Thursday, January 31, 2008
Haikus are easy,
But sometimes they don't make sense.
Long Life; Short Poem
At last, as dying,
The squirrel, he sighs - the acorns
They are all perfect
But by whose authority?
Sic Semper Tyrannus
like you, i did not
choose these shackles. art? i am
brave enough to break free.
Wednesday, January 30, 2008
Tuesday, January 29, 2008
Saturday, January 26, 2008
Thursday, January 24, 2008
As Firchow explains, we should believe Conrad's novel as racist, should he meet the criteria for medium racism, as outlined in Frank Reeves delineation (Firchow 238).
Medium racism is identical to weak racism, a belief that races do exist and that they help to account for social phenomena, except that it adds the belief that some races are superior and others are inferior.
This definition is what we should run with. Firchow then contends that Conrad, at best "weakly racist with respect to its attitude toward Africans," solely because it does not suggest an "essential superiority to them (the Africans)." (Firchow 238)
However, that does not contain an ounce of truth.
To show this, I will remind the class of last period. During the debate, a question was asked in response to my objection about the necessity for a black foil against the savages-- "What did you want? A black man that was completely white, with clothes and civilized culture and the whole deal?"
No, Conrad doesn't even have to give us that (in doing so he would be an overt racist, instead of a blatant and blunt one). By being 'white and civilized,' the savage would have reliquished any pride in what he was, therefore exemplifying that Conrad has given defeat to the savages, in subservience to the white race. The 'white' savage's presence, at best, would then contend that the white man has succeeded in converting a savage, from an inferior race to a superior one.
In order to have not been racist however, Conrad just needed to have shown some good in the savage lifestyle. As Achebe shows, and we hope to have shown in the debate, he did not. Conrad failed to describe them as anything but animalistic, savage, and dark.
What lives in the dark? The imagery of the landscape goes hand-in-hand with the description given. An animal lives in the dark. Ever since man discovered light, or the 'right' way, of light, he has never looked back.
Throughout the debate, the other side contended that it was just the backdrop of the piece, as being unknown. Well, caves have not festered human beings for many years.
Is it that hard to show savages, like those in Africa, as being humane? I contend not. If he wanted to, he could have romanticized the savage way of life, as has been done socially in such instances as the Native American lifestyle, as has been done in novels such as Peter Matthiessen's novel At Play in the Fields of the Lord, as has been done in films such as Braveheart.
Feed us a bone Conrad. For a social activist, you did a crappy job. Baldershanks on you.
P.S. I didn't particularly care for either Achebe or Firchow. I would have liked it better had we had to examine it ourselves…
First, the reader would need to realise two very important facts about the era in which this story was written. First, the kind of racism that was exhibited by all Europeans at the time was not the racism that the term denotes today. In that time, racism was more of an acknowledgement of differences, rather than a discrimination or subjugation. The Europeans, especially the English were coming into contact with a plethora of new peoples, of all races. This caused people to think independently about the different races, but not in a necessarily bad light. Second, the reader would need to realise that this was written in a pre-Holocaust world. The negative connotations that racism implies were not brought about until the atrocities that were committed in Nazi Europe. Furthermore, in the United States of America, racism is even more negative as we as a nation have experienced many years of race-related strife.
Next, I would like to note that Conrad writes the story to show that the "savages" rumored to be in Africa are not the only "savage" people in the Dark Continent. Everyone that Marlowe encounters in the Congo is in someway a bit "wild." This is best seen in Kurtz. In the beginning of Marlowe's journey, Marlowe hears stories of a great man that is very educated and refined in the European view of things. But when he finally meets Kurtz, he is very wild, and his thoughts seem to be in a frenzy just like the rest of Africa. This is a great show of the dichotomy of how both Whites and the Natives are "savage" or "wild."
So, in my opinion, Conrad was not a racist, but one who can see differences in races, and not think them 'lower' than whites.
Let there be no qualms that the African natives were not portrayed in the most appropriate, socially enlightened light. Admittedly, it can also be argued that Conrad, the Brits, et al were not very socially enlightened.
