Entries Tagged as 'Uncategorized'

Thoughts on The Artist

November 4, 2009 by pngyuxin · 1 Comment · Uncategorized

Reading Ritchell’s post on how the artist uses the inherited foreign language to express the subjugated psyches of the Irish reminded me of this poem I came across in Prof Patke’s Irish Poetry module. It’s a poem by Nuala Ni Dhomhnaill, an Irish poetess who writes strictly in Irish, called The Language Issue. For those who’ve not taken the class before, or who’ve not heard of Nuala, I’d just post a link to the poem so you guys can take a look: http://www.thepoem.co.uk/poems/dhomhnaill.htm . In this particular poem, Nuala expresses the irony that it is only through the translation of her poetry from Irish to English that the Irish language will survive. Instead of resisting against the dominant English language, the artist (or whatever indigenous language he/she uses) must somehow be co-opted by it. Having this comparison between Nuala and Joyce in mind, I find that this colonial baggage/ language struggle runs across most Irish literature (and post-colonial ones for that matter).

What makes A Portrait so different then? What particular kinds of contradictions and problems does a writer like Joyce, who operated within the modernist period and who is labeled a high-modernist writer, face? In many ways, he resembles Woolf (the husband), Conrad and Orwell- who are all at once (and of varying degrees) part of the system and not. If we have the reluctant colonizer (in many of the characters we’ve seen so far in the module), couldn’t we see Joyce/ Stephen as a figure of the reluctant colonized? I agree that there are many ironies inherent within the text and I feel that, given the position of Joyce, this is necessarily so. The ending, therefore, is not entirely problematic for me. Stephen decides that he needs to go into exile in order to leave behind religious and political and family constraints but he also expresses a wish to write in service of his race. There is no way he can deftly negotiate these contradictions, at least not at that point of time when the novel ends. However, does the distance between Joyce, the accomplished artist, and Stephen (as yet fully formed) signify that there is really a way out? At least for me, this novel throws up more questions than it answers them!

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Modernism- representation or symptom?

November 4, 2009 by rebekahyeo · 1 Comment · Uncategorized

Here’s a quote that really got me thinking and from which i started working towards for my presentation tomorrow :) :

“The experience of modernity is fostered by the rise of the modern city, and works of modernism do not so much convey this experience as they betray the strain of surviving it and detail their various strategies for doing so. Thus modernism might be regarded less as a representation of modernity and more as a symptom of it.” (Garry Leonard)

I’ve been thinking of how Modernism relates to Empire in our module and thought that perhaps Modernism seems opposed to the idea of Empire because it is supposed to be about validating individual subjectivity which goes against the grain of any colonizing discourse. However, if Modernism is just a symptom of Modernity, then by extension did Empire really cease because of this enlightened idea of Modernism or simply because of the conditions of modernity? When empire ceased, could it be that it is not because people suddenly realized the Truth but because of so many social forces which renders empire outmoded and forces it out because it just cannot coexist with the other elements. It is not freedom but no choice :p So what new mode of colonization have we come up with now? Capitalism?

According to a critic, the lack of money drives Stephen to be an artist because he has no other means to validate his position as a member of the middle class. Thus, at the downturn of the family’s fortunes, Simon Daedelus sends Stephen to be educated,  giving him all the necessary resources to develop his aesthetic theory. He seems more obsessed with articulating it than actually producing a work of art, perhaps a reflection of his anxiety?

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Language, and the Growth of the Artist

November 4, 2009 by edelinetan · 1 Comment · Uncategorized

 “Portrait of an Artist as a Young Man” can be seen as a sort of Kunstlerroman, the growth of an artist. It, in a way, describes the growth of the artist from a boy to an artist.  However, by “becoming” an artist, Stephen Dedalus abandons the religion and culture that is “native” to Ireland. On the other hand, to remain “Irish” (eg. Catholic) would be to reject the growing into an artist.

I think that language reflects the growth of the artist. The English used in writing the novel gets increasingly more complex as the novel progresses and as Stephen gradually “grows” into an artist, perhaps reflecting his growing ability to express himself. However, English is the language of the colonizer. By using it in the novel, there seems to be assimilation or a submission of his “Irish” identity to that of the colonizer. This is especially so, because as his English gets more complex, arguably, we can also say that he becomes more comfortable with the language of the colonizer, and more assimilated into the discourse of the colonizer.  

However, maybe we can see this in a different way. As Jackson has mentioned, the Irish view of the British is quite paradoxical as many Irish viewed the “Empire was [as] both an agent of liberation and oppression” (123). In that sense then, even while Stephen allows the language of the colonizer to oppress him, maybe, by using the language of the colonizer, he also liberates himself from the stifling confines of the “Irish” identity. I don’t think the novel offers Stephen’s dream of flying past the nets as a good or conclusive solution. However, perhaps we might be able to see this novel as a breaking of the binary between Colonizer and Native. Perhaps the novel is suggesting assimilation is not necessarily a bad thing, though it is also not necessarily ideal. After all, it is by speaking the language of the colonizer that he can redeem Ireland, and “forge in the smithy of my soul the uncreated conscience of my race” (276).

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Nationalism and Joyce/Stephen

November 4, 2009 by michellelimxi · 1 Comment · Uncategorized

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.

