I speak, therefore I am

Fanon’s article examines the inferiority complex of the black man by highlighting the role of expression in the creation of an individual’s identity. By speaking the language of the white man and “[renouncing] his blackness”, the black man believes that he is able to “come closer to being a real human being” (Fanon, p. 18). This reveals the internalization of the racial hierarchy that positions the white man above the black man that results in the loss of the cultural heritage of the native.

It would seem, then, that the problem is this: In the Antilles, as in Brittany, there is a dialect and there is the French language. But this is false, for the Bretons do     not consider themselves inferior to the French people. The Bretons have not been     civilized by the white man. (Fanon, p. 28)

A ‘dialect’ seems to be a substandard means of expression that is associated with the ‘inferior’ native, as compared to a ‘language’. In this case, the native is expected to be less able to converse in the language of the colonizers because he is not sophisticated enough. This recalls Chateerjee’s article on the rule of colonial difference where imperialism and the civilizing mission is justified by the rulers establishing an inherent difference between the rulers and the ruled. Through this Manichean division of white man and native, the white man naturally establishes himself as superior and civilized, and the native as inferior and uncivilized. Fanon posits that this is internalized by both white man and native through the use of language. In speaking to the black man in pidgin-nigger, a language that the white man presumes is suitable for the inferior native, the white man is automatically “classifying [the black man], imprisoning him, primitivizing him, decivilizing him” (Fanon, p. 32). The simplification of language by the white man when speaking to the black man creates and reproduces the myth of white superiority, and the identity of the black man as inferior; this despite the inability to “accept as scientifically proven the theory that the black man is inherently inferior to the white, or that he comes from a different stock” (Fanon, p. 30). The Negro is then reduced to an archetype, “the eternal victim of an essence, of an appearance for which he is not responsible” (Fanon, p. 35). Drawing again on the rule of colonial difference, the Negro who expresses himself properly threatens the binary division between white man and black man because if language creates identity, speaking like the white man bridges this division.

I then realized that the novels that we have been reading are written by the white man (although they may be outsiders in colonial society), whether they are anti-imperialists or not, and that native expression has been confined or reduced to simple, broken English (no doubt because English is an adopted language for the natives), and I wonder if this perpetuates the inferiority complex of the colonized and the encourages the condescension of the colonizer.

The language of the oppressor

It is common knowledge that the relationship between the Irish and the Empire has always been complex, with the Irish harboring ambivalent feelings towards the imperialism; Jackson’s article contextualizes these feelings by illustrating the benefits and the drawbacks of the Empire that were felt by the Irish:

For Ireland, therefore, the Empire was simultaneously a chain and a key: it was a  source both of constraint and of liberation… The Empire was not only a form of outdoor relief for impoverished Irish gentlemen: it also served as a vehicle for the upward mobility of the Irish middle classes, both Catholic and Protestant.  (Jackson, p136, 140)

Like many of its other colonies, the Empire was seen by the Irish as an oppressive force, an “imperial economic vampire”; it acted on its self-interest, resulting in the suffocation of Irish economy. Unlike its other colonies, the Irish were able to participate in Empire to reap personal economic benefits. This shows that shifting one’s political allegiances could result in the difference in one’s social position. The Irish ambivalence towards the Empire reminded me of the Joyce’s struggle with the English language in A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. With the death of the Irish language (the Irish Gaelic language is after all seen as a dead language: the dean not recognizing the Irish word ‘tundish’ for funnel in Portrait suggests the colonization of Irish by the English language, and Stephen’s recognition of the impossibility of resurrecting the Irish language), the adoption of English language becomes a given, even if it suggests a betrayal of one’s cultural allegiances.  However with the appropriation of the language of the oppressor, Stephen struggles with his ambivalence towards his adopted language:

His language, so familiar and so foreign, will always be for me an acquired         speech. I have not made or accepted its words. My voice holds them at bay. My soul frets in the shadow of his language. (Joyce, p. 205)

Stephen is torn between using and rejecting the English language. He acknowledges that English does not belong to him because of his Irish identity, yet he is also aware that Irish is not his speech either. The colonization of the Irish language by the English language is akin to the Empire rule over Ireland. Like Stephen, Joyce appropriates the language of the oppressor to write the novel. Perhaps like the article by Jackson, although the Empire is being seen as an oppressive force that suffocated the Irish language, it provides another language (that is wider used, and hence allowing a wider readership for the novel) for Joyce to appropriate, and a medium that gives Joyce and Stephen voice.

