Global Capitalism, Rushdie, and Reflection

arif-dirlikArif Dirlik begins his essay “The Postcolonial Aura: Third World Criticism in the Age of Globalism,” by posing a question that follows his argument throughout the piece: “When exactly . . . does the ‘post-colonial’ begin?” Dirlik’s Answer: “When Third World intellectuals have arrived in First World academe” (561). He then begins discussing the genealogy of the term Postcolonial. For Dirlik, the term Postcolonial originated as a term to overtake the term Third World. Having established a foundational question to build on, Dirlik undertakes the rather lofty task of first defining the term postcolonial intellectually and second, looking at its interpretations across a globally Capitalist world.

He begins this study by defining the position and purpose of Postcolonial as “intended . . . to achieve an authentic globalization of cultural discourses by the extension globally of the intellectual concerns and orientations originating at the central sites of Euro-American cultural criticism and by the introduction into the latter of voices and subjectives from the margins of earlier political and ideological colonialism that now demand a hearing at those very sites at the center” (561).   It seems the term Postcolonial, for Dirlik, is an extension of European ideas that had existed well before the advent of the term.

PostcolonialHe further defines the goal of his work as “no less than to abolish all distinctions between center and periphery as well as all other ‘binarisms’ that are allegedly a legacy of colonial(ist) ways of thinking and to reveal societies globally in their complex heterogeneity and contingency” (561). It seems Dirlik wishes to abolish both the monolithic concept of the Third World and instead encourage both the Eurocentric academy to readily accept that despite the history of difference, the Postcolonial intellectual not only utilizes the theory formed in the Western world, but also develops the theories and themes in such a way that they are applicable across a number of different cultures.

Dirlik argues that these Postcolonial theories develop themes that are not new to the world, but were essentially resignified with expansion of Capitalism. To further his point, Dirlik believes “there is a parallel between the ascendency in cultural criticism of the idea of postcoloniality and an emergent consciousness of global capitalism” (563). Basically, people started thinking more about the other parts of the world once those parts started playing Capitalist ball. He continues to stress the influence of capitalism on postcolonial thought stating “the appeals of the critical themes in postcolonial criticism have much to do with their resonance with the conceptual needs presented by transformations in global relationships caused by the changes within the Capitalist world economy” (563). For Dirlik, it seems the idea of postcolonial thought is not a new school of ideas, rather a reworking of Western thought to accommodate the ever-changing global economic climate.

global-worldWhat I find interesting is Dirlik’s I explanation of the term postcolonial and its threefold definition. He describes the term postcolonial first “as a literal description of conditions in formally colonial societies” (563). This seems to give postcolonial a visual, physical representation. He then furthers the impact of the term by describing it as “a description of a global condition after the period of colonialism” (563). T. And lastly, “as a description of a discourse on the above named conditions that is informed by the epistemological and psychic orientations that are products of those conditions “ (564). All three definitions allow for a comprehensive look at the impact of colonization locally than globally and how the correlation of the two allow for the development of a Postcolonial discourse needed to express the global impact of World Systems Theory.

Dirlik than begins talking mainly about the voice of the Postcolonial Intellectual and the subject position of the postcolonial subject. This was something I found rather interesting because Dirlik makes a point to not only identify the strong influence of Western discourse in discussing Postcolonial thought, but also emphasizes the need to abolish the monolithic Third World voice. To encourage this Dirlik discusses the connection of the First and Third World positions globally. He writes, “Although First and Third World positions may not be interchangeable, they are nevertheless quite fluid, which implies a need to qualify if not to repudiate binary oppositions in the articulation of their relationship” (567). Dirlik aims to abolish the Third Worlds historic position as the Other to the Western First World.

By identifying the connection between the First and Third World, Dirlik opens the Third World to a new form of Power. I read this as a Foucauldian Power that allows the Third World intellectual to further identify in the First World. Dirlik believes, “postcolonial discourse is not so much of agony over discourse, as it often appears, but of a newfound power” (569). The advent of postcolonial discourse allowed for the often subjugated and marginalized other to begin to develop agency and a voice among the global discourse. By eliminating the binary between Eurocentric Civilizations and the Other, people in historically Third World impoverished regions of the world are able to develop a place on the global stage.

Dirlik contends that it is the popularity and consuming power of global capitalism that has developed a need to abolish the idea of the Third World and instead acknowledge the presence of such countries as a player in the global Capitalist machine. Nations that were once considered Third World now participate and sometimes dominate a region just as much as a First World nation. Having read this article it seems that with the global import and exports of goods, identifying a nation as Third World assumes they are powerless. Dirlik believes Postcoloniality “disguises the power relations that shape a seemingly shapeless world and contributes to a conceptualization of that world that both consolidates and subverts possibilities of resistance” (584). Dirlik stresses the importance of Postcolonial “intelligentsia” and challenges them to develop a criticism not focusing on the Third World as a monolith, but the subject positions of specific nations and their ability to resist a system (Capitalism) they are forced to participate in.

I liked Dirlik’s argument that the advent of Global Capitalism and the World Systems Theory first seemed to benefit the Third World nations previously underrepresented by allowing them to develop some presence globally. I also liked that he acknowledge the exploitation of Third World nations and called on the intellectuals to develop a strategic, specific resistance. It seems a summative Third World approach would fail because of the varying subject-positions within the Third World.

Salman Rushdie’s “The Free Radio”

Radio“The Free Radio” by Salman Rushdie focuses primarily on the idea of voluntary sterilization in the local community. Set in what seems to be a sort of rural town or city, the narrator is never named but is introduced as an elder statesman of sorts.  Through his lens the reader is able to see the current situation of the town through the eyes of the past.

The premise of the story is to illuminate the reader to the government funded sterilization of the people.  The sterilization is voluntary but if one participates in the sterilization, the government promises them a free radio.  Ramani is infatuated with the free radio and undergoes the sterilization because of the promise of the free radio. Our narrator, being far wiser than Ramani, who is described as less than bright, informs the reader that the promise of a free radio is a government lie that was proven false long ago.

It is Ramani’s delusional outlook that eventually leads him to undergo the sterilization and long for the radio for years afterward. Even though the town’s people, especially the narrator, know the promise is empty, Ramani continues his delusion until the day the government van returns to town. It is then that he is made to acknowledge the reality that his decision was in vain and he is left with the harsh reality that his dream of a radio is no longer possible.

It seemed Rushdie wanted to illuminate his audience to the rather unknown events of the Eastern world. He not only portrays the government controlled sterilization of the Indian people, but also the disillusion the people encouraged by the government.

“Chekov and Zulu” by Salman Rushdie

Star TrekThis story explores the relationship between an English man, Chekov, and an Indian man, Zulu. Throughout the story the reader learns that Zulu was once a security associate for Chekov during English colonization of India. A majority of the story takes place in a flashback where the reader learns of Chekov’s plan to utilize Zulu in a spy mission to infiltrate the Klingon territory. I was particularly taken by the presence of Western culture and its strong influence in the relationship of Zulu and Chekov. The reader later finds out that neither Zulu nor Chekov ever saw their favorite reference— Star Trek.

Zulu eventually realizes he is working for the very people that imprisoned and destroyed his native Dehli. He eventually returns to his homeland to join the opposition. The story ends with Chekov working a security mission where he is greeted by a revolutionary soldier with a bomb.

I enjoyed the way this story examined the longing the colonized Zulu has for returning to his homeland once he realizes he has joined the enemy. I think Rushdie really wanted the reader to understand the turmoil the colonized individual experiences, despite their personal success. Zulu is left in a state of confusion when he realizes people in his native town are under fire from the very people he has been working for. This seems to be a symbol for the rather common occurrence of ambivalence experienced by the colonized individual.

