Remapping the Postcolonial History of Subalternity in Ishmael Reed’s
Yellow Back Radio Broke-Down and Sonallah Ibrahim’s Zaat
In Section One of Manifesto of the Communist Party, Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, formulating a comprehensive theory of history, contend:
The history of all hitherto existing society is the history of class struggles. Freeman and slave, patrician and plebeian, lord and serf, guild master and journeyman, in a word, oppressor and oppressed, stood in constant opposition to one another, carried on an uninterrupted, now hidden, now open fight. (91)
Marx and Engels believe that in any society, history marks a conflict between two struggling opposites; noting that the one in the privileged position oppresses the one who is not. Regretfully, that type of struggle never subsides; it seems to be perpetual as it is, sometimes, ‘open’ and, other times, hidden. The same is applied to colonised and ex-colonised countries. However, theirs is not a ‘history of class struggles’ but of a Master-Subaltern struggle. In this struggle, resisting subalternity is achieved through legitimating the existence of the Subalterns, a process that is realised by urging the colonisers or the colonisers’ surrogates to recognise the subalterns’ Being, which necessitates admitting not only the existence of the Subalterns, but also being conscious of them as individuals1. This is brought about by occupying a powerful position that is attained through heightening the Subaltern’s sense of identity in the course of history. The result is, the paper argues, an active process of decolonising the Self, especially when an ‘effective history’ comes into existence to pave the way for the Subaltern to achieve self-realisation; as revealed in the Foucauldian thought and, also, the Hegelian and Heideggerian philosophy. The paper aims at analysing the empowerment process of the Subaltern in both Ishmael Reed’s Yellow Back Radio Broke-Down (1969) and Sonallah Ibrahim’s Zaat (1992) by comparing and contrasting different types of Subaltern
s as well as colonisers and colonisers’ surrogates. The paper also sets out to explore the Subaltern’s means of self-projection to acquire a position of power based upon history so as to examine the discourse of history in both African American and Egyptian postcolonial literature.
Keywords: subalternity, resistance, remapping, decolonise, identity