Post-modernism, post-colonialism: colonial nostalgia as invention

A follow-up on our last topic: elegance, in its (post-?)colonial versions. Now, it’s time for Namibia, which  has just inaugurated a new Independence Memorial Museum and a Genocide Memorial Statue, to make into the news for its vintage elegance.

The interview speaks for itself, but it’s worth quoting this fragment:

KdG: Let’s talk vintage. By wearing old western clothing, are fashionistas like yourself imitating colonial trends or asserting a new kind of African identity?

LVG: Ha ha! No, I am certainly asserting a new kind of African identity. The clothes are western, sure, but I wear them ensuring that that all eyes are on Africa as a fresh source of creativity. In the same vein I am referencing the history of African dandy men, such as the sapeurs of the Congo.


Indeed. For what is striking in the post-modern (in this case, also post-colonial) nostalgia is that, by challenging all historicity, its “re-presentation” of the past is a work of inventiveness. We cannot re-create the past, nor the relations that supported cultural expression. Let alone colonialism. Moreover, vintage fashion, as any re-presentation of an imagined past, is open to subversion of these relations: now established in their new nation-states, the oppressed may now wear the clothes of the oppressors. In an often-quoted fragment discussing the 1970s American obsession with the 1930s in film, Jameson asserts

Faced with these ultimate objects-our social, historical, and existential present, and the past as “referent”–the incompatibility of a postmodernist “nostalgia” art language with genuine historicity becomes dramatically apparent. The contradiction propels this mode, however, into complex and interesting new formal inventiveness; it being understood that the nostalgia film was never a matter of some old-fashioned “representation” of historical content, but instead approached the “past” through stylistic connotation, conveying “pastness” by the glossy qualities of the image, and “1930s-ness” or “1950s-ness” by the attributes of fashion (in that following the prescription of the Barthes of Mythologies, who saw connotation as the purveying of imaginary and stereotypical idealities: “Sinite,” for example, as some Disney-EPCOT “concept” of China).

The post-colonial nostalgia is exactly an “imaginary” and “stereotypical” ideality of the past. One that seems to attract enormous attention from the colonisers themselves, that find in the stereotype known symbols.


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