Reflection:

Entering this semester, I can honestly say that postcolonial theory and literature were two fields I never really had much interest in. After this class, my interest in Poco theory and literature is at an all-time high. I have been particularly taken by the problematic identity formation that occurs among the colonized individual. Understanding the constant ambivalence the colonized individual experiences has allowed me to better appreciate the people around me who have experienced some of the things we’ve explored this semester. Teaching in Reading, I see on a daily basis the ideas of mimicry and hybridity explored extensively this semester. I also found my understanding of identity formation and the power that discourse can have on an entire nation of people.

Thanks for a Great Semester!

 

 

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Identity and Discourse: Queer Theory

Dennis AltmanDennis Altman is his essay, “Rupture or Continuity? The Internalization of Gay Identities,” examines the process both internally and externally of developing modern gay identity. He begins his essay discussing the very term modern and postmodern. For Altman, these terms are synonyms and can essentially be used interchangeably. It seems, in today’s world especially, these terms are even more interchangeable. He feels “most people live in an intermediate position between tradition and (post)modernity, and structures of sex and gender reflect the ambiguities and contradictions that this intermediacy imposes”. It is the constant pull between tradition and modernity that allows for the uncertainty that surrounds the modern gay identity. I can’t help but feel with the dense filtration system that is social media the ideas of

GlobalismAltman uses this idea of a fluctuating world to discuss the ease to which the term gay has become globalized and homogenized. He writes, “It has become fashionable to point to the emergence of the ‘global gay’”. For Altman, the idea of “global gay” is something that has developed through the globalization of the Western World. Altman believes the infiltration of the Western World into the daily lives of its fellow global citizens has essentially hindered the ability to define the modern gay. Altman challenges this globalization by positing the question “Is there . . . a universal gay identity linked to modernity Altman ponders if the globalization of the Western world enables the creation of a possible “common consciousness and identity” or whether the “globalism and consumerism create individualism and greater life choices, which consequently lead to the emergence of Western-style identities and identity politics.”   I think what he’s saying is the impact of globalization is not simply reflected in the economic and political workings of the non-Western world, but is also impacting the way people living in these countries develop identities. For Altman, the gay community is where he focuses his effort and I think with a great deal of effectiveness.

For Altman, one of the biggest challenges facing contemporary identity formation and sexuality lies in finding the “balance between tradition and modernity.” Sexuality, as explained by Altman, is a complex mechanism involving the “varied ways in which biological possibilities are shaped by social, economic, political, and cultural structures.” It seems the hybridity present in the non-Western world, due to global capitalism and globalization, has put the native at the intersection of two worlds. To me, it is this intersection that inhibits the development of true identities. If tradition lays claim to certain characteristics being masculine/feminine or hetero/homosexual but modernity believes different the native is left essentially pulled between two poles. This constant ambivalence is something that is seen not just in sexuality formation but in several other aspects of native life (gender, culture, etc.). Having read and explored Postcolonial literature further this semester, aside from destroying and pimping land and resources, one of the biggest evils perpetrated by the colonizer was the absconding of native identity, thus plaguing the natives with this sense of uncertainty and loss.

As the essay progresses, Altman references a number of cultures that are influenced by the Christian tradition and its definition of sexuality and gender. Areas of the pacific islands are dealing with the imported Christian ideals that limit the definition of gay to a strict format. Altman also suggests that the Western world’s perception of the gay community globally is skewed. He writes, “Western romanticism about the apparent tolerance of homoeroticism in many non-Western cultures disguises the reality of persecution, discrimination, and violence”.

After laying out the perceptions of gay among the many cultures of the world, Altman begins to develop this idea of a “modern” gay identity. Referencing the advent of the separation and domination of homosexual/heterosexual identity, Altman quotes George Chauncey who writes, “The most striking difference between the dominant sexual culture of the early twentieth century and that of our own era is the degree to which the earlier culture permitted men to engage in sexual relations with other men, often on a regular basis without requiring themselves—or be regarded by others—as gay.” I found this particular quote fascinating because of the way it highlights the completely arbitrary nature of language and labels. If there was no word or label for sexuality, what happened that required one to develop? Altman uses this quote to illuminate that to be gay in the modern world “is to take on a particular set of styles and behaviors.” Altman feels the modern gay is essentially limited by social constructs to act and live a certain way.

Having highlighted the limitations set by the cultural standards of being gay, Altman moves to a resolution. He starts by outlining the characterization of the modern homosexual. He writes “(1) a differentiation between sexual and gender transgression; (2) an emphasis on emotional as much as on sexual relationships; (3) the development of public homosexual words.” He continues to stress the ability of the modern gay individuals “to identify as homosexual without rejecting the conventional assumptions of masculinity or femininity.” For Altman this is one the “distinguishing features of modern homosexuality.” It seems, for Altman, the ability to identify as a homosexual and not immediately face a stigmatized mold that haunted the gay community in the early and mid-twentieth century is a landmark change in the community.

Altman continues throughout the remainder of his essay to discuss the specific experiences of individuals and their experiences of sexuality around the world. In doing this, Altman looks at the impact of the economy on the ideology and consciousness of the world. All of this left me with the idea that as the world changes, as people begin to develop and cultures change over time, the very definitions we as a society label groups and people with also change. Altman feels “the ever-expanding impact of (post)modern capitalism is clearly redrawing traditional sex/gender order.” Understanding the impact of globalization and having read this article, coupled with my knowledge of Judith Butler really helped me understand just how socially constructed so much of the world truly is.

GemaPSUnderstanding the social barriers people construct on a cultural basis and looking at Gema Perez-Sanchez’s article “Transnational Conversations in Migration, Queer, and Transgender Studies: Multimedia Storyspaces” allowed for an even deeper understanding of the arbitrary nature of gender/sex/orientation labeling. While discussing several artistic mediums, Perez-Sanchez attempts to encourage the North American audience to engage with “work produced by Spain by those queer, gender-queer, and transgender groups left out of the mainstream gay and lesbian political agendas.” To Perez-Sanchez, and I must agree, the above mentioned groups are often times underrepresented even in the gay community. She writes that inhabiting a transsexual body limits a person with medical and legal barriers. It seems the ability to develop an identity as a transgender individual is increasingly challenging because of the lack of understanding within the community. Perez-Sanchez refers to these particular groups as “gender outlaws.”

To illuminate the struggles of the “gender outlaws,” Perez-Sanchez enlists the historical impact of specific laws and amendments in Spain. While I must admit the language within the essay did prove to be a little bit of a hindrance to my understanding of the laws, Perez-Sanchez, I feel, did an excellent job of utilizing her own voice to convey her message. Stumbling through some of the Spanish, I came the understanding that while the legalization of same-sex marriage was a monumental movement in Spain, it did little to help those on the gender fringe. I liked how Perez-Sanchez gave essentially two reasons for this amendment. (1) The diligent work of those people suffering under the old law; (2) the longing of Spain to maintain a certain image of progressiveness among the European countries. These two reasons sort of summed up the reasons for all changes—people working hard and people eventually realizing the problems are unjust and demonizing the people/country that perpetuate such a problem.

Spain IDPerez-Sanchez continues to express the many moments of resistance the transgender community presented to the Spanish government. It is through this lobbying and resistance the gender laws of Spain were amended. These amendments, however, as Perez-Sanchez points out, are not sufficient changes that allow the rights of transgender individuals to truly develop agency within the community as a whole. I really enjoyed her look at the power of naming and labels in defining the person. By referencing the identification cards and how augmenting certain words and endings allows for a completely different interpretation of a person, Perez-Sanchez illuminate the completely arbitrary nature of language and signs.

