Modernism- looking at racism with rose- tinted glasses

As I was reading the first part of the novel, I could not help wonder if modernism was not just an extension of colonialism given that many of the issues addressed in the former resembled those highly debated in the latter. Racism, gender and class- divides, just to name a few, have been of  our utmost concern for many years now with the only difference being that they are constantly portrayed as new points of contention under a different time period. This can perhaps be related to last week’s class when we were making comparisions of “the mask” painted by three different artists and as such, how it affected our views. To put it simply, “modernism” is, looking at racism for example, with rose- tinted glasses. In addition, while the sypnosis stated, “when Adela and her elderly companion Mrs Moore arrive in the indian town of Chandrapore, they quickly feel trapped by its insular and prejudiced British community,” they served to perpetuate this biasness at times with how they seemed to regard the activities and cultures of the natives as sport.

Philippa Levine’s article “Britain in India”  talked about how the British East India Company underwent many changes, reinventing itself each time as part of the British government’s efforts to consolidate their strong- hold in India. It can then be suggested that modernism is really a term coined to keep the balance of control tilted in the favour of the super- powers. When one learns that an educated Indian is supposedly the product of modernism, one reads in Levine’s article, this same educated Indian actually existed in Colonialism and he was an important source of manpower for the British to sustain their economical gains while exploiting and derogating them in return.

British Fragments: the Empire and the Modernist Perception

Levine’s illustration of the British empire and Modernism’s stress on perception (more specifically, fragmentation, that particular technique of representation) have me thinking about the cause-and-effect relationship between history and the literary movement’s trademarks.

After reading Levine’s chapter on “Ruling an Empire,” I’m starting to draw a few parallels between the strict stratification of the British empire (rather, specifically in relation to the colonies) and the general emphasis on the observer and the question of representation versus perception in modernist literature. Towards the end of the chapter, Levine makes comment on the worries over British subjects in colonies ‘going local’ and the colonial subjects being “counted, described, given classifications” (114). With this sort of rigidly structured, categorical mindset it is only logical that with decolonization would come a crisis of thought. Stemming from the shattering of the strict order that existed previously, this crisis led to emphasis on the act of observation over the thing that is observed, almost as an attempt to regain order through new forms and new ways of percieving.

As discussed in first lecture, Modernism highlights form, drawing attention to function and perception, and the importance of perception in finding a “truth.” In the aftermath of the Great War, the depressed economies, the devastation to the land and the effect of the war on the people presumably prompted the search for beauty and truth so pervasive in Modernist texts.

The British Empire- a problematic construct of self and identity

Whilst I was reading through the article by Levine and trying to see how this is related to the other reading on “The Brown Stocking”, it struck me that one common theme explored is the desire to define and pin down something precise, by a pre-existing structure, or method of ordering. Mrs Ramsey as the figure of the artist in “To the Lighthouse” is someone who brings order to her household and she is adamant that the doors remain shut whilst the windows remain open.  I read this as the desire to be able to gain access to what is outside whilst making sure that nothing from the outside actually comes in to disrupt the pre-existing order. This is in parallel with the British colonizers’ desire to gain access to the colonized whilst making sure that their own cultures(order) remains untainted.

Windows suggest that the one inside is able to view what happens outside but remain separate from it, taking on the subjective position of one in power. This is in line with what the British colonizers do, when they view themselves as the centre of the empire and look upon the colonized, calling them uncivilized savages. However, just as Mrs Ramsey discovers that she cannot stop her children and various members of the household from leaving all the doors open and bringing things in from the outside which contribute to the gradual disarray and disintegration of her household, the colonizers soon find that their attempts to maintain a stable sense of self despite interactions with the natives is futile. The old order falls apart and a new method of ordering is called for.