Note-taking for second half of Week 9

Today’s class discussion focused mainly on ideas about the enforcement of colonialism, in various ways and means:

1. We discussed the threat posed by children of mixed parentage to the ‘rule of colonial difference’,

2. the ways the colonial state manipulated laws to justify its actions, and

3. the position and portrayal of the reluctant coloniser.

The first part of the discussion looked at Stoler’s article, where we considered the treatment of metis children as illustrated by the Sieur Icard case. Here, we discussed the ways in which ‘whiteness’ becomes problematised by the existence of the metisse, which blurs the lines between ‘white’ and ‘native’. At the same time, we also considered how colonial law and lawmakers were still able to exert their power by enforcing arbitrary definitions of ‘whiteness’ (in both a demonstration and assertion of their superiority). For example, not only did the colonial court have the ‘last say’ in the legal treatment of the metisse, it also tried to control the situation by enforcing laws that ‘decided’ on the status of metis children as white or native.

We then moved on to think about the links between the Stoler article and Burmese Days. Here, we discussed how Flory could be seen as a metis figure himself, because of his birthmark, which makes him half ‘dark’. We then considered various ways of reading Orwell’s portrayal of the two Eurasian characters in the novel, and how this reflected his attitudes towards them. Firstly, his portrayal of them as lowly clerks, and his likening of them to dogs possibly reflected his low regard of them. (“The two Eurasians had sidled up to Flory and cornered him like a pair of dogs asking for a game.” Chapter 10)) At the same time, some of us felt that his portrayal of them was rather sympathetic, and read this in two ways. (“Elizabeth had, in fact, decided to snub the Eurasians. She did not know why Flory was allowing them to hold him in conversation. As she turned away to stroll back to the tennis court, she made a practice stroke in the air with her racquet, to remind Flory that the game was overdue. He saw it and followed her, rather reluctantly, for he did not like snubbing the wretched Francis, bore though he was.” (Chapter 10)). Firstly, this could be Orwell’s deliberate denunciation of the imperialist actions that resulted in the existence of these metis children, and another angle from which to criticise colonialism. Secondly, that Orwell himself did not know how to portray these figures, as they were too ‘sensitive’ an issue. Considering this led to a discussion on where we hear Orwell’s voice in the text, and whether or not Flory can be seen as Orwell’s mouthpiece. While we considered that Flory, as the reluctant colonialist, could be Orwell (as the narrator in Shooting an Elephant could have been), this brought up the question of why, if Flory represents Orwell, he dies in the novel. This led to a consideration of Orwell’s guilt in having taken part in the colonial enterprise, and Burmese Days as his way of coping with that guilt. Looking at Flory as a reluctant colonialist, we compared him with Fielding, and also discussed why Orwell creates all these unsympathetic characters in the text, which led to questions about whether Elizabeth could be the real protagonist in the text, and how all this affected conveying Orwell’s message to the reader.We then considered that perhaps Flory is not Orwell’s mouthpiece, and that Orwell’s voice is not heard in the text, but rather, Orwell chose to show a ‘reality’ of the colonial situation, leaving it up to the reader to read what meaning we chose into the text.

Connections with Other Topics from Other Weeks

As mentioned above, this week’s discussion continued the consideration of the figure of the reluctant coloniser that was also present in Passage to India and Shooting and Elephant. Furthermore, we also used the idea of rule of colonial difference brought up in the Chatterjee article to consider the place and portrayal of the metisse in Stoler’s article. We also considered how Orwell is quite different in style from previous writers in the module, as rather than giving a clear message the way Forster did in Passage to India, he leaves it rather open to the reader to make meaning of the text. Furthermore, unlike Conrad, women are not silenced in this text, (consider the fact that some of us consider Elizabeth the ‘real’ protagonist). Orwell presents a fairly different picture of colonialism compared to Forster and Conrad, for the focus of the novel is clearly the reluctant coloniser and the problems that come with that position.

Power relations in Shooting an Elephant

Reading “Shooting an Elephant”, I think my responses to it were quite..’schizophrenic’ might be a good word. I was rather conflicted about how I felt, especially regarding the way power was portrayed. On one hand, it was quite a breath of fresh air to be reading a piece of writing where we see the coloniser from an entirely different point of view. The narrator himself admits that “every white man’s life in the East, was one long struggle not to be laughed at”—he is basically ‘powerless’ to the people’s demands, in that he must shoot the elephant or be humiliated. The subversion of the typical coloniser-colonised relationship is very interesting, because while other texts have shown us the ‘human’ side of colonialism, they’re still always untouchaby dignified and in control (think Passage to India). It’s almost as if there’s an invisible barrier that prevents that last ‘façade’ from being removed. Here, we’re shown this nervous policeman who hates his job because he knows just how tenuous the colonial control over the people is, which is really quite a different perspective from the way colonial power is shown in Passage to India.