She continued to build on the power of words when she discussed the two documentaries depicting transgender lives. Comparing the isolationist depiction of Her Name Was Steve to the empowering, embracing portrayal of “El camino de Moises,” Perez-Sanchez stresses the importance in effectively portraying the lives of transgendered individuals. By depicting the transgendered individual as an outcast plagues with isolation and despair, the film makers are stigmatizing the entire concept of transgendered individuals. When “El camino de Moises” depicts the life of a transgendered individual as welcoming and compassionate, Perez-Sanchez believes, the struggle for independence and agency is better understood as a comprehensive struggle for solidarity among all people.

discourseI think throughout both pieces the power of language and discourse is truly emphasized. It is language that allows for the labeling and marginalization of certain people within a community. Even though language is arbitrary, the power it possesses is irrevocable. After reading these pieces it is abundantly clear that discourse shapes who we are as individuals . . . each of us is constructed.

Identity, Hybridity, and Mimicry: Persepolis

Spanning nearly three decades, Marjane Satrapi’s graphic-novel-turned-animated-movie Persepolis is a pillar of colonial rule, decolonization, destabilization and hybridity. Using pre and post- revolution Iran as a backdrop, Satrapi beautifully crafts a coming of age narrative unmatched in modern time. However, this narrative is not one of constant perseverance and dedication, it is one of perpetual struggle and a longing to determine a true identity in a world lacking an identity of its own.

marjane_satrapi_by_random_boy2011-d4j66ysThe movie begins with a young Marjane entranced by the key revolutionaries in her life. It is among these people Marjane expresses, what I believe, is her first identity crisis. While discussing the traditional headscarf, Marjane describes it as a symbol of freedom and privilege. When asked where she heard such a thing young Marjane explains that her teacher at school told all the students this was the case. Her father than explains that freedom and honor come from the ability to choose to cover, not from the forced coverings. Of course, Marjane understands this, being a precocious child, and is instantly enthralled by the idea of revolution this brings up. For me, this scene brought up not just the confusion the young people of Iran experienced during the revolution, but the ability of the colonizer to infiltrate the youth and indoctrinate them in a way that allows oppression to continue.

Marjane’s nascent infatuation with the revolution is further matured with the arrival of her Uncle Anouche. Anouche, previously imprisoned by the Shah for political resistance, discusses with Marjane the longing for a socialist nation in which the proletariat rules. This conversation opens Marjane’s mind to a completely knew identity. An identity based on resistance and revolution. The several scenes in which she is marching and chanting in the living room while her father returns home and the notable absence of the Western God-like figure we see earlier in the film suggests Marjane’s new calling is the revolution. Again, this shows not only the confusion among the young people in Iran, but also the conflicting ideologies seen in pre-revolution Iran.

To me, these conflicts represent what can be seen as a sort of ideological Hybridity. Certainly the impressionable encounters with her Uncle and her teachers at such a young age could be attributed be attributed to just that— young age, but I believe it is these initial bouts of confusion that lay the foundation for the Hybridity of national identity she faces later. It seems so much of our identity is formulated in the early stages of our life that growing up confused in an environment where you are hearing one thing at home and another in school lends itself to an eventual crisis of identity.

While young Marjane depicts the conflicting ideals felt among the young people in Iran, it is the teenage and early adult Marjane that experiences the more traditional form HybriditSatrapi-Persepolisy. Popularized by theorist Homi K. Bhaba, Hybridity is defined as “the creation of new transcultural forms within the contact zone produced by colonization” (Ashcroft, Griffith, and Tiffins 135). Throughout the movie, the influence of Western culture is unavoidable. Marjane first shows signs of cultural hybridity in the form of music and clothing. She is always seen in predominately Western clothing and listening to Western music. As a girl she expresses her love for the Bee Gees (I mean, who doesn’t love the Bee Gees?) and wearing Adidas shoes. These seem to be the earliest indicators of a cultural hybridity. Of course, the god-like character could be a Western god of Christianity, but I don’t believe it is ever specified.

As Marjane progresses into young adulthood, she is given the opportunity to free the newly oppressive regime of Iran for Austria. Despite some uncertainty, Marjane leaves her family behind and sets out for a new start. One free of oppression and regime rule and open to the freedoms no longer experienced in Iran. It is here that Marjane truly experiences her crisis of identity. While in Austria, Marjane is faced with a new world to her. She references to the abundance of food and other products she wasn’t able to acquire in the new Iran. These products are a source of joy for Marjane and it is this initial embrace of Western culture that opens her to further Western influence in the forms of music and, eventually, philosophy. Living with a retired philosophy professor, Marjane immerses herself in Western philosophy and ideology. Doing so allowed her to assimilate easier to the Western world.

BhabaIt was at this portion of the movie when I was reminded of Homi K. Bhaba’s idea of mimicry. Ashcroft, Griffiths, and Tiffin describes mimicry as “the process by which the colonized subject is reproduced as ‘almost the same, but not quite’” (155). Throughout her time in Austria, Marjane is faced with an immense amount of Western culture. While trying to fully embrace her new life, she at once rejects her relationship with Iran and claims she is French. Coupled with her immersion in Western culture and philosophy, this statement seemed to epitomize the concept of almost the same but not quite or as Bhaba interpolates almost the same but not white.

Immersion MarjaneMarjane is constantly in turmoil trying to fit in with the European culture, but is never trying accepted. This ambivalent nature of Marjane comes to a heated climax when she confronts two girls maliciously mocking her claim to French heritage. It is at this point Marjane finally acknowledges her insecurity with being Iranian and triumphantly claims, “I am Iranian!” To me, it seems this moment is a monumental turning point for Marjane and it allows her to reconnect with who she truly is and a longing begins to develop.

Watching this film and noticing her progress thus far, I think her proclamation of Iranian nationality is truly liberating for Marjane. Having grown up in a world of revolution and conflicting ideologies, I think moving to Austria and immersing herself into Western culture allowed her to better understand her true identity— an Iranian woman. This realization also drives her to question her very being in Austria and Europe in general. She immediately begins sympathizing with those fighting in Iran and determines she must return. Having this new understanding allows Marjane to realize she needs to return home to Iran and begin developing her own identity in her home country.

Returning to Iran causes Marjane to plunge into a deep depression. Having to now compromise her beliefs, having to basically attempt to determine her identity as an 18 year-old woman under a newly oppressive Iranian regime, drives Marjane into a deep pool of self- doubt and uncertainty. This self-doubt and uncertainty seems like a completely accurate depiction of what it must feel like to find yourself between two cultural worlds neither of which you can truly identify with or begin to understand fully. As a white male, I’ve never experienced such a feeling of indecision about my identity, but can imagine this constant pain as a driving force for so many things. Where to live, what to say, how to speak, what to wear, all of these things seem to be effected by this idea of indecision and ambivalence brought about through mimicry and hybridity.

Melancholy MarjaneAs the movie comes to a close with Marjane sitting rather melancholy on an airport bench and eventually returning to Iran, I can’t help but feel a deep sadness for all those effected by such a world of indecision. Her life was filled with a constant tug-of-war that turned her at once against her nationality and at the same time drove her back to it. She longed for freedom but missed home. She longed for the Western world but sympathized with those fighting in Iran. She lived her life in halves and never fully determined a concrete identity.

What was truly startling was the sadness I felt when I realized that Marjane was not a singular case. She represents the multitudes in this world that struggle every day with their identity. The deeper sadness came when I realized the loss is perpetuated to this day through popular Western culture and domination and destabilization. After watching this movie, I started to and continue to ask my self, how can one begin to eliminate this perpetual cycle of indecision and loss? Can you?

