Stephen’s Voice: The Irish in Me

By appropriating what is said in Black Skin, White Masks — It can  be generalized that those who are colonized, have “no culture, no civilisation, no ‘long historical past'” (34) and it is the master’s or colonizer’s language that “is the key that can opens doors” (38). Stephen Dedalus faces a similar dilemma that eventually got resolved towards the end. Understandably, the English language is an acquired tongue of Stephen but he has learned and found the value of a language that frees him from the entanglement from the nets of “nationality, language, religion” (210). These nets would have stopped his ‘flight’ above the Irish issue that is seen myopically by many of his peers who are unable to view themselves beyond the veneers of the present. As Stephen puts it, “Ireland is the old sow that eats its farrow” (210), basically-speaking, the current condition of his country has to do, way back in the long history of Ireland when Stephen accused the country of giving up its own language and took another (209), hence losing their culture and history (since language facilitates the creation of history).

As mentioned earlier on, the acquiring of a language used by colonists opens the world to the person. Similarly, it is no coincidence that Portrait is full of Latin — the language of the learned. Stephen, it seems, is ready to embark on a journey that is beckoning him, to become an artist with his arsenal of languages, to “forge in the smithy of my soul the uncreated conscience of my race” (262) as he starts by finding his own voice as seen in the changes of the novel into the journal form – his own voice, towards the end .

Stephen Dedalus, the Irish Greek: Unity through Art

It seems that one of the most obvious aspect of Portrait is the protagonist’s issue with language. I think it reflects, especially towards the end of the text, the direction that he wants to develop his art. He champions for an Irish autonomy that unites instead of disunites — division that is based on an English vs Irish and/or Catholics vs Protestants rivalry. In other words, Language becomes an important premise in the driving forward of such a desire.

If we look at the scene between Stephen Dedalus and his dean, Stephen recognizes that the language he has been taught all his life is an “acquired speech” (195) and this serves as a reminder of his subservient position as he is being cast in the “shadow” (195) of a heritage that he does not identify with.

True enough, the English language belongs to the English or the Anglo-Saxons and differs from Irish historical heritage – that is, Gaelic. However, at the same time, the Irish language is becoming overly charged and associated negatively with (extreme) Irish nationalism. This deters Stephen from accepting it willingly becomes it disunites Irish people, it is obvious that Stephen adopts Parnell’s vision of unity where the differences of factions are negotiated and reached. I believe this is the reason for Stephen and even Joyce’s inclination towards something different, an art that uses the colonizer’s language (I guess strictly speaking, Ireland can be considered the colony of England) but undermines it by subsuming it within a Pan-European experience. And I guess this explains the framing of this text with Greek imageryand Latin, and not just English.

For one thing, Joyce’s inclination is illustrated by the name of Stephen Dedalus, where both names are of Greek origins. Furthermore, Dedalus is the name of a skillful artist from a Greek myth who designed the labyrinth to keep Minotaur ‘imprisoned’. Perhaps, Stephen, the artist and character is tasked with this task to use his art to keep ‘extremism’ and violence, as symbolised by Minotaur in check.

The myth of Flory as a reluctant colonist

I have been thinking about what we have been discussing in class – mainly, the concept of the reluctant colonist. What exactly is a reluctant colonist was the question that filled my mind. I had a feeling that the concept – reluctant colonist explores the humanistic attitude of a man that conflicts with the need of white man to keep the natives where they are – marginalised and inferior in order to continue their capitalistic enterprise. In other words, isn’t a reluctant colonist inherently a contradiction? Is it ever possible to be both a colonist and a humanist? I think the character of Flory as a reluctant colonist, as discussed commonly in class, is a good site of discussion.

As discussed in class, I find that it is most certainly that the idea of identity should not be confused with a person’s action. In other words, a person’s action does not always express who a person really is. This is why I feel that in Burmese Days, the added dimension of Flory’s thoughts provide readers with an valuable insight to the situation in a colony. As a result of the added dimension, I find it difficult to accept Flory as a reluctant colonist, a term that many have tied him with in class, even if they do not like him much. At the most, I would see him as a sentimental colonist. He might not like what some of the other white men are doing – especially Ellis who openly expresses his condescension towards the natives. However, Flory only expresses it in secrecy towards Dr V. He could have easily assumed a different hiererachy in his own household, instead, his household is like any other colonist household where the servant looks up to the master. Furthermore, he has done many things that he is guilty of racism – like his reluctant signing of the notice just because he “lacked the courage that was needed to refuse” (63). Also, he was given the chance to return to his homeland of which he decided to return halfway because he saw the opportunity to prosper economically.

