|Author:||Lou F. Caton|
|Title:||Feeling Romantic/Thinking Postmodern: Notes on Postcolonial Identity|
|Publication info:||Ann Arbor, MI: MPublishing, University of Michigan Library
This work is protected by copyright and may be linked to without seeking permission. Permission must be received for subsequent distribution in print or electronically. Please contact firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.
Feeling Romantic/Thinking Postmodern: Notes on Postcolonial Identity
Lou F. Caton
vol. 2, no. 2, Fall 1999
Feeling Romantic-Thinking Postmodern: Notes on Postcolonial Identity
The above passage from Abdul JanMohamed's "The Economy of Manichean Allegory: The Function of Racial Difference in Colonialist Literature" reflects the thoughts of multiculturalists who seek an ideological definition of the self, a definition that determines not only the politics but the very "being" of the participants.  JanMohamed, a determined realist, advances a hard-nosed stance on the significance of "being" in relation to "Otherness"; he maintains that a "thorough comprehension of Otherness" is "virtually impossible" since it entails the "task of negating one's very being."
These observations regarding postcolonialism lead to vexing problems for multiculturalism's pledge to honor an authentically diverse ethnic literary canon. For if JanMohamed is right and we are completely formed by our culture, how then does the literature of an oppressed culture rise up and authentically determine itself against the force of a dominant culture? Concepts of otherness easily become entangled with those of determinism here. Indeed, this particular entanglement frequently engages, and should engage, critics not only in postcolonial and multicultural discussions of the canon but also in the more general accounts of authenticity, race, identity, gender, and so on. Hence, determinism and otherness deserve a close investigation in this context.
Although the already extensive analytical history related to these two terms attests to their centrality, some popular contemporary versions surprisingly appear to be built from incompletely examined claims. Moreover, these concepts are generally spelled out in a climate of ideological critique that discounts the resistive value of a metaphysical or Romantic vocabulary. And it is from within this dialectical clash between ideology and Romanticism, I will soon suggest, that the driving force of multiculturalism arises. Beginning, then, with an exploration of JanMohamed's essay in relation to multiculturalism, I hope to reveal how the exclusive deployment of ideological critique has unnecessarily impoverished a broader canonical debate over postcolonial identity, one that should include a Romantic, metaphysical vocabulary. My claim is that multiculturalism and postcolonial theory need the more assertive understanding of immediate reality that arises from metaphysics; in turn, the insights gathered from that domain will encourage cross-cultural communication. Certain forms of postcolonial theory have become so rigidly ideological that the crucial Romantic underpinnings of agency, identity, and reason have been eclipsed. This gap in current theory could be filled with a number of Romantic or metaphysical theorists. For the concerns of this article, I will reassess these philosophical questions in relation to Coleridge's thoughts on perception and subjectivity to suggest by contrast that nowadays many strident, but quite common, theoretical positions should only exert a moderate critical influence. In brief, I am seeking a renewed look at the balance between Romanticism and postcolonial theory under the contemporary conditions of multiculturalism. After detailing how the frequently veiled shortcomings of some postcolonial ideological concepts operate, I will offer an alternative: an ideological-metaphysical hybrid generated from a Romantic interpretation of otherness.
The Postcolonial Identity Dilemma
My opening quotation from JanMohamed suggests that in order to know someone who has been historically oppressed we must first clear away all that makes us different from that person. If not, we will mirror only ourselves, experience only our own ideology. In an effort to avoid miscommunication, then, we must strip ourselves of the ideology that forms us. In other words, considered en masse, an individual's particular ideological and cultural influences actually and completely add up to what we call a specific "self" or "being." The individual, for JanMohamed, exists as a loose composite of these cultural forces; there is no useful metaphysical or even existential notion of selfhood that escapes such ideology.
Many of JanMohamed's sweeping statements, then, set aside Romantic notions of subjectivity. Doubling as a kind of a materialist or deterministic psychology, JanMohamed's views may be effectively considered as part of a heritage made notable by David Hume. For example, JanMohamed's concrete definition of "beingness" sounds very similar to Hume's materialism:
The paradox, one that does not elude either JanMohamed or Hume, is that as ideology constructs such an "empirical definition" of selfhood, it also necessarily locks us into it; our "selves" become captive of and identical to our cultural environment. Ideological forces preempt the opportunity for any "being" (independent of the culture) to genuinely relate to the active, individual "beingness" of another. We are "authentic" but only in belonging to the social groups and conditions that have constructed us.
If this is the case, multiculturalists and postcolonial readers must register anxiety in attempting cross-cultural communication and literary interpretations. How can evaluations be exchanged among various cultures free of colonizing appropriations? Since one's specific culture forms "beingness," one's particular individual culture is all one can hope to know intimately. This is why JanMohamed insists that it is "virtually impossible" for diverse groups to acquire honest knowledge of each other. We must, of course, try. But as we shed our "selves" in the hopes of communication, we also leave ourselves ontologically naked, deprived of the non-ideological common ground from which to reach out to this other. In attempting to honestly reveal ourselves to others, such ideological disrobing has, at the same time, the disappointing result of solipsism.
Under this formulation, the notion of personhood exists only as a shorthand description of various contingent assertions, impressions, and sensations; we can be true only to our social positions. The metaphysical "I" provides no vitality independent of the culture it finds itself in; an empty term, "beingness" fulfills itself only in the sense that a bundle of sensations and ideas can be spoken of as fulfilling a group need or a group identity. This replays Hume's other celebrated notion that the mind "is nothing but a heap or collection of different perceptions, united together by certain relations, and suppos'd, tho' falsely, to be endow'd with a perfect simplicity and identity" (207). A certain type of selfhood can exist under these conditions, perhaps, but only in a trapped, mystified state; subjectivity as the previously accepted independent element of selfhood must as a result become deeply qualified, if not altogether alienated or eliminated, from the possibility of confronting any objective or external reality. That is to say, when everything associated with "being" equals ideology, there is little room for an independent "I" to arise that might represent a form of oppositional energy, an energy that might resist the forces of an outside reality. When subjectivity is treated as equal to the loose sum of cultural influences, there is actually then no clear "outside" from which a self might declare itself. This philosophy stymies anything existential, metaphysical, or radically resistive.  And yet it is exactly the type of agency associated with a strong form of "I" on which a discourse of authenticity and cross-cultural dialogue depends. Although JanMohamed and Hume have much more to offer in regards to this predicament, the difficulties enlisted here are a useful starting place for a discussion of the gap between postcolonial theory's necessary limitations on an individual's subjectivity and the equally necessary goal of authentically knowing another, particularly the important knowing of another who has had historically less power.
