Notes for the presentation titled ‘The Artist Figure in A Portrait of the Artist as A Young Man’

Five points that were raised during the presentation titled ‘The Artist Figure in A Portrait of the Artist as A Young Man

 1. Language as having the autonomy at making connections on its own. This is rasied with particular reference to the presence of what we call ‘stream-of-consciousness’ in the text.

 2. Loss of faith in religion as reason for rise of the epiphany. This can be seen from Stephen’s rejection of priesthood while embracing his destiny of being an artist, a realization he received from the epiphanic moment he had with the girl at the beach.

 3. The epiphany can be viewed as a narcissistic experience. This makes Stephen more of an aesthete than artist, because the latter requires humility.

 4. External reality is perceived by Stephen as a representation of something else (i.e. a metarepresentation). Thus, the connection to reality to his own consciousness makes him God-like and therefore again valorizing the artist as a supreme figure.

 5. An epiphany is always accompanied by ironies. This is an issue raised during the discussion after the presentation. The notion here is how could one create a national identity that is obliterated from any notion of nationalism at all?

Note taking: Week 11, Woolf “Growing”

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.

Note-taking for Lord Jim (Wk 7): Overall Summary

Topic of Class

Week 7’s class focused mainly on the questioning of a singular perspective (whether of Marlow’s viewpoint in Lord Jim or Alfred Russel Wallace’s views in his scientific travel book The Malay Archipelago), highlighting how the methods employed (written and oral narrative or empirical evidence) resulted in an effect on the reader’s perception of an issue (Jim’s identity or the nature/characteristics of the Dyaks).

The first part of class centered on the uses and effects of narrative in Lord Jim.  The presentation first explored the employment of both the oral and written traditions to question the stability of Marlow’s role as storyteller and author. The presence of various narrators giving rise to multiple perspectives was then investigated, questioning the possibility of ever getting a true representation of Jim’s identity.

The second half of class was then devoted to the discussion of how Wallace’s text relates to Lord Jim and how both texts exemplify the crisis of knowledge and representation. The importance of being aware of Wallace’s employment of the empirical evidence methodology and its ability to shape results was underlined, but more pertinently, the issue of how science is employed to augment power was raised, and how it in turn justifies instances of colonialism seen even in Lord Jim.

 

Examples

The power to construct truth

“My information was fragmentary, but I’ve fitted the pieces together, and there is enough of them to make an intelligible picture.” (Conrad 262).

Just as Marlow has the power to fit pieces of information together and give us his account of Jim, Wallace has the power to designate and scribe his opinions of the characteristics of the Dyaks. Even in Wallace’s collecting of butterfly specimens, it involves a tedious process of selection, which points to the artifice of construction and how methodology can affect results. Here, we see how those in power are privileged to select and show us their version of truth, which thereby points us back to the questioning of the authority and reliability of a singular perspective and constructed “truth”.

The power of empirical evidence to inadvertently justify colonialism

Wallace asserts that the “limited number of [the Dyak woman’s] progeny” (70) is due to the “hard labour of the women, and the heavy weights they constantly carry” (70). He continues to state that with advancing civilization, better systems of agriculture and division of labour, “the women will have more household duties to attend to, and will then cease to labour in the field” (70).

Here, Wallace implies that with improving systems of agriculture and labour division, less physical labour for the Dyak women and increased attending to household duties would result in higher fertility for them, which instead validates (and exalts) the Victorian practice of relegating womenfolk to the domestic sphere and their role as caretakers of children. In making such a statement, he also highlights the sensibility of the “high class European example” (Wallace 71), and justifies colonialism to improve the natives’ way of life.

 

Connections with Other Topics from Other Weeks

Both the presentation on Lord Jim and the discussion of Wallace’s text led us to question the possibility of a true history when told only from a single person’s perspective. The idea of moving from a singular or fixed viewpoint to embracing a multiplicity of perspectives is one that has resonated throughout our module so far.

If we recall the readings in the second week, Gikandi’s article brought us to an understanding of how Picasso’s art plays with perspectives to complicate the meaning of things, just as Auerbach suggests how the consciousness of a range of characters in Virginia Woolf’s To The Lighthouse also opens us to different readings of the “real” Mrs Ramsay. Similarly, in Forster’s A Passage to India and Conrad’s Heart of Darkness, the varying perceptions of India and the various narratives in HOD (whether from the narrator to us, Marlow to the narrator, or from others to Marlow etc) respectively actually contribute to a more all-encompassing view. However, to be able to reach the real India/Truth is still ultimately impossible, just as the true identity of Jim remains “inscrutable” (Conrad 318) and an “insoluble mystery” (Conrad 234).