What I am pointing at are the opportunities for Flory to put his thinking into action even when it is within his means. He could have left Burma when he had the chance but decidedly came back. His lack of action may not correspond with his feeling/thinking but the total lack of it in many occasions got me reluctant to see him as a reluctant colonist.

The state of Women and religion

From where I have stopped in the novel, I managed to make an observation. I am referring to the similarity in the position of native women like Ma Kin, the wife of U Po Kyin, with the state of the native’s religion – Buddhism.

For Ma Kin, her position in the household reflects the belief of Buddhism that women are lower than man – “the same level as a rat or a frog – or at worst as some dignified beast such as an elephant” (8).  However, my issue is with the portrayal of Ma Kin as the more morally upright and charitable figure. This seems to shed light on the shortcoming of Buddhism in its unflattering claims of women as part of the lower form of life. The irony is, the most dedicated person to Buddhism, is one of the most subdued figure in the novel.  Furthermore, Ma Kin’s portrayal is contrastive with her husband’s selfish and self-serving use of the religion to better his afterlife – “My pagodas will atone for everything” (15).  In this case, religion as a moral guide in dictating one’s way of life seems to be in question. Does this suggest that Buddhism as a religion is no longer applicable/relevant after the changes in relationship brought about by the entrance of western colonialism? After all, we can identify the impoverished state of the native’s religion just by looking at the starving monks whose devotion to the religion is ‘rewarded’ with hunger.

Shooting to be White!

This week’s reading, “Shooting an Elephant”, suggests an interesting relationship between the colonist and their subjects. There is this sense of racialization, but in this story, the racialization of White man and its subversion. This does raise a lot of questions on what white man see themselves to be – rational, civilized, knowledgeable etc. In the story, there presents this situation where white men have to constantly prove themselves worthy to be white man, marking themselves as the superiors – “A white man mustn’t be frightened in front of “natives”. As seen from the quote, there is this constant need to reassure their status and avoid diminishing their image. This preoccupation, I feel, becomes a driving force to irrationality for the white police officer. I suggest this as the elephant is understood to be harmless already. However, the need to ‘please’ the natives created only “one alternative” – to shoot! The revelation of the police officer’s thoughts provides us with the contrast in what people expected and what exactly happened. All the other white men – young or old, were debating whether it was worth killing the elephant over an Indian man. They naturally assumed that the police officer, being one of them would react rationally – in this case, the debate over legitimacy versus the financial valuation of the elephant and the Indian man. Many questions arise from the act of the white police officer. Is the white man essentially that different from the natives? If there is no difference, wouldn’t the colonist be ruling irrationally? Their belief in their superiority would then be a fallacy after all. Personally, the only difference between the white police officer and the natives would be the “beautiful German [rifle]” that the white man is holding.

Wallace and his exoticization of Malay Archipelago

Reading Wallace’s writing got me thinking of his detailed description of the sights and observations in his travel to Borneo and Java and whether it is exoticized like Conrad’s writing. I think it is difficult to avoid writing in an ethnocentric way because Wallace got to know of and was attracted to the Malay archipelago by similar travel writings from Englishmen like Raffles. I guess, like any other modern travellers of today, the sights we observed and take note of are those measured through our lens of understanding and knowledge (like travel guides etc). He is obviously doing the very same thing, observing and measuring the accuracy of what he has saw with what he has read from his compatriots’ accounts. But, one thing that caught my attention is the similarity in the way in which he describes the Dyaks and other natives with that of the animal specimens he had collected.

If we look at the detailed description of the Dyaks that focuses largely on the superficial features like skin colour and unique bodily features that make the Dyaks stand out – “The Dyak … are characterized by a reddish-brown or yellowish-brown skin of various shades…by the rather small and broad nose…” (67). Similarly, his take on the exotic insects – “the superb Papilio arjuna, whose wings seem powdered with grains of golden green, condensed into bands and moon-shaped spots” (87). Obviously, there seems to be this urge for Wallace to categorize everyone and everything neatly. Furthermore, even though Wallace does not obliquely exoticize the natives like Conrad, his act of having a picture of a Javanese Chief (84) displayed, creates a juxtaposition with all the other exotic pictures of insects, plants etc., what does this suggest about how Wallace views his world?

