Paul Gilroy’s Racial Melancholia


Gilroy, Paul. Postcolonial Melancholia. New York: Columbia University Press, 2005.

“The post-colonial rereading of literary texts, works of art, and other objects of docile cultural history has, for the most part, not been able to find its way back to the disreputable, angry places where the political interests of racialized minorities might be identified and worked upon without being encumbered by an affected liberal innocence, on the one hand, or by the conservative spell of ethnic absolutism, on the other” (17).

Gilroy is also no fan of identity politics: “the ideas of ‘race,’ and ethnicity can be seen to have damaged us all over again by feeding expectations of being together that are impossibly high,” and such politics “makes it impossible even to imagine what it is like to be somebody else” (63). Though I agree about as much as anyone can agree with him on this point, he happens to tie identity politics to ethnic absolutism as “a fashionable feature of the identity politics that makes the practice of substantive-politics impossible. Instead, we are all sealed up inside our frozen cultural habits, and there seems to be no workable precedent for adopting a more generous and creative view of how human beings might communicate or act in concert across racial, ethnic or civilizational divisions” (63).

Whereas I would take a more Taylor-like approach and reach more for the hypersimilitude of identity politics.

Gilroy suggests distancing oneself from their own culture to enable self-reflective knowledge, a type of estrangement from one’s own culture and history.

The punchline of this book is perhaps said too late, but it is “Convivial Culture” as one where racism is an object of analysis while at the same time “is prepared to break with the notion that racial differences are a self-evident, immutable fact of political life,” to challenge the reification of race (151). As way of multiculturalism with substance, beyond that of “a lifestyle option.”

Oh yes, and long academic focus on Ali G and “The Office” are pretty interesting.

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