Let that not stand as justification, however. While some readers may take the descriptions of characters (the majority of which were tribesmen and African) to be animalistic and indicative of a lesser degree of humanity, others interpret the descriptions as characteristic of a different, but not inferior, type of humanness.
Let us remember, most importantly, the title of the novella.
Who has this Heart of Darkness, this hidden savagery, this dark shadow lurking beneath the surface, waiting for that midnight hour when the mask of civility can be removed?
Let the reader determine.
Much of the allure for Marlow in the native lies in their savagery and nearness to the beginning of time. He describes the allure of the bush and jungle and that he admires the methods of Kurtz, but that Kurtz's flaw is that he has no restraint and so in a way has lost touch with his humanity. So Conrad does characterize natives as less developed and more savage(the African crew on the boat are cannibals). But if we are to judge based on these descriptions, the Africans would have had less advanced technology, and less complex and developed politico-socio-economic system and structure. Such standards are not the only ones available to judge a civilization by, but they are the ones most often used and are implied by Conrad. I would say that Conrad would characterize the Africans not as inferior, but as less developed. But of course this is still tending towards rascism.
I imagine this life of Conrad at sea while reflecting on our debate today in class - whether Conrad is a racist for his descriptions of the native people of the Congo. Taking Firchow's emphasis placed on Conrad's life at sea shared with those of other ethnicities, I think, as posited above, Conrad must have known one or two "native" persons - but even if he didn't, he knew people unlike him. He was cultured and well-traveled - not two traits often associated with racists. Arguably, and I argue, usually racist views - as we think of the term today, not as Firchow goes to great length to say the 19th century thought of the term - are held against those we don't know. Instead of viewing Conrad's descriptions of "savage" Africans as evidence of his racism, we should see instead his intention behind depicting a "prehistoric earth" and "unknown planet (Norton Anthology 8th Edition, P. 2710):" to provide a backdrop of the unknown, of jungle thick and foggy rivers, in which the European mind must keep its wits. Like other Modernists, Conrad desired to understand the mind, and his psychological dive of a novel, Heart of Darkness, is one attempt to identify the necessary social and civil constructs for sanity. "It seemed somehow to throw a kind of light on everything about me - and into my thoughts," Marlow said at the beginning of his tale when describing his Congo trek. What follows after that introduction is Conrad throwing a light on the mind of man - universal man - in a savage, uncivilized land, not him turning his lamp of a writing pen to illuminate an inferior race.
The fact that Conrad finds disgust in the apparent kinship between himself and the Africans is racist, and is a moral judgment. On the other hand, when he describes them as wearing grotesque masks and as shadows, he is describing their appearance; a physical judgment that is not racist. When he characterizes the savages as animals he is making a moral judgment on their behavior; a racist action. I believe these foil judgments are fairly clear in the novel, and exist throughout, potentially demonstrating Conrad struggling with his youth in the Russian controlled Poland and his current imperialistic career.
Overall I believe Conrad envisions Africa as human nature at its most base level. For him this is a life of survival and rituals with little time for the leisurely (pointless) affairs of the Europeans. Kurtz is an example of a European who has reverted back to human nature's instincts because he spent so much time in the African civilization that values these aspects of life over what typical European civilization values. In the end I don't find Conrad's view of African society to be racist, but I find the fact that he judges this behavior as ugly to be racist; but once again I am conflicted and have to openly wonder whether this is his personal judgment or his societies reflected through him.
