Note-Taking for Joyce (Jessica)

We had two presentations yesterday; we talked about language in Joyce as a tool of re-appropriation. The result of re-appropriating the English language, through deconstruction (and taking quotes out of context as Michelle mentioned) is to create an artist’s ownership of it. Most importantly, this ownership (as painted/achieved by the artist) belongs to the artist alone. Joyce therefore posits the existence of Irish Nationalism (perhaps as a means of dealing with the discourse of colonization) through the assertion of individuality (“a” portrait, not an objective, all-consuming “the” portrait), identity and creation.

However, the class had a bit of a debate over the idea of Stephen’s desire to “fly by these nets”. These nets are identified as nationality, language, religion. The fact that Stephan says “fly by” and not “fly from” strike many as significant, because it undermines the idea of totally escape and denial. During the second presentation, the exploration of myth as a motif in the text supports this idea. Even thought Stephan adamantly declares “non serviam“, he proves himself unable to disentangle his identity from the history of his own existence. If Stephen can be considered both the figures of Daedalus and Icarus, then as Daedalus, he has created art (as the second presentation mentioned, “the fabulous artificer”), but as Icarus, he is unable to escape the prison (ie, the “nets”).

Lastly, we talked about art in terms of modernity and Modernism (the aesthetic movement). Stephen’s search for transcendence has been undermined constantly in the text. His diary entries actually hint at a degeneration of sorts, and as Rebekah mentioned, there are many incidents that undermine other momentary “epiphanies”.

I don’t know how relevant this may be to the module, but interestingly enough, these “little epiphanies” can also be seen in Virginia Woolf’s texts- most specifically, in To the Lighthouse. In the dinner scene at Mrs. Ramsay’s house, she finds a moment of “stability” (Woolf 142), yet she knows that “this [moment] cannot last” (141). There is also an artist figure in the text- Lily Briscoe, who manages to complete her painting, just as Stephen is able to complete his own portrait. Yet, as the class mentioned, with so many instances of irony in Joyce’s text, how transcendental or “successful” is his attempt at transcendental art?

Very interestingly, Rebekah also mentioned that the act of pinning down truth is one that is fixed, ordered and stable. While grabbing at coherence, the act of truth-finding is reductive. This can be seen in A Passage to India, where the image of India can never really be understood or described. There is too much ambivalence, and in trying to “discover the real essence of the land”, the characters find themselves thwarted (they will never know the “real” India), violated  (Adela), or dead (Mrs. Moore).

Da Vinci is Indian

We discussed plenty about Western cultures colonising the East, read about how the British in India acted with an air of superiority that more often than not lapsed into sheer racism and how even the sky itself denied this bonding between “native” and coloniser in “Passage To India”. So what happens when reality is thrown a crisis of knowledge and the “natives” start making a claim to art that we thought was originally European?

Da Vinci is Indian

Comic relief aside, the video (and the series “Goodness Gracious Me” for that matter) emphasises the impact of colonialism on ethnicity, culture and the everyday life in the modern world. It draws laughs, and then attention to our perceptions of India(colonized) and its relations to Britain(colonizer), without causing racial sentiments on either side of that gap to boil over. Fanon’s article seems to emphasize (overly, in my opinion), the need for blood, guts and gore to level the playing field between the colonialists and the natives. Granted, there probably is a very significant disparity in time between the end of colonialism and this BBC comedy series, but art and humour wound in places bullets can’t reach. Forster’s novel, while I’ll admit will never ever be one of my favorites, is to be appreciated for being unique in that it doesn’t exoticize the East; it doesn’t lapse into a romantic attitude of India and other British colonies that can simply be understood by “visiting”. It haunts readers because it reminds us that there are forces that have the potential to keep people apart no matter how much we try to bridge that gap, or how much we try to cruelly absorb another culture.

Forster’s novel may not be as humorous as the video (you guys absolutely HAVE to laugh at it; I shun the unappreciative), but both draw on colonialism and modernism to express deeper anxieties in mankind that cannot simply be smoothed over by shedding the blood of a generation or two of the “Other”.

