Nationalism and Joyce/Stephen

It is often thought that nationalism is a natural progression from colonialism and decolonisation. Yet, after reading Joyce’s novel, there is the sense that things are never that simple and there is never a linear progression. Nationalism is seen to be an assertion of individuality and it is the culmination of various factors. Although much attention has been given to the importance of race and gender in nationalism, I feel that language plays an imperative role as well.

It has always been stated that nationalism is about the independence of a country, the capability of the natives to undertake roles of governance after having been educated by the colonial masters. Yet, the colonised countries have always adopted the language and culture of the colonial rulers resulting in the loss of their own cultures and languages which ends up in a loss of a unique identity of their own. It is the beginnings of the breakdown of the colonial language and culture with the rise of individualism that perhaps, forces the colonial rulers to recognise that there is a gradual subversion of the power relations between the colonials and the colonised. The fact that decolonisation and nationalism takes place concurrently cannot be dismissed as a coincidence. The contrast of language between Stephen’s childhood obedience and his “rebellious” youth then portrays this measured subversion. In the novel, this is evident through Stephen’s childhood and youth respectively which shows that it is only by breaking down colonial structures and finding one’s “voice” in the process of restructuring that a true individual emerges. Only then can there truly be nationalism/individualism when shadows of colonialism are removed and Stephen does this with his “art.”

As a child, Stephen uses a lot of repetition, quotation and constructed rhythmic effects in his sentences. I feel that this is important because language functions as tool of colonialism. His ability to articulate in fluid English mirrors the gradual loss of the Irish vernacular in Ireland during colonial rule. The young Stephen’s adherence to the rubrics of the English Language shows the entrenchment of the colonial system and it is of no coincidence that at this point in the novel, he conforms to expectations and he takes his English lessons seriously. To repeat is to perform an identity and this performance is essential for maintaining solidarity. The young Stephen then continually performs the identity of the colonised with his reiteration of the colonial language and he has no notions of any individuality, relegated to being another member of the oppressed Irish community. Of course, this also shows that the oppression of the Irish is not only enacted by the English but it has been deeply ingrained into the Irishmen’s way of life. They have become comfortable with it and they are afraid of embracing changes.   

In his youth, Stephen’s articulation becomes to be disjointed and this happens in tandem with his assertion of individuality. It is suggested that he experiences these disjoints because the colonial language has become insufficient. He begins to adapt and re-structure the colonial language to his need and in the process of doing so, he makes it “his own language.” Language then becomes a form of art. This is significant for art has no “real” rubrics. With this “art,” emphasis is placed on the failure of language and the need to adopt other modes of representation. Stephen/Joyce hence shows that Irish nationalism requires the willingness of the Irish to stop perpetrating the old systems of colonialism and to find their own ground.

Performing the Identity

The fact that Leonard Woolf chooses to entitle his autobiography “Growing” amuses me for I do not really see signs of progression in this week’s reading but rather using a different form to articulate “old idea.” The authencity of his experiences is questionable but his autobiography also revisits the ambiguity of the representations which we have seen in the texts that we have talked about in class. One cannot help but notice that even though Woolf does not come close to the sorry figure of Flory, he does experience and portray the reluctance of having to live up to his reputation of being the imperial white man. With this in mind, while he is an enforcer of the imperialist system, I cannot help but wonder if he is a victim entrapped within the structure even with his complicity in it. This is similar to the discussions we have had of Elizabeth and Ma Hla May in which they are complicit in their entrapment. The question then to be asked is if we are also complicit in reproducing this system of entrapment when we choose to locate and revisit this continually in our readings of the texts?