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Abstracts

Chi in Igbo Cosmology” by Chinua Achebe: An Abstract

Chinua Achebe.jpegIn this essay, Chinua Achebe explores the many levels and meanings of Chi in in Igbo cosmology. Achebe begins by describing the omnipresence of the Chi and its prevalence in the Igbo culture. Described as a “spirit being complementing (the) terrestrial hum being” (159). For the Igbo, Chi is one half of the Igbo existence. With this concept of Chi solidified, Achebe expounds on the importance of Chi in the Igbo culture. Beginning with its ceremonial meaning, Chi is then explored in the naming of Igbo individuals. Names such as Chineke and Chi Kwu, for Achebe, depict the substantial impact Chi has not only in the ceremonial but also the daily lives of the Igbo people. Achebe shows that names reflect not just the immense respect the Igbo have for the Chi, but they also harness the past fortunes of the parents. In the end, Achebe determines Chi is the being “who created him (man), its natural home is somewhere in the region of the sun but it may be induced to visit an earthly shrine” (164). For the Igbo, Chi is imperative to their very earthly existence and spiritual integrity.

“Africa’s Tarnished Image” by Chinua Achebe: An Abstract

AFricaChinua Achebe begins his essay “Africa’s Tarnished Image” by exploring the geographical proximity of Africa and the Imperial British powers. In doing so, Achebe illuminates the longitudinal kinship that connects Africa and Europe, despite their ideological differences. Having established the similarities, Achebe begins discussing the atrocities of exploitation Africa has suffered at the hand of the British. Achebe credits the bastardizing of Africa to “a deliberate invention of devised to facilitate two gigantic, historical event: the Atlantic Slave Trade and the colonization of Africa by Europe” (209). Achebe continues throughout the essay to reference specific times in history where Africa was marginalized. Relying heavily on Joseph Conrad’s much lauded novella Heart of Darkness, Achebe explores the depiction of Africa in popular culture throughout its history. Achebe focuses on the elements in the novella that depict the monolithic interpretation of the native African. After interpreting the language and character descriptions in the novella, Achebe looks at the culture relevancy of such descriptions. Examining Conrad’s predecessors, Achebe emphasizes the damage caused by Conrad’s essentially anachronistic depiction of the native. In the end, all references point to Achebe’s belief that Africa’s narrative was and is still written for them not by them.

“An Image of Africa in Conrad’s Heart of Darkness” by Chinua Achebe: An Abstract

Building on his essay “Africa’s Tarnish Image,” Chinua Achebe begins “An Image of Africa in Conrad’s Heart of Darkness” by taking an extensive look into Joseph Conrad’s celebrated novella Heart of Darkness. Focusing on the character descriptions and developments throughout the novella, Achebe posits that Conrad, while beautifully using symbolism, is in fact inherently perpetuating the racist subjugation of the African continent. Achebe actively compares the descriptions of the “flailing” limbed savages to the eloquence of the European gentleman. Achebe contends it is simply the European perception of Africa that has kept Conrad from being perceived for what he truly is— a racist. Emphasizing language and character depiction, Achebe argues, despite his genius, Conrad is simply a purveyor of “comforting” and essentially damning depiction of Africa and the natives within.

“Teaching the Politics of Heart of Darkness” by Gerald Graff: An Abstract

Heart of DarknessIn defense of Joseph Conrad’s celebrated novella Heart of Darkness, Gerald Graff’s essay “Teaching the Politics of Heart of Darkness” begins by exposing the predominate approach to teaching Heart of Darkness. Graff discusses the novella as a “parable of reason and unreason” (182). Stressing the “universal moral theme” (182) of the novella, Graff seems to suggest that the very setting of Africa was incidental to Conrad’s overall purpose for writing— to illuminate the thin, fragile line between savage and civilized. Graff also expresses his belief in the division of politics and literature. For Graff, the separation is imperative for the ability of literature to question beyond politics. Having established his initial approach to Heart of Darkness, Graff begins to look at the novel not from the dominant European viewpoint, but from the minority perspective. Referencing Chinua Achebe’s essay “An Image of Africa in Conrad’s Heart of Darkness,” Graff looks at the character and setting descriptions throughout Heart of Darkness and expounds on his various methods for approaching such dueling critiques in his classes. Graff marks the several points in Heart of Darkness where he disagrees with Achebe about Conrad’s racism. Despite his disagreements, Graff leaves the essay with a number of points, but none more relevant and powerful than his belief that theoretical bias is detrimental to and insulting to the work itself. By limiting a reading to one perspective, the readers constrain themselves to ignorance and misunderstandings. Graff stresses the necessity of challenging ourselves as readers in order to fully comprehend the greatness of Heart of Darkness and , I’m assuming, all works of literature.

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Ceremonies: Things Fall Apart

In Postcolonial Studies: The Key Concepts, Ashcroft, Griffiths, and Tiffin define race as “a term for the classification of human beings into physically, biologically, and genetically distinct groups” (218). This bare bones definition really helped me understand the root of some of the racist stereotypes seen throughout history and in present day. When race is viewed simply as a tool for categorizing individuals, it seems, the door for racism and stereotyping sits wide open. One question I always ask myself, mostly associated with First World items like iPhones and High Heels, is “If people never saw an iPhone, how would they describe it?”

FanonAfter reading Things Fall Apart, for what feels like the third or fourth time, I started thinking about race in the same way. It almost seems the idea of race in Things Fall Apart is invisible until the tribes begin encountering the colonizers. Until the arrival of the missionaries in Parts II and III, Okonkwo and the other natives seem to associate white skin with leprosy. The image of the unknowing native immediately reminded me of Frantz Fanon who wrote about the phenomenon of race among the people of Martinique. I don’t have the book with me but the main idea is that the people of Martinique do not understand the idea of being black and blackness until they travel to Europe. I always found this idea incredibly fascinating and enlightening.

One key point, among many others, I took away from Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart was the understanding that despite the similarities in race, the tribes and villages mentioned all have a uniqueness about them that sets them apart. Given the length of Part I, I have to assume that he intended to show the differences between tribes. In doing so, he brings to light the Single Story of Africa often perceived in the Western world. Adichie talk about this concept in the video we watched earlier this semester, but makes mention again to the idea in the video this week. When the Western world views Africa as a single story, the ideas of racism and stereotyping are able to thrive.

ThingsFallAnother term, really an idea, we read this week that I felt was incredibly beneficial when reading Things Fall Apart the theory of Negritude. Ashcroft, Griffiths, and Tiffin describe Negritude as “a theory of the distinctiveness of African personality and culture” (176). They continue to build on this definition adding “the concept of ‘negritude’ implied that all people of Negro descent shared certain inalienable essential characteristics” (177). This theory “encompassed ‘the sum total of the values of the civilization of the African world” (177). One thing I like about the idea of Negritude is the absence of race, but the prevalence of personality and culture. Negritude seems to focus purely on the connection one has two Africa through the personality and culture. By absolving race as a determining factor, the concept of Negritude allows for an inclusive element that is absent when one focuses on race.

Understanding this essentialist theory and reading Things Fall Apart allowed me to better appreciate the culture of the tribes throughout the novel. Looking at the certain gods and idols they worshiped allowed me to see what I assume is the foundation of the Negritude belief. By seeing “first-hand” the beliefs of the native tribes, I was able to better understand a culture I previously was unaware. The way Achebe built up the cultural similarities and differences between the tribes throughout Part I enabled me to see the common threads that link the tribes. This helped me to better appreciate the idea of Negritude and its “inalienable essential characteristics” (177).

At this point, I’m going to to focus on the ceremonies throughout the novel because, to me, they were the most influential parts of the story. It also seems that every scene in the story has some ceremonial traditional aspect to it. Colonization also seems to originate in the tribal ceremonies and the respect and disrespect those ceremonies and traditions receive.

Throughout the novel traditions and ceremonies are the things the Igbo people hold dear. We read about a number of different impactful events, but it seems the foundation of Okonkwo’s identity rests in the ceremonial wrestling match held every year. It is at one of these ceremonies Okonkwo throws “The Cat” onto his back and is proclaimed the top wrestler in the land — a title he seems to hold above everything else. I read this title as his initiation into his hyper-masculine role.