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The language of the oppressor

November 4, 2009 by charmainetan · 1 Comment · Uncategorized

It is common knowledge that the relationship between the Irish and the Empire has always been complex, with the Irish harboring ambivalent feelings towards the imperialism; Jackson’s article contextualizes these feelings by illustrating the benefits and the drawbacks of the Empire that were felt by the Irish:

For Ireland, therefore, the Empire was simultaneously a chain and a key: it was a  source both of constraint and of liberation… The Empire was not only a form of outdoor relief for impoverished Irish gentlemen: it also served as a vehicle for the upward mobility of the Irish middle classes, both Catholic and Protestant.  (Jackson, p136, 140)

Like many of its other colonies, the Empire was seen by the Irish as an oppressive force, an “imperial economic vampire”; it acted on its self-interest, resulting in the suffocation of Irish economy. Unlike its other colonies, the Irish were able to participate in Empire to reap personal economic benefits. This shows that shifting one’s political allegiances could result in the difference in one’s social position. The Irish ambivalence towards the Empire reminded me of the Joyce’s struggle with the English language in A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. With the death of the Irish language (the Irish Gaelic language is after all seen as a dead language: the dean not recognizing the Irish word ‘tundish’ for funnel in Portrait suggests the colonization of Irish by the English language, and Stephen’s recognition of the impossibility of resurrecting the Irish language), the adoption of English language becomes a given, even if it suggests a betrayal of one’s cultural allegiances.  However with the appropriation of the language of the oppressor, Stephen struggles with his ambivalence towards his adopted language:

His language, so familiar and so foreign, will always be for me an acquired         speech. I have not made or accepted its words. My voice holds them at bay. My soul frets in the shadow of his language. (Joyce, p. 205)

Stephen is torn between using and rejecting the English language. He acknowledges that English does not belong to him because of his Irish identity, yet he is also aware that Irish is not his speech either. The colonization of the Irish language by the English language is akin to the Empire rule over Ireland. Like Stephen, Joyce appropriates the language of the oppressor to write the novel. Perhaps like the article by Jackson, although the Empire is being seen as an oppressive force that suffocated the Irish language, it provides another language (that is wider used, and hence allowing a wider readership for the novel) for Joyce to appropriate, and a medium that gives Joyce and Stephen voice.

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Portrait and Identity Construction

November 4, 2009 by carolinesng · 1 Comment · Uncategorized

As i read Portrait, the scene that was most intriguing was the Christmas dinner. When you thinks about Christmas dinner, you’d think that it would be a heartwarming, happy affair where people get together, feel thankful, bask in the christmas spirit and maybe enjoy some turkey and ham. But Stephen’s Christmas has got to be the most uncomfortable event ever. Dante gets in a row with Stephen’s dad and Mr Casey as she defends the Catholic Church’s role in destroying Parnell while the two men attack this institutionalized religion and its long-standing opposition to Irish republicanism. 

But Stephen recalled that in the past, Dante was a Parnell supporter as she “hit a gentleman on the head with her umbrella because he had taken off his hat when the band played God Save the Queen at the end” (37). So she is essentially anti-British but not anti-Catholic. But what perplexes me is how the two cannot be separated as the Church often supports and echoes the British position. I think if anything, this instance shows how institutionalized religion is so influential and how it is a net that inhibits the Irish to find their own unique identity. Thus Stephen finds it necessary to “fly by those nets” and the only way that he sees this happening is to exile himself. 

What is interesting for me as a modern reader is how Joyce feels that the Irish identity is fettered by British colonialism and his solution is to escape. But it just doesn’t seem possible (to me) to escape this colonial past. Shouldn’t this be an integral part of constructing identity? By embracing this post-colonial/diasporic condition? I mean, if his name, Stephen Daedalus is a borrowing of Greek Myth and Catholic tradition (St. Stephen), then why not accept the fact of British colonialism and its effects (whether bad or good) on his identity construction? Another issue that troubles me is how he intends to write about Ireland if he is in exile? One could claim that he would have better perspective but this distancing could also make him lose touch with reality.

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Tundish? – English or Irish?

November 4, 2009 by MA PEIYI · 1 Comment · Uncategorized

- That? – said Stephen. – is that called a funnel? is it not a tundish? -
- What is a tundish? -
- That. The…funnel. -
- Is that called a tundish in Ireland? – asked the dean. – I never heard the word in my life. -

This was really one of those ‘moments’ that struck me when I read Portrait of the Artist for the first time some years ago. It just seems so ironic that the dean, who is an Englishman, ‘a countryman of Ben Jonson’, needs to be taught by Stephen on what the English word ‘tundish’ is about, or that it actually is an English word to begin with. In spite of his brilliant grasp of the English language, Stephen also suggests how the borrowed language makes even the most familiar things seem distant and foreign when he says, ‘How different are the words home, Christ, ale, master, on his lips and on mine! I cannot read or write these words without unrest of spirit. His language, so familiar and so foreign, will always be for me an acquired speech. I have not made or accepted its words…’
The idea of an ‘acquired speech’ is really what hits home, i supposed. In spite of its foreignness, the underlying self-referencing that this borrowed language belongs ultimately to the English conqueror, imposed upon the subjugated Irish, the English language is however, central to Stephen’s own artistic quest. As he acknowledges towards the end of the novel, the only way for him to utilize this condition is to shape the English language into a medium for him to convey and express the conditions of the subjugated Irish race.

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My Literary Bildungsroman

November 4, 2009 by ritchellchoong · 1 Comment · Uncategorized

When I read Portrait for the first time in another class (I was year 2 then), I remember that the thing which stuck with me most was the idea of Stephen being stuck in an impasse because in as much as he wanted to “fly by those nets” (220) cast upon him by his national inheritance, there is a simultaneous inability to break through those nets because it was always the acceptance of the Irish themselves of their subjugated positions that make this “flying” literally impossible.

Now, when I’m reading it again, I realize I understand the nuances of this impasse a lot better. Having learnt what modernist art attempts to do by challenging traditional modes of representation (is any form of realist representation real in the first place?) and what post-colonial politics are involved with every writing process ( especially when the writer/artist figure has been previously colonised), I realize that Stephen’s impasse involves many more layers of subjugation than those of his literal circumstances. Because it’s not the just the double binds that Stephen finds himself in: being an artist, no one understands his art and he is thereby an exile; but by following the crowd, he is essentially contributing to Ireland’s continual subjugation because “Ireland is the old sow that eats her farrow” (220), it is also the inability to find a language outside of which that he has inherited. This is because English is a language that is not of his own heritage but is also ironically the only one through which he knows how to express himself, hence this mode of artistic representation will forever be self-ironizing no matter how he tries to fly by those nets.

