Sunday, March 09, 2008

Octave Mannoni

Octave Mannoni was a Lacanian psychoanalyst who used his experience in Madagascar to comment in the psychological experience of colonisation. His views are widely discredited as ill-informed and chauvinist. However, his prognostication about the future non-indigenous peoples in the South is worth a sober glance: would not be over-bold to foresee in the distant future the development of a new kind of white or near-white humanity over almost the whole of the southern hemisphere of the ancient world, a type more different, psychologically, from that of the north than any of the northern peoples are from each other from east to west. If national psychologies remain as constant as appears to be the case, we can already forecast what the main characteristics of this new type will be: lack of originality and creativity, a distinct taste for feudal types of organisation, and a lively desire to avoid infection from the complexes of the northern hemisphere… the new white or near-white (white enough at any rate not to feel inferior in the southern hemisphere) human beings I have envisaged would on the whole be far less worthy products than are Europeans, unless as a result of having to grapple with fresh difficulties they acquired some qualities other than mere pride in the race of their birth.

Octave Mannoni Prospero And Caliban: The Psychology Of Colonization (trans. Pamela Powesland) Ann Arbor: University of Michegan Press, 1990, p. 128

There's always awkwardness in engaging in these terms of debate. The future of 'white peoples' evokes the racist discourse associated with laws such as the White Australia Policy. However, the argument is worth considering. According to Mannoni, the sense of superiority felt by colonists retards their development. They are complacent in their righteous culture and resist innovation.

Those of us in Australia who have just emerged from the Howard era might find an echo of truth in his analysis. The challenge now is to find sources of cultural change in the recent recognition of culpability. Rather than a simple squaring of accounts, it should be followed by a critical examination of the settler experience. If we are not returning back the land that we stole, what productive use are we going to find for this ill-gotten gain?


Thomas Michael Blaser said...

Thanks for putting it so well. I think here in South Africa we face the same task with renewed urgency, giving the events of racial antagonism over the last few months. I believe it is not only about finding the courage to evaluate the settler experience (and certainly many fail to so) but also about the relationship between settler and native: how can it be rethought? What work has each to do - what work has to be done together?

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