Some thoughts from Satya P. Mohanty, another postcolonial writer intrigued by this quandary, might help sort out these issues. Mohanty is initially sympathetic to JanMohamed's citing of the rigorous yet uneven power differential revealed in cultural critique. In his essay "Epilogue. Colonial Legacies, Multicultural Futures: Relativism, Objectivity, and the Challenge of Otherness," Mohanty notes that while many theorists yearn for equality of power, they also realize that such a desire requires the nearly impossible task of securing some affinity between the powerful and the disempowered, between oppressors and oppressed. This becomes a utopian dream because, and JanMohamed concurs with this reasoning, each side operates under incommensurable cultural claims: all methodology "is profoundly mediated by systematically organized presuppositions and beliefs," that is, by various ideologies. "A simple inversion of the relationships of hierarchy is not enough, because the colonizer-colonized relationship is necessarily complicated and multiply determined" (1995: 110). Since "all explanations of the other risk repeating the colonizer's judgments [also JanMohamed's claim]," perhaps one "should simply refuse to judge or to explain, forsaking understanding for the sake of respect?" (1995: 111). Here Mohanty appears to reaffirm JanMohamed's assertion that all communication between colonized and colonizer must generally fail. Hypothetically carrying the thought a bit further, Mohanty suggests that such assertions make it appear better for everyone to flatly admit that all knowledge claims are incommensurate; thus, each group has the same merit as every other group. But the consequence to this is the same as before: no group can confidently and authentically claim to understand any other.
Of course, in terms of sensitivity to another's unique cultural experience and the lessons of Nietzsche's "no facts, only interpretations," the cultural relativity advanced here does radiate some good will and social progress.  That is, at least all cultures are given equal respect. Later in the same essay, however, Mohanty makes it clear that he, unlike JanMohamed, is not yet ready to completely surrender to these somewhat positive but mostly qualified elements of postcolonialism. While Mohanty agrees that equanimity can, indeed, be achieved when paired with a strong cultural relativism, the triumph of such fairness is too costly. The dominant culture's no-strings-attached acceptance of another's cultural values might seem appropriately reformative, but it is more likely a resigned acceptance of one's inability to do anything else. Plus, when critics tie such relativism to a postmodern awareness of language's incapacity to provide reliable knowledge-claims, the possibilities for crucial evaluative information all but vanish. Hence, according to Mohanty, when the postcolonial critic uses this relativism and skepticism as principal operating premises, she has replaced the goal of analytical assessment with social respect; starting out with an effort to authentically communicate, the critic drifts to a radical, postmodern, non-interventionist "appreciation" for the "otherness" of another.
Mohanty bemoans this current trade-off where critics abdicate any hope of deeply understanding another in exchange for granting all cultures equal significance, equal worth. Both concerns - JanMohamed's claim that a determinist, ideological postcolonialism brings with it a devaluation of an outdated metaphysical selfhood and Mohanty's citing of the rising critical respect for a poststructual relativism - envision a literary landscape whereby multicultural participants are imprisoned by past ideological positions, compelled to only celebrate incommensurable differences, and fated to forever talk past each other.
By quoting and referring to a number of currently influential theorists, Mohanty convincingly reveals a contemporary critical landscape inhabited by mostly constructivists, determinists, and skeptics.  In his representative sampling, Mohanty points to Jean-Francois Lyotard's famous statement that traditional cultures, which rely on narrative, and modern cultures, which rely on science, will forever remain incommensurate. "All we can do is gaze in wonderment at the diversity of discursive species" (qtd. in Mohanty 1995: 112). According to Mohanty, a majority of critics have reluctantly accepted such benign disengagement and now view all self/other relations through this ideological lens of non-reciprocal social relations. They anticipate that any similar future contact will be just as inflexible, radical, and reified.  Only a few theorists, Mohanty among them, have suggested that without the relief furnished by a Romantic vocabulary, these pervasive tenets of postcolonial theory offer only a hasty, incomplete reaction to a mostly constructed quandary. 
Critics who have embraced determinism and relativism as "givens" in the discussion of subjectivity and agency impoverish literary relations within America's ethnically diverse canon. My offer of a third way, an alternative that reads determinism and relativism as unnecessary and misguided reactions to a rational subjectivity, is also meant, conversely, to rethink Romanticism's role under the new context of a multicultural canon. My unfolding position in this paper will be that these postmodern dilemmas for communication should not be taken at their word; instead, I read them as opportunities to reconsider the value of a universalist vocabulary. I envision the Romantic self/other relationship as one that enhances, rather than diminishes, communities, alliances, and affinities. More on that soon. For now, though, I want to consider in greater detail how JanMohamed's views represent the prevalent critical climate and, through their inadequacy, prepare the reader for the metaphysical vocabulary of my Romantic alternative.