Yet, I think having understood much of what modernist texts try to do with art and representation, the saving grace of Portrait is the idea that perhaps the art is in using the inherited foreign language that is English to convey the subjugated psyches of the Irish. This is very much like what Chinua Achebe talked about in his essay, “The African Writer and the English Language”, where the redemption that an African writer can do for his art is to appropriate the use of English for his art because English is part of his history/heritage and to accept that is to move a step forward in better self-representation. So the importance isn’t in denying the self of the use of English but to appropriate it with one own’s cultural contexts such that English becomes merely the mode of Art through which one’s cultural disposition can be expressed. And in Portrait, the constant self-ironizing, I believe is therefore the way Stephen understands and represents the Irish condition that is in and of itself very ironic in the first place.

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Notes on Growing (Week 11, 29 Oct)

November 4, 2009 by frederickvoon · 1 Comment · Uncategorized

Daniel and Vanessa gave a presentation entitled “Growing Disillusioned”, arguing that Leonard Woolf in the “Jaffna” of Growing undergoes a process of disillusionment, highlighted by the difference of opinion across the half-century separating experience and writing, the emphasis of the theatricality of life, as well as of the alienating nature of the environment. Personally I don’t find a colonizer growing disillusioned so much as an administrator becoming happier and more confident in his role as colonizer in an alien land, particularly as Woolf’s power increases. This is most evident in the resounding success which he attributes to his exploits in the Pearl Fishery and the revolutions in office efficiency, as well as his emphasis of the “unheard of” (125) speed of his promotion.

Daniel began his presentation with a quote of Jerome Bruner (source unknown) which posits that the autobiography both confirms culture and proffers individuality. A close inspection of this opposition in the text would generate an interesting analysis of Woolf’s opinions of both himself and his culture, namely that of imperialism. An example of a disjuncture of self and culture is when Woolf writes, “It shocked me that these people should think that, as a white man and a ruler of Ceylon, I should consider the brown man, the Tamil, to be one of ‘the lesser breeds’ and deliberately hit him in the face with my riding whip to show him that he must behave himself and keep in his place” (113).

Daniel also brought up the idea of theatricality, how Woolf saw life in Ceylon as on a stage (24-25). Daniel misses out the point that it is an English stage, for Woolf speaks of the backcloth of imperialism (25). Daniel also misappropriates a quote from The Haunted Stage, where theatre is said to make memory. Here, it is the converse: memory makes theatre. Woolf also frequently relates his experiences to literature, whether Austen (42), Kipling (46), Hardy (54), Forster (63), or Coleridge (81). Daniel pointed out that this highlights the specifically English or Western frame of mind and references with which Woolf’s world is interpreted.

Vanessa argued that Woolf displays a political schizophrenia, being both a malevolent colonialist and a benevolent overlord. There is however no real evidence of any dysfunction or confusion in Woolf’s leadership. Even if he draws values from both imperialism and humanism, these do not contradict each other. I would say Woolf sees himself as a benevolent colonialist. He has no problems doing the Empire’s work, or lording over natives, yet seems to believe in executing his duties in a humane manner: “There was a great deal to be said against our rule of Ceylon, which, of course, was bleak ‘imperialism’ or what is fashionably called colonialism. One of the good things about it, however, was the extraordinary absence of the use of force in everyday life and government” (92).

Vanessa raised the idea of geographical displacement in relation to psychological displacement. Woolf himself acknowledges that “topographical details are not unimportant psychologically”, and increased the indescribable sense of “imperialist isolation” (49). The physical landscape alienates and overwhelms him. Perhaps the best example of this is his description of tropical nights at the Tangalla Rest House (71-72), where one appears “minute, helpless, infinitely insignificant” (71).

In the class discussion, Dr Koh asked whether the class knew Leonard Woolf was Jewish, and what significance this has. It was generally consented that Woolf as a Jew, and Conrad as a Pole, both experienced life in a minority, gained insight into outsiderhood. Not being “English English”, they therefore were unlikely to subscribe to Kiplingese imperialism.

The second half of the class was spent viewing the first half of Chocolat, a French film by Claire Denis from 1988. There is a clear intention in the film to explore racial tension, or the problems of interracial existence in colonial Cameroon, particularly with the repeated use of the two shot to tightly frame a black person and a white person together. Examples of this are in the scenes of Protée and the young France riding in the back of a truck, and of Protée lacing up Aimée’s corset in front of a mirror. The adult France makes an interesting comment near the beginning of the film, where, upon being asked whether she was a tourist, replied “sort of”. She is not a tourist because she is revisiting the land where she grew up in, yet in another sense she will forever be a tourist, an outsider to the land of Cameroon. The film seems to give allegorical names to its main characters: France, Aimée (beloved), Protée (Proteus, perhaps suggesting either mutability or primordiality).

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The white man colonised.

November 4, 2009 by ELIZABETH JOY TAN TIAN HEE · Comments Off · Uncategorized

Jackson’s careful consideration of both sides of colonialism in Ireland fascinated me in the same way Woolf’s entrapment within the structures of colonialism, and the disempowerment even of the European woman in colonialism presents an essential paradox of imperial rule. Traditionally I suppose the black-and-white thinker would see the imperialists as Europeans (or more generally Westerners) and the colonised as non-Europeans. Yet as KY pointed out in his blog post, the Irish were as much entrapped as colonised within the structure as they were c0ntributers to colonisation.

I found it also interesting that Jackson deliberately drew the parallels between Ireland and India, to break down the preconception that to be colonised one must be non-white. The Irish are an example that run counter to this assumption, and certainly the historical account of Irishmen on both sides of the fence serves to prove the paradox of imperialism.