Shannon Forbes wrote an article on equating performance with identity and in this piece of writing, she mentioned that an identity is re- constituted within a social structure with repeated performance of a particular role and responsibility. The repeated performance which constitutes an identity then gives rise to a social cohesion. To me, this social cohesion is bounded with the social contract in which each of us has to act out the responsibilities that are given to us. Identity then becomes a responsibility and this can be seen in Woolf who says that he has to maintain a facade among his own group for he has learned that to be different is to be condemned. Much has been said about the white man and his performance as the superior imperialist. In reading Woolf’s autobiography, I find myself thinking that the natives are also “guilty” of maintaining the binaries between the colonised and colonisers. Once they are emboldened by the knowledge that they are capable of reproducing the white man’s structure of power, colonialism is enacted by the natives on the natives. Colonialism then becomes a form of identity which materialises in different structures.

The world reacted with horror to the white man’s colonialism but initially thought that Japan’s participation in World War Two was an act of Asian bravery to the onslaught of the Europeans. Perhaps then, striped of all the focus on the white man’s superiority and natives’ inferiority, the matter boils to a fact that we live in a dog- eat- dog world. In Woolf’s words: “it is questionable whether in the end either will have the strength to eat the other.”

Colonialism in different forms

I remember having read before, that Colonialism started from the periphery, that is the center of the European community within the colonialised country. As taught during A level’s history, the core of colonialism was the European men. Yet, after reading Ann Stoler’s article this week, I cannot help but wonder if this periphery refers to the European women instead. As mentioned in my post from last week, I felt that women perpetuated colonialism through their expectations of servitude from the natives and the way they maintained their beliefs about the superiority of the white men.

Stoler mentioned in the article that  the European women in colonies had “ambiguous positions, as both subordinates in colonial hierachies and as agents of empire in their right.” Indeed, in Burmese days, the European women seemed to be dependent on men for survival and this is amplified in the fact that marriage served as a ticket to social power as seen in Elizabeth’s desperate atempts to marry as she sees it as a solution to her poverty. One cannot neglect the fact that she is also the character who persistently reminds Flory abeit subtly of his position and responsibility as a white man.

In class last week, it was mentioned that the influx of European women into colonies was to prevent any further increase in the number of mixed- race children, a result of European men having relationships with native women. The fact that the European women were brought into the colonies is symbolic of their positions as the “police” of white men and therefore, as agents of empire. To me then, this is suggestive of the idea that colonialism can exist in different forms.

Women as perpetrators of colonialism

Colonialism has been a much debated topic and for many, the focus has always been centered on how it functioned as a tool of not only European superiority but also, a tool for substaining the European patriarchal society. There were instances in the novel which seemed to uphold patriarchal beliefs such as when it was mentioned in the novel that “the women members of the club had no votes.” This corresponded to  our common belief of male domination and the helplessness of the women who were completely dependent on men for their survivor. Yet, after reading the novel, I felt that it made us looked at the position of  the European women in a different light.

The women in the novel seemed to enforce a system of colonialism of their own. This “system of colonialism” was evident in the way the European women entertained certain beliefs and how they sought to impress them onto the behaviour of the white men around them or in the way they judged the natives. Elizabeth exemplified this in the way she chose to uphold her beliefs about the “white man.”  This can be seen in “she was perfectly certain that that was not how white men ought to behave” and “she was grasping, dimly, that his views were not the views an Englishman should hold.” She also perpetuated this system of colonialism in the way she viewed marriage for it was said in the ending of the book that “her servants live in terror of her, although she speaks no Burmese” and “she fills with complete success the position for which Nature had designed her from the first, that of a burra memsahib.” To me, Elizabeth’s “colonialising” of her servants served as an re-enactment of the colonialism enforced by the European men. Here, it is suggested that the “white woman” functioned as a mirror for the “white man.”    

Contrary to the image of a “strong” woman created for the readers through her hunting trip with Flory, in her desperate attempts to find a husband in Flory and Verell respectively, Elizabeth perpetuated the stereotypical image of women who were completely dependent upon marriage  for their livelihood. This hence contributes to the idea that as much as men relied on colonialism to maintain a sort of pride, women also embraced colonialism to maintain order in their lives. As much as the fact that there were changes being affected, the colonial women were unwilling to adapt to the outcomes which these changes might bring and therefore, perhaps strove to uphold colonialism more than the men did. The novel hence, I felt, brought out another truth which we might have neglected with the knowledge which we were being equipped with to look at colonialism. It made us look at the cupability of women which not many of us would have regarded given the fact that the European women were always portrayed as victims in one way or another.