Like prominent postcolonial and multicultural theorists Henry Giroux, José David Saldivar, Peter McLaren, and Benita Parry, JanMohamed remains suspicious of the humanist and Romantic's belief in any enriching compatibility between cultural and metaphysical identities. Rather than perpetuate Romanticism's legacy of unities, universals, and unions, JanMohamed opts for ideological definitions. For example, he opens the article I have been examining with the observation that the unfortunate "bracketing" of culture and history in colonialist literature is a "typical facet of humanistic closure" (78). He adds to this remark his discomfort in learning of Homi Bhabha's assertion that "at some rarefied theoretical level the varied material and discursive antagonisms between conquerors and natives can be reduced to the workings of a single 'subject'..." (78). Bhabha's possible reference to a metaphysical harmony worries JanMohamed: "[S]uch a unity, let alone its value, must be demonstrated, not assumed" (78-9). For JanMohamed, any overarching alliance between the colonizer and colonized must be framed in anxiety and suspicion. 
According to JanMohamed and most postcolonial theorists, simple Romantic beliefs in a shared human consciousness will not solve the problem of communication presented earlier between the powerful and the powerless: "If he [the colonizer] assumes that he and the Other are essentially identical, then he would tend to ignore the significant divergences and to judge the Other according to his own cultural values" (JanMohamed 1988: 84). By seizing on a Romantic unity, the colonizer thinks he will gain access to the other, but he is wrong. Under JanMohamed's theories, the colonizer will always only "see" the other as a reflection of himself, thus sabotaging any relationship.
Is there a way out of this impasse? Perhaps if the colonizer thought of otherness in the more conventional manner, as something primarily arising from difference, perhaps then communication might occur. Unfortunately, this strategy does not help either: "If, on the other hand, he [the colonizer] assumes that the Other is irremediably different, then he would have little incentive to adopt the viewpoint of that alterity: he would again tend to turn to the security of his own cultural perspective" (JanMohamed 1988:84). So at either extreme, with otherness naively domesticated to similarity or keenly enhanced to difference, cross-cultural communication remains blocked. 
Such a rigid ideological determinism affects our perceptions of literature as well. Invoking a Manichean binary, JanMohamed claims that writers from societies that pit the strong against the weak will always produce a literature of domination. That is, unequal political positions prevent the dominant from ever understanding the literature of the exploited:
Moral and economic "superiority" blocks authentic dialogue. Due to this approach to difference, "the assumption of moral superiority subverts the very potential of colonialist literature" (1988: 84). 
Mohanty, again, has some sympathy with JanMohamed here. He seems to realize that JanMohamed's characterization does represent the postmodern condition within postcolonial theory, but only regrettably so. For Mohanty, the popularity of this view belies its accuracy and usefulness. Moving away from JanMohamed's resigned, deterministic tone of acceptance, Mohanty, instead, registers distress. He seems to sense in JanMohamed's blocked dialectic a theory that begins with determinism, progresses into a celebration of relativism, and eventually ends in cultural separatism:
Although JanMohamed's accent on how economic and cultural disparity encourages the dominant's will to power differs in significant ways from Mohanty's epistemological concerns, they converge in their belief that current theorists inevitably tend to erect barriers between perceiver and perceived, between a self and its desires to know another. For JanMohamed, there is little room for the dominant cultural elite to mend its ways and converse with the disempowered, a group of people who this same culture had earlier considered as "less than" and inferior. What right, JanMohamed might ask, does the privilege of power have to evaluate others with whom they formally understood as uncivilized?
Romantic and humanist notions of a shared metaphysics among the strong and the weak, according to JanMohamed, will do little but mystify this gap. In fact, when colonialist writers make use of these transcendental vocabularies in a supposedly honest effort to clarify experience, they are actually, according to JanMohamed, making an unethical move. Their efforts in this regard are better understood in ideological terms as a
In JanMohamed's mind, these "metaphysical terms" elucidate nothing of worth; all they do is promote a notion of consciousness that unavoidably creates stereotypical portrayals of native inferiority. The myth of shared human conditions indicated above becomes simply more veiled ideological impediments that give the illusion of one class of society perceiving another.
But is JanMohamed right? Does the Romantic metaphysical idea that there exist cross-cultural principles or conditions for rationality and consciousness act only as a deception or problem for rapproachment between ourselves and others? Rather than only mystify, universal theories of subjectivity have also always generated a sphere of shared interests that can, under a renewed multicultural awareness, encourage transcultural experiences. Without such a principle of mutual subjectivity, multiculturalism tends to advance the untenable position of equal but incommensurate communities:
Although I have already referred to the need for a Romantic vocabulary within postcolonial theory to partially ease us in the above communication burden, perhaps now I can offer a more careful presentation and relate it intimately with multiculturalism. I must warn my reader that this next section on Romantic theories of perception will be necessarily thick and philosophical. Such depth is essential in order for me to demonstrate that a Romantic metaphysics reveals how we immediately perceive the world, and such crucial insights positively influence multicultural and postcolonial theory. After all, in spite of JanMohamed's skepticism, he himself welcomes the possibility of exactly this type of demonstration: "...such a unity [metaphysical commonality], let alone its value, must be demonstrated, not assumed" (emphasis added 1988: 78-9).
Perceiving the Postcolonial Self and Other: A Romantic Alternative
Since the issues I have mentioned above have to do with how one understands another, my Romantic response to JanMohamed's demonstration request will mostly invoke the discussion of perception in Chapter Twelve of Coleridge's Biographia Literaria. Coleridge assists in this regard because he recognizes that to know another is to perform a complex, perceptive act that engages notions of selfhood with the operations of outward perception. Moreover, his theories on subjectivity and reason support a radical multiculturalism, one that does not sacrifice individual difference or agency for a communal notion of consciousness.