Fundamentally, even among Europeans, like I mentioned in class discussion last week, the empire collapsed upon itself. Unable to sustain economically and certainly politically, there are in some ways no distinctions that can be drawn between Ireland’s experience coming into independence, and that of India. Within the imperial structure, maybe the lines drawn distinguishing East from West are not as clear as one would wish them to be.

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Nationalism as Result of Weak Colonisers?

November 4, 2009 by baukinyan · Comments Off · Uncategorized

I read Alvin Jackson’s essay with delight and reservation: his central idea that “the Empire was both an agent of liberation […] and the shackles of incarceration” (p123, emphasis own) is certainly taken by me; yet, I oppose to his final argument for that notion rather strongly. Specifically, Jackson states that it is the “failure of the British to define Ireland either in fully metropolitan or colonial terms” (150) which had ultimately caused the “break [in] their hold over the island” (150).

This greatly disturbs me because it suggests that the colonized (here being the Irish) ought to accept their status as a colonial subject had the colonizer (the British) fully abrogated the colony’s political vis-à-vis socio-cultural identity. To me, the very act of an Ascendancy rule is itself a cause for “patriotic feeling” (151) – regardless of “the ambiguities of British rule in Ireland” (151), if any. As many post-colonial writers and critiques have argued, the quest for decolonization starts (or ought to have started) from the very moment of colonization itself.

While the “irony” (135) of a colony participating in Empire may in many ways be seen as inevitable, it is certainly not ironic that the Union – which I perceive as euphemized colonization – would thereby invoke the sentiments of “nationalism and the revolt against imperial rule” (136). Such is indeed the central preoccupation that I discern from the growing consciousness of Stephen in Joyce’s Portrait, of course, along with all the endearing aesthetics of modernist literature.

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Note taking: Week 11, Woolf “Growing”

November 4, 2009 by kuangjingxuan · 1 Comment · Uncategorized

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.
Example(s)
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.

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.

Example(s)

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.

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Performing the Identity

October 29, 2009 by michellelimxi · Comments Off · Uncategorized

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.”

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Modernism and Woolf- Creation of “the Real”

October 29, 2009 by jessicasee · 1 Comment · Uncategorized

Honestly, when i read the first 3 pages of Woolf I thought the entire thing was going to be insufferably boring- but I ended up reading the entire thing in one sitting. I really liked his writing style (the Modernist tendency if that is what you want to call it) because it really draws on aspects of story-telling and self-consciousness.

Woolf is precise at times and very vague at times. When he says that “there was something extraordinarily real and at the same time unreal in the sights and sounds and smells” (first page), I get the sense that he is describing his writing too (in terms of the kind of detail he uses/doesn’t use). This idea of self-consciousness continues when he says that he feels as though he is “acting in a play or living in a dream” (same page). I like the way in which this very self-consciousnessness in “fictional autobiography” spills over into “reality” (reality = the reality we are in as readers). In other words, as Woolf  (the young man in Jaffna) “play[s] a part in an exciting play” (page after that), we see the same Woolf (though “same” is questionable) playing the part as writer, and of course, us as readers playing our part as well.

The way in which he constructs a picture of Jaffna for us is interesting, because even though he seems concerned about providing “authentic” details (name-dropping of islands, people and companies), he undermines this at times. For example, he makes direct reference to the content and form of his writing when he mentions “leav[ing] this subject of animals”; coupled with the fact that he deliberately mentions his “readers” (page number is cut off), this adds an interesting element of self-reflexivity to his writing. Concerns like ‘subject content’ and pleasing the audience are indeed important to a writer, and the fact that Woolf makes reference to something OUTSIDE his own text’s fictional/non-fictional reality identifies it as “modernist”, and outside the realm of “realist” 19th-century novels.

Thus, while Woolf remains a master story-teller, we question the “real” authencity of his experiences. Woolf provides us with little episodes and little impressions that are either not the “full story”, or not the “true story”. However, in true post-19th-century fashion, if all “reality” before has been constructed for us, then does authenticity matter or even exist?

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Growing

October 29, 2009 by lehylaheward · 1 Comment · Uncategorized

I would just like to briefly run through a few things I found interesting in Woolfe’s piece, “Growing.” First of all I would like to mention his literary style. I find it funny that he can put in so many details when he recalls a story. For instance, he makes sure to tell readers what side of the island he was on when a certain incident happened. However, there are many times when he blatantly says he doesn’t remember specifics about certain incidents. Of course, this is probably attributed to the fact that he had letters and his own journal entries that aided him in recalling specifics of incidents, but it comes across as paradoxical and gives the whole piece the tone of an old man telling his grandchildren about when he was an imperialist.

This brings me to my next point. The section where he describes when he first began to realize what it meant to be an imperialist was an eye-opener. It made me realize that young civil servants at the time came to the colonies because it was viewed as just another job. He talks about having to put on a façade in order to live and work in the colonies. However, I don’t think he viewed the façade and imperialism, as he came to understand it, together until he was being accused of striking Mr. Harry Sanderasekara.

Just a couple of the things I enjoyed about the piece. There were some images and turns of phrase that were comedic. The inclusion of photographs made the reading much more real, but at the same time contributed to a sense of the surreal in Woolfe’s recorded memories. I think it will be interesting to compare this piece to Burmese Days in that there are a lot of similarities. However, the tone is totally different.

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Misery loves company

October 29, 2009 by vanessatan · 1 Comment · Uncategorized

Since we were on the topic of gender, and particularly the representation of women in the modernist colonial texts, I think it will of interest in our study to highlight the profoundly telling similarity in the dialectic between surface and depth in the subjectivity of the female/colonized other in Leonard Woolf’s Growing.

