Review of Prosthetic Gods: Travel, Representation and Colonial Governance, by Robert Dixon
A popular cliche in the field of postcolonial theory is the observation that the master's tools will never be able to dismantle the master's house. This neat piece of rhetoric has always irked me. It may make the point rhetorically, but as anyone who actually works with tools knows, the spanner you use to tighten the nut is also the first one to reach for if you want to loosen it. In theoretical (if not practical) terms we could call this a paradox, and it's one which Robert Dixon's Prosthetic Gods: Travel, Representation and Colonial Governance illustrates perfectly. For the key to Dixon's unwriting of a range of accounts of Australian modernity on the loose in Papua New Guinea is the high modernist Sigmund Freud's Civilization and Its Discontents. Or, more precisely, Freud's speculation that the technological appurtenances of modern civilisation had replaced the gods of the ancients with the contemporary figure of Man as a 'Prosthetic God'.
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