Postcolonial Satire in Cynical Times
Adkins, Alexander Bryant
Doctor of Philosophy
Following post-1945 decolonization, many anticolonial figures became disenchanted, for they witnessed not the birth of social revolution, but the mere transfer of power from corrupt white elites to corrupt native elites. Soon after, many postcolonial writers jettisoned the political sincerity of social realism for satire—a less naïve, more pessimistic literary genre and approach to social critique. Satires about the postcolonial condition employ a cynical idiom even as they often take political cynicism as their chief object of derision. This dissertation is among the first literary studies to discuss the use of satire in postcolonial writing, exploring how and why some major Anglophone global writers from decolonization onward use the genre to critique political cynicisms affecting the developing world. It does so by weaving together seemingly disparate novels from the 1960s until today, including Chinua Achebe’s sendup of failed idealism in Africa, Salman Rushdie’s and Hanif Kureishi’s caricatures of Margaret Thatcher’s enterprise culture, and Aravind Adiga’s and Mohsin Hamid’s parodies of self-help narratives in South Asia. Satire is an effective form of social critique for these authors because it is equal opportunity, avoiding simplistic approaches to power and oppression in the postcolonial era. Satire often blames everyone—including itself—by insisting on irony, hypocrisy, and interdependence as existential conditions. Postcolonial satires ridicule victims and victimizers alike, exchanging the politics of blame for messiness, association, and implication. The satires examined here emphasize that we are all, to different degrees, mutually implicated subjects, especially in the era of global capitalism. This dissertation thus contests critics who argue that the subgenre engages in victim blaming, indulges in colonial-era stereotypes about the developing world, and supports political nihilism. Postcolonial satirists cut a path between the optimism expected of them and the fatalism they are accused of by offering a third path between that stifling dichotomy: a mutually implicating, humorous form of social critique that nuances neocolonial forms of power—including cynicism itself.
Postcolonial literature; Satire; Cynicism; Neoliberalism