Misery loves company

Since we were on the topic of gender, and particularly the representation of women in the modernist colonial texts, I think it will of interest in our study to highlight the profoundly telling similarity in the dialectic between surface and depth in the subjectivity of the female/colonized other in Leonard Woolf’s Growing.

Introducing the readers to Sinnatamby at the Jaffna country club, Woolf writes: “I used to watch Sinnatamby with some interest, a big stoutish Tamil in a voluminous white cloth and towering maroon turban… He was extremely respectful, but I sometimes thought that I caught in his eye a gleam which belied the impassive face when some more than usually outrageous remark… echoed up into the heavy scented immense emptiness of the tropical evening sky… I could imagine generations of Sinnatambys standing respectfully behind their white masters in India right back to before the Mutiny – and some of them with that gleam in the eye getting their own back during the Mutiny.” (45-46)

This image of Sinnatamby in a “voluminous white cloth and towering maroon turban” is later uncannily mirrored by Mrs. Dutton, “dressed completely in white in a voluminous, bride-like dress”, her “glossy black hair parted in the middle”. Looking as though “filled with bridal veils”, the “overpowering smell of clean linen” betrays a “feeling of unmitigated chastity”, and the Dutton’s bedroom figures as a kind of virginal prison chamber. If women can only achieve legitimized status through marriage, then Mrs. Dutton’s unconsummated marriage would make her an less than a legitimate entity, thus marking an affinity between the conditions of the English woman in the outpost and the colonized native; both are colonized subjects and held in servitude to the white man.

Sinnatamby’s white garb of servitude is undercut by the gleaming eye, the deep though unspoken intent of “getting their own back”. Interestingly, the women characters are portrayed to have more constrains set upon them by the natives. Mrs. Dutton suppressed her unhappiness over her marriage in a “patter of expressed and unexpressed misery” while Mrs. Price, conscious of maintaining an appearance of ladylikeness tired to conceal her misery, “except for the unhappiness terribly stamped upon her face. In Woolf’s narrative of displacement, the European women in the colonial outpost are presented as severely displaced, and it is as though only by wearing bride-like dresses and signing off with conviction her husband’s name – both acts as validation of the male figures’ masculinity – can the women validate their legitimized status as married women.

Note-taking for Burmese Days (Week 10): Overall Summary

Topic of class + examples

The main focus of the class was on the crisis of gender in modernism; how gender issues created disorder in colonial times, especially with the importation of Englishwomen into the colonial outpost.

–         “Privilege is invisible to those who have it”

The short clip of Michael Kimmel’s lecture on gender studies screen at the beginning of the class was interesting the conceptualization of gender as an analytical framework to be understood in relation to other aspects – race, class, etc. Therefore, gender as a social construct has to be self-conceptualized by the individual. Because of the relativism in the definition of these terms, gender is subjected to the constant state of flux. Nevertheless, society still holds on to notions on how gender is performed; not only women but men too are suppressed by gender expectations.

–         Identity politics: a reflection of men’s desire for order

Performativity may be unnatural, but is not escapable and both men and women inscribe certain gender expectations and qualities in the process of normalization. Patriarchy constitutes not solely male-domination, but broadly societal domination, and in it was raised in the discussion that it is only when things are deemed ‘normal’ that the domineering hegemony can continue to assert its power. In Burmese Days, Orwell employs stock characters in the framework of satire to aid in our reading of gender. An issue raised was the portrayal of Flory as a problematic hero who struggles with his masculine identity, amongst other things. His feminine bond with nature is juxtaposed with his role as a timbre merchant which is suggestive of destruction, and perhaps masculinity. Presented as a double of Flory, virile Verrall is effeminate, but immune to punishment and like Flory he possess emotional stereotypes of women that hinders both their ability to form meaningful heterosexual relationships. Their maintenance of bachelorhood could therefore be as defense against heterosexuality: the ironic performance of masculinity to defend against it.

The replication of gender orders in raising barriers of inclusivity and exclusivity

In this week’s article, “Carnal Knowledge and Imperial Power”, Ann Stoler illustrates this point in outlining the role of women in reinforcing masculinity. More specifically, she posits that white women are complicit with colonialism and the gender of imperialism in the context of colonial expansionism. In the modernist texts of colonial expansion, gender is employed as an analytical framework in conjunction with other axis of representations, and we see in the texts how women are manipulated in many ways in portrayal of how certain figures are more representative of colonial power. In Passage to India and Burmese Days, for example, the English country club is portrayed as a miniature of British society, a site in which the ruling order sets up the politics of exclusion and inclusion. In this sphere, race is of the first level of exclusivity, followed by gender, making the white women second class members with no activities that are exclusive to them. The club functions as a means of keeping women nearby and out of clutches of native men, but still separate from the white men. Their role is therefore a reinforcement of colonial order and Elizabeth’s entry into Flory’s world forces him to rethink his position and reinforce his masculinity. In this social hierarchy, the power is the white women as agents of the empire is curtailed by their gendered ‘otherness’ and here it was raised the question: why do people say that the biggest opponents to feminism are women themselves?