On Violence in Passage to India

I’d admit that it was more than a little frustrating to read Fanon because of his rather extreme, over-generalized statements on the colonialists and the colonized. Was the colonized world really divided in two? Wouldn’t Fielding/ Mrs. Moore be an exception to that case? Is the ending really unambiguous, suggesting that reconciliation and equality between the colonialists and the colonized is (at least temporarily) impossible?

What intrigued me, however, was his idea of decolonization- a term I hardly come across. Fanon mentions repeatedly that the colonized have imbibed the violent disposition of the colonized and will continue to perpetuate their ways. The colonized is much more concerned about taking the place of the colonized than competing with them. My take is that decolonization, for Fanon, is not entirely possible. And here I am reminded of a moment in the book when Aziz and Huzoor talk about the flies on the ceiling (pg. 262):

‘Look at those flies on the ceiling. Why have you not drowned them?’

‘Huzoor, they return’

‘Like all evil things.’

Hassan then related how the kitchen-boy killed one snake by cutting it into two and creating two snakes in its place instead. Imagine if you tried cutting the two snakes up again. A never-ending infernal cycle! In my own opinion, however, the ending of the novel isn’t as straightforward as it seems even though the ‘hundred voices’ oppose the friendship between Fielding and Aziz. It’s interesting to note that the last mention of Fielding names him as ‘the other’ and that his question of ‘Why can’t we be friends now?’ is (I argue) really left open-ended because we don’t get to read about Aziz’s response. Before that, Aziz’s interaction with Fielding is both intimate and hostile with him riding against Fielding furiously and then ‘half kissing him’.

The Discourse of Violence

I thought of blogging about this because it is related to my part in the presentation tomorrow, but since we have limited time to give our parts, here are some more interesting points I picked up when reading Fanon that I won’t cover in my presentation.

Fanon talks a lot about the undeniable violence wrecked on the colonised by the coloniser, and about how this violence is not limited to specific cases, but is something that is universal and “can break out anywhere” (Fanon 42). What I found most interesting is the discourse that both the coloniser and the colonised enter into in the act of imperialism. Because both parties participate in this colonial discourse, only the colonier can understand the language/meaning in the violence of the colonised (and vice versa); this is due to the fact that the colonier has also wrecked the same violence on the colonised, and will therefore recognise the similar retaliation. In Forster, despite the fact that the characters simply cannot come to any complete understanding of each other, there still exists the common recognition of violence (specifically, imperial violence) between the coloniser and the colonised.

Thus, the idea of the British Quest in India is one that is fraught with the kind of violence that Fanon identifies. Forster uses various metaphors, motifs and analogies that capture the action-reaction cycle (referred to by Fanon as “extraordinary reciprocal homogeneity” 46) of imperialism. Thus, we are forced to wonder if reciprocal violence is indeed a necessary evil in the discourse of imperialism and postcolonism. The “intuitive” (33) understanding by the colonised identified by Fanon certainly reiterates this- if the colonised know nothing but violence in the act of imperialism, they will undoubtedly think that violence is the only way of responding to it. If we think of imperialism as a unique language, then the only means of communication will therefore be using the same language.

Lastly, Fanon observes that even with independence, the colonised have regained “moral reparation and… dignity” (40), and that the only way to seek solace in their unwitting participation in the colonial discourse, they have to engage in violence to purify their history and achieve equality with their colonisers. Therefore, ironically, to cancel and forget colonial violence, the colonised have to acknowledge and even enter into that which they are trying to triumph over in order for it to vanish from the history books.

Revisiting Chandrapore: Second Impressions and Sympathy

Since the first lecture, I’ve been churning that introductory excerpt from A Passage to India over in my mind. I thought it curious that the reader is introduced in such an apathetic, even disinterested manner, to a place that should be (given the period) and usually is made extremely exotic.

I’m starting to think that perhaps it is a technique Forster uses to gain the reader’s sympathy for the land, the physical space and its contents (terrain and local people). In predisposing the reader to sympathizing with the people–Aziz–even in the introduction to Aziz as a character, one reacts as he does to the foreign British.

