The roles played in Empire

As I was reading Fanon’s article, I realized that the colonial enterprise only worked as well as it did was because both sides (colonized and colonizer) acknowledged their respective roles and performed them accordingly, especially when it comes to upholding the rules of language. It is only through the modernist writings that we have encountered during this module that we can see the cracks in empire as a result of either side being reluctant to play this role. In Fanon’s article, he mentions that “But we can already state that to talk pidgin-nigger is to express this thought: ‘You’d better keep your place.'” (84) Thus, there is a conscious effort to talk down to the natives as a result of the need to uphold these performative colonial roles and the  natives have to respond according to how they are expected to respond. It is when they refuse to respond as such, or even try to speak like the colonizer that there is trouble.

Moreover, the paradox of wanting to speak like the colonizer/the white man is the fact that while the colonized are described as uncivilized because of their inability to grasp the language of the colonizer, when they finally are able to grasp the language and perhaps can even speak the language better than the colonizers themselves, they are told to stay in their place, as seen in the example in Burmese Days that Charlene pointed out below.

Also as a sidenote, the point that Fanon made about “the Europeans [having] a fixed concept of the Negro and there is nothing more exasperating than to be asked: ‘How long have you been in France? You speak French so well'” (35) is still quite prevalent in today’s society in terms of how Europeans have a fixed concept of the Other, i.e people from Asia etc. I personally encountered this when I was on exchange in Glasgow last year. I had a consultation with one of my history professors regarding my essay and she commented on how my mastery of the English language was excellent in my essay and how  she was so astonished because I probably spoke Mandarin where I came from. Of course, it was awkward that I had to clarify that firstly, I did not speak Mandarin at all and secondly that English was the official language used in Singapore. But the point is that even after all these years, the European fixed concept of the Other still holds true. Moreover, the fact that she assumed that I could speak Mandarin reminds me of how the colonizers used to disregard the different cultures, and by extension languages, that existed in Africa and instead assumed that everyone spoke the same language as a means of  dehumanizing the Africans further by resisting to acknowledge the multi-farious and complex nature of their culture. But ultimately, it is obvious that language played a significant role in keeping both the colonized and colonizer in their respective places.

Ireland and identity

It was very interesting to read Jackson’s article about Ireland and its place in the Empire. I was always confused with Ireland’s position within the Empire and the present United Kingdom due to the separation of the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland and it seems that this article cleared a lot of my doubts. So far, we’ve been reading texts from a colonizer’s point of view but Joyce’s text is interesting because his (/Stephen’s) position as a colonizer or colonized is quite ambiguous. Ireland, despite being part of United Kingdom, used to be a colony and this notion causes a lot of conflict when it comes to its national identity. I visited Belfast last year, and despite Ireland having long been declared a free state, there is still conflict as to whether the Irish identify themselves as British or Irish (for example, you are not allowed to fly the Union Jack in certain parts of Belfast) and I could still see the effects of the economic drain of Empire on it. I think this conflict of identity really exemplifies the dichotomy between who was considered a subject or citizen within the empire and how this dichotomy affects the creation of national identity. I also feel that a lot of modernist writing concerns itself with the search for identity and Joyce’s text, to me, is about the search for identity – whether it be a national identity or his identity as a writer. However, I think that this identity cannot easily be defined as a simple uniform, permanent entity but a fluid, changing one.

Note-taking (Oct 22, Part 1)

This week in class, we began by looking at a short clip of Michael Kimmel giving a lecture on gender studies and it was interesting that we should start with it because he brought up the notion of how gender had always been presumed as a “woman’s problem” and how men do not think that it is about them and this one-sidedness is very political.  Another issue that he brought up was how race complicates the notion of gender and like gender, race is visible only to those are afflicted by it and thus he suggests that by extension privilege is invisible by those who have it. This is interesting because by conflating race with gender politics, he is drawing our attentions to the fact that these social constructs are merely instruments of upholding patriarchal power. Kimmel also discussed that he being a white middle class male, what right does he have to talk about gender and this brings forth the notion of responsibility and right. I think this can be related to Achebe’s article where he discusses his position in trying to redeem the image of Africa, and to a large extent Africans, that was portrayed in Heart of Darkness.