Inscrutability of the colony

Leonard Woolf’s autobiographical account in Growing reminded me of Orwell’s ‘Shooting an Elephant’, in that they both highlight the white man’s increasing sense of alienation and unease in the colony. Woolf’s recounts his life in Ceylon as a civil servant stating that there “always retained for [him] a tinge of theatrical unreality”. This reminds me of the idea of performativity that we have discussed in Orwell’s narratives where colonial masters are required to act according to the code of the sahib. For Orwell, the expectation to act accordingly resulted in the loss of individual freedom for both the white man and the native. He then saw this as the oppression of the machinations of imperialism that he desired to extricate himself from. However in Growing, the “theatrical unreality” that Woolf describes seems to hint at his own sense of unfamiliarity with Ceylon (which is after all, geographically and culturally far removed from England), and the uncanny feeling that the colony produces in Woolf. In addition, Woolf also states that “the whole of [his] past life in London and Cambridge seemed suddenly to have vanished, to have faded away into unreality”. This alludes to his own displaced identity onto a foreign land, detached from his own history. His new environment was vastly different from what he was familiar with (even the pace of life and ease of accessibility in London and Ceylon are seen in contrast to each other), and this unfamiliarity made him uncomfortable within the colony, despite his privileged ruling position.

Woolf’s description of Jaffna country also reminds me of the inability to understand the essence of the colony due to the inscrutability of India in A Passage to India. The “long distances and difficulties of transport” and the immensity and vastness of Jaffna allude to the difficulty of accessing the place both literally and metaphorically:

Here again is one of those featureless plains the beauty of which is only revealed fully to you after you have lived with it long enough to become absorbed into its melancholy solitude and immensity.

Plainly speaking, the colony was inaccessible to the imperialist because it seems to be limitless (the sands “stretch far away” under the “enormous sky”) and existing outside the scales of comprehension. Thereby creating the sense of “theatrical unreality” that Woolf feels in his participation in the colonial enterprise.

The impartiality of the law

As I was reading Orwell’s Burmese Days, the unequal treatment of the law struck a chord within me. This brought to mind the image of Lady Justice with her blindfolds that symbolize the impartiality of the law. In Orwell’s Burma, Lady Justice is blind to the faults of the whites and intolerant with the natives (of course, Lady Justice is herself European…) So of course, Maxwell’s shooting of a native is justified but the killing of Maxwell by the native’s relatives is not. His death angers the European community simply because the life of a white man is of greater value than that of a native: “Eight hundred people, possibly are murdered every year in Burma; they matter nothing; but the murder of a white man is a monstrosity, a sacrilege” (Orwell, p. 248). The whites are then anxious to ensure that the culprits are punished by the law for Maxwell’s death. Where is the morality in that then? After all, Maxwell did commit murder as well. This reminded me of Stoler’s article on ‘Carnal Knowledge and Imperial Power’ where she says that “sexual abuse of black women was not classified as rape and therefore was not legally actionable, nor did rapes committed by white men lead to prosecution (Stoker, p.58). Crimes committed by the white man to the natives are not punishable by the law and the perpetrators go away scot-free by virtue of their race and gender. This is further reinforced by the incident where Ellis blinds a Burmese and angers the villagers. The natives understand that there can be no impartiality for them in the eyes of the law: “We know that there is not justice for us in your courts, so we must punish Ellit ourselves” (Orwell, p.257). In the colonies, the law protects those in power and discriminates against the natives. How then can the natives win? Isn’t colonization supposed to be beneficial for the colonies? Despite the civilizing mission and the claims that the empire brings beneficial influences to the colony, the injustices of the empire are illuminated in Burmese Days.

Who is free?