Of course, the flux in the impressions which readers get of Elizabeth in the novel also points out the flux of language.  The complexity of women as both victims and perpetrators shows that perhaps, there are more “truths” to be discovered and this is only possible through the use of language by other writers such as the Anglo- Indian other than the European himself.

Note- taking for Lord Jim (Week 7): Part 2

 Topic of Class

The first part of discussion was focused on the accuracy of Wallace’s methodology with regards to his observations about the Dyaks. Not surprisingly, the more common reactions pointed out that Wallace adopted the mindset of the superior European in his documentation of the Dyaks and hence, questioned the presence or rather, absence of empirical evidences in his writing. Yet, on the other hand, it was also pointed out that Wallace had only what he observed and he was only trying to paint a picture for the Europeans with the limited knowledge he had. The fact that the article was written as a scientific travel book became problematic for Europeans took his words as “the truth” and hence justified their belief of their superiority.

 Interestingly, it was also brought up that science is used to validate political stance and the discovery of biology at the height of Imperialism during the 19th Century not only validated but intensified the colonial movement. Science and knowledge is not a bad thing in itself but it is constantly manipulated by people to obtain power. As such, Science is driven by power and this is exemplified in both Wallace’s article and Lord Jim where biological differences is used to ascertain the superiority of the Europeans.

 With these in mind, the question that should be on everyone’s mind is if things have really changed, taking into consideration the fact that in relation to science and methodology today, similar methodology are still being used as representations.


‘The Dyak is closely allied to the Malay and more remotely to the Siamese, Chinese and other Mongol races. All these are characterized by a reddish- brown or yellowish- brown skin of various shades, by jet – black straight hair, by the scanty or deficient beard, by the rather small and broad nose, and high cheekbones; but none of the Malayan races have the oblique eyes which are characteristic of the more typical Mongols. The average stature of the Dyaks is rather more than that of the Malays, while it is considerably under that of most Europeans. Their forms are well proportioned, their feet and hands small, and they rarely or never attain the bulk of body so often seen in Malays and Chinese.’ (Wallace, Pg. 68.)

 ‘I am inclined to rank the Dyaks above the Malays in mental capacity, while in moral character they are undoubtedly superior to them.’ (Wallace, Pg. 68.)

The above examples show that while Wallace shaped his writing according to his observations, the very same observations laid the foundations for science and methodology to be used for the justification of imperialism.  

 Connections with Other Topics from Other Weeks

 We were led to discuss modernism as a crisis of knowledge and representation with the evidences of constant changes and the continual use of the natives to define European superiority in both Wallace’s text as well as Lord Jim. This brings to mind Achebe’s criticism of Conrad’s supposed racism in Heart of Darkness as opposed to the common idea that Conrad was advocating anti- imperialism in his text. It enforces the fact that language is malleable and that people are left to make meanings for themselves, depending on the perspectives they take. Perhaps, it can then be suggested that despite all the periods such as colonialism, modernism etc, there really is no real change for there is only the change in perspectives brought about when different people such as Achebe starts to write in addition to European writers.

Language as a tool of entrapment

In Wallace’s article, he continually espouses the goodness of the Europeans and Sir James Brook in particular for bringing civilisation and freedom to the dyaks who were “oppressed and ground down by the most cruel tyranny” by the Malays and Chinese. It is ironic that he is unable to see that the Europeans practiced the same kind of oppression with colonisation and that colonial rule brought more hardships to the natives rather than benefits. Moreover, he seems to practise colonialism in his writing as well for through the use of words and language, he imposes boundaries upon the natives in his story. His article is written as if he knows that what he sees and reads are irrevocable facts.  