But invoking this currently undervalued Romantic metaphysic does not, by itself, resolve the disagreement since it is exactly the Romantic subjectivity's history of agency and truth that troubles JanMohamed. The checkered rhetoric of "agency," "individual," and "selfhood" has a thorough record of subjugation and oppression. For some, this Romantic (and Enlightenment) vocabulary is always already inscribed with domination or the truth of power, not the power of truth. Here is Frantz Fanon on the Western concept of an authentic individual:
Fanon's colonial memory provides vital insights into the sometimes divisive consequences of a Romantic "individual agency," but such insights are useful only if they are paired with other historical memories. The concept of an individual selfhood has also participated in liberations. As Christopher Norris remembers, there is a difference: "a crucial difference - between acknowledging this burden of historical responsibility and taking it as pretext for a wholesale rejection of Enlightenment [or, in my case, Romantic] values and beliefs" (55). More importantly for my point, however, is that Coleridge does not simply embrace rational selfhood as much as postulate its feasibility. A clear presentation of his thoughts geared to the current needs of a diverse literary canon, offers at least the beginnings of a careful exploration of postcolonial theory and multi-culturalism. 
As a first offering, Coleridge, in fact, does not disagree with either JanMohamed or Mohanty over the general thrust of ideology and otherness. All three would probably agree that an acknowledgement of ideology is necessary when discussing communication with others because meanings which seem transparent and disinterested get defined through the various interested needs of institutions, businesses, politicians, academics, and other influential cultural groups. Coleridge would agree, then, that these perspectives do predetermine a good portion of how we think of ourselves; however, he positions such interested perspectives in a dialectical relation with a specific individual consciousness. A significant aspect of ideology must be figured through prejudicial and existential terms that express consciousness as independent of ideology.  It is at this point, when ideology separates from consciousness, that the claims of JanMohamed and those of Coleridge pivot. Coleridge will demonstrate not only that a relationship is immediately formed between subjectivity and the ideological otherness of the world but that such theories of reciprocity do not domesticate otherness. Romantic theory redefines problems in postcolonial identity by insisting that the self and the other exist under an interdependent imperative; life is both ideological and metaphysical, existing together in contradictory, synthetic ways. The nature of life, then, demands the acknowledgement of this radical dialectic.
For Romantic critics, particular "selves" are not solely constructed or limited by a monolithic ideology of mediated truths. If they were so limited, perception would be mostly a mechanical operation whereby an individual would equal her impressions. For Coleridge, this is absurd. Such a mechanical approach implies an experience of perception without a perceiver: "In order to explain thinking, as a material phaenomenon, it is necessary to refine matter into a mere modification of intelligence, with the two-fold function of appearing and perceiving" (emphasis in original Biographia Literaria 1:135-6).  Coleridge knows that thinking and perceiving are not just "a material phaenomenon." They are acts that require a relational "I," otherwise phenomena would itself contain both the appearance and the perceiver. In other words, Coleridge reasons that if there is perception, then there must be a separate perceiver. Thus, some form of selfhood exists. And if selfhood exists, then individual agency enters to provide possible resistance to and a relationship with ideology.
Coleridge accuses the materialist (or the ideological critic) of sidestepping this dialectic between the perceiver and the phenomenal world:
Materialists are more inclined to cite the step-by-step biological operations of the senses for their definitions of communication and perception rather than the dialectic between perceiver and perceived. A materialist theorizes about the stimuli from which representations are created but not about the immediacy of an individual's contact with the world. Indeed, for the ideological/material critic, there is no immediate experience of the world. For instance, a materialist might state that visual contact of another occurs because light impresses itself on the retina; then, optic nerves move it to the brain, and the brain turns it into an image (Orsini 192-3). There is never direct apprehension of the object or immediate access to the experience for the individual.
But for the Romantic, some aspect of perception must always occur immediately and register the full force of the experience onto the percipient: "Now in our immediate perception, it is not the mere power or act of the object, but the object itself, which is immediately present" (emphasis added, BL 1:134). Coleridge is here restating the Kantian belief that consciousness necessarily and immediately gives minimal form to the sensations and otherness that it finds in the world. Without such automatic and limited organization no experience, no otherness would be possible. And if this is the case, then selfhood must have something in common with the world. The self must be constructing itself as it apprehends the otherness of the world. This is not domestication but a minimal model of sanity.
Coleridge discusses such a doubleness of self-construction and self-othering as he leads up to the Ten Theses of the Biographia. By the time he gets to his second thesis, he refers to the self's bifurcated structure as a relationship between "mediate" and "immediate" experiences, in my terms, between ideology and metaphysics. The mediated truths of an ideological world are always "derived from some other truth or truths." But that recognition does not also prevent there from being "original and immediate" truths" for the very same experience (BL 1: 265). Indeed, in the "SCHOLIUM" Coleridge declares that mediated truths can only occur if there is, in fact, some sort of understanding for the concept of truth itself: "Equally inconceivable is a cycle of equal truths without a common and central principle, which prescribes to each its proper sphere in the system of science" (emphasis in original, BL 1: 267). Perceptive or ideological truths that arise through the senses can have validity only in conjunction with this added definition of truth as universal and immediate. An infinite regress of mediations ("equal truths") makes no realistic sense if there is not at the same time a shared acceptance of the term truth itself ("a common and central principle").
Since mediated truths are necessarily constructed and distorted, they are better thought of as ghosts or specters that only roughly correspond to an immediate experience of others. That is, they cannot replace the fundamental contact a self has with the ontological "beingness" of another. The materialist belief of "an external world exactly correspondent to those images...of our own being...removes all reality and immediateness of perception, and places us in a dream-world of phantoms and spectres" (BL I: 137). In other words, not granting metaphysical selfhood forces the materialist to accept a "dream-world of phantoms and spectres" that "exactly" corresponds to life. It is the error JanMohamed makes when he claims that culture's ideological constructs (Coleridge's "phantoms and spectres") define our lives and, in effect, form our being. Without question, ideological investigations do provide important insights in regards to these "phantoms and spectres," and Coleridge would agree that we need their uncoverings and demaskings. But such deployments are in dialogue with other immediate revelations that JanMohamed does not consider, revelations that arise from what Coleridge calls, in a section before his theses, "the true and original realism" (BL 1:262). In that section Coleridge broadens his investigation of the highly subjective mediated experiences. He wonders, for example, how we can agree on the simple reality of a table if all awareness is ideological and radically perspectival. After all, it
Coleridge here replays a common occurrence to express the minimum level of rationality required for experience itself.