As I was reading Burmese Days, I could not help comparing Orwell’s portrayal of the lack of freedom in Burma to the totalitarian society that he painted in his later novels, Animal Farm and 1984. Orwell’s preoccupation with the concept of individual freedom and the restrictions imposed on the individual by the colonial enterprise parallels the dictatorial leadership and the totalitarian society that he paints in his later novels. The character, U Po Kyin reproduces colonial oppression onto the Burmese. The portrayal of tyranny and oppression as embodied by U Po Kyin in Burmese Days takes on a kind of prophetic quality: oppression continues to be enacted in present-day Burma. The dictatorship results in the curtailing of individual freedom and the state surveillance of movement in Burma today. This totalitarian vision of the present eerily reflects the society in Orwell’s later books. I wonder then if colonial oppression is another version of what we now understand as totalitarianism.

The strict state policing of society is further echoed in the week’s readings, ‘Politics of Exclusion in Colonial Southeast Asia’. The article highlights strict state patrol on national identity, specifically with regards to the hybridized identities of children of mixed parentage. The strict definitions of nationality highlights the threat that these hybridized figures poses to the body politic of the European nations, and the European nations’ desire for racial purity. This again brings to mind actual historical events such as the rise of Hitler and the Jewish holocaust that was birthed out of the desire for German racial purity. Yet this fear of racial impurity through interracial unions only highlights the insecurity of the European nations regarding the racial hierarchy and Manichean distinctions between the ruler and the ruled.

“But at that moment…”

I was pretty glad to be reading “Shooting an Elephant” this week, perhaps due to the fact that the Orwell is easier to read without the frequent oscillation between narrative perspectives that is present in the other texts. However, while the text may seem relatively straight-forward and presented through a singular viewpoint, I found myself reading and re-reading most sentences, because of the rich layering of meanings in the text and the oscillation between the exterior world and the inner consciousness of the narrator (the establishment of the context of the memory frames the investigation of the inner consciousness of the narrator). I would like to posit that the representation of interiority – itself a modernist technique – in the essay highlights the complexities of the narrator’s consciousness and his dilemma in shooting the elephant.

The narrator reaches a moment of realization and exterior time gives way to interior time. The moment before he commits to the act of shooting the elephant is fleshed out and his dilemma between morality and duty is highlighted:

“And suddenly I realized that I should have to shoot the elephant after all. The people expected it of me and I had got to do it; I could feel their two thousand wills pressing me forward, irresistibly. And it was at this moment, as I stood there with the rifle in my hands, that I first grasped the hollowness, the futility of white man’s dominion in the East.” (Orwell)

At this point, the narrator realizes that the white man’s struggle with the native underlies the struggle between the sahib and the elephant. The power hierarchy between the white man and the native is sharply overturned: the narrator feels pressured by the native to perform what is expected of the white man and in doing so, sacrifices his individual autonomy. It is at this moment that he realizes that imperialism oppresses both the colonized and the colonizer. Therefore, the representation of the narrator’s inner state of mind reveals the ambivalence felt towards imperialism. However while the investigation of the inner psyche of the narrator highlights his own awareness of the irony of his situation, perhaps his realization is as futile as the empire: although he stands on the crossroad between autonomy and role-playing, he chooses the latter when he decides to shoot the elephant.

Possibility of friendship?

Conrad was influenced by Alfred Russel Wallace’s article on the Dyaks while writing Lord Jim, thus when reading Wallace’s article, I could not help noticing parallels between the figure of Sir James Brooke and that of Lord Jim. Wallace justifies the imperial presence in Sarawak by valorizing the deeds of Sir James Brooke.

“Sir James Brooke found the Dyaks oppressed and ground down by the most   cruel tyranny. They were cheated by the Malay traders and robbed by the Malay chiefs…From the time Sir James obtained possession of the country, all this was stopped.” (Wallace, p.71)

Brooke is portrayed as the heroic figure in Sarawak, whose intervention brings justice and peace to the natives. Like Brooke, Jim is similarly portrayed as the heroic figure who brings peace to Patusan. The white man’s deeds are valorized in both texts and this serves to justify imperial presence by positing the white man as a superior being who comes to save the native.