Introducing the readers to Sinnatamby at the Jaffna country club, Woolf writes: “I used to watch Sinnatamby with some interest, a big stoutish Tamil in a voluminous white cloth and towering maroon turban… He was extremely respectful, but I sometimes thought that I caught in his eye a gleam which belied the impassive face when some more than usually outrageous remark… echoed up into the heavy scented immense emptiness of the tropical evening sky… I could imagine generations of Sinnatambys standing respectfully behind their white masters in India right back to before the Mutiny – and some of them with that gleam in the eye getting their own back during the Mutiny.” (45-46)

This image of Sinnatamby in a “voluminous white cloth and towering maroon turban” is later uncannily mirrored by Mrs. Dutton, “dressed completely in white in a voluminous, bride-like dress”, her “glossy black hair parted in the middle”. Looking as though “filled with bridal veils”, the “overpowering smell of clean linen” betrays a “feeling of unmitigated chastity”, and the Dutton’s bedroom figures as a kind of virginal prison chamber. If women can only achieve legitimized status through marriage, then Mrs. Dutton’s unconsummated marriage would make her an less than a legitimate entity, thus marking an affinity between the conditions of the English woman in the outpost and the colonized native; both are colonized subjects and held in servitude to the white man.

Sinnatamby’s white garb of servitude is undercut by the gleaming eye, the deep though unspoken intent of “getting their own back”. Interestingly, the women characters are portrayed to have more constrains set upon them by the natives. Mrs. Dutton suppressed her unhappiness over her marriage in a “patter of expressed and unexpressed misery” while Mrs. Price, conscious of maintaining an appearance of ladylikeness tired to conceal her misery, “except for the unhappiness terribly stamped upon her face. In Woolf’s narrative of displacement, the European women in the colonial outpost are presented as severely displaced, and it is as though only by wearing bride-like dresses and signing off with conviction her husband’s name – both acts as validation of the male figures’ masculinity – can the women validate their legitimized status as married women.

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Fierce Creatures!

October 29, 2009 by danielsoh · 1 Comment · Uncategorized

I find Woolf’s protrayals of animals very “strange”, to use a word he seems to like. It is not just that he’s sentimental to an almost Disney-like level, but that he seems to portray more identification with the animals than with other people. Where his descriptions of people are so often laced with a wry cynicism, his descriptions of animals are straightforward and almost contain a sense of awe in them. Woolf sees the possibility of developing with them an “affection of a purity and simplicity which seems to [him] peculiarly satisfactory”, and in that I believe there exists Woolf’s take on the modern world: it is easier and more satisfying to develop kinship with animals without the petty politics and quest for control that was not only pervasive in the age of colonialism, but even til today.

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Impressionistic Aesthetics in Growing

October 29, 2009 by ritchellchoong · 2 Comments · Uncategorized

I’m going to hop on the fictionality bandwagon here too. I found the autobiography to be strangely surreal and impressionistic in the way everything is portrayed such that, like Russell, Peiyi and Yuying, I found the believability of this self-claimed autobiography quite questionable. However, to me what really highlighted the artifice of this autobiography is not just the references to the fictional characters or the theatrical elements mentioned in the text that my classmates have already brought up. Instead, I believe that this questioning of the text’s reliability can also be examined via its aesthetics.

The impressionistic way in which the landscapes are drawn up in Growing – the descriptions elephant pass and the “thick jungle thin[ning] into scrub jungle and then into stretches of sand broken by patches of scrub” and the “gaunt disheveled palmyra palms […] sticking up like immense crows” – sounds a lot, to me, like rather vague and brush-stroke-blending way of glossing over the landscape. While the writing of an autobiography banks a lot on memory and remembrance, I couldn’t help but notice how the writing is really veiled by a layer of rose-tinted of nostalgia, and that the descriptions are reflecting psychological landscapes and the overall impression of the place rather than placing emphasis on any type of accurate representation. And this is why I want to suggest that his writing is actually very impressionistic; because the attention he pays to detail in the landscape isn’t really a matter of trying to convey accurate and realistic portrayals of landscape-mapping but rather, his descriptions perform an attempt in trying to achieve an overall effect of what it looks like the perceiver’s mind’s eye. And it is the impressionistic element of his writing that, to me, undercuts a lot of the reliability of what he is saying in the text. I’m not suggesting that he is deliberately lying or changing facts but I think the impressionistic aesthetic really highlights just how re-constructed his stories and recounts are and we really ought not to take everything he says to the last word, because there is a sense that these stories are told as he remembers them in the overall memory he has of Ceylon, more so than what exactly transpired in that land.

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Performing a Sahib

October 29, 2009 by rebekahyeo · 1 Comment · Uncategorized

When reading Leonard Woolf’s growing, what stood out especially was the performance element of the sahib as a stock character which everyone is required to play in the same way against the backdrop of imperialism in order to qualify as a good fellow. Mundane things like a game of tennis followed by the routine conversation revolving around banal topics are given an almost religious, ritualistic aspect. This element of performance is seen in texts like Burmese days, Passage to India and Shooting the elephant but not as explicitly as in Growing.

Set in this unreality, it is no wonder the sahibs are able to divorce themselves from their natural and perhaps more humane selves which they have left behind in the real world England and become fully immersed into their roles as the colonizers where aggression and a propensity for violence and even odd behaviors are encouraged. When the protagonist’s dog displays  an uncharacteristic violence toward the native animals, its aggression elevates him in the eyes of the other sahibs and this suggests that a similar attitude from him towards the natives would be encouraged.  Indeed, the native may even be seen as below the rank of the sahib’s dog because when the sahib’s dog vomits on a native, it is treated as nothing offensive or out of the ordinary. 

The effect of living in the performative space is that when one is onstage, one is expected to play one’s role and sustain the illusion. In sustaining the illusion, it does not matter if one is required to play the villian because it is only after all a role which does nothing to change the notion of one’s true self. Thus, the sahibs both have the liberty/ and are compelled to do what they need to do in order to sustain the illusion of empire and that is performing over and over what it means to be a superior sahib in a self- reaffirming lie.