I feel Wallace’s perception of the Europeans and the Dyaks bears strong resemblance to the way Jim and the natives is being represented for us in the novel, that is through Marlow’s eyes. This is seen when Marlow says, ” Evidently I had known what I was doing. I had read characters aright, and so on” (Pg. 143). While reading the novel, I constantly feel that Marlow is trying to fit Jim into a certain mould which he finds acceptable. It is as if he is trying to enforce a frame around the story and he is fitting Jim into this frame, cutting out pieces which do not fit into his idealised picture and he refers to this in ” I put it down here for you as though I had been an eyewitness. My information was fragmentary, but I’ve fitted the pieces together, and there is enough of them to make an intelligeible picture” (Pg. 262). Both Wallace and Marlow use language and words to impose boundaries. This is similar to colonial rule which divides race and perhaps to an extent, religion into categories and boundaries.

 Thus, language fails as it becomes a tool which entraps the natives as seen in Wallace’s article and Marlow’s narrative. Even Jim becomes a victim of language in Marlow’s story. As such, Doramin’s shot which kills Jim at the end of the story is significant for “the shot” grants Jim his freedom from his entrapment. The imagery of the shot also fragmentises the narrative which has been carefully controlled by Marlow.

Jim/Marlow: Public vs Private truths

“Its extraordinary how we go through life with eyes half shut, with dull ears, with dormant thoughts. Perhaps it’s just as well; and it may be that it is this very dulness that makes life to the incalculable majority so supportable and so welcome. Nevertheless, there can be but few of us who had see, hear, understand ever so much- everything- in a flash- before we fall back again into our agreeable somnolence” (110). I was drawn to this passage as I was reading the novel for I felt that while we have talking about how modernism reiterates that there is no fixity of truths; it can never really be as easy to distance ourselves from the “truths” presented to us through socialisation for they provide an order in which we live our lives. There are times where we may discover different truths for ourselves. However, society does not allow us to act on these truths for they threaten the order and form of our lives. Perhaps, this also relates to the lecture we had on modernism and empire as a crisis of politcal economy and its concern with the social contract.

Jim has to fulfil certain expectations of that as a sailor which is reinforced by Marlow’s reference to an unwritten code of conduct that sailors have to uphold regardless of their predicaments. This code of conduct serves as a form of truth for Jim. Although it is explicitly made known to us that he only endeavours to become a sailor after reading some “light literature,” and that he becomes part of the Patna crew through unforeseen circumstances, he is unable to deal with the guilt and shame arising from his violation of the expectations laid out for him because of the social responsibility he has. This is representative of the dilemma of having to choose between a public and a private truth for almost everyone who forms part of a society. The private truth is representative of freedom and the allowance of an alternative truth and perspective to things but it may be detrimental to the big “T.” As seen, Jim with his private truth wanders from job and job. He is only able to instill order in his life again when he integrates into Patusan through accepting another public truth.

This contestation between the public and private truth is evident in Marlow. With “Heart Of Darkness,” we have seen how he always takes a step back from seeing the truth every time he has a chance and with him as the narrator of Jim’s story, once again, we see instances in which he steps away from the truth. He pieces together Jim’s story, and through various retellings, he seems to be enforcing a certain truth, a big picture despite the awareness that the fragmentations may reveal differing “truths.” Yet, it is the act of retelling which entrenches the truth which Marlow wants to present because it enforces a form of order in the novel. The death of Jim is then significant for it can be viewed as the only way with which this order/ truth remains unchallenged.

