“A War Between Buffoons”? Censorship and Self-Censorship in Postcolonial Literature

Lorenzo Mari


Deeply entangled as they are, censorship and self-censorship affect many postcolonial literary texts, from different periods and locations. Due to the great variety of case studies, an investigation of censorship and self-censorship in postcolonial literature might take advantage of multiple comparative approaches.

In fact, whereas the censoring effects of colonial discourse on race, class and gender issues concerning the colonized populations produced a transnational phenomenon known as “the postcolonial exotic” (Huggan 2001), the necessity of a comparative analysis might be assessed also in the case of state-imposed and/or religious censorship.

This allows to take into account the specificities of each national and cultural context, while considering, at the same time, the existence of shared political, cultural and literary elements. As for the theoretical grounds upon which this comparison might be built, they often involve the general patterns of postcolonial nation building, as well as its relationship with postcolonial allegory (Jameson 1986, Slemon 1988). The struggle against censorship, in fact, implies the joint reinstatement and deconstruction of the stereotyped Orientalist dichotomy (Said 1978) between European liberalism and Oriental despotism – resulting in a situation of political relativity and ambiguity or, as Rushdie writes, in “a war between buffoons” (1990: 179).

The paper will focus on two specific case studies – Rushdie’s Haroun and the Sea of Stories (1990) and Shalimar the Clown (2005), as well as Nuruddin Farah’s trilogy “Variations on the Theme of an African Dictatorship” (1979-1983) – where the authors both represent and challenge censorship and self-censorship. Their thematic investment in the figures of the madman and the buffoon, on the double threshold of truth/falsity and speech/silence, will be thus considered as a crucial point in both authors’ attempts to reconsider postcolonial censorship as specific to post-colonial nation building and, at the same time, deconstructing the dichotomy between Western (colonial) liberalism and postcolonial authoritarianism. 


censorship; self-censorship; postcolonial allegory; Salman Rushdie; Nuruddin Farah; Norman Manea

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DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.13125/2039-6597/1412

NBN: http://nbn.depositolegale.it/urn%3Anbn%3Ait%3Aunica-16981

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