The Apparatus of Ideology: A post-Colonial Reading of English Literature; Considerations from 'Institutional Literatures'

Ayman M. Abu-Shomar

Abstract


This paper reviews the concept and the corpus of English literature and its development in the context of culture and the academy from the 18th Century onwards. I argue that the category of literature is a ‘liquid’ notion best understood as a form of ‘social action’ (after Eagleton) relevant to wider social, cultural, and political contexts that produce and ‘consume’ it. In the academy, through extending the notion of the institution to a wider social and political context, literature could be best understood as an ‘institutional reality’ reflecting perceived relations of power. Deeming literature as an ideological tribute is crucially important to arguing against the monolithic and essentialist (Anglo-American literary tradition) as embodying a universal value that still prevail in post-colonial institutions. This argument helps conceptualise and interrogate the cultural constructs embodied in English literature, in general, and the English canonical texts, in particular; it also makes it possible to refute the claim that literature transcends its local boundaries and nationalist sentiments to articulate the universal concerns and values of all people. In my approach to these claims and assumptions, I resort to a critical narrative review to the 'story' of the English literature in cultural, political, social, geographical and institutional contexts.. In academy, particularly in post-colonial settings, I conclude that the adopted literary tradition reflects a matrix of relations of power and institutional affiliations. Such conceptualisation of literature helps to challenge the claim that English literature largely embodies a humanistic enterprise of universal values and uniform human experience. 


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International Journal of Comparative Literature and Translation Studies

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