–         White women as legalized entity vs. the native women as sexualized commodity

In the first half of the class the presenters brought up this interesting binary classification in aid of our understanding of the positions of the white and native women in the social hierarchy of colonial rule. A comparison of the two central female characters of Burmese Days reveal that Ma Hla May has more constrains set upon her than Elizabeth. Not all women are unilaterally opposed to feminism as privileged women are able to negotiate within the existing system, and one of the channels that enable them to do so is through the economy of white heterosexual marriage.

Connections with Other Topics from Other Weeks

Evident in Burmese Days and Passage to India, romance escapes white heterosexual unions between men and women or is overshadowed by the economy of marriage. Marriage is important for women in the society for without which, they are non-entities in society without marriage. Marriage is for Elizabeth the only means of escaping poverty, spinsterhood and the unwelcome advances of her perpetually inebriated uncle. While marriage to Flory is not an option for Ma Hla May, who can only exist as a sexualized commodity, the only reason she wants Flory to take her back is because she wants to live the life of a white man’s mistress again.

A self-proclaimed fanatic of Candace Bushnell’s ‘Sex and the City’, I found interesting the notion raised that women are more entrapped ideologically than before with the illusion of freedom. Agreeably, the ‘single and fabulous’ women of the sitcom might even come across as feministic in their seemingly independent lifestyles in the absence of men, but each failed relationship seems to undermine their assertion of freedom and confirm that their status as women continues to not be legitimized until they enter matrimonial union with an idealized Mr. Right. Similarly, despite all the freedom Elizabeth and even Adele wish to assume in having a choice in their potential husbands breaking off engagements, they never do escape their existence as legalized entities whose legitimate status can only be affirmed, and even then to a varying degree, in colonial order through the economy of marriage.

The sexuality of colonial dominance

I once read that the native woman of a colonized state is rendered twice displaced; sexuality itself being a mark of Otherness. Stoler’s article was an interesting insight to the condition and the colonial experience of the European woman, who Stoler claims does not escape imperial control, especially having neglect the perspective of European female “Other” in our study of the texts. Reading the article, I cannot help but be recall the dynamics of sexual and social order posited in Forster’s A Passage to India. I’d therefore like to revisit the text in application to Stoler’s argument.

In A Passage to India, sexuality is embedded into the text in negotiation of social dominance. Stoler suggests that racial anxiety is expressed through sexuality. If so, could it also be suggested that racial anxiety is repressed through repressed sexuality? Adela figures as a kind of asexual female character, lacking the sensuality of a woman, as Aziz is quick to note. Her relationship with Ronny, both of whom are engaged to be married, is awkward, to say the least, and there hardly appears to be any sexual tension between them. Repressed sexuality then culminates to an animalistic thrill merely upon the brushing of hands. “Her hand touched his, owing to a jolt, and one of the trills so frequent in the animal kingdom passed between them and announced that their difficulties were only a lover’s quarrel” (Chapter 8). I’d argue that Ronny does not so much repress his sexuality then displace it onto his social dominance of the natives, accounting then for Adela’s ability to maintain a (veneer of) friendship with Aziz as an epitome of (hypocritical) hospitality and kindness between Indians and the British. It seems that inter racial relations are only successful in the absence of sexuality. In fact, Aziz manages to develop a casual platonic friendship with one of the main female characters, Adela, because he finds her not only sexually unattractive but even plain and ugly. On the other hand, Ronny, who is constantly aware of his need to exert sexual and social superiority over his mother, Adela, as well as the natives, struggles to keep his interaction with them on a level of civility. This displacement of sexuality onto the ruling of the native colony and policing of the European women brought into the colonized state could explain Ronny’s metaphorical sterility in his romantic relationship with Adela.

The colonial politics of exclusion in the literary world of Forster’s novel does indeed impose restrictions of the European women such that they do not participate equally in the prejudices and pleasures of colonial dominance. Stoler posits that “European women often appear in male colonial writings only as a reverse image – fulfilling not sexual but other power fantasies of European men” (44). And indeed upon Adela’s sexual awakening at the episode at the cave, she is effectively silenced by the European men who take on the role of policing sexual control. At the club, the European women parrot the views and condemnations of the natives as voiced by their husbands in their idle gossip and in the courtroom serve superficial function by insisting on sitting on chairs on a platform to give the illusion of power.