Jim: The man chasing his ideals

After reading Lord Jim, the title of the novel becomes a site of questioning for me. I had picked up a book and had expected it to be about the adventures about an respectable man who has impacted on the world. But it became a story about a young man struggling to make sense of himself, in a world that he tries to fit into as he has a very idealised view of the world. But the question is – is the idealised world view that Jim has essentially wrong?

I think we can examine this by looking at Stein’s diagnosis of Jim as a romantic. Even though this seems to oversimplify Jim’s situation, his additional observation that eventually became a postulation of a paradox , that Jim is “very bad … very good too” (158) greatly influenced how I went on to see Jim. Just like the very notion of good and bad, Jim’s ideals are needed, for example, his belief in his inherent superiority as a white man gave him the confidence to take charge in Patusan. However, at the same time, his ideals lock him within Patusan, subjecting him to continually reassert his whiteness. We eventually saw him resorting to wearing imperial uniforms. In other words, in his pursuit of the ideal, he might sink deeper and deeper in his own selfish desires and eventually lose himself and sacrifice others for himself (as we come to see when he decides to set Brown free).

Ultimately, I think Conrad is not trying to give us an answer to what ideals are correct and wrong, but he tries to illuminate the possibilities in the real world by taking an equivocal position –  just like the title of the book. Whether we see Jim as Lord Jim or the multi-faceted white man, it’s really up to us and dependent on our values to decide.

The Existence of Savages and Stereotypes

After reading both Heart of Darkness and Achebe’s article, I feel that I can sympathy with the anguish that Achebe is experiencing. However, I feel that he might have misread the intentions of Conrad, as seen from Achebe’s naming of Conrad as a “thoroughgoing racist”. As described in Achebe’s anecdote, he is obviously not pleased with the ‘under-recognition’ of African history and culture in America. But my main point is, how did that lead him to scrutinize and focus on deciphering Conrad’s short novel, one that was written 100 years ago?

Personally, I feel that it lies with Conrad’s strikingly vivid description of Africans or in Conrad’s words – “savages”. His almost larger than life portrayal of the Africans would reel readers (especially during Conrad’s time) in and convince them of the ‘reality’ of the description. I suppose this would probably be the stereotype that readers of Conrad’s time have in their mind. In other words, the stereotypes would be the very truth for the Western civilization, more than a hundred years ago. And I think it is this stereotype that Conrad is trying to play on, perhaps, somewhat out of control. It does illuminate the complicity of the English people – who are feeding on this stereotype and would therefore colour the imagination of those who sail to Africa in their ‘quests’, and this is illustrated by the ending quote of the novel: “The tranquil waterway leading to the uttermost ends of the earth flowed … into the heart of an immense darkness”.

Nonetheless, it still seems straightforward to Achebe that Conrad’s portrayal of Africans in such a negative light led to a continual impression that Africa is backward and remains outside the realm of knowledge even till his time. If not, why Heart of Darkness?

Note-taking on Presentation – Part One of Week 4

The main ideas that were discussed during the presentation evolves around the use of Fanon’s Manichean world view, of dividing the world neatly into two – the Colonizer and the Colonized. Fanon’s framework was used mainly as a platform to approach the relationships, use of violence in a colonial regime, as set in Passage to India. This is then followed by exploring Fanon’s discussion of a colonist’s quest for a real and authentic experience in their colony which Forster seems to have debunked in his novel.

As the presentation continued, Fanon’s dialectic view, when applied onto Passage to India, comes across as overly simplistic in its view of dividing the colonial world, in the novel, into colonists and colonized (made up of Hysterical masses and the intellectual). With this view in mind, it seems that Fanon saw that relationships in the colonial world can only be made and negotiated within the dialectic framework. However, a character like Aziz is a poses problems for the framework as he does not fit in perfectly into the category of colonized intellectual – one who idealizes and looks up to their colonizers and adopting their colonizer’s values and beliefs. Aziz, on the other hand, looks towards maintaining his traditions and religion of Islam.