We are also privy to the traditional marriage ceremony of the Igbo people when Obierika’s daughter is set to be married to a neighboring family. It is in this section we learn of the marriage process. First the meeting, then the cowries, finally the ceremony. I found some of the discussions quite interesting in this section, namely, the slanderous talk of neighboring tribes’ marriage ceremonies. This seems to show the different traditions and stories that make up the land. Achebe, I assume, does this for a number of reasons. One, to show the many facets of African culture and two, to illuminate the division that exists among them. When Okonkwo and the others talk condescendingly of the neighboring traditions, the reader first sees how steeped in traditions he and his fellow tribe members truly are and how inferior they deem the others.

Another ceremony I felt held great significance was the arrival of the egwugwu. Even when the narrator is describing the ceremonies of the village he, along with everyone else, knows Okonkwo and several other prominent men are wearing the masks, but it is the symbolic representation of the gods that drives the sacred ceremony. I found this particularly interesting because even though everyone knows the gods’ true identity, the people still have such respect for the cultural traditions and never once outwardly acknowledge so.

The downfall of Okonkwo also happens at a ceremony. It is during a funeral ceremony that Okonkwo inadvertently shoots a fellow tribe member. To the Igbo, this act, though accidental, requires an exile to another tribe. Okonkwo, having worked his entire life to achieve his rank among the Igbo people, is forced to move to his mother’s native Mbanta tribe. There, Okonkwo is first exposed to the initial changes that come with the Christian missionaries. The missionaries begin talking to the Mbanta people and attempting to convert them to Christianity. Okonkwo’s son, Nwoye, is among the people converted by the missionaries. To Okonkwo, the idea of rejecting the traditions and cultures of his native people for Western Christianity, a religion grounded in demonizing his own, is deplorable and Okonkwo rejects Nwoye as his son. All of these events seem initiated by the incidental death of a tribesman at the Funeral ceremony.

African ImperialismIt is during this time the idea of going native came into the novel. Ashcroft, Griffths, and Tiffin describe this phenomenon as “the colonizers’ fear of contamination by absorption into native life and customs . . . (and) could also encompass lapses from European behavior, the participation in native ceremonies, or the adoption and even enjoyment of local customs in terms of dress, food, recreation, and entertainment” (132-133). Mr. Brown is the first missionary to develop a relationship with the natives. While encouraging Christian beliefs, Mr. Brown could be described as going native because of his acceptance and cordial interactions with the Mbanta people. He is often seen trying to understand the native customs and participating in certain ceremonies. It is his compassion for the Mbanta people that allows him to fortify the relationship between the missionaries and the natives. Eventually, Mr. Brown falls ill and is forced to return to England.

Following Mr. Brown’s departure, James Smith quickly arrives. Smith is the opposite of Brown in congeniality and understanding. Smith hastens the colonization process by overthrowing the tribal court system with a more Eurocentric courthouse and judicial system. It is Smith who overtakes rather than works with the native communities and, eventually, causes the once promising relationship between the two to perish.

Interestingly enough, the arrival of the egwugwu is the breaking point of the novel. It is during the Mother Earth ceremony that Enoch, a convert to Christianity in the Igbo tribe, removes the mask of one of the egwugwu a cardinal sin among the people of Umuofia. To the Igbo people, removing the mask is essentially killing the god. It at this point Okonkwo and the other members of the tribe hold a meeting, another ceremony of sorts, and discuss their retaliation for such an action. It is their retaliation that causes Okonkwo and the other members of the Igbo tribe to suffer at the hands of James Smith and his European court system. Jailed and embarrassed, Okonkwo is forced to defend his heritage.

The ceremonies, while steeped in tradition and culture, become the battleground for colonization. It is the infringement upon the Umuofia people’s belief system that truly solidifies their colonization. Okonkwo learned the hard way that while he found pride and comfort in the traditions and cultures of the past, his tribesmen were no where to be found when he made the fatal blow to one of James Smith’s men.

Achebe masterfully uses the ceremonies within Things Fall Apart to emphasize both the traditional life of the Umuofia people but also the ability of the colonizer to destroy an entire culture. It is the compromise of these ceremonies that leads to the decline of the Igbo and Mbanta people and eventually leads to the death of Okonkwo.

Identity Formation and Colonization

OyewumiOyeronke Oyewumi begins her essay “Colonizing Bodies and Minds: Gender and Colonialism” by bringing to light the very real fact that colonialism, both the colonized and the colonizer, are presumed male. She writes, “Colonial rule itself is described as ‘a manly or husbandry or lordly prerogative.’ As a process, it is often described as taking away of the manhood of the colonized” (339). This statement made me feel, as I often do while reading Postcolonial theory, a sense of awe. Awe, first at how blatantly obvious the statement is, and second at how I never realized such an obvious statement before now. Oyewumi continues to discuss the gender discrepancy in Postcolonial theory when she writes, “The histories of both the colonized and the colonizer have been written from the male point of view — women are peripheral if they appear at all” (339). Oyewumi takes this lens of Postcolonial theory and focuses on the isolation of women through colonization.

Oyewumi argues that the concept of women occupying the periphery is perpetuated through the domination of native discourse by Western intellects. She writes, when discussing the basis of Western thought, “Colonial customs and practice stemmed from ‘a worldview which believes in absolute superiority of the human over the nonhuman and the subhuman, the masculine over the feminine . . . and the modern or progressive over the traditional or the savage” (339). For Oyewumi, the worldview of the colonizer is one of binaries and domination. These binaries are applied to what the Western world deems an inferior culture (i.e. native, savage, traditional).

By subjugating the colonized, the Western world not only robs all natives of their cultural identity, but also double colonizes the native woman. It is the presumed masculinity of colonization coupled with the hyper-masculine image of the Western world that further subjugates the women of native Africa. Oyewumi discusses this phenomenon of double colonization when she states, “African females were colonized by Europeans as Africans and as African women. They were dominated, exploited, and inferiorized as Africans together with African men and then separately inferiorized and marginalized as African women” (340). This idea seems to be a common thread throughout gender theory not just in the colonized but in the Western world as well.

Oyewumi examines the several levels of “double colonization” beginning with the Western Patriarchy as a foundation. By explaining the Western emphasis on masculinity, Oyewumi discusses the problems faced by native women in Africa. She writes, “In Britain, access to power was gender-based . . . politics was largely men’s jobs; and colonization, which is fundamentally a political affair, was no exception” (341). It is this gender based discrimination in the Western world that is directly transferred to the politics of the colonized. Women in the native tribes were presumed inferior to the native men not because the native men believed that to be so, but because the colonizers believed it to be so.

By “inferiorizing” the women of the native tribes, the Western colonizers not only took away their political power but also their rights to own. Oyewumi discusses the loss of land experienced by native women as a result of their diminished political role. One thing that I found particularly interesting was the idea that land ownership was a purely Western concept introduced to the African tribes. Oyewumi writes, when discussing the indigenous perspective on land, “land was not a commodity to be individually owned, bought, and sold” (346). The concept of individual land owners came into being when colonization began. By introducing the idea of owning land and coupling it with the Western patriarchy, the native woman found herself not only losing political power but also her very right to possess land.

Oyewumi continues to address the disparaging situation of the native women when she discusses the inevitable annihilation of their very presence in the tribe. I mean presence in terms of rights and power not physical presence. Eventually, the Western thought infiltrates the colonial to a point of no return. Oyewumi discusses this as a “new system (that) was a colonial state” (356). This new system emphasized the woman as wife and nothing more. They experienced diminished roles in not just the community but in their own homes.

One thing that truly astounded me and, I think, helped me to better understand the true idea of colonization was Oyewumi’s emphasis on how thorough the Western domination of native culture was on Yorubaland and is still today on other native lands. Oyewumi stresses this throughout her essay and seems to solidify the idea when she is discussing the ideas of “our custom” and “tradition” (349). To me, this is the end game of colonization. When a native culture welcomes the colonizer and accepts their traditions as its own.