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Fiction vs. autobiography

October 29, 2009 by hoyuying · 1 Comment · Uncategorized

Like Russell and Peiyi, I was also struck by the rather ‘fictional’ feel of Leonard Woolf’s Autobiography. Not only does he make allusions to literary figures and fiction in general, the general tone, pace and structure of the writing seemed very Victorian-fiction to me. What particularly struck me was this sentence: “I set out for Jaffna with a Sinhalese servant, my dog, a wooden crate containing Voltaire, and an enormous tin-lined trunk containing clothes” (23).

If this were a piece of fiction that we were doing a close reading of, I think we’d all fixate on the choice of these things that accompanied him on his journey, and look for structural symbolisms and other, deeper meanings to them. Yet, I’m not sure if this speaks more to our ‘over-enhanced sense’ as literature students, or the blurred lines between fiction and autobiography. At the same time, it occurs to me that the most enjoyable autobiographical writings are those that read like fiction (here I can’t help but think of Roald Dahl’s Boy). I mean, that is precisely the reason I find Virginia Woolf so unreadable—’high Modernist’ writing that rejects the conventions of rigidly controlled linear-narratives propelled by events might be closer to ‘life as it was lived’, but it’s definitely hard to read, or it is for me at least.

Taking the consideration of fiction-vs-reality in another direction, can autobiography ever really capture ‘truth’, or recap events as they happened? To a certain extent, isn’t all writing re-creation, fiction? Personally, whenever I’ve read autobiographical works, I’ve always wondered how on Earth the authors remember tiny details—for example how could Leonard Woolf possibly remember what he brought with him on that journey, much less the details of what type of trunk his books were packed in?

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Woolf’s “Growing”

October 28, 2009 by leewenting · 1 Comment · Uncategorized

“… the cafe waiter who is doing his job just a little too keenly; he is obviously ‘acting the part’. If there is bad faith here, it is that he is trying to identify himself completely with the role of waiter, to pretend that this particular role determines his every action and attitude. Whereas the truth is that he has chosen to take on the job, and is free to give it up at any time. He is not essentially a waiter, for no man is essentially anything.” – Sartre on “bad faith”

With Sartre’s quote we may try to apprehend the moral crisis of identity which often faces the figure of the reluctant colonist – be it Woolf or Orwell – in his uncomfortable feelings towards imperialism and empire. In Growing I feel that Woolf paints his autobiographical character with greater depth and conviction, for if Orwell’s Flory’s interests and contemplations are often self-serving, Woolf incorporates both the psychological interior and exterior dilemmas of the reluctant colonist in his theatrical personae, the public mask and façade of the surroundings, as well as the dilemma of being the colonial administrator which entails making difficult decisions affecting the native people in various operational duties.

Woolf likens his initial experience in Ceylon as a kind of ‘second birth’ and I feel the need to link this second trauma of alienation and estrangement, of being brought into an entirely new world, to explain why the colonizer acts as he must as the enforcer of imperialism. He has to validate his existence in an alien world and justify his righteous power over the people. Coupled with Woolf’s moralistic ideals and his altruism, such tensions doubtlessly surface in his self-reasoning: ‘to them I was part of the white man’s machine, which they did not understand. I stood to them in the relation of God to his victims: I was issuing from on high orders to their village which seemed arbitrary and resulted in the shooting of their cows. I drove away in dejection, for I have no more desire to be God than one of his victims’.

The way in which Woolf depicts his orientalist attitudes towards native life and culture, together with his humanist philosophy towards animals, nature and even Buddhism, are at odds with the façade of his public personae as the  harsh and no-nonsense colonial administrator. But like Orwell, Woolf is at least faithful to a genuine depiction of colonial experience through the lens of a former colonist. One cannot begin to attack a system until one has had real experience of being in it, as is the case for imperialism and the complicity of the reluctant colonizer.

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Inscrutability of the colony

October 28, 2009 by charmainetan · 1 Comment · Uncategorized

Leonard Woolf’s autobiographical account in Growing reminded me of Orwell’s ‘Shooting an Elephant’, in that they both highlight the white man’s increasing sense of alienation and unease in the colony. Woolf’s recounts his life in Ceylon as a civil servant stating that there “always retained for [him] a tinge of theatrical unreality”. This reminds me of the idea of performativity that we have discussed in Orwell’s narratives where colonial masters are required to act according to the code of the sahib. For Orwell, the expectation to act accordingly resulted in the loss of individual freedom for both the white man and the native. He then saw this as the oppression of the machinations of imperialism that he desired to extricate himself from. However in Growing, the “theatrical unreality” that Woolf describes seems to hint at his own sense of unfamiliarity with Ceylon (which is after all, geographically and culturally far removed from England), and the uncanny feeling that the colony produces in Woolf. In addition, Woolf also states that “the whole of [his] past life in London and Cambridge seemed suddenly to have vanished, to have faded away into unreality”. This alludes to his own displaced identity onto a foreign land, detached from his own history. His new environment was vastly different from what he was familiar with (even the pace of life and ease of accessibility in London and Ceylon are seen in contrast to each other), and this unfamiliarity made him uncomfortable within the colony, despite his privileged ruling position.

Woolf’s description of Jaffna country also reminds me of the inability to understand the essence of the colony due to the inscrutability of India in A Passage to India. The “long distances and difficulties of transport” and the immensity and vastness of Jaffna allude to the difficulty of accessing the place both literally and metaphorically:

Here again is one of those featureless plains the beauty of which is only revealed fully to you after you have lived with it long enough to become absorbed into its melancholy solitude and immensity.

