Note- taking for Lord Jim (Week 7): Part 2

 Topic of Class

The first part of discussion was focused on the accuracy of Wallace’s methodology with regards to his observations about the Dyaks. Not surprisingly, the more common reactions pointed out that Wallace adopted the mindset of the superior European in his documentation of the Dyaks and hence, questioned the presence or rather, absence of empirical evidences in his writing. Yet, on the other hand, it was also pointed out that Wallace had only what he observed and he was only trying to paint a picture for the Europeans with the limited knowledge he had. The fact that the article was written as a scientific travel book became problematic for Europeans took his words as “the truth” and hence justified their belief of their superiority.

 Interestingly, it was also brought up that science is used to validate political stance and the discovery of biology at the height of Imperialism during the 19th Century not only validated but intensified the colonial movement. Science and knowledge is not a bad thing in itself but it is constantly manipulated by people to obtain power. As such, Science is driven by power and this is exemplified in both Wallace’s article and Lord Jim where biological differences is used to ascertain the superiority of the Europeans.

 With these in mind, the question that should be on everyone’s mind is if things have really changed, taking into consideration the fact that in relation to science and methodology today, similar methodology are still being used as representations.


‘The Dyak is closely allied to the Malay and more remotely to the Siamese, Chinese and other Mongol races. All these are characterized by a reddish- brown or yellowish- brown skin of various shades, by jet – black straight hair, by the scanty or deficient beard, by the rather small and broad nose, and high cheekbones; but none of the Malayan races have the oblique eyes which are characteristic of the more typical Mongols. The average stature of the Dyaks is rather more than that of the Malays, while it is considerably under that of most Europeans. Their forms are well proportioned, their feet and hands small, and they rarely or never attain the bulk of body so often seen in Malays and Chinese.’ (Wallace, Pg. 68.)

 ‘I am inclined to rank the Dyaks above the Malays in mental capacity, while in moral character they are undoubtedly superior to them.’ (Wallace, Pg. 68.)

The above examples show that while Wallace shaped his writing according to his observations, the very same observations laid the foundations for science and methodology to be used for the justification of imperialism.  

 Connections with Other Topics from Other Weeks

 We were led to discuss modernism as a crisis of knowledge and representation with the evidences of constant changes and the continual use of the natives to define European superiority in both Wallace’s text as well as Lord Jim. This brings to mind Achebe’s criticism of Conrad’s supposed racism in Heart of Darkness as opposed to the common idea that Conrad was advocating anti- imperialism in his text. It enforces the fact that language is malleable and that people are left to make meanings for themselves, depending on the perspectives they take. Perhaps, it can then be suggested that despite all the periods such as colonialism, modernism etc, there really is no real change for there is only the change in perspectives brought about when different people such as Achebe starts to write in addition to European writers.

One thought on “

  1. This is a good attempt, but ultimately it is still quite unclear Michelle. What exactly is the main topic of the second part of class, and how did it synthesize with the other points we have examined before? A more coherent way of explaining these ideas could be to look at science as a mode of representation with a certain methodology (as art, in many ways, is also); and to examine how science, like art, has similar limitations.