Nawal-El-SaadawiNawal El Saadawi’s testimonio Woman at Point Zero seems to take into consideration the damning effects of a male dominated culture. Ashcroft, Griffiths, and Tiffin describe a testimonio as “a novel or novella length narrative told in the first person by a narrator who is also the actual protagonist or witness of the events he or she recount” (259). The idea of a testimonio is very interesting to me because, and Ashcroft, Griffiths, and Tiffins bring this up, despite the protagonist telling the events as he or she sees them, there is still a filter their story passes through—an authorial filter. Ashcroft, Griffiths, and Tiffins refer to this as a “First World Interlocutor” (259).   I like the idea of a testimonio to give voice to the subaltern, but I couldn’t help but throw the age-old “unreliable narrator” label on it. It seems it would be incredibly difficult to truly hear the voice of the subaltern if the subaltern’s voice must first pass through the First World filter.

Women at Point ZeroNonetheless, Saadawi’s novel did an incredible job of showing the struggles women, particularly those in male-dominate cultures, face when determining their subjectivity. Ashcroft, Griffiths, and Tiffins describe subjectivity as “colonized people’s perceptions of their identities and their capacities to resist the conditions of their domination” (247). As I was reading Women at Point Zero, I couldn’t help but see the truly staggering ways in which Firdaus was subjugated by the world around her. From the earliest memories of her childhood, Firaud is fraught with images of oppression and objectification. These instance continue to accrue throughout her adolescent and young adult years. It isn’t until she finally takes command of her own life that she truly begins to form any true identity. By turning to her uncle, her husband, the waiter, the madam, and eventually the revolutionary, Firdaus experiences objectification and subjugation on several levels. I believe Saadawi uses the many vile characters in Firdaus’ life to show just how difficult it can be as a woman to determine subjectivity. Firdaus experiences oppression and exploitation initially on the familial level, next on the social male-centered level, and finally, and what I think has to be the most debilitating, on the gender-based level. She not only is denied the ability to determine an identity by the men in her society but also by the women.

Thinking on all of this week’s readings, I kept asking myself a number of questions, but one seemed to occur the most . . . How can the subaltern truly begin to gain an identity? I think speech, action, and discourse are paramount in determining identity, but if the subaltern/colonized are in constant motion from one culture to another to another, how can a true identity begin to form?

Gender and Discourse

Chandra Talpade Mohanty challenges the Western World’s perception of global feminism in her article “Under Western Eyes: Feminist Scholarship and Colonial Discourse.” She begins the article discussing the ideas of the “Third World Woman” (333). To do this she first provides her definition of colonization. She writes:

The definition of colonization I wish to invoke here is a predominantly discursive one, focusing on a certain mode of appropriation and codification of ‘scholarship’ and ‘knowledge’ about women in the third world by particular analytic categories employed in specific writings on the subject which take as their referent feminist interests as they have been articulated in the U.S. and Western Europe (334)

MohantyMohanty, using this definition, begins the discussion of intellectual feminist colonization throughout the world. Ashcroft, Griffiths, and Tiffin define feminism as “the ways and extent to which representation and language are crucial to identity formation and to the construction of subjectivity” (117). For Mohanty, Western Feminism is directly responsible for the subjectivity of the global woman and most significantly responsible for the objectification of the “Third World Woman.”

One of the most intriguing parts of her article was her explication of the historical woman and the re-presentation of Woman. She writes, “Connection between as historical objects and the re-presentation of Woman produced by hegemonic discourses is not a relation of direct identity, or a relation of correspondence or simple implication. It is an arbitrary relation set by particular cultures” (334). Understanding her definition of colonization, the concept of the “Third World Woman” seems to be easily constructed by the Western World. For Mohanty, the Western World, through discourse, propagates the image of the “Third World Woman”. By emphasizing their superiority, the Western Feminists marginalize the “Third World Women.” In assuming superiority, the Western Feminist movement inflicts an inadvertent subjugation of the Third. This idea was incredibly helpful in understanding the idea of feminism on a global level.

This idea seems to aide Leila Ahmed in her article “The Discourse of the Veil.” Ahmed focuses her work on the misconception in the Western World of the headscarf in the East. In keeping with the idea of colonizing feminist thought through the Western lens, Ahmed discusses the prevalence of implied superiority from the Western world. What helped me to understand her position the most was her podcast interview. While my typical podcast playlist consists of Runner’s World and Jalen and Jacoby, On Being has quickly become subscription worthy. To me, what resonated the most was her ability to quickly counter the implied inferiority of the, to borrow from Mohanty, “Third World Woman” by thrusting the inconsistencies of equality towards women in the Western world. She mentions this in her podcast, but expands on this idea in the article. Ahmed writes,:

In the colonial era the colonial powers, especially Britain, developed their theories of race and cultures and of a social evolutionary sequence according to which the middle-class, Victorian England, and its beliefs and practices . . . represented the model of ultimate civilization . . . Victorian womanhood and mores with respect to women . . . were regarded as the ideal measure of a civilization (321)

For me, the very idea of the Victorian woman is one of restrictions and forced passivity. Using this as the bastion of the woman in the free world allowed the colonizers to shift their attention from dampening feminism in the Western world to dominating the Eastern. Ahmed discusses the malleability of Western Victorian colonization when she describes Colonial Feminism. She explains the concept as “feminism as used agaiSpivaknst other cultures in the service of colonialism” (321). For her, the idea of Western Feminism in the Victorian period became a moldable term that no longer applied to the uplifting of women, but the subjugation of the marginalized “Third World Woman.” For me, this idea is what dominated my thought for the remainder of the article. Ahmed is constantly discussing the misconceptions of the headscarf in the Western World. While the amount I’ve underlined in the article is vast, I always ask myself “what is my main takeaway?” For Ahmed, much like with Mohanty, discourse is something that possesses an incredible amount of POWER over the perceptions the Western World has of the East.

If discourse played a role in Mohanty and Ahmed’s article, discourse was the leading lady in Gayatari Chakravorty Spivak’s “Can the Subaltern Speak?” While the writing I found to be incredibly complex and the concepts difficult to fully understand, I think her main purpose for writing is to discuss the impact of discourse in gender formation and more importantly in the subjugation of “Third World Women” throughout the Western world. It seems she discusses the inability of the subaltern to possess any agency within their discourse. To do this she discusses the idea of worlding. Ashcroft, Griffiths, and Tiffin describes worlding as “the way in which colonized space is brought into the ‘world’ that is, made to exist as part of a world essentially constructed by Eurocentrism” (283). Throughout “Can the Subaltern Speak?” Spivak discusses the multiple ways Eurcentric thought impact the Eastern world. Again, I think my comprehension of what she is saying is somewhere in the 65% range, but overall I think she is stressing the power of discourse over the world. When a discourse assumes superiority, much like the European, all others are perceived as inferior and marginal.

What I really enjoy in Spivak’s work is her emphasis on the importance of class in determining gender and gender equality. It seems she looks at women in the “Third World” as barring the cross of not only their perceived inferior discourse as a race, but also their gender. It reminds me a lot of Kimberle Crenshaw’s intersectionality but applied globally. Women of all cultures must overcome not just their race inequality, but they must also reconcile the struggles of being a woman. Again, I feel like there is so much to discuss about the three articles, but to formulate would be far more than a blog post.

These readings elucidate the ideas of Western Feminism and the sometimes detrimental effect it can have on women across the world. It made me focus on my subject position as a white male even further and call into question some of the Feminist ideals I had before. Growing up in a small rural town, some of the feminist critiques of the “Third World” seemed really impactful for me, but as I grew older and read more enlightening pieces like the three this week, my understanding of Feminism and gender formation has grown substantially. We as people possess an incredible amount of power in our language. By bringing into being certain parts of the world, the Western world can unintentionally and intentionally limit the ability of women in the “Third World” to truly form their own identity.