Although Conrad shows Jim’s integration into the Patusan community, by valorizing his deeds, Jim is set apart from his adopted community. This brings the question of the possibility of friendship between the white man and the native. In A Passage to India, the cultural differences between the white man and the native figure overcome any possibility of friendship. However in Lord Jim, Jim does have a close friendship with Dain Waris and even finds a lover in Jewel. While Jim achieves what Fielding failed to in his connection with the natives, it is note worthy that Dain Waris and Jewel are described as having European influences. Dain Waris “knew how to fight like a white man … he had also a European mind” and Jewel is the daughter of a Dutch-Malay woman. This again highlights the divisions between the white man and the native, since the possibility of friendship only arises when the native figure is not completely seen as the ‘other’.

Note taking (week 6 part 1)

Topic of Class

Lord Jim: the romantic “hero” of the adventure novel

The presentation examined the identity of both the text and the titular character in relation to the adventure romance tradition, and Conrad’s re-appropriation of conventions to critique dominant ideologies. The adventure tradition is affirmed in Lord Jim through the formal conventions that Conrad appropriates in his writing. However, it is later subverted because the pro-imperialist ideology that is inherent in adventure fiction is destabilized: the civilization, morality and rationality of the white man is questioned in the text and becomes ambiguous.

The romantic tradition is identified in Jim’s character as the idealistic hero who upholds strict ideals. His self-exile to Patusan and his eventual death does not provide a satisfactory conclusion to his strict adherence to romantic aspirations. The examination of other white characters that may provide satisfactory alternatives to Jim’s failure to embody the ideas of honor and morality reveals the idealistic aspirations inherent in the notion of the English gentleman. These ideals are strictly upheld by the characters however, they are undermined because honor and duty become self-serving and unrealistic. While the white male characters failed to adequately represent English superiority, the native characters serve to reinforce the binary distinctions between the white man and the other. The Patusan natives are either associated with degeneration or that are in deference to Jim.

Ultimately, the identification of the adventure romance tradition in the text and the simultaneous undermining of that tradition ties in to the modernist concerns with the obscurity of truth. Lord Jim and Lord Jim fail to fit adequately into proper categories resulting in ambiguity and ambivalences.


Jim’s romantic imagination of seeing himself “saving people from sinking ships, cutting away masts in a hurricane, swimming through a surf with a line… in a small boat upon the ocean kept up the hearts of despairing men – always an example of devotion to duty, and as unflinching as a hero in a book” is undermined in his abandonment of his ship.

When crisis arises, Jim fails to act on his ideals and abandons the ship in an act of cowardice. This romantic imagination is thus critiqued by Conrad as unrealistic and not substantiated by action.  In addition, although it may be argued that Jim’s eventual death was an honorable and redemptive death because he dies for his values, it begs the question of the futility of values.

While Jim’s movement to Patusan is viewed as an attempt at self-redemption, it also reveals his egotism; Jim desires to uphold his ideas of honor so that he can live out his heroic aspirations (emphasis mine). His morals and values are ambiguous since they are not borne out of his duty, but are seen as self-serving. Likewise, pro-idealist ideology that was prevalent in the adventure tradition is destabilized because the colonization motive of bringing civilization to places outside England is revealed to be an egoistic enterprise that reinforces white superiority.

Topics from Other Weeks

Forster adopts the Manichean view of the white man and the figure of the native in the beginning of A Passage to India: the division of physical location between the English and the natives is apparent. However like Conrad, Forster undermines the pro-imperialist ideology through his critique of organized religion, in the form of Christianity (the religion of the white man).

The English characters do not practice the Christian virtues of love, forgiveness and consideration to others. Adela’s accusation of Aziz is unsubstantiated but believed because the word of the white woman is privileged over that of the native. This results in Aziz being condemned by the English before being allowed to speak; the native’s voice is excluded. Christian virtues are not embodied in the characters instead, the English characters worship the idea of white superiority. The notion of white supremacy is thus undermined and viewed as morally inferior to Indian religion (in particular, Hinduism) that is accommodating. However, the binary views are not re-established by positing Hinduism as a fully satisfactory alternative to Christianity.