But how can one reason about reason itself? Since no theory of reason can escape the use of reason, will not all theories of rationality be constructed, mediated, and ideological? This is JanMohamed's position; he feels that one can never understand a table for what it is, divorced from our ideologies, because it only exists through those very ideological understandings. A person will always experience a table as subjective, limited, and like a "phantom." Thus, one will only be able to "argumentatively deduce" the reality of the table, never seeing the table in any essential form. Such is the practicality of mediated, material truths, and JanMohamed is right at times to emphasize their usefulness.
And yet this ideological awareness does not give us the complete table; for a fuller knowledge one must include the belief in the immediacy of the table itself. Thus, it is only when ideology is joined with an inevitable belief or faith in an immediate external world of others that we can gain a comprehensive experience of the world's otherness. The man in Coleridge's example can see the real table because he "believes himself to see" it. Reason alone will only give him the argument of the table, its ideological existence; but faith with reason generates a deeper knowledge, "the table itself."
Compare Coleridge's faith in subjectivity and the external world to another famous passage from Hume who once again, similar to JanMohamed, refuses to recognize the metaphysical force of selfhood:
As G.N.G. Orsini has helped us realize, Hume wants here to claim only a single, mediated or ideological version of "I-ness" (118-9). His "I" fruitlessly looks for a "myself" that might not be so mediated, an "I" that might be purely existential, transcendentally removed from the error-filled world of "particular perception." But what energy allows this "I" to even begin the questioning process? In other words, the initiation of the search itself is provisionary proof of some sort of metaphysical self-consciousness. The "I" momentarily declares itself free enough from its constructed status to seek after this truth. Hume and JanMohamed apparently refuse to accept this "transcendental" possibility. Coleridge, on the other hand, seizes upon it as the Romantic postulate of self-awareness.
To review so far. Consciousness generates both ideological and metaphysical definitions. When Coleridge announces that all reasoned inquiries can be reduced "to the one fundamental presumption, THAT THERE EXIST THINGS WITHOUT US" (BL I: 259), he presumes a dialectic between an ideological world and a metaphysical self. So one would be in error to essentialize ideology as the definition of consciousness. Primarily using insights from Schelling, Kant, and Fichte, Coleridge claims that the activity of a willing self provides an immediate truth which organizes and evaluates those mediated, ideological truths that quite rightly occupy postcolonial theorists. Coleridge, then, softens ideology's role in consciousness by reminding us of this contrary but parallel force of a self-grounding universal subjectivity.
Hume, JanMohamed, and much of postmodern theory follow a deterministic path which unnecessarily undermines agency in multicultural discussions; it encourages an individual's passivity as well as the intellectual status quo. Through JanMohamed's theories, an appreciation for otherness turns into a respectful but fragmented collection of sensations and stimuli. Any multicultural theory grounded in this anti-Romantic philosophy will either not evaluate otherness at all or do so only in local, contextually specific, homocultural ways. Without a radically universal concept of personhood, one that partially constructs itself rather than being totally constructed by its perceptions, most transcultural disagreements will end up largely incommensurate. 
Multicultural theories can avoid temptation towards this kind of insular relativism and solipsism when they promote a Romantic universal personhood with a minimal model of rationality:
Mohanty's emphasis here on a "minimal" rationality is very close to Coleridge's belief in that earlier mentioned immediate experience of the table. Without theorists like Coleridge and Mohanty projecting a willful rationality "in this minimal way," there can be no shared grounding from which to adequately adjudicate difference. JanMohamed's materialist definition of an individual exists, but it must do so in dialogue with a universal, rational subjectivity. My analysis of Romanticism reveals how consciousness is able to reside both in JanMohamed's determined world of mediated truths and also in a realm not framed or constructed by those very same mediations. In terms of the canon, Romanticism, then, helps us see how we can achieve worthwhile understandings of another's literature, another's mediated truths, even when we are not already a part of that literature's ideology. This is the postcolonial impasse that JanMohamed's critique fails to resolve. 
Coleridge decides that such a relation between mediated ideological truths and immediate metaphysical ones seems unresolvable due to an ontological gap: the two, ideology and metaphysics, seem to deny each other. Stated in another way, the detailed ideology of a particular other is always finite, historical, and contingent. At the same time, however, otherness itself exists as a universal and boundless idea, one that crosses into all cultures. How can such opposites coexist? It must be that the finitude of ideological otherness is fitted to this other supposedly dissimilar, infinite idea. Ideological acculturation only gives one the impression that the only truths that exist are mediated, that no universal positioning for ideas or subjectivity is possible. Our ideological constructions appear so satisfyingly historical that they seem to foreclose on any transhistorical conceptions. For Coleridge, that materialist slip is the central deception of ideology. By showing conditions under which a minimal model of universal rationality can participate in an otherwise ideological world, Coleridge gives communication and consciousness transcultural, transhistorical possibilities.
But even this, the demonstrations for a universal selfhood and otherness, may not be enough. It could be, the ideological critic might counter, that showing how finite contingencies are connected to a boundless-shared realm of universality is just some anxious strategy meant to transcend local authority. One could just as easily state that a universal metaphysic exists, all right, but it has little to do with an individual's own cultural composition. The declaration that selfhood belongs equally to a mostly unprovable, infinite realm of rationality could instead be a mystified move that, once revealed for what it really is (an ideological cover for power relations), conversely reenshrines radical alterity to where it should always remain: over and above any notions of a shared metaphysic.  The persuasiveness of this postcolonial suspicion relies upon its enfolded suspicion and critique of universal reason: according to JanMohamed, truth is always socially, textually constructed and contextually, locally limited. It cannot transcend its mediated identity by declaring cross-cultural, ahistorical truths of universality and subjectivity. Thus, for JanMohamed, better to distrust reason and notions of authenticity than risk reproducing a bogus "universal" environment where the powerful can easily dominate the powerless. Consequently, JanMohamed's distrust of reason's ability to disclose universal truths is a distrust of reason itself, a profound doubt about knowing any essential truths of an external world.
