Notes and such for 12th November

In today’s class, the first presentation regarding Ireland and nationalism framed the subsequent presentations and discussions adequately. Michelle suggested in her presentation that Joyce’s work contrasted with the notion that nationalism is part of a natural progression following colonialism and decolonialisation. Joyce’s work instead presents nationalism as an assertion of individuality which is a culmination of various factors. The final slide of the 2nd presentation suggested a reading of Joyce as anti-modernist, if the term modernist is grounded in the philosophies of John Locke and David Hume (that took up some time). One of the points raised was how the history of modernity is longer than the time frame occupied by modernism, and it is necessary not to conflate modernism with modernity. Conflation came up again in the later discussions, this time concerning the figure of Daedalus and Stephen.


I proposed an explanation of the problematic quote based on the understanding that Hume and Locke are empiricists, a field of philosophy that suggests observations as the primary source of knowledge and hence the self, developed through knowledge, is constituted of observations.In Joyce however the observable cannot constitute the individual due to the indeterminacy of language that is used to record such observations. The example of the tundish was cited by Kin Yan(?). In that sense then, Joyce would be anti-modernist IF we defined the term according to the philosophies of the two philosophers.

I think conflation as a problem arose because of the nature of modernism and the text discussed today. One example used in class today was regarding the epiphany as used in Joyce’s work, part of Praseeda’s presentation. Stephen’s epiphanies contrast with Woolfian (Virginia) epiphanies, for example, in that instead of a unity of the self with the world around him, Stephen in fact becomes more distant. While observing the girl wading in the sea, he feels that she represents all women and acknowledges the sexual feelings that accompany his observation. At the same time he distances himself from the people who experience those feelings, privileging instead her association to Ireland. The distinction Stephen makes expresses a desire to move away from conflating perspectives, choosing instead to set himself apart as an artist exiled from the larger framework of society.

In another example, it was suggested that Stephen perhaps conflates the figure of Icarus and Daedalus, and tries to straddle the position of inventor – or the “brains”, and the user, – the “blonde”.

Links to other weeks and texts:

Conflation arises as a prominent issue in discussing modernism in other texts like Orwell’s “Shooting An Elephant”. In this text, it has been suggested in previous classes that there is a conflation of identities in the reluctant colonialist: on one hand he is required to perform his role as colonizer, but it conflicts with his individual beliefs and identity. The conflation of the two areas produces responses to colonialism that emphasise its complexities, rather than a valorization and exoticization of the colonial enterprise, or an outright disparaging of the process. To link this to modernist concerns, the problems with identity and nationalism point to the crisis of knowledge and representation.

Inclusion, History and Identity

When I started reading the Stoler reading, I kept finding my mind wandering back to Orwell as the isolated intellectual, especially when Stoler began talking about national identity, education and inclusion. I guess I’m curious as to whether Orwell would have been quite so isolated in “Shooting an Elephant” if these educational measures had been in place. (Perhaps the same question could be extended to Flory in Burmese Days…although I’m not sure he falls in the same category as Orwell in “Shooting an Elephant”.)

In terms of national identity, I guess this reading answers some of the questions I’d had about where history came in to the creation of a national identity. I took a class a few semesters ago that dealt with  Nationalism and the Arts: we had a guest student sitting in from Harvard who happened to make the comment that Singapore hasn’t had enough time to build a clear identity because we were less than half a century old. The professor was quick to point out that Singapore has been around for more than 50 years, it was just Independence that came much more recently.

Using Stoler’s tie-together of history and national identity, I suppose one root of having a national identity comes of having a shared history. I can see how colonialism problematizes national identity, considering the “shared history” suddenly becomes “shared histories”–one of which is placed in a more dominant position than perhaps an indigenous concept of identity tied to place.

I’m fairly curious as to the origin of “nationhood.” Is it a colonial/postcolonial construct?

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.