Both Achebe and Firchow have strong arguments to validate their respective viewpoints. Achebe concisely argues that Marlow holds the perception that the African natives are savage, in-human, and incapable of coherent oral expression. Firchow responds that one must take into account that the word racism, and its subsequent ideas, had not even been coined as of Conrad’s publishing of the Heart of Darkness. He further elaborates that even if it were to be conceded that Conrad was to be viewed as a racist by today’s standards, he would be more “ethnocentric” than anything, as he portrays the superiority of the British over most all other cultures and not just Africans. Just look at the way he describes the Belgians, they are not painted as a much prettier picture. Personally, I think we must come to our own conclusions as to whether or not Marlow is speaking for Conrad in the first place, before arguments such as this become proper. We cannot, as readers, automatically assume that Marlow’s voice is the same as Conrad’s. In fact, the ‘racist’ voice in Heart of Darkness is twice removed from Conrad’s own voice, as Conrad is writing about an unknown narrator’s recollection of Marlow’s already “unclear” and “inconclusive” memory. Thus, while even if it is decided that Marlow is a racist, don’t be too quick to point the finger at Conrad. Additionally, Conrad goes to great lengths make the point that appearance often defies reality. There is a section on page 1915 where Marlow discusses his apprehension as a seaman to sink below the surface of anything—to discover its true meaning—“ after all, for a seaman, to scrape the bottom of the thing that’s supposed to float all the time under his care is the unpardonable sin” (Conrad, 1915). In that sense, through the use of metaphor, Conrad is further making it clear that Marlow is an unreliable narrator, at least in the context of how he views others. Therefore, and in conclusion, while we can discuss all day whether or not Marlow portrays the people in Africa as savages, or whether or not it’s the darkness and silence that account for Kurtz’s digression into barbarity, there are no conclusive answers and before you can even attempt to delve into this argument as to whether or not Conrad is a racist, you must first decide for yourself if Marlow is Conrad’s voice.
Wednesday, January 23, 2008
However, India now has one of the fastest growing economies in the world and Ireland one of the strongest in the EU. Is this worth having been formerly oppressed? It probably depends on who you would ask, those who lived through the occupation or those who are just now reaping the benefits. Obviously it would have been better for India if it had achieved such growth without being a colony, but is that the cost of modernization? Is it an acceptable cost or even a neccessary cost to bear? If we are to judge life in starkly materialistic terms then this modernization is improvement, but the ends do not always justify the means.
I believe that the film was useful reminding us of the dangers of expansionist and imperialistic ambitions. Look at the resources Britain consumed in trying to maintain its empire by hard power. The national priorities project website calculates the cost of the Iraq war at half a trillion dollars and counting at the rate of 275 million a day. Keeping in mind the cost of running and Empire and the difficulty of walking the tightrope of human folly and greed should remind us to be wary of future expeditions for the furtherance of freedom and democracy.
The 19th century marked a period of discovery, and colonization. At the heart of it was the British Empire. The documentary, Empire of Good Intention, recreated the historical events that took place during expansion of the British Empire. At that time, the British were a nation with economic and military superiority. Abusing that power, they would colonize the "less" fortunate. On the outset, the British appeared to be an empire with "good intentions" of helping the natives and introducing religion to the uneducated. Behind the mask however, the colonization was a disaster to the natives. This included mistreatment, diseases, and manipulation. Did the British have good intentions? This movie showed the truths behind the good intentions and gave me a better perspective of the British at that time.
One thing I was not surprised to see in the movie was a sense of extreme arrogance from the British. It said that they wanted to turn the Indians into brown Englishman and that they would use western education to transfrom India into a successful country. This type of arrogance has been prevalent throughout history when looking at world powers, and it can still be seen today. Millions of people across the world view America as having a very similar attitude. The only difference is that we are not attempting to colonize other countries, except maybe Iraq.
Did the British Empire commit a heinous sin by seeking to better the standard of living in disease ridden lands plagued by social unrest and poverty?
Of that, I'm not so sure.
I hesitate to cast any judgment because I feel that I am completely outside the context of the situation and will never truly understand what it was to be A) an ambitious British entrepreneur or diplomat B) a citizen of any society targeted by the empirical powers of the time.
However, a logical process may be employed to begin passing judgment (if you're into that kind of thing).
I suppose the biggest question is: 1) Were the good intentions, allegedly the main reason for occupying areas like Australia and Africa, justifiable enough to pursue their ends?
2)If so, what means are acceptable? In hindsight (20/20 as it is), genocide and making a quick buck while we're at it - totally NOT acceptable methods.
