, and the canon.

http://www.uncg.edu/eng/elt/nrev441.htm
Review of Peter E. Firchow's Envisioning Africa: Racism and Imperialism in Conrad's Heart of Darkness (2000) a rebuttal to Achebe's essay.

Weiner/Said Controversy

http://www.theatlantic.com/unbound/interviews/ba990922.htm
An interview with Said in which he answers Weiner's accusations.


http://www.leftwatch.com/articles/2000/000080.html
"Edward Said's Latest Controversy" by Brian Carnell.


http://www.wesleyan.edu/argus/archives/aa_archive_feb222002/dateyear/n7.html
"Professors weigh in on Said controversy" by Xiomara Lorenzo.

http://www.wmitchell.edu/calendar/weiner.html
"Academic Freedom or Academic Fraud? The Controversy Over Edward Said


http://www.meforum.org/wires/weiner.shtml
Edward Said and Me - Middle East Forum

http://www.dawn.com/weekly/mazdak/991002.htm
Essay supportive of Said.


http://www.wesleyan.edu/argus/archives/aa_archive_feb222002/dateyear/nl.html
"Edward Said lecture fills Crowell" by Miriam Gottfried. "What I propose
is an effort in understanding, understanding being a never-ending process . . ."

http://www.salon.com/news/feature/1999/09/07/said/
Defense of Said.

http://www.theorycards.org.uk/
Interesting site with trading cards featuring people like Said who are prominent in cultural and social theory.

http://dir.salon.com/topics/edward_said/index.html
Eleven Salon essays dealing with the Said controversy.

http://tesa.leb.net/
Edward Said archive.

http://zmag.org/bios/homepage.cfm?authorID=124
Commentaries and articles by Edward Said.

http://web1.ahram.org.eg/weekly/2001/516/
A Palestinian weekly with article by Said.

http://www.jcpa.org/jl/vp422.htm
Article by Weiner for the Jerusalem Letter entitled "The False Prophet of Palestine."

http://www.upress.umn.edu/Books/w/wallen_closed.html
Review of Jeffery Wallen's book Closed Encounters about literary critcs who become political spokesmen.

http://dir.salon.com/news/col/horo/1999/09/27/said/index.html
David Horowitz essay critical of both Said and Menchu.

  Teaching

In the Stoll/Menchu, Achebe/Conrad and the Weiner/Said controversies collective history is not in dispute. Stoll and Weiner both focus on minor inconsistencies they find in the texts. These inconsistencies, they feel, result in discrediting the "authority" or the "veracity" of the authors. In both of these controversies what began as a literary or academic dispute escalates into a political dispute because Menchu and Said are also writing with political purposes-to awaken cultural nationalism against a superior foe. The Achebe/Conrad dispute, which began as an academic dispute questioning Conrad's place in the canon, is also ultimately political. The real issue is how Africans have been perceived and continue to be perceived by xenophobic Western readers.

All three of these controversies highlight the necessity of becoming careful readers. "The reader's task is to be aware of the limits of language, to be alert to the ways in which words, formulas, and rhetoric can obscure understanding" (Innes 41). Any study of Postcolonialism would benefit from a discussion of reading strategies for students.

It appears to me that Postcolonial studies are fraught with landmines. Helping our students become aware of potential hotspots can broaden their perspectives and abilities in analyzing texts. Using any author's text as a source of cultural knowledge of all Guatemalans or of all Africans or of all Palestinians or of all Western Europeans is dangerous because the text can only reflect one person's version of reality and one person's interpretation of his experience. Keeping this in mind might be an excellent way to begin any postcolonial study. As Allen Carey-Webb says, "A truly postcolonial way of teaching requires that literature courses, to some degree at least, investigate themselves" (136).

Educators can assist students in identifying polarized and reactionary thinking. Achebe says he wants to "counter racism with what John Paul Sartre has called an anti-racist racism, to announce not just that we are as good as the next man, but much better" (The Novelist as Teacher 44-45). Menchu also infers that the Mayans are superior to white men. "The outside world-which we know is disgusting-has set a bad example . . ." (61). Anti-racism racism attitudes tend to inflame revolutionary zeal rather than advance the peace process. Both Menchu and Achebe are prone at times to make sweeping universal statements. Achebe says, "No thinking African can escape the pain of the world in the soul" (The Novelist as Teacher 44). There may, in fact, be a few "thinking Africans" who disagree. Menchu says, "white men are like their bread, they are not wholesome" (70). Not all white men are bad. By making themselves the spokesmen for their people, Menchu and Achebe insure that we are less likely to hear from other Africans and Mayans who think their country's interaction with the West was not entirely bad. In contrast, Said invites tolerance and a balanced investigation of both sides-the Palestinian and the Israeli. "My purpose is to put forth a narrative that is more inclusive, but it is not meant to be anything more than restoring a history . . . the only hope is to find a state of coexistence between the two peoples who have lived there for so long"
(www.wesleyan.edu/argus/archives/aa_archive_feb222002/ dateyear/n1.html).

Perhaps introducing texts with alternate perspectives would provide an opportunity for students to develop critical and analytical skills in comparison and contrast.

Postcolonial studies are political and the political is always personal. Knowledge of the controversies and the issues involved will deepen our students' appreciation of Postcolonial literature. Questions to raise in the classroom involve the following: Are these political or cultural texts or both? What is the genre involved-fiction, memoir, testimonio? Does genre affect the way we should respond to the text? Can one voice represent an entire nation and people? How do postcolonial texts raise awareness about the literary canon we have inherited?

As Achebe has demonstrated in his essay the ideological values of other cultures, especially dominant ones, are open to question. As students study the controversies they should be encouraged to investigate and scrutinize both Stoll's and Menchu's motives, both Achebe's and Conrad's, both Weiner's and Said's. This approach will allow students the opportunity to view both sides in political disputes and move them away from either/or, reductionistic thinking.

My suggestions for teaching the controversies include familiarizing students with the genres involved. Next, to familiarize students with the politico-cultural-socio conflicts involved between Western Civilization and Guatemala, Western Civilization and Africa, Israel and Palestine. Also, introducing students to the way language creates and upholds ideology and assisting them in developing reading strategies that will make them more aware of the way texts and language can obscure or clarify our understanding of cultures and political issues will begin to encourage complex and critical thinking skills. Examining these three textual controversies will not only help students identify the way texts create meaning, but also, as Stoll says, will "encourage debate over representation" which is the recurring theme in all three of the controversies.

  Citations

Achebe, Chinua. "An Image of Africa: Racism in Conrad's Heart of Darkness." Heart of Darkness. Ed. Robert Kimbrough. 3rd ed. New York: W.W. Norton & Co., 1988. 251-62.
___. Morning Yet on Creation Day: Essays. London: Heinemann, 1975.
___. The Novelist as Teacher. Hopes and Impediments Selected Essays. New York: Doubleday, 1988. 40-46.


Arias, Arturo, ed. The Rigoberta Menchu Controversy. Minneapolis: U. of Minnesota P, 2001.


Beverly, John. "What Happens When the Subaltern Speaks." The Rigoberta Menchu Controversy. Ed. Aruturo Arias. Minneapolis: U. of Minnesota P, 2001. 219-36.


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