Coleridge, too, muses on the broader implications of this harsh skepticism: "I began then to ask myself, what proof I had of the outward existence of any thing? Of this sheet of paper for instance, as a thing it itself, separate from the phaenomenon or image in my perception..."(BL 1:200). Coleridge quickly surmises that this is, indeed, a problem affecting the condition of reason but not one that should lead to pervasive apprehension:
Coleridge concludes that in order to discover truths that link us to the infinite idea of others in a way that are not a superficial or mere materialist operation, one must begin with conditional assumptions derived out of "logical necessity." After all, Hume and JanMohamed are right: we are finite, human beings. How can we ever hope to escape our own finite perceptions to understand infinite terms like "being," "universal," or "reason"?
A sheet of paper, to return to Coleridge's example, will never prove to be "a thing in itself, separate from the phaenomenon or image in [one's] perception." The paper as an independent "thing-in-itself" must be filtered through the ideology of each separate perceiver. One can never prove the independence of the paper's identity. Because human reason is finite, our perceptions will always fall into ideology; as the example with the table proved, reason will always fail to discursively establish the "paper itself." In just the same fashion, transcultural ideas like a universal selfhood cannot be proven through human reason. But such ideas can be demonstrated. This more expansive sense of knowing, then, contains a crucial transcendental element that relies on Romantic postulates.
For Coleridge, postulates of "being" disclose how reason operates. He introduces his phrase "modes of being" in the quotation above to counter the notion that the sheet of paper is only a mere "object of the senses." In fact, the paper's identity arises not from the senses but "from the constitution of the mind itself, by the absence of all motive to doubt it..." (I: 200). The paper's existence is shared by us; we determine each other. Consider this insight in terms of otherness. We cannot prove otherness as a "thing-in-itself," but we can claim it as integral to our being, as sharing the same "mode of being" that we invoke for ourselves. Hence, there must be a metaphysical realm of subjectivity shared by ourselves and others.
Like futile efforts to prove "modes of being," reason by itself cannot prove or disprove this communal notion of selfhood: "proof is impossible." Even though the finite or "mere intellect" fails here, "it might yet supply a demonstration, that no legitimate argument could be drawn from the intellect against its truth" (BL 1: 201). This logic of "necessity" arises from "the mind itself." Similar to math postulates, such initial assumptions are required in order to make sense of how we can have both the broad idea of otherness and the particularities of each individual.
Coleridge revisits this decisive role for postulates in various ways throughout the Biographia. At one point, for instance, he admits that since he cannot "furnish proofs" that "common consciousness...is connected with master-currents below the surface, [he] shall merely assume [it] as a postulate pro tempore" (I: 242). Coleridge relies on postulates during these moments because no materialist proof will lift us away from the riddle of using reason to prove reason. Postulates are required because rationality cannot determine the a priori truths which are necessary for rationality itself. These primary intuitions are supplied by the mind but demonstrated in experience. Like in geometry, Coleridge reasons that demonstrated propositions can only follow intuitions, not precede them:
The notion of a minimally rational, universal subjectivity arises as just such a postulate, confirmed by these various demonstrations. Its source cannot be proven but belongs to philosophy's "INNER SENSE" (BL 1: 250), the principle of coherence behind all the disparate, ideological perceptions of the world. Such "INNER SENSE" is not physical, contingent, or mediated but "groundless," "hollow," and "unsustained by living contact." In a word, metaphysical:
With such postulates in mind, otherness retains its alterity but is paired with the a priori claim of rational agency. Since the selfhood produced from these postulates distinguishes itself from otherness in metaphysical as well as physical means, in immediate and mediated ways, ideology's sharp historical portrayals never need to be curtailed. Now, however, they operate in conjunction with a radical universality that underwrites transcultural communication.
From these universal principles and postulates, Coleridge lays a foundation for a vibrant multiculturalism. Consequently, I am unconvinced by those critics who see "common, universally endorsed, centrist values to which everyone - every reasonable person - can agree" as producing only a "weak multiculturalism" (Goldberg 16).  With Coleridge as an example, "centrist values" underpin subjectivity in order to organize the diversity between people and their various "worlds." Otherness radiates with more clarity when it is embodied through a theory of immediacy, faith, and reason. Here universalism does not oppose ideology as much as make its contextual, contingent meanings significant. Instead of accepting various differences as either philosophically equal or as predetermined by past cultural truths, Coleridge recognizes them through a rational selfhood that endorses distinctive rather than essential natures.  By operating under this Romantic transhistorical subjectivity, groups communicate specific claims both through metaphors of universal commonality and local contingency. This wider explanatory theory of a common selfhood, then, places social claims of communication in a framework whereby they can be properly evaluated for an authentically diverse multicultural community.
Bhabha, Homi K. "Postcolonial Criticism." Redrawing the Boundaries: The Transformation of English and American Literary Studies. Ed. Stephen Greenblatt and Giles Gunn. New York: MLA, 1992. 437-65.
Burwick, Frederick. "Perception and "the heaven-descended KNOW-THYSELF." Ed. Frederick Burwick. Coleridge's Biographia Literaria: Text and Meaning. Columbus: Ohio State UP, 1989. 127-37.
Coleridge, Samuel Taylor. Biographia Literaria. Ed. James Engell and W. Jackson Bate. Vol. 2. Princeton: Princeton UP, 1983.
Caton, Lou F. "Western Eyes and Indian Visions." North Dakota Quarterly 65.2 (1998): 110-29.
—. Rev. of Literary Theory and the Claims of History: Postmodernism, Objectivity, and Multicultural Politics, by Satya P. Mohanty. South Atlantic Review 63.1 (1998): 102-4.