Darkness and Truth

After reading An Image of Africa, it seemed to me that in Achebe’s claim of “the fact that white racisim against Africa is such a normal way of thinking that its manifestations go completely unremarked,” I feel that he has pointed out that it is all too easy to fall into the binaristic trap of imperialism, the Whites vs. the Africans. It is true that through imperialism, the Whites strongly enforced the stereotypes of races through literature and images. Indeed, stereotypes of Africans and even the blacks have been entrenched within societies which have resulted in countless discriminations and conflicts. In Achebe’s words, they are the group in mankind who “has suffered untold agonies and atrocities in the past an continues to do so in many ways and many places today.” Yet, one can argue that Achebe’s criticism of Conrad is unfair. There can be no clear lines drawn for imperialism did not only happen with colonialism but it also took place with civil wars in which the natives fought among themselves. It is ironic that just as Achebe accuses Conrad of hiding the truth through his writings, Achebe is also engaging in a form of manipulation in his writing.   

I felt that Achebe’s critique is hence a good example of modernism’s notion of the ambiguous truth. There can be no doubts that racism is a pervasive issue in the novella but contrary to what Achebe says of Conrad’s “obvious racism” which has not been addressed, I feel that racism was left as “the truth” which the readers have to shape for themselves. To me, I feel that the juxtaposition of the barbaric sounds the natives make and the words, language which the Whites communicate with have broken down the binaristic barrier of imperialism. Through this juxtaposition, it leads one to question the truth which Kurtz has seen and what Marlow allows himself to see.  The darkness which pervades the novella to me then, is “the formless truth.”

Modernism- looking at racism with rose- tinted glasses

As I was reading the first part of the novel, I could not help wonder if modernism was not just an extension of colonialism given that many of the issues addressed in the former resembled those highly debated in the latter. Racism, gender and class- divides, just to name a few, have been of  our utmost concern for many years now with the only difference being that they are constantly portrayed as new points of contention under a different time period. This can perhaps be related to last week’s class when we were making comparisions of “the mask” painted by three different artists and as such, how it affected our views. To put it simply, “modernism” is, looking at racism for example, with rose- tinted glasses. In addition, while the sypnosis stated, “when Adela and her elderly companion Mrs Moore arrive in the indian town of Chandrapore, they quickly feel trapped by its insular and prejudiced British community,” they served to perpetuate this biasness at times with how they seemed to regard the activities and cultures of the natives as sport.

Philippa Levine’s article “Britain in India”  talked about how the British East India Company underwent many changes, reinventing itself each time as part of the British government’s efforts to consolidate their strong- hold in India. It can then be suggested that modernism is really a term coined to keep the balance of control tilted in the favour of the super- powers. When one learns that an educated Indian is supposedly the product of modernism, one reads in Levine’s article, this same educated Indian actually existed in Colonialism and he was an important source of manpower for the British to sustain their economical gains while exploiting and derogating them in return.

Modernism: the new?

Simon Gikandi’s article, “Picasso, Africa and the Schemata of Difference” mentioned that “even when artists such as Picasson questioned colonial practices, they seemed to reproduce the colonist model of African societies; they questioned the practice but not the theory of colonialism. This structure- the questioning of practice and the aceptance of the theory- tends to be reproduced when we don’t interrogate the idea of Africa in modern art.” This passage particularly caught my eye as I felt that this aptly decribes the changing relations between countries with the advent of modernism. To me, I feel that modernism is not just about revelations in art and the literary forms but it also encompasses the change of political, economic and cultural forces in the world. in these sense, modernism not only gave rein to the freedom of space and time, but the world war which preceded it shattered a world view built on foundation of illusions. To me, the freedom of space and time in modernism enabled people to discover the world in new perspectives which were repressed. It can perhaps be suggested that the “new forms” being discovered in the world as a mirror to the establishment of “new forms” in literary works and art even though they are not really new.

With this in mind, it can also be suggested that just as the reading titled “Mimesis” suggested, modernism is not a new concept. Rather, it is an expansion of the old of which artists and writers try to pass of as a novelty. Yet, it is interesting to note that many consider it to be a breakthrough period because as all the three readings have shown, at least for me, that it is a circulatory system of power beneath all the fancy terms that are being endowed on it.