Plainly speaking, the colony was inaccessible to the imperialist because it seems to be limitless (the sands “stretch far away” under the “enormous sky”) and existing outside the scales of comprehension. Thereby creating the sense of “theatrical unreality” that Woolf feels in his participation in the colonial enterprise.

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To Convince Oneself: The Unconscious Discourse of the Lie in Woolf’s “Growing”

October 28, 2009 by ELIZABETH JOY TAN TIAN HEE · 1 Comment · Uncategorized

I found reading Woolf’s “Growing” both an exercise in amusement and one of irony. I was certainly entertained by his anecdotes, and found it refreshingly straightforward, much like Orwell’s account of life in Burma. At the same time I was amused / entertained, I was also (perhaps as product of this course) skeptical of his account, particularly what I considered his romanticisation of the native figure.

Surprisingly, he denies that he is “sentimentaliz[ing] or romanticiz[ing] them”, yet goes on to discuss how they are “nearer than we are to primitive man… [it] is not their primitiveness that really appeals to me. It is partly their earthiness, their strange mixture of tortuousness and directness, of cunning and stupidity, of cruelty and kindness…” I do not believe it is possible for Woolf, in his capacity as an outsider, to be able to objectively observe the native people without imagining them in an idealised frame of reference.

This is not really the issue. Said would vehemently disagree but in any case I think it’s natural that in the absence of more complete knowledge of anything, much less something as foreign and as contrary to the familiar as the “native figure”, one naturally employs one’s own frame of reference to understand something else.

What I take issue with is the defensiveness with which Woolf insists even in using a European frame of reference (alluding to a Hardy novel at that!), that he is not romanticising the native. It is as if the very idea that one should be romanticising the native figure is wrong and therefore as long as one says one is not, one isn’t. It is an unconscious lie he engages in, unconscious because of the very reflexivity with which he says “I’m not doing this” then proceeds to do it anyway. And in some ways it is an interesting indication of the meeting of the reality of the East with the discourse of the West. The two are incompatible to the European mind, one cannot admit to orientalising even if it is the most natural way of expressing what one sees and understands of a foreign world. What an artificial declaration this proves to be, since what Woolf really is doing, is romanticising the noble savage.

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finding merit in Woolf’s life

October 28, 2009 by carolinesng · 1 Comment · Uncategorized

My first reaction to Growing was “gee… i’m glad he doesn’t write like his wife.” I think in many ways, Leonard Woolf led a fascinating life and the autobiographical mode in which he tells his story makes it more personal for us. But as Russell and Kaiquan have suggested, one has to question his motives in claiming this text as an autobiography. can we indeed take his word for it when he says,”I had entered Ceylon as an imperialist … The curious thing is that I was not really aware of this.” I think in some ways we can.

His experiences in Ceylon made him increasingly anti-imperialist, so he quit the service in 1911, married Virginia and he became a left-wing realist and one of the key players in the Labor Party. There is no doubting that his role in the British administration made him jaded and dispassionate towards the natives and we shouldn’t condone his exploitation of the native women through prostitution. But that being said, i do sense that he felt uneasy being a part of the system of imperialism:”strange and disconcerting. The backcloth … was imperialism” and how he felt a “twinge of doubt in [his] imperialist soul.” And i think that Woolf does suggest that a radical change is necessary and that the colonial government no matter how ‘good’ it is, is no replacement for self-government of the native people. And he took this 7 years of experience back with him and tried to use his writing to advocate world peace (International Government) and use his position as secretary of the Labor Party to better the conditions of the poor. I think that Woolf recognized his inability to fight the colonial system (like Orwell in Shooting an Elephant) and so he leaves and tries to influence social change in other ways (way better than to perpetuate the system and kill an innocent animal in my opinion). And i think that that is his own way of negotiating imperialism and dealing with the guilt that it brings. It might not be the perfect solution, but at least he tried and i think that that in itself is commendable.

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On Leonard Woolf’s autobiography

October 28, 2009 by MA PEIYI · 1 Comment · Uncategorized

I must say I really quite enjoy this piece of autobiographical work by Leonard Woolf. However, the reason why I thoroughly enjoy the work is mainly attributed to the fact that it read like a work of fiction/travel literature more than anything else, a work of memoirs that had been dramatized and enhanced through whimsical and even hyperbolic expressions. This really raises the concern of slippages between fact and fiction, though. If the work is meant to be autobiographical, the contents would more or less be seen as factual events that had transpired in the author’s life, how then do we draw the line when it comes to interpreting the truth behind the elegantly composed and fictionalized aspect of the work? Woolf draws much amusement when he compares certain real life personalities to Jane Austen’s characters and at one point even suggested that ‘people in rotten novels are astonishingly like life’, further blurring the boundaries between reality and representation, and almost evoking the idea that there isn’t one to really begin with in the first place.
However, certain statements in the writing are reminiscent of ideas underscored by Orwell’s Shooting an Elephant and Burmese Days -the performativity aspect of identity. Woof also points out that the Anglo-indians and imperialists were essentially ‘displaced persons’ and that they all ‘pretended to be tougher, more British, more homesick….’, etc. And if we take into consideration that Woolf himself, having similarly undergone the pressure of an imperialist just as Orwell did, there is certainly a similar tract in their portrayal of the psychological stress that the white, imperial figure finds himself being entrapped within.

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Performance of Britishness.

October 28, 2009 by annabellelow · 1 Comment · Uncategorized

The colonialists had their own struggles with identity. While in the colonies, they bonded together by pretending “to be tougher, more British, more homesick than we really were, yet there was a pinch of truth and reality in all our posturings” (47). In actual fact, the colonialists were much better off in the colonies than at home as Leonard says,”we were all grand, a good deal grander than we could have been at home in London, Edinburgh, Brighton or Oban. We were grand because we were in the ruling class in a strange Asiatic country” (24).

