Heritage, Culture, and Politics in the Postcolony

Overview

The act of remaking one's history into a heritage, a conscientiously crafted narrative placed over the past, is a thriving industry in almost every postcolonial culture. This is surprising, given the tainted role of heritage in so much of colonialism's history. Yet the postcolonial state, like its European predecessor of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, deploys heritage institutions and instruments, museums, courts of law, and universities to empower itself with unity, ...

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Heritage, Culture, and Politics in the Postcolony

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Overview

The act of remaking one's history into a heritage, a conscientiously crafted narrative placed over the past, is a thriving industry in almost every postcolonial culture. This is surprising, given the tainted role of heritage in so much of colonialism's history. Yet the postcolonial state, like its European predecessor of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, deploys heritage institutions and instruments, museums, courts of law, and universities to empower itself with unity, longevity, exaltation of value, origin, and destiny.

Bringing the eye of a philosopher, the pen of an essayist, and the experience of a public intellectual to the study of heritage, Daniel Herwitz reveals the febrile pitch at which heritage is staked. In this absorbing book, he travels to South Africa and unpacks its controversial and robust confrontations with the colonial and apartheid past. He visits India and reads in its modern art the gesture of a newly minted heritage idealizing the precolonial world as the source of Indian modernity. He traverses the United States and finds in its heritage of incessant invention, small town exceptionalism, and settler destiny a key to contemporary American media-driven politics. Showing how destabilizing, ambivalent, and potentially dangerous heritage is as a producer of contemporary social, aesthetic, and political realities, Herwitz captures its perfect embodiment of the struggle to seize culture and society at moments of profound social change.

Columbia University Press

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Herwitz, director of the University of Michigan’s Institute for the Humanities, excavates the concept of "heritage" in postcolonial societies, specifically India, South Africa, and America in this convincing and provocative study. Herwitz (The Star as Icon: Celebrity in the Age of Mass Consumption) theorizes that postcolonies practice "live action heritage," constantly reimagining and rebranding their own heritages toward a variety of political and aesthetic ends. Through the lens of his revelatory introductory essay, Herwitz explores five divergent examples of these "heritage games:" in an India newly freed from British control, a group of artists struggle to invent modern Indian art, combining their vibrant culture with European modernism. In post-apartheid South Africa, exciting and problematic "national narratives" emerge in the wake of the Afrikaner cultural monolith perpetuated by apartheid. In the chapter on the United States, Herwitz’s work takes on a more topical, left-leaning tone, exploring the media as the site for "restaging heritage in American politics," particularly in the cases of Obama and Palin in 2008. Navigating Herwitz’s syntactical contortions and glut of information and references makes for athletic reading, but yields rewarding results for disciplined readers and students of the subject. Photos & illus. (Sept.)
Thomas Blom Hansen

This book is a bold, sweeping and imaginative argument on the centrality of 'heritage games' in the contemporary world... Each essay is brimming with insights, interesting facts and observations making them highly readable in their own right, or together.

Jean Comaroff

A work of ebullient imagination, zest, and wit, Heritage, Culture, and Politics in the Postcolony explores the double life of heritage in the making of modern political identities -- as both the fixed capital of national hegemony and the fluid currency of novel visions and claims. The book may evoke an aura of timeless homage, but heritage is also a riff in real time. In this acute exploration of its recent, postcolonial iterations, Daniel Herwitz shows that while its role remains much the same, its substance is constantly, ingeniously changing.

Michael Kelly

Herwitz's book is an important work in aesthetics, for the fate of aesthetics since the eighteenth century is remarkably similar to that of heritage. Both transmit tradition, yet they're also expected to usher in modernity, which signals a break from tradition. So long as these rivalrous demands cannot be reconciled, heritage and aesthetics remain objects of anxiety. In addition, they're inseparable from the histories of colonialism, nationalism, and capitalism, yet they're expected to offer political critiques of them. In the end, all these demands are analyzed by Herwitz in an engaging and eloquent fashion.

Choice

Thoughtfully crafted and elegantly written, this book is pleasant reading for everyone interested in learning about the status of cultural studies around the world.... Recommended.

Choice

Thoughtfully crafted and elegantly written, this book is pleasant reading for everyone interested in learning about the status of cultural studies around the world.... Recommended.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780231160186
  • Publisher: Columbia University Press
  • Publication date: 9/25/2012
  • Pages: 232
  • Product dimensions: 6.10 (w) x 9.10 (h) x 0.90 (d)

Meet the Author

Daniel Herwitz directs the Institute for the Humanities at the University of Michigan and holds an honorary position at the University of Cape Town. His most recent book is The Star as Icon: Celebrity in the Age of Mass Consumption, which was named a Choice Outstanding Academic Title. He is also the author, with Lydia Goehr, of The Don Giovanni Moment: Essays on the Legacy of an Opera and the editor, with Michael Kelly, of Action, Art, History: Engagements with Arthur C. Danto. From 1996 to 2002, Herwitz served as chair in philosophy at the University of Natal, Durban, and was embroiled in the South African political transition, which led to his book Race and Reconciliation: Essays from the New South Africa. Long involved with modern Indian art, his 1987 book, Husain, won the country's National Book Award.

Columbia University Press

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Table of Contents

PrefaceAcknowledgments1. The Heritage of Heritage2. Recovering and Inventing the Past: M.F. Husain's Live Action Heritage3. Sustaining Heritage Off the Road to Kruger Park4. Monument5. Renaissance and Pandemic6. Tocqueville on the Bridge to NowhereEpilogueNotesIndex

Columbia University Press

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