Shooting the white elephant: surveying the psyche of the white imperialist

In comparison to the previous texts, Shooting the Elephant seems to provide a more neutralizing perspective of the white imperialist. Orwell’s narrator claims a liminal position in identifying with neither the colonizer nor the natives and is cast in a sympathetic, almost victimized light – or is he? Orwell’s narrator clearly suffers from schizophrenia, a corresponding crisis of identity/ consciousness and a moral condition that signals logical disjoint. This is a resulting malaise of having to assume the role of the imperialist ruler but at the same time being subjected to the conditions of its rule. Though he claims to be ‘all for the Burmese and all against their oppressors, the British’, I would like to posit that his expressed hatred for the empire is but an attempt at denying his complete internalization of the very conditions of the imperialist rule he criticizes.

From the onset it is apparent that the narrator is extremely self-conscious of the native’s gaze, always painfully aware of ‘the watchful yellow faces behind’ and the growing crowd that follows him. Logical disjoint has him believe that he ‘has got to do what the “natives” expect of him’ when in fact, it is what he expects the natives to expect of him. “A white man mustn’t be frightened in front of “natives”; so, in general, he isn’t frightened”. Self-consciousness (rather ironically) escapes the narrative as a result of the displacement of the individual onto a collective consciousness of “every white man’s” as well as the dislocation of the internal from the external self as perceived by society. Thus Orwell’s narrator is not to be read as a ‘true’ (warning: can of worms) self-conscious, critical account of the colonizer but to be identified as being desensitized by the conditions of imperialist rule. An important point to note is the narrator’s evident loss of a moralizing center as a result of the loss of self-consciousness. He justifies his actions by circumstances (‘the people expected it of me and I had got to do it’) rather than rely on his own moral judgment. Relieved that the coolie had been killed as it put him legally in the right for shooting the elephant, law here becomes the governing principle in the absence of emotion and moral consciousness.

The Eve to the native’s garden

Wallace’s The Malay Archipelago comes across as a  stuffy how-to manual on the advancing of civilization (his recommendation of Mr. Money’s How to Manage a Colony is probably the closest thing to The Complete Idiot’s Guide on the topic) as well as a feeble defense and justification of Sir James Brooke’s governance and in general, colonization.

Certain aspects of the Dyak natives are commended as though surprised that it is possible of their savage ‘younger brothers’ and usually measured against European superiority. For example, Wallace praises the Dyaks for having high moral character which he later subverts as a point of weakness (‘They are truthful and honest to a remarkable degree. From this cause it is very often impossible to get from them any definite information, or even an opinion,’ (68)) but not before he applies the same forgiving treatment to their custom of head-hunting as a defense for the colonial rulers’ participation in the slave-trade. That the article comes across as ethnocentric is not surprising with Wallace’s constant comparison of the ‘savage nations’ to the ‘civilized countries’, at the same time proposing a program of civilization that calls for the application of a tested system on countries of ‘semi-barbarous people’, resulting in the effectual dehumanizing of the natives in treating them as analogous cases.

Reading this article, I was made conscious of the act of reading itself. Even though the voice of the native other is silenced, Wallace’s article, in all its earnestness, betrays itself, making us aware as modern readers of the colonial mentality from a critical standpoint. I found Wallace’s figuring of Sir James Brooke as a figure of justice and ‘superior being, come down upon earth to confer blessing on the afflicted’ and to ‘bring the dead to life’ (71), to be most contrived, making him come across instead as suffering from some kind of Jesus Christ complex. In line with this god complex, the general tone and argument of Wallace’s article brings to mind a passage from King Solomon’s Mines: “For to my mind, however beautiful a view may be, it requires the presence of man to make it complete, but perhaps that is because I have lived so much in the wilderness, and therefore know the value of civilization, thought to be sure it drives away the game. The Garden of Eden, no doubt, was fair before man was, but I always think it must have been fairer when Eve was walking about it.”

“A Bloody Racist”?

To say that ‘Conrad was a bloody racist’, might perhaps been a little indulgent on Achebe’s part. In his essay “An Image of Africa”, Achebe presents a political reading of Heart of Darkness by identifying Conrad with Marlowe, a plausible argument that in the end does proves to be rather unconvincing.