Engell, James. The Creative Imagination: Enlightenment to Romanticism. Cambridge: Harvard UP, 1981.
Fanon, Frantz. The Wretched of the Earth. Trans. C. Farrington. New York: Grove Press, 1968.
Giroux, Henri. Living Dangerously: Multiculturalism and the Politics of Difference. New York: P. Lang, 1993.
Goldberg, David Theo. "Introduction: Multicultural Conditions." Ed. David Theo Goldberg. Multiculturalism: A Critical Reader. Cambridge: Blackwell Publishers, 1994. 1-41.
Hume, David. A Treatise of Human Nature. Ed. L.A. Selby-Bigge. 1888. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1965.
JanMohamed, Abdul R. Manichean Aesthetics: The Politics of Literature in Colonial Africa. Amherst: U of Massachusetts P, 1983.
—. "The Economy of Manichean Allegory: The Function of Racial Difference in Colonialist Literature." Colonialist Literature. 21.5 (1988): 78-106.
Mohanty, Satya P. "Epilogue. Colonial Legacies, Multicultural Futures: Relativism, Objectivity, and the Challenge of Otherness." PMLA 110 (1995): 108-18.
—. Literary Theory and the Claims of History: Postmodernism, Objectivity, and Multicultural Politics. Ithaca: Cornell UP, 1997.
Norris, Christopher. Truth and the Ethics of Criticism. Manchester: Manchester UP, 1994.
Orsini, G.N.G. Coleridge and German Idealism. Carbondale: Southern Illinois UP, 1969.
Parry, Benita. "Problems in Current Theories of Colonial Discourse." Oxford Literary Review 9 (1987): 25-58.
1. For the purposes of this essay I will be using ideology as JanMohamed defines it: as a general rubric for all of the social processes that work on and through people. Ideology questions the trustworthiness of ideas and discloses their cultural roots. Culture, historical narrative, ethnicity, race, and various other terms useful in describing societies I take to be all forms of ideology.
Opposed to these more specific notions of ideology is the whole discourse of metaphysics, existentialism, subjectivity, authenticity, and individuality, terms that have always importantly figured as not exclusively defined by specific cultures. They can, of course, be thought of as mystified efforts to escape history, ideology, and local, contextual definitions. However, in fact, they have more often been used as particular pressures on ideology, as forces that have often historically arisen in pointed resistance to specific cultural definitions.
Selfhood and otherness, my other two important terms, are, on the one hand, obviously discursive and cultural constructs. But here too, historical ideological definitions are not enough. Both terms can be tied to understandings of subjectivity or consciousness that are not exclusively ideological. In other words, otherness and selfhood should be historicized but not essentialized as only products of culture. Their analysis depends on a subjectivity or consciousness that looks into the ontological problem itself. I discuss this in more detail below in regards to David Hume and apperception.
Otherness arises in the broad sense of alterity, strangeness, or heterogeneity. The ideological world is thought to be filled with otherness - sexual deceptions, cultural differences, uncertain language games, and strangeness all the way down. What is the role of authenticity, individual subject-consciousness, or reason in this environment? Radical alterity may seem to pull from under us the common ground of cognitive and evaluative reasoning needed to understand otherness itself. How does one attempt communication at such a point? That is the major question of this paper.
2. Hume confesses his inability to theorize this aspect of subjectivity. Near the end of his Treatise of Human Nature he admits that he can find no satisfactory way to unite perceptions with consciousness or selfhood: "For my part, I must plead the privilege of a sceptic, and confess, that this difficulty is too hard for my understanding" (636).
3. This "social progress" might easily be challenged. My point, though, is in sensing how relativism leads to a social equanimity that is at bottom an improvement over colonialism. As has been said, a cultural relativist, at the very least, "has never hanged a person."
4. These convincing claims are made in Mohanty's chapter "Political Criticism and the Challenge of Otherness" (1997: 116-48). He centers the chapter around four representative and influential critics: Michel Foucault, Helene Cixous, Ernesto Laclau, and Chantal Mouffe.
5. It may seem baffling at first to realize that Mohanty's discussion about cultural relativity has led us to comments on rigidity and reification; however, such inflexibility occurs when what is relative attempts communication. At the point of communication, social identities, which were earlier freed from evaluative judgement, must now "declare" themselves. Since distinct identities are often needed in such instances, differences rather than commonalities frequently arise. Mohanty reasons the popularity for this type of relativity:
"My view is that for many literary theorists cultural relativism of some sort is sanctioned by a deeper epistemological relativism or skepticism. And such an epistemological view (or attitude) is supposed to derive from the genuine antipositivist insight of modern thought that all knowledge is contextual and mediated by theories and paradigms" (1997: 142-3). These mediated "theories and paradigms," if based only on such differences, frequently become rigid orthodoxies which block communication between diverse cultures.
6. Mohanty chooses a universalist vocabulary from Kant that has clear Romantic implications. For more on this, see my review of his book Literary Theory and the Claims of History: Postmodernism, Objectivity, Multicultural Politics.
7. Bhabha's referencing of "unity" should be read in context of his many other articles where he does carefully demonstrate the "value" of such a term. I cite the sudden friction here between Bhabha and JanMohamed because it indicates both the variety in postcolonial criticism and the more or less accepted deflated status of the concept of "metaphysical unity" (according to JanMohamed).
8. Presenting the powerful as unable to profit from their efforts to understand the powerless, JanMohamed profoundly qualifies the possibility of communication between different cultures. Of course, in a highly theoretical vein, he does admit that one should still attempt the deep knowledge of another. But even this action is hardly worth undertaking since, remember, it "is possible only if the self can somehow negate or at least severely bracket the values, assumptions, and ideology of his culture" (1988: 84). We are left with individuals who are unable to deeply commune with the ones who most deserve our understanding: the oppressed.