Hence, the importance of understanding the issues in a colonial world dwells down to a matter of perspectives as  present in the novel. When we consider that it was those in power (the colonizers) who viewed their colonial world through ethnocentric lens – it becomes clearer why India seems unrecognizable to them. For instance, the orderly and rationality espoused by the West led them to view India’s civilisation as a muddle, a “confused multitude of things”. This inclination to neatly categorize the world leads them to overlook how complex, vast and diversified India really is (Das 81). Hence, missing the “real” India; the “hundred Indias” (Forster 13).

Therefore, despite the colonists’ questing, in search of the “real” India – India remains elusive to them. This is probably due to their own limited perspectives and inability to experience and see out of their own “British/colonist space” within India. This state is put forth by Fielding: “They(the colonists), had not the apparatus for judging” (Forster 248). Whatever the colonists (namely, Miss Quested and Mrs Moore) had experienced, is not the “real” India, even though what they experienced is not fake. To put it simply, they have encountered parts of India but they can never be said to have explored the actual India.

All in all, Fanon’s view of colonialisation seems to be too simplistic for many in class, but contextually as modern readers, it seems that our seasoned understanding of fluidity of categorization might have allowed us to see an issue with the binaries that Fanon’s view works on. This once again dwells on the importance of perspectives.

The random trivial things

In Passage to India, there was one particular chapter that left me with a strong impression – Chapter X. It focuses on seemingly trivial details (where the plot does not develop). We are told of small animals going on their living and the scorching unforgiving sun’s cruel presence and its effects on both humans and animals alike. The chapter’s inclusion and position in the novel seems rather incongruous but the tension present in the preceding chapter contextualizes the juxtaposition, between man and animal and their relation with nature as personified by the sun.

I think the question becomes, are we any more different from the animals in determining how ‘India’ is governed? What gives us rights to make such decisions, when we are, as Forster puts it, “the minority”. I think Forster is pointing towards a larger force in nature as personified by the sun – a force more powerful than imaginable, one that does not discriminate but forces men to realize their vulnerability. This highlights the implausibility of fully controlling the India that both the English and Indians believe in and are contesting. The juxtaposition of human with animals in the chapter serves to remind readers that we are of little difference from the other animals as we (animals and humans) are all, mere inhabitants of an indiscriminating but harsh world (in other words, it does not matter whether you have white or coloured skin), where life is simply governed by a larger force.

Thoughts on Race and Superiority

While reading Passage to India, one aspect that caught my eye was Forster’s treatment of race and the practice of racialization. It becomes obvious that the idea of race comes to taint the view and attitude of what each group of people have towards others. Racialization is, in the text, characterized to be a misconception and as a result, a cause of much tension between the different ‘races’. But I think race becomes a conviction of which these people hedge to in order to find some certainty to cope with the flux and changes around them. For instance, even when Aziz was dressed in European costumes and speaks English, Ronny, who was probably intimidated by him previously, refuses to see him as an equal. Immediately jumping on Aziz’s skin colour which categorizes him to be an Indian – categorized to be fundamentally slack (75), and this is when Ronny does not even know Aziz or work with him.

Naturally, this act of categorizing people along racial lines is not limited to the English as it is clear that everyone is complicit. The elusiveness of race is extensively discussed in the text. This is especially highlighted in Forster’s mockery of a ‘White’ man through Fieldings, who called his own race, “pinko-gray” (57). The colour of skin is in reality just a colour, but has become connotated with superiority, however, as we would have come to realize after many events in the text – it is something that is baseless and illusionary.

Modernism: Truths and Realities

Personally, I think people tend to enjoy residing in their comfort zone, allowing many things around them to go unquestioned. Hence, allowing those with power to take on a paternal-like role in deciding how life is to be led as they represented objectivity and the truth. This is where, I believe, the role and purpose of Modernism – as a movement, serves. That is, to challenge and, if I may put it, to ‘mess around’ with the ‘normal’ perception of how things are and should be.

To put it simply, I think Modernism definitely comes across as confusing and unfathomable to some, with its seemingly incongruous form – forms that illustrates that our thought process is actually illogical and inconsistent in reality whilst our consciousness – arbitrary. This, as Auerbach has discussed, demonstrates how individuals would assign meanings to their surrounding based on their experiences. In other words, a hundred individuals will likely assign a hundred different meanings to a single entity. I feel that this recognition is a salient trait that drives the movement of Modernism, making it distinctive. Paradoxically, the driving force of Modernism is also its bane, as it faces the irreconcilable issue of representing truth and reality. Given that we are all unique in our experiences and thinking, what then is reality and truth?