Convention is re-appropriated to comment and to critique itself by modernist writers. Conrad and Forster breaks down pro-imperialist ideology to highlight its flaws and to create texts and characters that are hard to define.

“You don’t think yourself a – a – cur?”

In Lord Jim, words do not contain singular meanings and its plurality results in the confusion over meaning. The word “cur” means different things to different characters, depending on various contexts, and this results in misunderstandings that arise between characters. The innocent remark made by Marlow’s companion in relation to the yellow dog, “Look at that wretched cur” (Conrad, 58), is misunderstood by Jim. He comprehends it as a personal verbal attack, assuming wrongly that he is being criticized by both Marlow and his companion: “I won’t let any man call me names outside this court” (Conrad, 59). This disjuncture between the companion’s intended meaning and Jim’s perceived meaning results in hostility on Jim’s part towards the initial meeting between Marlow and himself. Since Marlow does not share Jim’s understanding of the remark, he is unable to understand the initial hostility shown by Jim. Later, Jim uses the same word twice – that he took offense at – on himself when he questions his decision to abandon ship, “you don’t think yourself a – a – cur?” (Conrad, 66. And again in the next chapter, Chapter 8).

Another example in the novel of the plurality of meaning in language is seen in the begging of water by a passenger. Jim admits his incredulity at the meaning of the word: “Water, water! What water did he mean?” (Conrad, 73). Jim does not share the passenger’s context and this leads to his mistake in comprehending the word. Jim’s focus on the immediate potential danger that the sea poses results in the confusion of meaning, and he realises only later that “[the passenger] wanted some water – water to drink” (Conrad, 73). Language is vague in the novel and Conrad does not offer clarity.

Conrad rejects the presentation of a simple, singular meaning in his novel to portray a reality that is complex and multi-faceted. This plurality of meaning in language compliments the ambiguous nature of his novel that seeks to pose more questions that to answer them. I also think that much can be said about the metaphor of the sea and its various meanings that is contained in Lord Jim.

From Euro-centric to Afro-centric

While reading An Image of Africa, I was persuaded to take Achebe’s stand against Conrad’s Heart of Darkness as I felt that his anger was reasonably justified against Conrad’s supposed racism.

Achebe’s problem with the novella arises from the way in which language was appropriated by Conrad in his depiction of Africa and Africans and the insidious quality of Conrad’s narrative in reinforcing hierarchies of power that is based on racial lines. The article reminded me of the Gikandi article where Picasso denied the African artist any intellectual capacity by viewing him as an object for his art. Racism on Picasso’s part is not overt, but insidious as it dehumanises the African and this likewise seen in Conrad’s inferior depiction of the Africans.

Achebe opposes the use of binary oppositions in the depiction of Africa and Europe in the novella: “Heart of Darkness projects the image of Africa as “the other world,” the antithesis of Europe and therefore of civilisation” (Achebe, 338). However, I feel that the comparison of the Thames and the Congo is not reflective of Conrad’s worry about the “lurking hint of kinship” (Achebe, 338) or the desire to view Africa in opposition to the English. Instead, Marlow’s fixation on rivers as water routes for the civilisation project provides a parallel between the arrival of the Romans on the Thames and the civilisation of the British, with the British moving to Africa with the same mission. This conflation of the two worlds highlights the recognition of the self in the ‘other’ as an attempt to reappropriate the ‘other’.

The postcolonial reading of Heart of Darkness is an attempt to rethink fiction and critique colonial ideologies yet Achebe was perhaps too extreme in his critique of the text. While he was justified in his anger towards racism in Conrad’s novella due to the dehumanisation of Africans, he is similarly using “emotive words” (Achebe, 338) to persuade readers to join him in discrediting the inclusion of Heart of Darkness in the literary canon.