JanMohamed does suggest some exceptions. In "symbolic" literature he states that "[symbolic fiction] offers evidence of a dialectical, mutually modifying relation between self and Other" (1988: 100). Even in this literature, however, the writer is "unable to achieve some `genuine' or `objective' understanding of the Other. . ." (1988: 100).
9. JanMohamed also emphasizes this blockage in the conclusion to his book on Manichean aesthetics: "[The] ideal dialectical relation between self and other is in practice petrified in a colonial situation by the assumed moral superiority of the European which is reinforced at every turn by his actual military supremacy" (1983: 265).
Postcolonial critics like JanMohamed rely upon theories of a psychoanalytic consciousness for both the oppressor and the oppressed. These theories suggest that everyone is profoundly conflicted and will succumb to temptations of power and domination. Most postcolonialists agree with Benita Parry's portrait that "the colonized as constructed by colonialist ideology is the very figure of the divided subject posited by psychoanalytic theory to refute humanism's myth of a united self" (29).
10. At this point I should reassure my reader that Mohanty's fears represent general tendencies; postcolonial theory is, of course, too varied and complex a discipline for any single encapsulation. But even considering the very real theoretical diversity within the field, (for example, see Bhabha's survey essay "Postcolonial Criticism"), the widespread acceptance of radical alterity, cultural determinism, and a devalued universalism seems indisputable. For more on the capital success of these three tenets and the need to rethink them, see Norris.
11. Theories of Romantic perception and subjectivity under these new, heightened acknowledgements of diversity alter the stakes of the debate; a renewed discussion will show how determinism and relativism develop through a relationship with a minimally rational subjectivity. Phrased slightly differently, Romanticism formulates the problem of otherness without sacrificing crucial, even radical notions of individuality, rationality, and communication.
12. Coleridge's use of the term "prejudice" deserves some explanation, as does the rhetorical strategy surrounding it; both of these prepare the reader for the ten theses of Chapter Twelve. First, the word prejudice.
Coleridge uses that word without any contemporary pejorative connotations. For Coleridge, prejudice points to an experience which we take to be self-evident, thus not requiring examination or questioning: "original and innate prejudices which nature herself has planted in all men (sic)." However, the philosopher must show that these are neither "the first principles of knowledge . . . [nor] the final test of truth" (BL I: 258). They are acceptable, though, as long as they are viewed as provisional and incomplete statements. Their completion occurs when the philosopher shows if and how they are related to principles of truth and knowledge.
In fact, Coleridge's argument embraces the inevitability of prejudice. In preparing the reader for how "being" can unite with "knowing" (BL 1: 247-64), he plays out the roles of the natural and transcendental philosopher. In the process, both philosophers inherently accept a prejudice which cannot be verified, only assumed. This is confusing because at one point Coleridge claims the sense of "I AM [for the transcendental philosopher], cannot so properly be entitled a prejudice" (I: 260). However, this is probably the more generalized notion of "I AM," the upper-case, ontological enterprise for all philosophers. For a more personalized, lower case "I am," the investigation does include the term prejudice. See Sara Coleridge's edited Biographia Literaria for a marginal reference to the I am as "the absolute prejudice" (as found in BL 1: 260, footnote 1).
I hold that both the transcendental and the natural philosopher's "prejudices" should be accepted as provisionally necessary before a more complete understanding of knowledge occurs. In this same conciliatory light, both approaches offer insights to the individual; neither is complete by itself.
13. Future references to the Biographia Literaria will be indicated in the text by BL, volume numeral, and page.
14. A broad premise so overarching and common as to be often thought of as not "rich" enough for theoretical debate, this "universal concept of personhood" still provides a moral notion that carries a great deal of political force, for the most powerful philosophical ally of modern struggles for equality and social justice is the universalist view that individual human worth is absolute: it cannot be traded away, and it does not exist in degrees (Mohanty 1997: 199).
15. I have addressed this problem in more detail in my essay "Western Eyes and Indian Visions." See especially my discussion of the "paradox of literary understanding" (110-2).
16. Mohanty states that "discontinuity, the celebration of difference and heterogeneity, and the assertion of plurality" is now the "general tendency in contemporary criticism" (1997: 120).
This prevalent definition of otherness can become so radical that its separation from reason cannot be clearly articulated. All that one can be assured of is the excessive identity of difference: "The other is not us, [these critics] insist, and is quite possibly not even like us" (emphasis in original, Mohanty 1997: 120-1). If the world lies detached, forever divorced from reason, how do we know the specific qualities of various forms of otherness when we experience it? This is the major dilemma facing multiculturalism today.
17. Goldberg goes on to say that the operating premises for a strong form of multiculturalism must be involved with questioning "the grounds of the knowledge claims and truth values being advanced, and with challenging the dominant interpretation and underlying structures of institutional and ideological power represented in prevailing pedagogical narratives" (17).
The problem, though, is that strong forms of anti-foundational thinking, by definition, can legitimately deny "basic formal principles of thinking" (16) and even the "thin set of common rules of logic and basic inference" that Goldberg believes "underpins" even radical versions of multiculturalism. I do not see how critics like Goldberg can have it both ways.
18. Often absent of helpful qualifications like "willed" or "unwilled," contemporary theories of multiculturalism tend to fetishize this recognition of difference until its polar opposite, commonality, appears as a useless, overly generalized, abstract term. Henri Giroux, among many others, desires a self that is only "historical and cultural...shaped in complex, related, and multiple ways through its interaction with numerous and diverse communities." In addition, he has advocated for the end of race "as a universalizing norm" or "essentialized notion of subjectivity" (38). Although I would agree that essentialism and universalism by themselves are the sources of many social problems, such terms in conjunction with more particular examinations, can be quite helpful. I'm not convinced from theorists like Giroux that explaining how universal notions of subjectivity operate in society could necessarily discredit or devalue the opposing "truths" of local cultures. After all, a dialectic always exists between historical contingencies and trans-cultural principles.