Yet, on the other hand, I couldn’t help but be suspicious of the way colonial power was portrayed. It struck me as, well, too sympathetic to the colonisers. At this point, I’m probably veering into angry, chest-beating anti/post-colonial area, but still, I think it bears thinking about. I’m sure the narrator’s perspective is a valid one, and colonialism most likely didn’t have the all-powerful, absolute control it portrays in many colonial texts, but nonetheless, the fact is that the natives were evidently unhappy about colonial rule, a fact the colonisers were aware of. Furthermore, they were unable to manifest their anti-colonial feelings in any way other than passive aggressive jeering, tripping or betel juice-spitting. This to me reflected the utter  power that the coloniser wielded—and if the point is only alluded to at the beginning of the story, it is made quite unmistakable by the end. The narrator kills the elephant to avoid looking a fool, but British law makes it legal for him to do so, because a coolie had been killed, and the owner is helpless to do anything because “he was only an Indian”.

The coloniser-colonised power relations is quite completely complicated in this story—where does real power lie? In the hands of the colonised or the coloniser? I really have no idea.

Note-taking for the Second Part of Class (Week 4)

Why does Fanon’s discussion use binaries?

 Fanon discusses colonization in terms of binaries should be read within the context of Hegelian dialectics. According to Hegel, there is a thesis and an anti-thesis which are in opposition. Eventually, the thesis and anti-thesis will combine to form the synthesis, a process called sublation. This synthesis is supposed to be a form of progress.

 At the same time, such binaries really did exist in colonized lands. For example, the colonizer and the colonized are distinguished as “citizens” and “subjects” respectively. In that sense, the colonized do not have the same rights as the colonizer, as being “subjects”, the Social Contract does not apply to them. The arms of the government, the police, the army and the Law thus were obliged, by the Social Contract, to protect the colonizers (citizens), but not the colonized (subjects). The police, army and the Law thus quite literally compartmentalize the colonized lands by dividing it into two, the land of the colonizer and the land of the colonized. 

 Why does Fanon call for violence?

 Fanon’s call for violence stems from two general ideas.

 Firstly, there is the idea that the colonizer inflicts incredible violence on the native, but that act of violence is covered up. The idea of the Social Contract in terms of the “civilizing mission” is all well and good, but whether it was applied needs to be questioned. Instead of teaching the “barbaric natives” civilization (rationality, for example), the colonizers seemed instead to have taught them violence and to teach them to internalize an image of themselves as “inferior” and “barbaric”. For example, in A Passage to India, the natives often try to change their habits and manners to satisfy the colonizer’s values of what is proper, which illustrates that they have internalized the colonizer’s idea of what is “good” and what is “bad”. This is an act of violence because the colonized have internalized an image of themselves set by people (the colonizers) who do not have their best interests at heart. At the same time, actual violence is acted out upon the colonized. Aziz, for example, was arrested for a crime he did not commit. Significantly, the moment Aziz is arrested, his voice is no longer heard (quite literally) within the text. That could be an example of the colonizer’s violence against the colonized being covered up.

 Secondly, Marx’s ideas of a “class struggle”, strongly influenced by Hegelian dialectics, suggest that change can only be made through violence. This could explain Fanon’s dissatisfaction with the new class of “colonized intellectuals”. Essentially, the colonized intellectuals have internalized the values of the colonizer, and will try to resolve issues between the colonizer and the colonized peacefully. Thus whatever “new” system they form will merely be a replication of the colonizer’s system. There will thus be no change and no progress.

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”.

Abandoning binaries, embracing perspectives

While I was thinking about the divisions between colonists/colonized or West/East, it struck me how humans have this need for easy categorizations. Fanon says “It is the colonist who fabricated… the colonized subject” (2). The image of the colonized is created in opposition to the colonist. “The ruling species is first and foremost the outsider from elsewhere, different from the indigenous population, ‘the others’” (Fanon 5), establishing the difference in race, status, and other attributes between the colonist and the colonized. We are all too familiar with classifying Indians/East as rural, primitive, uncivilized, and superstitious, in comparison to the English/West as cultured, educated and rational. It is precisely such binary modes of thinking that creates a static, stereotyped image, which I think Forster tries not to fall into in A Passage To India.