In looking at renowned biologist Alfred Russel Wallace’s scientific travel book containing his (skewed) opinions of natives that seem to only justify colonialism, we discussed the idea of power: Power, not just to inscribe characteristics onto a native people who could not speak for themselves then, but power to influence the masses, and power to pass on HIS opinions as truth. This power Fanon speaks of too, in the colonist solely and continually fabricating the image of the colonized, passing that image off as truth. We can perhaps better understand Achebe’s anger towards the classification of Conrad’s Heart of Darkness as a great work of art, of the power of aesthetics and art to gloss over, play down and disguise racism, such that despite propagating such racist depictions, the novel still remains an influential piece particularly in British literature, widely-read and greatly-loved.

Note-taking for Lord Jim (Week 7) – Part I

Topic of Class

The presentation today was mainly concerned with the overarching theme of narrative (both the oral and written tradition) and how these narratives help shape the construction of identities in Lord Jim. The presenters explored the use of frame narratives, missing narratives and misappropriated narratives in order to highlight both the inadequacies and strengths of such an act of storytelling.

One of the biggest inadequacies was the way that the failure of language highlights the instability and subjectivity of narratives, particularly the oral ones. Because there is a sense that many oral stories are told can be altered according to the way audience response. (Said: “…a storyteller has the power to shape his material to match his audience’s response)

But the group also suggested that this was also a strength for the oral tradition, because it involves many more people than a writing process would, which in Said’s words, is essentially a “work of solitude”. The valorization arises from the fact that oral traditions are rooted in the idea of the Gemeinschaft (community) which places value on the plural and fluid multiplicity of perspectives. Hence, by putting these various perspectives together, Conrad not only manages to highlight the fact that having a singular coherent narrative is impossible, highly artificial and unconvincing, he also manages to effectively highlight the narrative gaps in the story, suggesting that indeed there are many multiple ways of approaching and understanding a part of the “Truth”, as opposed to one hard and fast method of doing so.

The group also discusses however the fact that oral narratives necessarily beg the complicity of the reader/listener. This is because in listening to the story, not only are the listeners made to become “keepers of Marlow’s story”, their participation in reproducing the story also therefore means that they have an ethical responsibility towards the text and future readers/listeners as well.

The group then explored the idea that the written tradition provides a foil to the unofficial oral tradition, in that a written narrative which is considered “official” is often left unquestioned as a unified objective understanding of the “Truth”. Through various explorations of underlying assumptions, the presenters hence pointed out to us the need to question the singularity of writing exercise and the way it blanks out and obliterates multiplicity. They suggest that the function of written narratives is not to provide plurality or a chorus of voices, rather, they are there to define, archive, remember and also confine. i.e. in trapping Jim in a static text, one can then look at him with retrospective glamour or nostalgia. However, there’s also the increasing awareness that the act of writing is also an act of appropriating, selecting and mediating, so that at any one point you can never really retrieve the essence of the moment anymore – i.e. “No live-entering”. Worse, the power of writing diminishes when one realizes that the final outcome is fixed and immutable and that ultimately, language sets you further away from the truth than it brings you closer.

Lastly, the presenters considered how the construction of Jim’s identity is done via the mediums of other characters like Marlow, Brierly, Brown and even Tam’Itamb. Also, even Jim’s construction of his ownself is highly problematic. He will not and has not forgotten the fact that he jumped ship but he lives in this narrative and fictionalised reality so that he can re-write the guilt and the past. So the juxtaposition of these narratives raises the increasing awareness that Jim’s glorified narratives are constantly undercut by his past narrative upon the Patna. As a result, Jim is always in a personal tug-of-war with himself. So, there is a sense that the Jim we know is the collection of various perspectives we have retrieved so far. Yet in our pretended belief that we are getting closer to who Jim is, there is also an increasing sense of estrangement from his character. This is especially so if we consider the open ending – an ellipsis. Here, the audience/readers can take away whatever they want from the ending and therefore construct Jim for the way they assumed him to be. Seeing how this is subjective, then can one then ever really know his character?

Example(s)

EG. Official written as unquestionable? Wallace’s reading was considered one of “best scientific travel books”. While you believe him because of the empirical evidence methodology that he utilises and because of his authority as an established biologist, there is a sense that as he describes what he observes, he ends up prescribing our constructed imagination of the dyaks, chinese and malay respectively. As a result, a strong racism is embedded in the narratives passed on as truth!

E.G. Ethical complicity: the man on the verandah “He paused again to wait for an encouraging remark, perhaps, but nobody spoke; only the host, as if reluctantly performing a duty, murmerd – “ You are so subtle, Marlow’” (Conrad, 256) So, the man on the verandah becomes complicit in listening and responding to the story that the narrator. Then, “He existed for me, and after all it only through me that he exists for you. I’ve led him out by the hand and I have paraded him before you” (Conrad 172) As a result, as listeners to this tale, we also implicitly become “keepers of Marlow’s story”

E.G. Writing as defining; as archiving; as remembering and as confining. “Wallace associates a Charaxes kadenii butterfly with a moment in time when a boy brought it to him. “ “And Stein similarly felt a huge sense of happiness in capturing his butterfly”(Conrad 161). Here, while being able to capture the immense overwhelming force and internalising it as fulfilling, the inherent fallacy then becomes evident when you realise that everything is still selected and mediated, and that it’s not just merely collection.