We then moved on to a more general discussion of gender. These were some of the points brought up:

–          Gender as a social construct vs. biological construct of sex and because of the fact that gender is a social construct, there are certain norms ascribed to it that emphasizes the performative aspect of gender.

–          Gender is tied to culture – different views of gender roles in different cultures.

–          Gender as part of a larger issue of identity politics.

–          Even though gender politics tend to highlight the plight of the oppressed women and men perceive that it does not involve them as Kimmel mentioned, both men and women are tied down by these constructions. E.g. boys are told to behave in a boyish manner: to play with toy cars instead of dolls, girls to sit properly etc.

–          This was discussed as a reflection of a kind of social order as a means of disciplining the masses and thereby highlighting the larger issue of the power structure of patriarchy.

–          However, there is also a tendency to bring gender politics into a text that is not necessarily gender biased or even aware of its gender biasness and it may seem forced at times.

–          In a way, this can be seen as an overcompensation for women: because of the long history of oppression done to women, there is a tendency to overcompensate for this long history by labeling every text that even has a tiniest hint of bias against women as misogynistic and oppressive. Here, it was highlighted that this is one of the pitfalls of abstract theorization.

–          However, even though at times it may be seen as an overcompensation, it is important that we do look at texts and apply these gendered readings to them as it is more dangerous to not allow the opportunity of theorizing.

–          Similarly, as Achebe pointed out in his article ‘An Image of Africa’, it would be more dangerous to simply see Heart of Darkness as a text about the degeneration of a European mind than to accuse Conrad of being a racist.

–          Gender, like all social constructs, is seen as a kind of marker, a means of establishing a form of typicality

–          The issue of stereotypes was raised by our guest speaker, and he established the fact that there is nothing wrong with stereotypes as it is a way of gaining access to something one does not know, however, it starts becoming dangerous when one solely relies one’s view of a gender/race/etc. on it and that enforcement of these stereotypes without clarification is dangerous.

–          Gender is a fluid/changing construct and at times most take it for granted that the social norms of gender are universal, when in fact they are not. An example given: the hijras in India who are considered the third sex and even though as a group, they do not have a place in the so-called universal social construction of gender, they are revered in India.

–          Our guest speaker also clarified the origins of the term ‘patriarchy’ in that it was not originally associated with men, but with power but because of the evolution of the power structure such that men were the dominant group in power for much of history, the term patriarchy eventually became associated with the rule of men.

–          It would be useful to look at Foucault’s theory of productive power as a means of analyzing gender politics.

This week’s presentation concentrated on gender oppression and modernism in Burmese Days. The crisis of gender in modernism was highlighted. The notion that modernism, classified as high art, was considered a male domain was discussed as  problematic and at times, this misogynistic view is seen in texts. It is interesting that in this module itself we are studying modernist works of male authors. Are we too partaking in the idea that modernism as high art is a male domain?

The presentation discussed gender oppression, but it concentrated largely on the oppression of women in the text and it seems that we, as readers, tend to fall into the trap of what Kimmel talked about, thinking that gender oppression is a women’s problem. Peiyi clarified the fact that men too are oppressed in Burmese Days by gender rules/stereotypes, especially Flory, who in the end dies because of the very fact that he was not able to subscribe to the prescribed notions of his gender and of his race. Moreover, even in Shooting an Elephant, we see that men are oppressed by the masculine imperialist ideology to behave in a certain way. The narrator in Shooting an Elephant has to actively participate in the upholding of said ideology by behaving in a manner fit for a colonialist, his actions are dictated by this ideology. It is because of this that he shoots the elephant even though he does not feel the need to but by doing it, he reinforces his role as a male imperialist in the colonial world. Similarly, in Burmese Days, Flory has to follow the rules of the pukka sahib.

The notion of women being active agents of empire was brought up, a point that Stoler’s article mentions. The way by which the European women treat the natives is seen as their own version of upholding the ideology of empire and by extension gender rules. There is distrust on the part of European women towards the natives and some of it stemming out from a belief that natives are highly sexualized figures and thereby posing a real threat to these women. Thus, by treating the natives in the way that they do, they are upholding the ideology of empire. However, Stoler’s article discusses how this perceived threat was a seed planted by imperialism as a means of using women as the basis of upholding the imperialist ideology.