Godbole is a fine example of a character that doesn’t fall into neat categories. “His whole appearance suggested harmony, as if he had reconciled the products of East and West” (65). If we look at the significant Marabar Caves, it is viewed by the English as a “muddle”, dangerous and disorienting. What the English see as a chaotic muddle, however, the Indians view as a beautiful, spiritual mystery. Just as “good and evil are different, as their names imply… they are both of them aspects of [the] Lord” (167), once again suggesting it is a matter of perspective. I think Forster propounds adopting an unconventional approach to reading the novel and reading people: learning to embrace different perspectives, realizing there is no one truth, just as India can be “a hundred Indias” (13). Only when we are open to other perspectives, will we be able to get a more all-encompassing view of the Truth, or the ‘real’ India.

Truth sets the native free, or does it?

I will look at a quote from Fanon’s article: “Truth is what protects the “natives” and undoes the foreigners” (14). This problematizes modernism as a form of decolonialization because it rejects naming absolute Truth, perhaps not so much because there isn’t any but because they feel humans lack the means of communicating it. For example, the caves always echo back “boun”, no matter what you say, which I think, illustrates the inadequacies of language.   

 

So, if “Truth” is what sets the native free, by refusing to bring the “Truth” to light, does Forster continue to keep the colonized “penned in”? For example, by refusing to reveal the truth about Adela’s attack, Forster makes Adela’s naming of Aziz as her attacker an ambivalent gesture. If she named Aziz as her attacker because she was assaulted by an Indian, and in the darkness had mistaken the Indian for Aziz, it reinforces the colonial mentality of the “absolute evil” of the colonized. If Adela had not been attacked, her naming of an Indian as an attacker could then be read as the colonial impulse to label the natives as “absolute evil”, as she had projected a shapeless, terrifying situation into the form of an Indian. However, I think that it is arguable that instead of penning in the native, the refusal to reveal the Truth might give readers the room to form their opinions on what happened, and thus force them to review their reasons for choosing to take a particular perspective.

Modernism and Anti-colonialism

 

What struck me in the novel is how modernism in theory (multiple perspectives and lack of an objective “Truth) seems quite compatible with anti-colonial sentiments. For example, even at the end of the novel, it is still unclear exactly what happened to Adela in the caves. As the episode was seen from Aziz’s point of view, the reader only knows that Aziz did not do it which only illustrates the “truth” as what it is “not” as opposed to what it “is”.

 

The lack of clarity on exactly what happened makes every opinion invalid, because they are simply speculation. In fact, I think what becomes important through this episode is not what really happened to Adela but how the multiple perspectives illustrate the underlying distrust the Indians and British have for each other. However, in order to continue to present a voice for the “Other”, there must be an “Other” to begin with. Through claims like “Suspicion in the Oriental is a sort of malignant tumour… in a way the Westerner cannot comprehend” (263), Forster clearly defines Indians as inherently different to the British. Moreover, he seems to focus on the “primitive” nature of India, like in his description of the “incredible antiquity of these hills” (115), how “India is really far older” (115), which defines it as “Other” to relatively modern Britian. Even though this is not necessarily a negative portrayal, nonetheless, his text still positions India as primitive and exotic, incomprehensible even to sympathetic British characters like Fielding.

The Marabar Caves

Or more specifically, the Marabar Caves and the television series “Lost”. The two share many similarities: an exotic location(the novel’s opening is like a panoramic scene from a movie), people who don’t really want to be where they are (Adela’s mind is on marriage, Aziz’s on breakfast, and everyone on the island wants to get off it), and a terrifying presence noone except the victim has seen or heard(an echo best symbolises the Caves, rustling trees the creature in “Lost”).

If a visit to the Marabar Caves is an attempt by the British members of the picnic party to access the “real” India, to glean some semblance of what an authentic India is, then the Caves’ ability to confuse and mislead even a native of the land highlights the impossibility of that task. Immediately, Modernist concerns of knowledge and representation echo in my head, as sure as the echo that plagues Adela. Truth with a “T” is substituted in the novel with the experience of a “real” India. That experience is at times awkward, at times terrifying and at times simply unrecognizable by the British, but it is present  in the strange nooks and crannies of the Marabar Caves.

As Adela is described running out frantically from the caves with cactus thorns pricking her and she melodramatically flings herself around, I cannot help but be reminded of those little trailers for “Lost” where some poor soul is running away through the bushes from the thing that ominously stirs the trees before killing them. Much like Truth for the Modernists, you know it’s there, you just don’t know what it looks like. It shakes the trees, lets out a growl or leaves an echo in your head. Many different forms, but you’ll never see the Thing itself.