GyasiYaa Gyasi also looks at the impact of colonization on the mind. Throughout “Inscape,” Gifty deals with her mother’s failing awareness to the world around her. Gifty begins the story picking her mother up from the assisted living village. Once there she learns her mother is telling everyone she is a “disciple” tasked with writing two new books to the Bible. As the story progresses, Gifty’s mother begins saying words and phrases that remind Gifty of her childhood. The memory that seems to have the strongest hold on her is “Jesus is fire.” With the added background we get throughout the story, I think this phrase reflects the struggles of her life. Jesus correlated with fire when Gifty’s mother experienced colonization as a young girl. Despite this trauma, Gifty’s mother becomes a Christian woman who raises Gifty as such. The image of destruction wasn’t just symbolized in Gifty’s mother’s word but in her actions as well. By slitting her dog’s throat, named Peace oddly enough, Gifty’s mother begins to symbolize the colonizers belief in peace through destruction. Using the dogs blood to write excerpts from her new book of the Bible further cements the symbol of the destructive nature of colonization.

Throughout all the readings for the week, the idea of gender formation and the impression of colonization on both the intellectual level and the physical level are made abundantly clear. I can honestly say I have a further understanding of just how impactful discourse and language can be in constructing and destroying an identity.

 

Edward Said: Orientalism

edward-saidThe concept of Orientalism and the writing of Edward Said seem to be inescapable in the world of Postcolonial scholarship, and unfortunately, the applicability of the ideas to our modern world is alarming. Having read this excerpt first as an undergraduate and now twice as a graduate student, the understanding of Orientalism and its definition has always been allusive to me. As an undergraduate, I first thought of Orientalism as the culture of the Far East. After reading the excerpt, I was able to determine the Middle East is also included in the idea of Orientalism. Call it undergraduate nascence or hubris, but the impact of such an idea held no power in my mind. It was simply a label to apply to the Eastern non-European world. Basically, the definition used by Said to display European ignorance.

Revisiting the concept as a graduate student, a professional, and most importantly, an adult, the term has morphed into a completely different monster. I say monster because, to me, that is what it appears to be. Said describes the initial idea of the Orient as “almost a European invention . . . a place of romance, exotic beings, haunting memories and landscapes, remarkable experiences” (71). He describes the advent of the Orient as significant in developing a contrast to the European world (71).   Through the manufacturing of the Orient as a place and idea, Europeans were essentially defining their own places in the world. Said describes the Orient as “an integral part of European material civilization and culture” (71). Because the Orient is othered, the European world solidifies its own identity.

Apart from the power othering has over the identity of the imperialist’s own physical identity, the true power of othering is seen in the discourse of both the Orient and the Europeans. Said describes Orientalism as an idea that “expresses and represents that part culturally and even ideologically as a mode of discourse with supporting institutions, vocabulary, scholarships, imagery, doctrines, even colonial bureaucracies and colonial styles” (71-72).   He further solidifies this definition of Orientalism as “a style of thought based upon an ontological and epistemological distinction between ‘the Orient’ and (most of the time) ‘the Occident’” (72). The ideas of essentialism and universalism seem to be imperative to the power of Orientalism. The Occident determines one idea of the Orient and constructs two identities— the inferior Native and the superior European. This style of thought idea is what failed to resonate with me in the earlier readings. The Orient and Orientalism are not just means of defining the physical identity of an individual, but the very discourse the Europeans and non-Europeans. I think what also makes the idea of Orientalism and discourse so dangerous are the limiting qualities it provides its subjects. In order for Orientalism to maintain power, the concept of individuality must no longer exist and instead, a concrete universal other must materialize.

It seems the ability of Europeans to reify their own identities lays in their isolation and subjugation of the Other, in this case, the Orient. This phenomenon is something that eluded my understanding of Orientalism until my most recent reading. When Said writes, “It (the Orient) tries to show that European culture gained in strength and identity by setting itself off against a sort of surrogate and even underground self,” (73) the power of the entire concept finally clicked for me. The identity of Europe relies not simply on the physical makeup of the people that inhabit it, but also on what they believe they are not— the Orient. I’m uncertain why it has taken this long for me to realize the power in Said’s concept of the Orient; maybe it’s my new understanding of Derrida and de Saussure that did not accompany the first time, or perhaps it is simply being more mature, but the power of Othering has become significantly clearer and the damage it causes much more real.

I believe there is so much more to talk about with Said and Orientalism, but to convey an “AHA!” moment through writing is proving to be exceptionally difficult for me. That being said, and I know DR. Clemens mentioned this in her assignment post, the idea of Orientalism and the work of Said, I believe, is dangerously relevant to today’s world. From what I’ve observed, othering is no longer exclusive to those of Europe. On a daily basis, I watch 7th graders, their parents, and other adults in my building other the people around them. Of course, the implications are not as severe but if you out subjugate anyone to feel inferior, the idea of Orientalism is solidified. I witness a microcosm of Orientalism, but surely the prevalence of such an idea is easily seen on the macro level.

Along with Said, I also enjoyed a number of terms we read this week, namely, colonial discourse and contrapuntal readings. It seems one cannot be mentioned without the other. It is the acknowledgment of colonial discourse, the understanding of that lens, which sailor_queequegallows for contrapuntal readings to occur. I think classic works in Western literature are so often appreciated for their literary prowess, but with a contrapuntal reading, stories like “Rikki Tikki Tavi” by Rudyard Kipling take on a different role. Even works by Herman Melville such as Mardi, Typee, and Omoo assume a different understanding through the lens of contrapuntal reading. I think even Queequeg in Moby-Dick takes on a new definition once a contrapuntal reading is applied.  To me,  colonial discourse and contrapuntal reading, while apparently obvious ideas, provide readers with a completely different outlook on literature and for me, why they are so important.

For the Culture

Derek Walcott writes, “What energizes our society is the spiritual force of a culture shaping itself” (257). Throughout this weeks readings, I found myself constantly drawn back to this line from “The Caribbean: Culture or Mimicry?” To me, this seemed to embody the idea of an ever-changing culture in constant flux between necessity and survival, authenticity and prosperity. To Walcott, the idea of POWER is “ephemeral, unstable” and “the least important aswalcottpect of any culture” (257). It seems Walcott uses the idea of culture to empower the colonized people. He writes, “Perhaps powerlessness leave the Third World, the ex-colonial world, no alternative but to imitate those systems offered to or forced on it by the major powers, their political systems which must alter their common life, their art, their language, their philosophy” (258). For Walcott, it is this absence of power that leaves the Third World vulnerable, and open to manipulation. He writes, “The bitterness of the colonial experience, its degradation of dependency and its cynicism of older “values” tempts the Third World with spiritual alternative” (258). For Walcott, the colonial experience is so marred by terror and capitulation that the very idea of resistance is hampered by the politicians who are “trapped in the concept of the world proposed by those who rule it” (258).

Throughout my reading of “The Caribbean: Culture or Mimicry?” I started to really appreciate some of the terms we were assigned in Postcolonial Studies. Walcott seems to touch on all of the concepts read, and I felt truly fortunate to have read the terms first because they provided me with a vocabulary to understand Walcott even further. Of course, the concepts of binarism and hybridity are apparent throughout the work, but I found it incredibly helpful to have the ideas of liminality and palimpsest at my disposal. By understanding palimpsest as “all present experience contains ineradicable traces of the past,” (Ashcroft, Griffiths, and Tiffin 190) I was better able to approach the concepts expressed in Walcott’s ever evolving culture. Much like palimpsest, liminality allowed me to have a term for what I believe Walcott is discussing throughout his article. The space where all culture synthesizes and morphs seems to be imperative to Walcott’s essay.

nervousconditionsIn the final half of Nervous Conditions, the concepts posed in Walcott’s essay come to fruition through the relationship of Tambu, Nyasha, and Babamakuru. One of the more apparent scenes occurs in Chapter 6 when Nyasha and Tambu are discussing Nyasha’s brother Chido and his interacial school. Nyasha, referring to attending the school, states it is “a blessing in disguise since once we got there the ‘life’ we talked of would overtake us and we would have to fight the consequences” (107). It can be inferred the consequences Nyasha was talking about was the assimilation forced about he girls into the white imperialist culture.   To Tambu, the idea of the Missionary is comething to be celebrated; to Nyasha feared. The ideas reflected in this interaction seem to reinforce Walcott’s idea of powerlessness. Tambu, coming from nothing, easily accepts the dominant missionary culture, while Nyasha begins bucking the ideals.