Here, we see the British colonialists themselves trapped within this concept of ‘Britishness’. They are caught within their loyalty to their home country, and their enjoyment of their grander lifestyle. They feel as if they are constantly forced to perform the part of the colonizer. Woolf calls it acting upon a stage and constantly uses the words ‘facade’, ‘masks’ and ‘perform’, in addition to other words that allude to acting. We see this in Orwell’s ‘Shooting an Elephant’  as well, where the protagonist feels pressurized by the natives into killing the elephant even though he does not want to. He is compelled to perform his role as a colonizer, and feels like a great pretender. Similarly, Woolf echoes this when he says “I had put the finishing touches to a facade behind which I could conceal or camouflage my intellect and also hide from most people, both in Ceylon and for the remainder of my life, the fact that I am mentally, morally, and physically a coward” (37).

Perhaps the colonizers felt this need to act the part of a colonizer over the natives in order to maintain and reinforce their power over them. This also reveals that these differences are constructed and exacerbated. Once this wall between the colonizer and the colonized is broken, the colonial social order may crumble.

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The Autobiographical Genre

October 28, 2009 by RUSSELL DOMINIC TAN WEN YI · 1 Comment · Uncategorized

What struck me while reading selections from Leonard Woolf’s Growing this week was the autobiographical genre that the work classifies itself under. Why claim that a work is autobiographical? Does it make the work more believable? Interestingly, many fictional references appear in this autobiographical work, such as Woolf’s mention that in moving to Ceylon, ‘one feels as if one were acting in a play or living in a dream, and plays and dreams have that curious mixture of admitted unreality and the most intense and vivid reality’(21). This juxtaposition of autobiography with fiction continues with Woolf describing his life as a ‘theatrical unreality’, performing on ‘the stage [that] was imperialism’ (24-25). Woolf even describes the people he meets as a ‘Jane Austen character’ or a ‘character in a Kipling story’ (42, 46). All these deal with the relationship between fiction and reality, summed up in a nutshell by Woolf himself: ‘I could never make up my mind whether Kipling had moulded his characters accurately in the image of Anglo-Indian society or whether we were moulding our characters accurately in the image of a Kipling story’(46). How do we reconcile the autobiographical genre of Woolf’s work with the fictional aspects of it, keeping in mind that the Conrad works we read earlier in the module were also highly autobiographical, but that Conrad classified them as fiction? Is there some form of narrative ethics being negotiated here?

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Filtering the self through fiction

October 28, 2009 by huangkaiquan · 1 Comment · Uncategorized

In ‘Growing’, Woolf often compares the people he comes across with literary characters in order to illustrate better for his readers that which he is talking about. The first instance of this (in ‘Jaffna’) was when he compared the G.A’s wife, Mrs Lewis to Mrs Jennings of Jane Austen’s ‘Sense and Sensibility’, and it struck me as being amusing.

But I soon realized that his tendency to look at people with ‘literary lens’ reveals the political nature of reading – it is very much about power. An example is when he compares the white residents of Jaffna to characters in Kipling’s works:

The white people were also in many ways astonishingly like characters in a Kipling story. I could never make up my mind whether Kipling had moulded his characters accurately in the image of Anglo-Indian society or whether we were moulding our characters accurately in the image of a Kipling story. (p.46)

Not only does this bring to attention the power of representation – it is not only the colonised, but also the coloniser who is perhaps mis-represented, and consequently, influenced and changed by those mis-representations:

We all pretended to be tougher, more British, more homesick than we really were, yet there was a pinch of truth and reality in all our posturings. (p.47)

Along the same lines of reading the self, as well as colonial relations through texts, Woolf includes letters from this past. These he suggests show clearer his state of mind at those points in time. It seems to me that in reading his ex-self, he works to exculpate his present-self – he distances himself from his past, a past which he underscores already give ‘exaggerated, one-sided picture[s] of the writer’s state of mind’ (p.61).

Thus his candidness in talking about his ex-self as ‘imperialist’ needs to be reconsidered – to what extent does he assume responsibility for his part as agent of empire? Or does he use texts to evade the blame, casting his ex-self as simply some character whose motivations could be deferred and excused by writing and by fiction?

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The empty shell

October 28, 2009 by charleneong · 1 Comment · Uncategorized

Leonard Woolf’s chapter on Jaffna seems to highlight the oppressiveness of colonialism which represses individuality, forces the creation of a façade, and therefore creates a kind of spiritual void in the colonizers themselves.

Woolf “feels as if one were acting in a play or living in a dream” and felt as if the civil servants in Ceylon, himself included, “were all always, subconsciously or consciously, playing a part, acting upon a stage”. He then speaks of how he “developed, in part instinctively and in part consciously, a façade or carapace behind which [he] could conceal [his] most unpopular characteristics”, in order to keep up the image of him as one of the good fellows. The idea of  a façade and theatricality serve to highlight the daily performance required of the colonizer (think of the narrator in Shooting An Elephant), while I found the choice of the word “carapace” extremely apt in suggesting that the colonizer is but an empty shell, forced to be devoid of individuality and spirituality. In contrast, Woolf reflects how the natives “do not conceal their individuality”.

As such, Woolf shows how as “displaced persons”, they become “unreal, artificial, temporary and alien”.  Human beings become no different from “manikins”. This induces in Woolf “a feeling of impotence, the dwarfing and dooming of everything human in the enormous unpitying universe”.  I think this very pertinently describes the effect of colonialism on its colonizers; that it robs even the colonizers of their individuality, resulting in a loss of vigour, and thus an emotional and spiritual sterility.

“We may live our whole lives behind our lace curtains in the image, not of God or man, but of the rubber stamp and the machine”  – This sentence neatly illustrates the oppressiveness of  the system of colonialism on the colonizer, pointing to the futility of existence in having to repress his individuality and become a soulless, mechanical replica of the model colonizer. Not just for Woolf but for the other civil servants, they are shown to be no more than cogs in the machine.

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