Women are also seen as craving an access to the imperial project by reinforcing the notions of Englishness and otherness, however, this notion is contested on the grounds whether it is a conscious effort or not. This is seen in Burmese Days with Elizabeth constantly commenting on how ugly the Burmese are and by extension implying that they are ugly because of their very difference to the English. This can be related to the notion of the rule of colonial difference discussed by Chatterjee. Even when Adela in A Passage to India is relatively civil to the natives and shows an interest (albeit superficial) in seeing the “real India”, she is interested in the exoticness of India which seems to suggest that she is interested in the very different way that India contrasts to England and thereby simply reinforcing the notion of colonial difference. Moreover, with Elizabeth’s entrance in Burmese Days, she tries to impose Englishness by bringing up notions of morality and manliness, which eventually lead to the Flory’s demise.

In Heart of Darkness, we also see the role of women in the reinforcement of imperialist ideology and upholding the rule of colonial difference. This is seen in one of the few times in the text where the European woman is being mentioned and it is significant when a woman is mentioned in the text, she only serves to enforce the Englishness/European-ness vs otherness. In the text, the European is described as being the refined opposite of the Amazon with descriptions like “she had a mature capacity for fidelity, for belief, for suffering.” Thus, this relates to the point that Peiyi brought up in her presentation that women in the colonial context are seen as either a legalized entity or a disposable commodity. In this case, the European woman is both, because while she is a legalized entity, she is seen as a disposable commodity in the way she is being used to highlight otherness, she can be seen as a mere prop. Similarly, Adela can also be seen in the same light. After the fiasco of the trial, she appears to be discarded like a commodity because her use as an imperial ideological tool had ceased.

European women: savior-scapegoats of Empire

As I was reading Stoler’s article, it seems that whatever she said seems to be applicable to A Passage to India. This is especially so when she says that “Their (European women) presence and safety was repeatedly invoked to clarify racial lines.” (57) Recalling  A Passage to India, the Anglo-Indians used the pretext of a supposed attack on Adela as a means of clarifying the racial lines that Stoler talks about. It was after the supposed attack had happened that they started proclaiming how wrong it was to even think that the natives were any bit civilized as to even host a bridge party for them. Moreover, Stoler also mentions that “European women needed protection from the “primitive” sexual urges aroused by the sight of them.” (58) Again, recalling A Passage to India, even though Aziz himself found Adela to be quite ugly and rather unattrative, the Anglo-Indians already had this mindset of the sexualized native and seized upon the opportunity that presented as a means of upholding the racial distinctions and thereby to punish the native as a way of putting them in their place.

I entitled my post “European women: savior-scapegoats of Empire” because of the fact that even though they are being heralded as the ones to be protected, they are at the same time “frequently blamed for provoking their (the natives) desires.” (60) Again, in A Passage to India, when Adela refused to testify against Aziz, she was similarly blamed which seems to imply a classic case of blaming the victim. Thus, European women in the colonies seem to have it much worse than women back in Europe for they are being used as emblems of colonial laws but at the same time being blamed for being what they are.

Further, in Burmese Days, even the natives tend to have a greater hate for European women such that “englishwomen [were] considered a race apart, possibly not even human.” (115) In a way, the European women are almost worse off than the native women as they are being scapegoated for the harsh laws that the colonial government impose on the natives even though they cannot really do much about it. These women also tend to not have a choice when being sent to the colonies to be married off, as Elizabeth in Burmese Days, having to choose living a life of relative poverty in Europe or being the savior-scapegoat of Empire.

Colonialism and perspectives

I would like to discuss the notion of perspectives in Shooting an Elephant because that seems to jump out when I was reading the short story and by extension, I would like to posit that colonialism was all about perspectives and that the reason why it could sustain itself was due to manipulation of perspectives. In the short story, the narrator draws the reader’s attention to the native’s perspective of the white colonizer, in that while the natives hated the colonizers, they feared them so much so they did not have the “guts to raise a riot”. Similarly, because of the native’s views on the colonizer, the narrator felt that he should uphold the stereotype of the white tyrant for fear of being laughed at. Thus, here the perspective that one has of the other shapes the colonial relationship between colonized and the colonizer.