While Nyasha and Tambu display the ideas of power and powerlessness, Babamukuru reinforces Walcott’s idea of politicians and their lack of revolution. Throughout the story, Babamukuru is constantly directing the girls and his entire family in general towards the dominating colonial ideologies.   Tambu states, “The authorities thought Babamakuru was a good African And it was generally believed that good Africans bred good African children who also thought about nothing but serving their communities” (109). By describing her Uncle in terms of the Imperialist impressions of him, Tambu appears to be stressing their power over him. The power of the Imperialist culture over Babamukuru is seen throughout the novel, but more so in the second half when he constantly references the ideas of being a “decent” girl.

Tambu seems to understand the inevitable loss of self that comes from assimilating to Imperialist culture when she decides to attend the Catholic missionary. She laments, “If I forget them (her friends), my cousin, my mother, my friends, I might as well forget myself” (191). It seems Tambu is finally realizing the true duality to which she has lived her life. Tambu struggles to reconcile the life she once had with the life she now has and longs to maintain. She appears to embody the idea of palimpsest and liminality. Throughout the story she is in constant flux between the old life and the new life, the traditional way and the European, but she never truly loses her native ideals. Instead, she attempts to reconcile the two, which, to me, hails to Walcott’s ideas of culture and hybridity.

This week has taught me a number of new and incredibly insightful things. With the new found vocabulary and concepts presented in Walcott’s essay and Postcolonial Studies, and the ease of applicability of these terms to Nervous Conditions, I feel I can further discuss and understand the Postcolonial experience not just in literature but in life as well. Every day I teach, I notice cultural differences among the students and witness their struggles to reconcile the new traditions with the old. The students may not be reconciling on the level of Tambu, but every day I see cultures blend and borrow from each other. It is a relief to finally have some way to express these relationships effectively.

Ambivalence and Mimicry: The Power and the Oppressor

Homi Bhaba describes colonial mimicry as “the desire for a reformed, recognizable Other; as a subject of a difference that is almost the same, but not quite”(266). Bhaba seems to emphasize importance of the not quite aspect of mimicry throughout his essay “Of Mimicry and Man.” To Bhaba, there has to be certain amounts of “slippage” that transpire. I understood the “slippage” as the ability of the colonized to maintain some of their original native culture.

This allows for, what Bhaba refers to as, ambivalence to occur. Ashcroft, Griffiths, and Tiffin define ambivalence first as “a continual fluctuation between wanting one thing and wanting its opposite”(13). I found this definition incredibly helpful when trying to understand the idea of ambivalence in discourse. With this basic understanding, Ashcroft, Griffiths, and Tiffin, helpfully simplify, I think, the ideas posited by Bhaba. They further explain ambivalence in discourse as “the way in which colonial discourse relates to the colonized subject, for it may be exploitive and nurturing, or represent nurturing at the same time”(13). With both definitions given, the power of ambivalence became increasingly clear to me.   The colonizer appears to give the colonized the little pleasantries of Europe, but their goal is not to produce a copy. It seems, for Bhaba, the colonizer depends on the fluctuating discourses and identities to maintain control of the colonized.

In doing so, the colonized develop, what Bhaba refers to as, a partial presence. Bhaba uses the term partial to mean “both ‘incomplete’ and ‘virtual’”(266). He continues to stress the importance of partial presence by discussing the very idea of the “colonial” representation as dependent “upon some strategic limitation or prohibition within the authoritative discourse itself . . . (to) ensure its strategic failure”(266). It appears the colonizer, while appearing to enliven the colonized society to the pleasures of European livelihood, do so in a way that inherently programs the colonized for failure. This failure allows for the ambivalence and the partial presence necessary for colonization to gain and maintain control decades removed from initial colonization.

With this ambivalence and partial presence the colonized, Bhaba believes, the colonized individual is in a constant state of uncertainty. Despite this uncertainty, the idea of catachresis allows for the colonized to “re-inscribe something that exists traditionally as a feature of imperial culture, such as a parliamentary democracy”(Ashton, Griffiths, and Tiffin 41). Catachresis seems to be one of the key ingredients of mimicry. By re-inscribing the Imperial ideals, the native appears to gain some control, but what develops are conflicting ideals and morals.

Due to the uncertain cultural foundation established among native colonized people, the ideas of cultural diversity and transculturalism begin to develop. The ideas of the colonizer are in constant synthesis among the colonized. As we’ve read previously, the idea of one perspective and experience among the colonized is non-existent. This, I believe, makes the idea of counter-discourse incredibly difficult to execute. Ashcroft, Griffiths, and Tiffins describe counter-discourse as “the complex ways in which challenges to a dominant or established discourse . . . might be mounted from the periphery”(67).

One challenge I had in reconciling these terms was the magnitude of their definitions. By acknowledging cultural diversity and transculturalism, it seems the native people have been forced into uncertainty and now with counter-discourse must fight back against an enemy they have never truly understood. To me, it must be incredibly difficult to counter something you only know in pieces. I liked the reference to Fanon, who places power in this in-between, but I am struggling to understand what people must do.

These ideas are all present in the Tsitsi Dangeremba novel Nervous Conditions. Throughout the opening chapters, the protagonist, Tambu, is in constant fluctuation between the Imperial European and her native culture. The story begins with her unsympathetically discussing the death of her brother. She begins, “I was not sorry that my brother died”(Dangaremba 1). As the chapters progress, the narrator is constantly exemplifying the idea of ambivalence as defined by Bhaba. It seems the narrator longs to gain the education that her brother has, but at the same time, is incredibly resentful of his very access to education.

This ambivalence continues to grow and, it seems, spawns the rejection of her self. She describes her position, being a woman and a child, in her native tribe. She laments, “I felt the injustice of my situation every time I thought about it (her position) . . . thinking about it, feeling the injustice of it, this is how I came to dislike my brother, and not only my brother, my mother, my father— in fact, everybody”(12). It appears, her awareness of European schooling is something she both accepts and wishes for herself, but rejects its presence in the others around her.

She continues to display the idea of ambivalence as her uncle, Babamakuru, and cousin, Nyaisha, visit her family. Her uncle is a headmaster at a British school and is the pride of Tambu’s family. The idea of ambivalence, once again, begins to take hold on Tambu. While with her cousin, Tambu remarks on her inability to talk in their native language and this causes quite a conundrum to Tambu. While speaking with her aunt, Maiguru, Tambu, in learning her cousin does not understand Shona proficiently anymore, states, “What Maiguru said as bewildering, bewildering and offending . . . they had turned into strangers”(42-43). This loss of language forced Tambu to reconcile the differences now firmly supplanted between her and her cousin. In doing so, it seems Tambu embodies the very ideas of ambivalence, mimicry, and partial presence presented by Bhaba. She is at once longing for school, rejecting her cousin’s and brother’s schooling, and lamenting the loss of language among her family. It seems she is in an environment conducive to acceptance but feels completely isolated.

While I must admit I struggled with the full understanding of the ideas of mimicry and ambivalence, what I was able to glean from the reading was the power of the colonizer rests on their ability to leave a colonized person at once isolated and included among their own people.