Perhaps it is romantic of me, but the way in which Forster sets up Chandrapore and characterizes Aziz seems to use a sort of reverse psychology, endearing the entirely un-interesting Chandrapore to the reader as if from the eyes of a local who sees flaws and treasures in the same glance, equally and indifferently. Aziz on the other hand, pulls a similar trick by presenting himself as a well-natured, good-hearted man when he visits his friend; highlights the previous impression of Chandrapore by admiring the beauty of his favorite mosque; but gives a strange second impression when he flares up at Mrs. Moore. His redemption occurs when the reader realizes that he does it out of love for his faith and place of worship  and he is readily willing to admit error and make peace with Mrs. Moore.

The interactions with the British in Chandrapore are made more real and the tensions between Aziz and Adela are emphasized by the sympathy and empathy the reader has for Aziz and Chandrapore over the foreigners.

General thoughts on A Passage to India

Here are some of my initial thoughts on the novel. Unlike many of the literary work I’ve read concerning Imperialism, A Passage to India pays attention to the interior life of both the whites and the natives, which I found to be very refreshing. I don’t know if the Indians are misrepresented here, but they are definitely not under- represented. While Forster is obviously critical of the British, he does create, in readers, rather mixed reactions towards all the characters. Characters comment/ reflect on other characters and the different perspectives we get of the various characters at different moments serve only as a rough gauge, and not a complete synthesis, of who they really are.

At times, Forster’s writing style reminds me of Woolf’s. For example, on page 70 (penguin classics edition), Ronny’s thoughts on ‘the spoilt westernized’ blends seamlessly into Aziz’s thoughts on his own conduct and then we get an almost disorienting perspective from Fielding who, as we read on and then realize, is seeing them from across the garden like ‘a scene from a play’. Even reading the chapter on the Bridge Party, I got a sense of things being multifarious yet ‘shapeless’. I was overwhelmed by how quick the narrative moved from one person to the next, and how abruptly these thoughts and sensations ended.

Perhaps this murky, dream-like quality of the novel ties in well with the motif of the mysterious Marabar caves. Many of the characters’ desires and anxieties are half-articulated. Forster uses the notion of ‘namelessness’ or ‘formlessness’ throughout the novel: we have the nameless bird, the unidentified hyena/ghost, Fielding’s religious song which had the illusion of a Western melody and which ceased casually halfway through a bar.

Treatment of the Marabar Caves in Forster

Forster provides us with amazing descriptions of landscape in his novel. India is seen through various representations- the Himalayas, the Ganges, Chandrapore, holy spaces, and the Marabar caves. Yet, there is undeniable ambivalence when it comes to his depiction of the Marabar caves. For example, Forster calls ‘the visitor’ of the caves ‘uncertain whether he has had an interesting experience or a dull one or any experience at all’ (116), and while this might echo his own ambivalence towards India (or more specifically, British imperialist attitudes in India), it suggests that the caves are so overwhelming that it numbs and confuses the senses. Visitors simply will not be able to decide how they feel about the caves (perhaps as a holy space). The Marabar caves as a suggestion of elusiveness and mystery is an important motif in the novel- we are unclear about whether Adela’s experience is an ‘illusion’, reality, or simple misunderstanding. The caves are also a place of uncertainty, as even Aziz admits that he will never find the same place within the caves again; despite the fact that he is their official “guide”, he is also not spared by the ability of the caves to confuse and trick.

 

Forster links the cave to a ‘holy place’, as does Aziz, thereby accepting the mystery that surrounds it, but Adela and Ronny both express a need to put ideas and events into neat categories. Adela laments that ‘good, happy, small people. They do not exist, they were a dream’ (193), and Ronny expresses his frustration with the fact that the caves are ‘notoriously like one another’. Also, his suggestion that ‘in the future they were to be numbered in sequence with white paint’ (188) suggests that he possesses a strong desire to simplify what he cannot understand/identify, resulting in a loss of meaning.

 

The source and existence of the echo that Adela hears in the cave is also never resolved for us. Moran suggests that it is a reminder of the evil she has done (both towards violating the cave, and for falsely accusing Aziz). I think that the ambivalent space of the caves, along with the suggestion of violence (and perhaps crime?) wrecked against India by the British, is very effective as a motif in the novel.

 

References: http://muse.jhu.edu.libproxy1.nus.edu.sg/journals/modern_fiction_studies/v034/34.4.moran.html