William Butler Yeats is considered to be a canonical poet in the English Studies curriculum in India. His Anglo-Irish ancestry and engagement with the Irish struggle for independence from British colonialism is rarely taken into account by Indian academia, or for that matter academia in general. However, it is important today to note that Yeats's writing is informed by a resistance to colonialism and colonialism-induced amnesia of one's own national culture. Yeats's writing is also complicated by the fact that he wrote from a colonised space, at a time when it was trying to expel the coloniser, but was himself from the colonising stock.
His relationship with the Irish Revolutionaries was made ambiguous by virtue of his long-drawn and unsuccessful love and passion for Maud Gonne. These aspects of Yeats's work need to be reflected upon by not just the scholars from the West, but even more so by Postcolonial scholars. The latter need to look afresh at Yeats not as a canonical writer but as one who in his own way, sometimes personal, sometimes political, more often a blend of the two, resisted colonialism and tried to excavate the pre-colonial Irish past in an act of nascent national self-esteem.
It is in this context that Sridhar Rajeswaran's book is of much importance to scholarship on Yeats as it brings into play the application of postcolonial theories to the work of this poet. This book on the poetry of William Butler Yeats captivates from the very title itself which reflects the Anglo-Irish ancestry of the poet under the critical prism, as well as the postcolonial antecedents of the critic. 'The English Cup', 'Irish Coffee' and 'Black Sugar' thus come together to create this critical book, which is as interesting as the receptacle, the brew and the added sweetener. What makes this book even more important is that it is marked by originality, integrity and energy rarely encountered in academic writing in equal measure.
There are moments in cultural history when entire aspects of culture, especially its institutions such as Art and Literature, have to be re-examined and re-defined. These moments crystallise in particular trends, in particular 'ideologies', all of which become parameters to construct a method that helps appraise the times and explore age old issues in the field of cultural studies.
The Twentieth Century has seen a thorough re-interpretation of cultural issues. In the field of English studies, issues of literary theory have been open to European influences. Structuralism, Post-Structuralism and Marxist modes of analysis have all sought to establish precise, relevant and more meaningful relationships between the artist, his work, and the world at large. A science of literature has since come into being.
In the context of this tremendous theoretical interest that has come to be, it becomes important to identify those figures in the contemporary literary world, whose work may act as an aide in asking those significant questions about literature which are specific to the times and may thereby help in re-formulating issues in aesthetics.
To work efficiently, it may be necessary to begin by defining our range of operations. A representative area, a representative figure, certain representative trends - all these need to be isolated and defined for purposes of analysis.
Poetry as an area of analysis is especially adequate, since, unlike fiction and drama, it is not wholly bound by limitations of history and society. Among English poets of this century, it would seem debatable to choose a representative figure whose work could be used as a focus for analysis. However, a sound case may be made out for W.B. Yeats, whose practice of his craft and whose preoccupation with his art, have created a sense of a poet's vocation that is possibly available only to a poet whose work is constantly seeking to define its own status.
Yeats came to poetry at a time when questions about the very nature of art and the experience it arose from were being re-formulated. It was also a time when the poet's role vis-a-vis society was being debated. Yeats sought answers to both on his own terms. The poet as a lone figure in search of truth-both as an image and as an idea - haunted him throughout his poetic career. Being born into an Irish inheritance, Yeats could refer this haunting to a history, which, however troubled, stood him in good stead. There was thus a natural dialectic which informed his art and, which, in fact, is necessary, if the poet's art were not to dissolve into its own rhetoric. Yeats translated into his poetry the issues posed by this dialectic, and his poetic problems, in turn, constantly referred to larger cultural issues raised by the nature of the times.
Yeats's varied poetic stances, his constant shifting from the dramatic (public) to the lyrical (private), his constant testing of language against the claims of experience and against the resonance of its own logic, were all means to work out the dialectic in aesthetics. Once the correspondences between aesthetics and the culture which enabled its emergence in the first place are established, the issues for poetry and for literature in general, that have come up recently, may be evaluated against various methodologies.
This book, which aims at defining cultural issues in relation to Yeats's work in particular, has a three part structure and is entitled:
The term Postcolonial does not refer merely to a temporal condition, to a time after colonialism; nor does it describe a critical perspective, which some theorists hold to be radically different from a colonialist perspective of cultural products. Though their perspectives have accommodated and made allowances for 'differance' in the colonising West and the colonised Others, they have paid insufficient attention to the fact that colonial exploitation, even as it works on a logic of difference, urges a notion of oppression which is sufficiently generalised so as to appear homogeneous. This, not with standing the fact that colonial exaction grounded its effects in extremely heterogeneous conditions.
With the onset of colonialism and the arrival of a new and more sophisticated form of exaction and rule-founded on Capital and industry - older injustices and hierarchies were strung together into a form of servitude which the colonised solely attributed to the coming of the coloniser. This perceived homogeneity enabled the oppressed to resist not merely the coloniser, but earlier forms of tyranny as well. In this sense, Colonialism disenabled as well as enabled the colonised; trapped them but held out promises of redemption. In the context of India, for instance, materiality would not have emerged as a powerful determinant of human affairs at the time it did, but for the coming of the coloniser, and neither would such questionings of caste and gender positions as emerged then, been possible. Colonialism, it is clear, is a differentiated phenomenon which, like the bourgeois society described by Marx, allows us to view within itself the forms and structures of earlier oppressions.
Postcolonial (Post Colonial, Post colonial, post colonial, used with or without hyphen), then, would be used to describe a critical trajectory that has emerged after the fact of colonialism but which is still bound to it, both by the persistence of colonial exploitation and because the colonial condition is where it all starts from. This operation assumes an internally contradictory historical and critical position, and one, that is perpetually sought to be breached. In this sense, the metaphor delineates products of a differentiated colonialism, as well as post colonial peoples, who are structurally as well as epistemologically linked.
These peoples are therefore well situated to trace the limits of the colonising vision as well as the boundaries of a post colonial viewpoint, and, gesture towards a new critique. Such a position is apposite to the subject chosen for study, for a poet like Yeats is at once a canonised poet of the English language as well as one who used the language to break with its traditions of poetry. As an Anglo-Irish poet, writing into his art, his imagined Ireland, Yeats simultaneously embraced and rejected Englishness. Reading Yeats from such a post colonial perspective therefore gives allowance to fix him in the context of politics and history, as well as dislocates him from that context into one afforded by his own self-divisions. Thus he needs to be read twice, once to re-define his canonical status in a historical context and the second time to situate the boundaries of that history within the much divided self of the poet himself.
**Contents and Sample Pages**
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