The cylcle of violence

Franz Fanon’s article ‘On Violence’ highlights the division between the colonized and the colonist that is physically manifested in the difference between their respective residential areas. Fanon depicts a ‘compartmentalized world’ of division between the two groups; the colonists quarters defined by excesses, space and luxuries while the colonized’s sector is characterized by lack, filth and overcrowding. The disparity between the two groups result in the latter’s desire to reclaim their land.  This is likewise illustrated in A Passage to India. The beginning of the novel highlights the apparent inequality by juxtaposing the privileged residences of the English with the filth of the Ganges. In addition, the injustices suffered by Aziz at the hands of the English leads him to think about an India without the English. ‘Clear out, all you Turtons and Burtons… India shall be a nation! No foreigners of any sort!’ There is a desire for decolonization that is not without hints of violence.

Fanon states that colonialization involves violence in two ways; the taking of territories is often a bloody one and the maintenance of hierarchies of power involves threats of violence from those in power. Decolonization also involves violence towards the colonists that is effective when the colonized are united. Aziz’s desire for the purdah to fall down suggests the dissolution of religious difference to be rid of the English. The cycle of violence then reproduces itself like the imagery of the widening gyres in W.B. Yeats’ ‘Second Coming’ where history seems to reproduce itself. The violence that has been imposed by the colonist results in the hurts and anger of the colonized, and this anger is channelled back via violence towards the colonists. I think that is it interesting that while independence may seem to be the end of violence between the two groups, capitalism continues to subject the former colonized to the colonist. The prosperity of Western nations is dependent on the consumers in the former colonies. After all, MacDonald’s, Starbucks and Disneyland are fast taking over the world.

What is India?

The complexities of India are made apparent in the novel and there is a sense of uncertainty about what India means/ is composed of. A Passage to India is characterised by divisions within the landscape and there is a crisis of representing India. In the final part of the novel, this crisis becomes more emphatic; Aziz questions the meaning of India and favours the inclusion of multiple meanings to the notion of a ‘general’ India.

Forster alludes to the belief that the ‘real’ is unattainable; India cannot be clearly defined. Adela’s shallow desire to see the ‘real’ India leads her to the Marabar Caves however, the trip does little to further her understanding of India. She does not arrive at a satisfactory concept of India and what happens in the caves is shrouded in mystery. The unusual circumstances that Adela undergoes while in the caves are never fully explained to us and this uncertainty hints at the inability to arrive at the ‘truth’.

In addition, the multiple religions portrayed in the text destabilises the notion of a unifying order since there is no singular god or belief. Religious beliefs are not adhered to and the different religions seem to morph into each other (‘God si love’ but the British do not embody Christian beliefs and persecute Aziz without evidences. Mrs Moore’s name is transposed onto that of a Hindu goddess, Esmiss Esmoor). The Hindu procession seems frivolous and irrational however, it redefines the tradition meaning of god and religion. Furthermore, the chanting of ‘come, come, come’ alludes to the difficulty in accessing a higher being and the attainment of a world without difference.

Modernism and consciousness

The focus on the individual consciousness in Modernist texts marks a clear shift from the focus on the exterior social world of characters to the focus on interiority. The extract from To The Lighthouse in ‘The Brown Stocking’ focuses on the inner consiousness of characters rather than their external circumstances. In my opinion, while the novels that preceded the Modernist novels used the social world as a way of getting into the identity of characters, the Modernist novel uses external situations to frame the inner consciousness of characters. For example, we enter into Mrs. Ramsay’s head through the seemingly banal happenings taking place (i.e. The measuring of the stocking) and from there, we read about her preoccupations and thoughts. Therefore, we seem to inhabit the space of her mind, reading her thoughts and gaining a greater insight into her identity then if we were given physical and social descriptions of the character. In addition, the difficulty of getting through the Woolf’s writings is due largely in part to the shifts in focus in passages. For example, we are taken from the stockings to the charm of Lily’s eyes, to Jame’s fidgeting, to the furniture etc. However, this shifts in inner focus reflects the workings of the mind. We are never completely focused on an issue for an extended period of time and we are led on to dwell upon an idea from the preceeding idea. Therefore I feel that Modernism’s focus on consciousness does well to better reflect reality and its focus on interiority proves to be more real than if it preoccupied with the social world of characters.