In Chatterjee’s article, she puts forth the notion that colonialism prevailed because it focused on the differences between the Western and Indian modes of thinking. It seems that if the colonizers had a different perspective of India, not as having a totally different and therefore inferior system, but instead as an alternative system with similar characteristics, the colonial enterprise would have been very different. Instead, by focusing on differences, it provided for justification of colonialism’s hard hand on India and the Indians. Moreover, she mentions that by establishing the fact that they were bringing modernity to India, the colonizers were able to manipulate the perspectives of the natives to view them as “saviors” to make India modern and thereby maintaining their rule over the natives.

The Dyaks and Sir James Brooke

While the Wallace travel narrative does read like what a travel narrative is supposed to be, it is imbued with a moralistic tone. He seems to describe the Dyaks through European lenses and measuring their morality (if any) by European standards. While he does try to subvert common descriptions of the Dyaks at that time, by measuring them through European lenses, his description of the Dyaks and their morality is counterproductive.

Moreover, while he bestows morality on the Dyaks, a quality that makes them human, he does not relinquish the notion that they are still savages. This is obvious in the section where he says that “these people have passed beyond that first stage of savage life in which the struggle for existence absorbs the whole faculties, and in which every thought and idea is connected with war or hunting, or the provision for their immediate necessities. These amusements indicate a capability for civilization.” (Wallace, 68) Thus, despite the fact that the Dyaks are morally superior to the Malays in Borneo, compared to the civilized Europeans, they are still savages and bestowing morality on them is only a matter of principle.

Further, the way in which Wallace describes the Dyaks almost seems like he is overcompensating for something. He repeats how “truthful” and “honest” they are numerous  times throughout his text. But it becomes clear throughout the end of the Borneo section why he seems to be overcompensating. By describing how morally superior the Dyaks are, despite being savages, Wallace is simply trying to emphasize how Sir James Brooke managed to “civilize” these savages. This reminds me of Achebe’s discussion of Heart of Darkness and how some considered the natives, and to a larger extent Africa, to be merely a backdrop to the unfolding of the degeneration European mind. Here, the presence of the natives seem to serve a similar purpose, to glorify the civilizing power of Sir Brooke. It seems as though the only reason Wallace ascribes all these moralistic qualities to the Dyaks simply to exalt the power of the European mind to “civilize” the savage.

Even though it is problematic to constantly compare the natives by European standards, it would have been quite difficult at that time to describe the natives without referring to Europeans as a sort of a benchmark. I think that perhaps it would be acceptable to compare the natives with the Europeans, however, it is not necessary to see Europeans as the superior counterpart (in terms of morality, physical features etc) simply by virtue of their race. It is also important to discard notions of binaries between the natives and Europeans but instead acknowledge that perhaps there isn’t much difference between these two races.

Marlow and morality

While the text itself is titled Lord Jim and that it chronicles Jim’s fall and “rise” in the Patna and Patusan episodes, what is most interesting is Marlow’s struggle at representing Jim. Conrad in choosing to introduce Marlow as a the narrator in Chapter 5 instead of having the omniscient narrator throughout introduces a human dimension in looking at Jim and in effect introduces the notion of the difficulty in representing someone through narration. Even though he was “one of us”, in Marlow’s words, he seems to grapple in telling the story of Jim. This is perhaps due to the fact that he finds himself moralizing Jim and his actions and thus unable to present Jim as he is, but instead a moral Jim.

Marlow’s moralizing ways probably arises from the fact that he finds himself trying to find excuses for Jim’s moral fallibility in the Patna episode and thereby he seems all the more eager to recount the romance that is the Patusan episode. It almost seems that in telling the story, Marlow is projecting his own anxieties on Jim, which I feel is reflected in his opening in Chapter 5 where he addresses the fact that “each of us has a familiar devil as well.” (26) Even though Marlow with his own set of moral ideals seems morally infallible, unlike Kurtz or Jim, he acknowledges that he too might eventually fall in a moment of weakness and therefore he found it necessary for him to “straighten” Jim out. Moreover, even though the Patusan episode seems rather disparate from the Patna episode in that there is totally different feel to the narration, that the Patusan episode was described almost as a romance, this disparateness was necessary for Marlow to quiet his moral anxieties.