Well, not until the next episode maybe.

Marabar caves

There seems to be a striking parallel between the experience of india and the experience of the Marabar caves. When beheld from a distance, the caves exude extraordinary beauty and vastness, the entire landscape is rendered exciting and fascinating. However, as discovered by the main characters (both british and indian), a journey to explore the caves only prove to be a gruelling and unpleasant affair. Every cave looks like the other, yet they are never the same. It is difficult to pinpoint or fathom one’s position within, or the relation that one truly bears to the surroundings. This overwhelming sense of ‘muddle’ that one experiences in an attempt to explore or grasp the Marabar caves can be applied to the various characters’ understanding and experiences of India.
For instance, the newly arrived Adela and Mrs Moore express romantic illusions and fascination with the country and are ever eager to ‘see the true India’. This initial attitude stands in stark contrast with the ‘anglo-indians’ or more seasoned white inhabitants of the place. To the latter, years of experience within the country have instilled the idea that India is a place without ‘order’ or ‘reason’, and represents a ‘muddle’ that they do not even bother to solve, just as the Marabar caves. While India is vast and magnificient, it is also divided and rooted in diverse traditions and customs. Like the caves that appear to be same but are never the same, the indians do not always identify with each other despite bearing the same nationality. Aziz himself proves to be critical of his fellow indians who are hindus. Therefore, even the natives themselves struggle to identify their position within society, a situation that is further complicated by the presence of the British.

Is the concept of Racism a new thing?

As we talked about racism/racist opinions of the colonials masters in the Gikandi reading, I found myself becoming increasingly aware of the fact that I recognised the racism immediately the way the colonial masters did not.  When I was reading Passage to India, I found several similar moments again in the text when I felt that the British racism is beyond acute; and yet disturbingly enough, the British (once again) manages to naturalize the racism – as if it’s only natural that the Indians are lesser beings because they weren’t white. Such moments include, “ Most of the inhabitants of India do not mind how India is governed. Nor are the lower animals of England concerned about England” (Forster, 104) and “when an Indian goes bad, he goes not only very bad, but very queer” (158) when Fielding is trying to argue for Aziz’s innocence and McBryde suggests Indians have no sensibilities to hide evidence even when they’re guilty of the crime.

 

All these things made me wonder subsequently, if our concept of ‘racism’ and the values we attach to ‘racism’ – i.e. that it is not a desirable thing, is really a result of post-colonialism; in that, I’m wondering if indeed it’s because we have come a long way from treating the subaltern as sub-human to a point where we see the need to see them as equals that we have become so aware of the racism inherent in such texts. It certainly cannot be that the British recognized their own racism in the colonial times but chose to ignore it. Rather, I believe that the concept of racism, and by extension – the ability to recognize racism, is possibly therefore still a rather new thing – one that is borne out of a changed consciousness in modernity.

Mrs Moore and the Marabar Caves

I think what really strikes me about Passage to India is how mysterious the Marabar Caves are and how they have exerted a sinister yet invisible force over Mrs Moore. Its shocking to me that a jovial character who bore good will to the natives can drastically transform into a detached and disagreeable person after having a sort of negative epiphany. I think that a great deal of this is attributed to the fact that all words including God’s Word is reduced to just an ‘ou-boum’ sound (139). Mrs Moore realizes that words that she valued such as ‘Let there be light’ and ‘it is finished’ (139) meant so little. She suddenly has no concrete universal truth to comfort herself and she is disenchanted; left in a state of uncertainty and flux. We think that she might search for new meaning in life by actively making meaning or deconstructing it, but instead, she seems to react in hopelessness to the situation, as if it dawned upon her that her efforts in extending kindness to the natives count for nothing and as a result, she stops trying. Perhaps this might resonate with absurdism and how Mrs Moore finds no meaning in life and stops striving and instead, she surrenders to the inevitability of things. Thus she becomes hollowed out, an empty shell of a person; one that is apathetic, detached and incapable of affection. Perhaps this suggests that Mrs Moore has been unknowingly poisoned by the Indian landscape i.e. the Marabar Caves and that her disagreeable behavior is a symptom of the Indian disease- she has become one of them. This is further supported with the fact that on her journey back home along the Suez, where “Asia weaken and those of Europe begin to be felt… Mrs. Moore was shaken off” (241). Her body is thus laid at rest in the Indian Ocean so she becomes part of India. She is also fondly remembered by Aziz and is worshipped like the goddess by the natives. This suggests that Mrs Moore has ‘gone native’ and is possibly punished for it.