Nationalism and its flaws

Stoler brings to mind something very interesting that I read for another module- Eric Hayot’s review of Arthur Vinton’s “Looking Further Backward”. “Looking Further Backward” was published in the 1890s as a response to Edward Bellamy’s “Looking Backward, 2000-1887”. Vinton envisions a future in the year 2023, when the Chinese immigrants that the United States had allowed into the country eventually took over and annexed the United States as a Chinese colony. The novel was written during the height of anti-chinese sentiment, just after the government passed the Chinese Exclusion Act in 1882. the essay opens with a quote from Professor Won Lung Li:

“Owing to the short-sightedness of your remote ancestors, you have permitted your country to be overrun by the emigrants of the slums from other nations; they had been given equal rights, socially and politically, and they had intermarried with your native stock until it had become so debased that, one hundred years ago, your ancestors were as ready as the Frenchmen of the 18th century to abandon everything for the sake of an idea.”  (Hayot 1)

The idea that Li refers to is that of Nationalism. The annexed United States represents the worst possible fear of the colonial masters. Similarly, Stoler’s essay illustrates the paranoia that the French had towards the Metis, and how they acted on this paranoia in order to protect the concept of their “nation”. Stoler, like Li, puts forth the idea that intermarriage is one of Nationalism’s fatal flaws. The idea that one is defined by their nationality is undermined when you have a child born to parents of different nationalities.

Discovering my misogyny through literature

This blog post is going to be be a little anecdotal and is a little bit long, so please bear with me. : )

I did not expect for a passage in ‘Burmese Days’ which made me laugh out loud would lead to my being aware of my own participation in patriarchal misogyny. The passage I’m referring to is the one where we talk about the effects of U Po Kyin’s letter to Mrs Lackersteen:

“U Po Kyin had touched Mrs Lackersteen’s weak spot. To her mind the words ‘sedition’, ‘Nationalism’, ‘rebellion’, ‘Home Rule’, conveyed one thing and one only, and that was a picture of herself being raped by a procession of jet-black coolies with rolling white eyeballs. It was a thought that kept her awake at night sometimes.”  (137-8)

To me the passage was funny because the description of her vividly imaginative fear revealed Mrs Lackersteen’s secret desire for the native other. So I turned to a friend who’d read the novel, pointed to the passage and said “You know she wants it.’ Unexpectedly, my friend didn’t get me, and replied with ‘That’s what rapists always say you know.’

Thinking back on the misunderstanding a few days later, I suddenly realised that in some sense it wasn’t really a misunderstanding at all. This is because after having read Ann Stoler’s ‘Sexual Affronts and Racial Frontiers’, where she talks more about who (European) women were designated the roles of ‘protectors’ of racial and ethnic morality, and a lot of them took it upon themselves. This is perhaps why in ‘A Passage To India’ it was said that the memsahibs behaved more racist than the sahibs.

If female sexuality (as Stoler says) was the means of policing and maintaining differences between the ethnic identities of the coloniser and colonised – and by extension, the former’s right to rule over the latter – the fact that ‘sedition’ and ‘Nationalism’ was interpreted as a danger to her sexuality is not that surprising anymore. In some sense, it is patriarchy that is to blame for Mrs Lackersteen’s fear, and thus in the same way that patriarchal dominance and misogyny is responsible for violence against women to this day, my joke – ‘you know she wants it’ – really reveals my own culpability with patriarchal ideology, despite my own professions to feminism. I am glad for this chance to self-examine that literature has provided.