Ana-Maria Blanaru Poli 390 Book Review # 2 September 27th 2002 Albert Memmi: The Colonizer and The Colonized, Orion Press (New York: 1965)
In The Colonizer and The Colonized, Memmi’s primary argument is that the collapse of colonialism is inevitable and that the only means for this eventual collapse will come through revolt. To substantiate the inevitability of this claim, Memmi invokes extensive use of psychoanalysis to paint generalized portraits of individuals falling into the categories of colonizer or colonized and to explain their relationship within the context of colonialism. He pursues a largely deterministic approach in his argumentation, most succinctly depicted in his statement that ‘man is a product of his objective situation’. (Memmi, xvi) His portraits of colonizer and colonized emerge from this paradigm, as he maps out the influences of the colonial context on the ultimate psychological make-up of colonizers and colonized, and hence their reactions to colonialism.
The colonizer assumes the behaviours inherent in his role (brutality, oppression, exploitation, bigotry, etc.) after he arrives in the colony and has his actions determined by the institutions and social rules that already exist there. Memmi asserts that economic gain is the fundamental driving force of colonialism, which in turn explains the situation of sustained exploitation carried out by the colonizers. To highlight this determinism, Memmi tests his hypothesis against the behaviour of Italians – a non-colonial group of Europeans. He points out that ‘having no special reason to do so, Italians [did] not maintain a great distance between themselves and the colonized’ (Memmi, 15), placing into context the behaviour of the actual colonizers.
After describing the colonizer, Memmi moves to a mythical portrait of the colonized, as seen through the eyes of the colonizer, which incorporates the attribution of negative traits such as laziness, corruption and lack of civility to the colonized. Central to this discussion is the issue of racism, which Memmi defines as ‘the substantive expression, to the accuser’s benefit, of a real or imaginary trait of the accused’. (Memmi, 81) He further states that (and here a parallel can be drawn to Cesaire’s concept of ‘thingification’ - Cesaire, 42) it is the colonizer’s supreme ambition to turn the colonized into an object existing only as a function of the needs of the colonizer. (Memmi, 86)
The mythical portrait is not only central to understanding the colonizer’s behaviour but also to comprehending the context shaping the behaviour and thought processes of the colonized (since all social institutions and relations between the two groups are founded upon the colonizers’ constructed myths). Memmi also argues that there is a negative correlation between the brutality employed by colonizers and the humanism and other positive attributes found in the colonized. However, colonialism not only serves to brutalize the colonized but also to instill in them inferiority and submission complexes that prevent them from acting to reverse colonialism sooner.
Having established that the relationship between the colonizer and colonized is unstable by virtue of its consequences, Memmi then seeks to show why colonialism can only end through revolt. To dismiss any hope of colonialism ending through the initiative of the colonizers, Memmi points to left-wing Europeans refusing to accept the status quo and hence acting in discordance with it, going as far as to support the quest for freedom of the colonized. While serving to alienate them from the other colonizers, their actions are largely meaningless from the perspective of the colonized, who continue to group them with other colonizers and show no intention of advancing leftist doctrines once liberated, to the disillusionment of the left-wingers who then abandon their cause....
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