Maintaining colonial superiority

I really enjoyed reading Achebe’s article because when I was reading Heart of Darkness, I found Conrad’s racism so unnerving. But of course, in his defense, he was writing at a time where such racism was considered normal by Western standards, in fact encouraged.

I found Achebe’s discussion on how the representation of the native Africans, the other, as an antithesis to the civilized Westerners especially interesting. The whole notion of projecting Western anxieties onto a foreign other seems rather blatant in Heart of Darkness especially as Achebe’s article points out, in the contrast between the Amazon woman, who is simply described as “savage and superb” (Achebe, 785) and not given a voice,  and the European woman who had the “mature capacity for fidelity, for belief, for suffering” (Achebe, 786). It is significant that Conrad chose those exact words to describe the European woman because it represents civility which the African, according to Conrad, seems to lack.

However, the desire to paint the Africans as barbaric stems from the Western anxiety of maintaining superiority. The fact that if Africans were to be “trained”, they would be able to behave perfectly as civilized Europeans simply show that when it comes down to it, there is not really much difference between the “savages” and the Westerners. This troubles the Westerners as they are no longer able to maintain this notion of superiority and in effect the rationale for colonialism, “the civilizing mission”. As such, Conrad is complicit in maintaining the colonial enterprise by perpetuating the barbaric native image.

The instance whereby Conrad perpetuates this barbaric native image is especially apparent in Conrad’s reducing African speech simply to “indistinguishable grunts” and when he does provide speech to the natives, it is only to prove their own barbaric nature. Thus, by taking away the native’s ability for speech, Conrad is not only taking away the civilizing quality of the Africans but also what makes them human. As such, Conrad is guilty in perpetuating the stereotype of the barbaric African but going a step even further by refusing them even their humanity.

Fanon and violence

While I disagree on Fanon’s insistence on categorizing the colonial world as Manichaestic, I agree with his claim that decolonization is a programme of complete disorder. Any process that seeks to remove a previous system in its entirety and to start anew with another system, especially in the case of decolonization in Southeast Asia where the system that was introduced is one that is not only new but has not been proven to work, would definitely cause disorder. His claim that decolonization is a programme of complete disorder brought me back to the last section (Temples) of A Passage to India where Forster documents a festival where there is complete disorder, and noticably there are not any Anglo-Indian characters in this section. Perhaps Forster was also already aware of the violence that was to come with decolonization.

Also, I feel that while violence is never a good way towards striving for a resolution, I feel that decolonization was a necessary violent process. After the violence that had been inflicted upon the natives during the process of colonization, I feel the only way to start completely anew is through violence as a ‘cleansing’ process. As such, even though the violence that decolonization brought about was viewed as only another example of native barbarism and as such seemed to only proved that they weren’t ready to be free from the colonialists, I feel that it was a way that the natives could come out of the period of history which was marked with violence.

Modernism: Centre and Peripheries

The notion of the centre and the periphery in terms of the division of the British empire is an interesting way to look at a modernist text. The modernist text highlights the periphery aspects of a narrative, at a time when the peripheries of empire was acknowledged. In the excerpt from Virginia Woolf’s To The Lighthouse, the centre of the narrative is the actual event occurring at the moment, the measuring of the stocking; and the thought processes which seem to take up more time without disrupting linear narrative is the periphery of the narrative. What is interesting is the fact that these peripheries, the perspective on the surrounding furniture, perspective of “them” and Mr Bankes’s perspective, serve to explain the “sadness” in Mrs. Ramsay. While the centre is obviously stated, it is only through the study of the peripheries that one can fully recognize this centre. Thus, while modernist texts seek to represent an obvious subject, it is done through a reassessment through different perspectives.

Similarly, in the British empire, by highlighting the peripheries, the unimportant actors of the empire, the natives, the British society is attempting to regain a fragmented identity as a result of amassing a large empire. Thus, by drawing attention to these “peripheric” characters, which would have otherwise been neglected, it was a means to calm the anxieties of a decaying identity, for in contrast to the “uncivilized natives”, the British still represented civility and culture.

Even though modernist writing seem to break away from traditional structures of narratives by representing different perspectives and peripheries instead of wholly focusing on linear narrative, it still retains elements of traditional narratives in terms of explaining a centre – in most cases the development of a character.