Topic of Class
This week’s class discussion centred around Leonard Woolf’s “Growing”. The presentations touched on the autobiography form and how memory functions, as well as the sense of displacement the colonist experiences. During the question and answer session, the idea of the displaced colonist arose again. More specifically, the class discussed how Woolf, as a Jew is an outsider in the British society. His position as a colonist therefore is unique because he is simultaneously within and without the colonial society. This position causes him to be more sympathetic towards the colonized, yet he is unable to escape the expectations put upon a colonist. Like Woolf, Conrad share the same position of being inside and outside the colonial rule as well. Conrad’s parents were leaders of the anti-Soviet (anti-colonist) rule in Poland, yet when they moved to England, Conrad inevitably becomes complicit in Britain’s empire-making processes.
Another issue that was raised during the class discussion was on the justification of violence. We referred back to Fanon’s idea that violence is inevitable for lasting changes. Somehow argued that violence can be justified if there is a ‘worthy’ cause, yet the class recognized that the idea of a ‘worthy’ cause is really subjective. Ultimately, violence as a means to liberation will always be pitted against the option of a gradual progression towards liberation. I personally believe that where we position ourselves in this dichotomy is really dependent our social status. Violence will typically destroy the possessions of the privileged, while the under-privilege has little or nothing to lose, thus the privileged would avoid violence as a means to liberation.
I think the film “Chocolat” provides examples to clarify the two points raised in the discussion. Firstly, France shares the same position as Woolf and Conrad – being both within and without the colonial rule. She grows up in Cameroon and is familiar enough with its roads to travel on foot/public transport when she returns to the country yet she is mocked by the black stranger for trying to “go native”. In this way, she is forever marked by her white-ness. As a young girl, she seems to share a greater affinity with her black servant, Protee, and is relatively distant from her French parents. Yet, she is mocked by other black children when she hurries Protee to get back home. The episode demonstrates how she can never be part of the native community and how she can never fully bridge the gap between Protee (the servant) and herself (the master).
While the movie does not discuss the justification of violence, but there is a sense of impending doom in the film. The atmosphere in the film seem to suggest undercurrents of antagonism. This is felt most in the scene where the children follow behind France on her donkey, chanting and imitating her earlier commands to Protee. In the scene when the natives rush towards the house, leading the passengers of the stranded plane, it almost seems as if they are rushing at the white men in a riot. The scene also gives a sense of the potential violence that may break out any time.
Connections with Other Topics from Other Weeks
The presentation also touched on the how Woolf is aware of his role as a performer, and how this performance does not bring him closer to the understanding of his environment. The performativity of the autobiographer relates back to the idea of how colonist power is really performed. This week’s discussion helped add another dimension to earlier discussions of performativity by highlighting that narrative/writing can be performative too. In other words, in writing, the writers are actively performing the role they see themselves as playing – either as a reluctant colonist, a superior race etc etc.
Finally, the idea of the colonist who is both within and without the system links back to the idea of the reluctant colonist. Both colonist characters are in contradictory positions where they have to perform the functions of the colonist yet they seem to sympathize with the natives or simply are against the colonial enterprise.