Notes and such for 12th November

In today’s class, the first presentation regarding Ireland and nationalism framed the subsequent presentations and discussions adequately. Michelle suggested in her presentation that Joyce’s work contrasted with the notion that nationalism is part of a natural progression following colonialism and decolonialisation. Joyce’s work instead presents nationalism as an assertion of individuality which is a culmination of various factors. The final slide of the 2nd presentation suggested a reading of Joyce as anti-modernist, if the term modernist is grounded in the philosophies of John Locke and David Hume (that took up some time). One of the points raised was how the history of modernity is longer than the time frame occupied by modernism, and it is necessary not to conflate modernism with modernity. Conflation came up again in the later discussions, this time concerning the figure of Daedalus and Stephen.


I proposed an explanation of the problematic quote based on the understanding that Hume and Locke are empiricists, a field of philosophy that suggests observations as the primary source of knowledge and hence the self, developed through knowledge, is constituted of observations.In Joyce however the observable cannot constitute the individual due to the indeterminacy of language that is used to record such observations. The example of the tundish was cited by Kin Yan(?). In that sense then, Joyce would be anti-modernist IF we defined the term according to the philosophies of the two philosophers.

I think conflation as a problem arose because of the nature of modernism and the text discussed today. One example used in class today was regarding the epiphany as used in Joyce’s work, part of Praseeda’s presentation. Stephen’s epiphanies contrast with Woolfian (Virginia) epiphanies, for example, in that instead of a unity of the self with the world around him, Stephen in fact becomes more distant. While observing the girl wading in the sea, he feels that she represents all women and acknowledges the sexual feelings that accompany his observation. At the same time he distances himself from the people who experience those feelings, privileging instead her association to Ireland. The distinction Stephen makes expresses a desire to move away from conflating perspectives, choosing instead to set himself apart as an artist exiled from the larger framework of society.

In another example, it was suggested that Stephen perhaps conflates the figure of Icarus and Daedalus, and tries to straddle the position of inventor – or the “brains”, and the user, – the “blonde”.

Links to other weeks and texts:

Conflation arises as a prominent issue in discussing modernism in other texts like Orwell’s “Shooting An Elephant”. In this text, it has been suggested in previous classes that there is a conflation of identities in the reluctant colonialist: on one hand he is required to perform his role as colonizer, but it conflicts with his individual beliefs and identity. The conflation of the two areas produces responses to colonialism that emphasise its complexities, rather than a valorization and exoticization of the colonial enterprise, or an outright disparaging of the process. To link this to modernist concerns, the problems with identity and nationalism point to the crisis of knowledge and representation.

What is India?

The complexities of India are made apparent in the novel and there is a sense of uncertainty about what India means/ is composed of. A Passage to India is characterised by divisions within the landscape and there is a crisis of representing India. In the final part of the novel, this crisis becomes more emphatic; Aziz questions the meaning of India and favours the inclusion of multiple meanings to the notion of a ‘general’ India.

Forster alludes to the belief that the ‘real’ is unattainable; India cannot be clearly defined. Adela’s shallow desire to see the ‘real’ India leads her to the Marabar Caves however, the trip does little to further her understanding of India. She does not arrive at a satisfactory concept of India and what happens in the caves is shrouded in mystery. The unusual circumstances that Adela undergoes while in the caves are never fully explained to us and this uncertainty hints at the inability to arrive at the ‘truth’.

In addition, the multiple religions portrayed in the text destabilises the notion of a unifying order since there is no singular god or belief. Religious beliefs are not adhered to and the different religions seem to morph into each other (‘God si love’ but the British do not embody Christian beliefs and persecute Aziz without evidences. Mrs Moore’s name is transposed onto that of a Hindu goddess, Esmiss Esmoor). The Hindu procession seems frivolous and irrational however, it redefines the tradition meaning of god and religion. Furthermore, the chanting of ‘come, come, come’ alludes to the difficulty in accessing a higher being and the attainment of a world without difference.

Crisis of representation: the model of modernist art and fiction

In “The Brown Stocking” Auerbach elaborates in detail the insignificance of exterior occurrences to interior processes as established in the narrative form of Virginia Woolf’s To The Lighthouse. In the passage Auerbach quotes from the novel, Woolf presents a discrepancy between physical and subjective dimensions – characterizing Mrs Ramsay by a mode of multiplicity (performing various tasks enabling the exterior events without neglecting the more significant inner events represented by her thoughts, Woolf creates synchronic dimensions in a diachronic narrative, a “multipersonal representation of consciousness” that is evident also in the art of the modernist period. Monet’s “Water Garden and Japanese Footbridge”, for example, portrays a similar multiplicity of reality in that the emphasis on light and how it changes our emotions and perceptions is more significant than the external image itself. Rejecting the idea of one fixed reality, a characteristic of modern art is it prompts for an investigation of objective reality by means of subjective impressions received by various individuals and at various times. This multiplicity that characterizes the modernist crisis of representation seems to registers the breakdown of traditional certainties and the attempt to construct alternative meaning and order.