There is certainly generalizing and simplifying with regards to the African people in Heart of Darkness that is a hallmark of racism. The native people in Conrad’s novel are, according to Achebe, distinguished not by any cultural achievements, but by their status as emanations of the jungle, described in zoological terms. It is true that the Europeans do not come off well, either, but theirs is the more dramatic and significant failure of the superior race. Even so, I found Achebe’s accusation of racism on Conrad’s part in Heart of Darkness weak and unconvincing. I believe the novel reflects the common racism of the day, but that does not make it a racist  but rather more of an observations on race.  The treatment that Conrad has his narrator give to the natives enhances the effect of the novel in allowing readers to view the Africans through the eyes of the colonizing forces, and not a politically correct third person narrator. It is therefore unfair that one aspect of a writer’s rich output should be considered sufficient to hang the label of a racist on him.

India As Battlefield

Fanon may have over-generalized in his representation of the colonized world as “a world divided in two”, but it does premise the major themes of violence and warfare in Forster’s A Passage to India – at the heart of which is a clash between two fundamentally different cultures, those of East and West.

Battlelines are clearly defined early in the novel by the Anglo-Indian’s imposed restriction on the entry of Indians into the Chandrapore Club. Mr. Turton’s proposed Bridge Party, which he explained to Adela to be “a party to bridge the gulf between East and West”, as we know did little of that sort if not to further highlight the segregation and divide with the Indian guests standing idly at one side of the tennis lawn and the English at the other. In fact, reflecting on the Bridge Party after reading Fanon’s essay, the event could be seen as a warfare strategy. Fanon writes that “the proximity and frequent, direct intervention by the police and military ensure the colonized are kept under close scrutiny, and contained by rifle butts and napalm” (4). In the absence of the military and fire arms in the novel, superficial social events and its limited interaction functions as well as a means of keeping ‘the other’ or the enemy, if you will, in close proximity and under surveillance. (Keep your friends close but your enemies even closer, as the cliché saying goes).

But of course there are individuals who defy Fanon’s over-generalized characterization of the colonist and colonized by resisting collectivist temptation. A rebel of sorts, Fielding ventures to cross these battlelines to prevent further acts of vicious and unjustified violence from occurring. Fielding plays an integral role in the orchestration of Aziz’s defense,  gathering evidence to dispel suppositions of Aziz’s guilt. He is able to see past the superficial categories of race and nationality and defend Aziz for what he truly is – an innocent, upright, and virtuous human being. But alas, “despite the success of his pacification, in spite of [the colonist’s] appropriation, the colonist always remains a foreigner” (5). Fanon’s binary opposition of the identities of the colonist versus the colonized seem to have resonance in the novel’s affirmation of the impossibility of friendship between Aziz and Fielding at its close.

Of Cocoons and Brown Stockings

While at first appearing to adopt a more traditional role of the novelist in representing and commenting upon the social and empirical world, Forster subsequently introduces an essentially modernist narrative style in the use of polyphony, indeterminate attribution of perceptions, as well as the consistent blurring of narrational and character-based points of view. Although possibly not the level of “high modernism” as Woolf’s “stream of consciousness narrative”, Forster’s narrative style is very much similar to Woolf’s.

Leaving Mrs Moore to retire, Aziz and Adela continue their exploration with little to say to each other – “If his mind was with the breakfast, hers was mainly with her marriage” (162). Here Aziz and Adela are knitting their own brown stockings in being careful not to neglect their social duties as host and guest respectively despite being absorbed in their own deeper thoughts. Fragmentation within the self is presented in the divorce of external occurrences divorced from internal events. On the journey to the Marabar caves, “(Adela) could not get excited over Aziz and his arrangements. She was not the least unhappy or depressed, and the various odd objects that surrounded her… they were all new and amusing, and led her to comment appropriately, but they wouldn’t bite into her mind” (146). Instead, Adela occupies herself with plans of the marriage (“She loved plans”), and here Forster suggests that occupation of the internal mind serves to distract from the mundanity of life described in the opening passage of part XIV of The Caves so as to keep from being insincere. There is little linearity or organization in her thought process as she jumps from planning in detail her marriage and the Anglo-Indian life she is to endure to questioning her feelings for Ronny and then the idea of love itself but not for long before her attention was focused on a rock nicked by a double row of footholds which made her recall the patter traced in the dust by the wheels of the Nawab Bahadur’s car and led her to conclude that “She and Ronny – no, they did not love each other” (162). Similarly, Aziz experiences “symptoms of disorganization” (162) as he struggles to keep up with his own inner thoughts. This dislocation of time-space consciousness and the inability to orientate correspond to a crisis of identity/conscious or schizophrenia, a possible consequence of the lost of older structures or going beyond “nation”. Employing the metaphor of the “cocoon of work and social obligation” (145) as a general comment of life and the pressures of society to conform, Forster aptly presents this crisis of identity/ consciousness which often denies the individual “the right to live for oneself” (147).

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.