E.G.: Construction of Identity through others: Brierly saw himself in Jim and in a sense because he recognised his own ability to be cowardly and guilty, it’s as if all his attempts to stay together in one piece and to be honorable and ideal previously were pointless and futile. Hence he commits suicide (Wake 92-3) Brown as Doppelgaenger: “And there ran through the rough talk a vein of subtle reference to their common blood, an assumption of common experience, a sickening suggestion of common guilt, of secret knowledge that was like the bond of their minds and hearts” (Conrad 296) Tamb’itam echoes Jim’s thoughts: “’It is not safe for thy servant to go out amongst the people,’ said Tamb’itam…It was not safe for his servant to go out amongst his own people!” (312)

Connections with Other Topics from Other Weeks

The questioning of the reliability of narratives whether oral or written is not a new topic. We have done with Heart of Darkness and to a certain extent we even questioned the gaps of narrative in Passage to India when we no longer heard the narratives of Mrs. Moore, Adela and Aziz (at different points in the book). Today’s discussion really opened up this debate and extensively highlighted both the successes and failures of reading/writing. However, there is also the fact that because we are aware of the shortcomings, therefore there is the possibility that we are not disempowered by this lack of total knowledge; rather, we are empowered in the sense that we have access to a plurality of perspectives that puts us in a better position to understand and approach the heart of the matter. That being said, this is also nevertheless undercut by the fact that every subsequent story we tell will never allow use full access to the past already. (Think: No live-entering argument) So perhaps our sense of empowerment as a reader also depends highly on how aware we are of our shortcomings, assumptions and responsibilities as readers to a text.

Note-taking for Lord Jim (Week 6)- Part 2

Topic of class

The question that dominated the second part of the class was whether we could consider Lord Jim, with its self-proclaimed subtitle, to be a romantic text. ‘Romance’ refers largely to the late 18th century movement, Romanticism, with its notions on idyllic/ gothic nature (a reaction against civilization), and the prizing of journeys over destinations. It can also refer to the novel in its early, vernacular form (romances of the medieval ages).

Some argue that certain aspects of form and themes in the text are romantic. For example, Jim can be seen as the typical romantic hero/figure who sets off on a quest when young, grows in the process, yet also fails spectacularly. He is the quintessential over-reacher, and arguably, so is Marlow and the reader, for they are attempting to reach some sort of ungraspable truth of Jim and understanding of the events in the novel.

However, keeping in mind Conrad’s Polish heritage and family background, it appears more likely that Conrad is writing in reaction to Romanticism. He is making use of certain conventions in order to critique and undermine the movement. Conrad shows how Jim’s futile imagination leads to cowardice and how the romantic dream, with its ideals of morality and honor, fails in modern life and in the context of imperialism.

Example(s)

‘He saw himself saving people from sinking ships, cutting away masts in a hurricane, swimming through a surf with a line; or as a lonely castaway, barefooted and half naked, walking on uncovered reefs in search of shellfish to stave off starvation. He confronted savages on tropical shores, quelled mutinies…’ (Chapter 1)

This choice example highlights the way in which Conrad critiques the romantic imagination and its brand of heroism. Jim’s daydream prevents him from taking action (genuine work seems to be a concern of Conrad; it saves Marlow’s sanity in Heart) and he is too late (so says the captain of the ship) to save anybody. Yet, the ‘pain of conscious defeat’ didn’t deter him and he swore to ‘affront greater perils’ the next time. We all know what happened to that in chapter three.

Connections with other topics from other weeks

We have seen how Forster uses the idea of the quest only to debunk it in A Passage to India. Similarly, Conrad has shown in Heart of Darkness that his work is a mixture of (what we now perceive as) modernist and non-modernist elements, as well as being both (possibly) racist and anti-imperialist. It is therefore not surprising that in Lord Jim, he both relies on and departs from the romantic tradition. The modernist movement does not come out of a vacuum but breaks new literary ground by reacting to something before it.

Class Notes Template

MODERNISM AND EMPIRE CLASS NOTES TEMPLATE

Topic of Class

(Replace this text with a 150 word summary written in clear, precise and grammatical English. What were some of the most important issues discussed in class today? You can also choose to write a general topic summary and then have smaller side topics branching off from the general topic.)

Example(s)

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Connections with Other Topics from Other Weeks

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