The coloniser and the colonised

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the coloniser and the colonised

The Colonizer and the Colonized by Albert Memmi

The title of this book suggests something dated, describing both a situation and a mindset that has either ceased to exist or become discredited with time. As such, I hesitated to pick it up initially. But now having read it, I have to say its one of the profound books Ive read in recent memory. In timeless detail Memmi describes not just the psychologies of the oppressed and the oppressor, but also the predicament of the leftist in the oppressing group who at once is attracted to and recoils from the way in which the oppressed tries to liberate themselves, as well as from their end goals, in which they would likely find no place.

Memmi is not just a pontificating observer. He was a Tunisian living as a native under the colonial regime, but straddling both worlds as a relatively more privileged Jewish member of the colonized class; thus able to interact with and experience both perspectives. He describes the self-destructive and somewhat self-loathing tyranny of the colonizer, who ossifies the society he colonizes, the inherent fascism, and the way in which the mediocre at home can become the grandiose in the colony, and how jealously they defend that privilege. As well, Memmi catalogues as the psychological effects of colonization; destroying the institutions and thus the memory of the colonized, cutting them off from their language and debasing it, preventing its growth and the practice of its higher forms and finally the eventual belief action upon the worst myths about themselves.

The best part I thought was about the leftist who hates colonialism, but also ends up hating and fearing the means and goals of those he seeks to defend from its ravages. This is still an absolutely timely and relevant predicament, right up to the War on Terror. The comparison is not as apocalyptically stark because these people dont have to live in the same societies, only to agree not to harm one another (and, in the common perception, not feed an imperial complex that benefits from such conflict), but many of the same dynamics apply. There really is a clash, and a dissonance; even applicable in movements such as the Black radical struggle in the United States, many of whose white supporters, both half-hearted and zealous, would lose something, even perhaps much, through the victory of. It is best to acknowledge this predicament and offer an appreciation of it, than to simply ignore it and leave one open to accusations of ignorance or foolhardiness.

Throughout the book I was able to picture the circumstances he described in multiple settings, from Black Lives Matter to the War on Terror, and they almost always seemed both moving, urgent and relevant. Memmi later recoiled from many of his views about the decolonized, in light of the ugliness that much of decolonization brought to the fore, but ironically the seeds of that ugliness seem explicitly predicted and accounted for in this book. If anything, that historical experience should count against the irrational optimism about human nature that progressives tend to uncritically project onto the world. I recommend this book unreservedly, I couldnt put it down, and will certainly refer back to it in future.
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Published 10.01.2019

Imperialism; Colonizers vs. Colonized

The Colonizer and the Colonized

Albert Memmi's eyrie looks at first like a haphazard souk, a writer's casbah of scattered books, files, chairs, lamps, an over-stuffed sofa, carpets and a myriad of trinkets. It has taken 30 years to complete their accretion under the sloping eaves of a Paris roof, at the top of a creaking staircase. But the orderliness of Memmi's mind filters through, in groupings of deep blue bottles, German crystal glasses, tiny Egyptian perfume vials. An etiolated vine creeps around the wall of the main room. There's an exquisite carved wooden screen behind the sofa: "real Andalusian; not a copy", he boasts. Memmi and his wife, Germaine, live in the flat below, but the garret is where he has written most of his 60 books, where the 84 year-old writer and professor of political sociology receives students and fields telephone calls. I have come to talk about The Colonizer and the Colonized, Memmi's landmark analysis of the destructive symbiosis between European colonialists and the peoples they exploited.

Memmi wrote it in response to the decolonization of North Africa in , when Tunisia and Algeria gained independence from the French. Although Memmi bases his examples on events in North Africa, he states that the dynamics he describes are similar in any colonial system. In , Tunisia became a colony of the French and it gained independence from France in During its colonial period, Tunisia was home to French colonizers, Italians, Tunisian Muslims, and a minority of Jews. The Italians, although not as well off as the French, were also privileged.

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Colonized is a well-known nonfiction book of Albert Memmi, published in French in and in English at first in The work explores and describes the.
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The book is an original, deeply and widely researched, boldly thought out, and well written work. It resets our way of thinking about the field. Melzer makes an intriguing and well-argued case for considering the New World together with ancient Rome and French classicism and meticulously analyzes how this triangular history develops France's civilizing mission.

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At the time Algeria was in flames and the French Empire was disintegrating. Instead he provides a portrait of the coloniser and the colonised, the relationships and dynamics between these two groups, and the psychological impact upon the protagonists. This is a world in which the coloniser enjoys privilege while the colonised live in subhuman conditions and are viewed as a mass. They do not exist as individuals but become objects. They are nothing. All progress, including technological advances, becomes associated with the coloniser.


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