History, Statues, and Representation

Jackson mentions the “ever-impinging presence of official buildings and symbolism” in Ireland, and the kind of  “architectural response” (129) that followed the threat of self-government. This suggestion of an “architectural response” led me to think about statues and monuments, which are symbolic, larger-than-life representations of figures that have made important contributions to a country, and are erected officially for the remembrance and celebration of their achievements. In light of this, I found it particularly interesting when Stephen reflects on Thomas Moore’s statue and the commemorative slab in memory of Woolfe Tone that he passes by in Part V:

While he was striving this way and that to free his feet from the fetters of the reformed conscience he came upon the droll statue of the national poet of Ireland [Thomas Moore]. He looked at it without anger: for, though sloth of the body and of the soul crept over it like unseen vermin, over the shuffling feet and up the folds of the cloak and around the servile head, it seemed humbly conscious of its indignity. (Joyce 193)

And a few pages later…

In the roadway at the head of the street a slab was set to the memory of Wolfe Tone and he remembered having been present with his father at its laying. He remembered with bitterness that scene of tawdry tribute. There were four French delegates in a brake and one, a plump smiling young man, held, wedged on a tick, a card on which were printed the words: Vive I’Irlande! (Joyce 199)

(According to the novel’s footnotes: Wolfe Tone was the leader of the United Irishmen; the slab was laid to commemorate the centenary of the Rebellion of 1798)

What particularly intrigued me was Stephen’s withering sarcasm (“droll statue”, “servile head”, “tawdry tribute”, just to name a few examples) towards these supposedly celebrated figures in Irish history and culture. While these statues can be seen to represent the official national history of Ireland, Stephen’s expression of his attitude towards these figures (and by extension, what they represent), is then his personal interpretation of history. In doing so, the official national history of the public sphere is now conflated with personal history/experiences of the private sphere. Here, we are cleverly introduced to another representation of history; a different perspective that Modernism so champions!

 (On a side note, I do think that it was an interesting choice to represent Joyce/Stephen’s general disdain towards the Irish condition via his contempt towards statues of supposedly representative figures of Irish history and culture, considering that statues are after all another form of art and representation, just as novels are).

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.

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.



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 on Presentation – Part One of Week 4

The main ideas that were discussed during the presentation evolves around the use of Fanon’s Manichean world view, of dividing the world neatly into two – the Colonizer and the Colonized. Fanon’s framework was used mainly as a platform to approach the relationships, use of violence in a colonial regime, as set in Passage to India. This is then followed by exploring Fanon’s discussion of a colonist’s quest for a real and authentic experience in their colony which Forster seems to have debunked in his novel.

As the presentation continued, Fanon’s dialectic view, when applied onto Passage to India, comes across as overly simplistic in its view of dividing the colonial world, in the novel, into colonists and colonized (made up of Hysterical masses and the intellectual). With this view in mind, it seems that Fanon saw that relationships in the colonial world can only be made and negotiated within the dialectic framework. However, a character like Aziz is a poses problems for the framework as he does not fit in perfectly into the category of colonized intellectual – one who idealizes and looks up to their colonizers and adopting their colonizer’s values and beliefs. Aziz, on the other hand, looks towards maintaining his traditions and religion of Islam.

Hence, the importance of understanding the issues in a colonial world dwells down to a matter of perspectives as  present in the novel. When we consider that it was those in power (the colonizers) who viewed their colonial world through ethnocentric lens – it becomes clearer why India seems unrecognizable to them. For instance, the orderly and rationality espoused by the West led them to view India’s civilisation as a muddle, a “confused multitude of things”. This inclination to neatly categorize the world leads them to overlook how complex, vast and diversified India really is (Das 81). Hence, missing the “real” India; the “hundred Indias” (Forster 13).

Therefore, despite the colonists’ questing, in search of the “real” India – India remains elusive to them. This is probably due to their own limited perspectives and inability to experience and see out of their own “British/colonist space” within India. This state is put forth by Fielding: “They(the colonists), had not the apparatus for judging” (Forster 248). Whatever the colonists (namely, Miss Quested and Mrs Moore) had experienced, is not the “real” India, even though what they experienced is not fake. To put it simply, they have encountered parts of India but they can never be said to have explored the actual India.

All in all, Fanon’s view of colonialisation seems to be too simplistic for many in class, but contextually as modern readers, it seems that our seasoned understanding of fluidity of categorization might have allowed us to see an issue with the binaries that Fanon’s view works on. This once again dwells on the importance of perspectives.

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.