3)Is it just and noble to pursue a 'greater good' type of goal, like aiding those 'savages' who need our help by #1, while furthering other goals? That is to say, is it acceptable that hegemony of these philanthropic projects be given to businesses who will also look to increase their profits? (eg West Indies Trading Company, Kurtz's company).
Conclusively, my opinion is that their intentions, while noble, seem to have been lost in the passion of the moment.
In passing, I think the pinnacle of naivete is reached by fighting spin with spin.
Tuesday, January 22, 2008
After looking at both The Empire of Good Intentions and Heart of Darkness, a couple of interesting comparisons became evident to me. The juxtaposition of the texts, highlighted the characteristic that man often professes one thing but does another.
People of Africa, India, Britain, and the Vatican City are united in that they are people, and consequently must solve the problems that naturally arise to people - for example, the problems of nourishing our bodies and finding protection against adverse weather. It is conceivable and even obvious that certain solutions to our human problems of nourishment and not having fur are better than other solutions - let the man living in a shack made of metal shingles say otherwise when winter comes. Thus, the culture that best answers those problems - that best provides warmth and health - is better, in this sense, than the one without the means to stay warm and sate hunger. When culture A shares its ideas and technology to a relatively less developed culture B, culture B benefits; when Britain develops the infrastructure and promotes liberal education in India, India benefits.
Whether such was the aim of Britain - to teach kids of Plato and Aristotle - when she went diamond-eyed atop the Arabian Sea is another matter and, as I prefaced, the dinner time speculations of another breed. However, years from now, a thousand years from now, will we still sigh of injustice in English colonies? I hear no such sighs from England against her former colonizer, Rome, but I do see many folded hands, many steeples, and hear many church bells.
And these affirm - thank you, Rome.
As this class progresses and our knowledge of this material expands, I expect to find great hostility toward the old British empire from authors of former British colonies. I expect the famines of India and Ireland to remain in these writer's minds, and I believe this is evidence that Britain's good intentions left no good feelings.
Monday, January 21, 2008
After having seen the presentation, Empire of Good Intentions, I was intrigued to read further upon the history of the politics surrounding the situation. I went to the BBC's website and obtained some relevant information regarding the dispute between Politicians Diraeli and Gladstone. The report submitted by British constitutional historian, Robert Blake, compares their political careers, and ambitiously charts their in-house political disputes.
As the document lingers on, the audience obtains a deeper understanding into who these gentlemen really were. It wasn't their personal lives (or clashing personalities) however, that had lasting implications - it was their political decisions. Their choices, while to them (from a palace in the heart of the Empire of Good Intentions), had lasting and consequential effects on a whole continent, and or culture.
Now, before I venture too quickly into a subject that I merely wish to speculate on, I wish to clarify that I am just surface diving. If I were to be attempting much else, I would be vastly out of place - I have just begun the class, and will hopefully be examining more the literature aspect of it rather than the historical implications.
Regardless, I want to bring the importance of such figures, found in any aristocracy or unjust administration, into question, and call them out on it for the remainder of this blog. As the movie explains, the 1840s disaster on the Irish coast was occurring at a time when, simultaneously, the Victorian Empress of India made a conscientious decision to sacrifice the surplus of grain on the other side of the Coast, thereby excluding a very capable means of sustenance from reaching the mouths of the famished.
The protest, at this point, against my above claim might sound like this: She had a legitimate interest to keep the market steadfast, instead of artificially altering the standard. As such, I am forced to press forward, by simplifying my argument into the starkness of black and white, of which I see the issue: Are human lives not more important than an artificial institution, manmade and fostered by the very people of which are not dying?
Yes, there were programs instated by the English government: luckily, there were Trevallion's policies, akin to FDR's, which made futile jobs in order for the populace to make enough money in which to buy foods, and soup kitchens, along with the whole lot of other socialist policy. However, as stated by the film, the dedication by the government for the policy soon ceased, at a crucial and dire time. Yet as always, the tired beaten populace still remained, having to relocate to the only place available: the work houses.
In derailing off this topic, I wish to highlight other inherent problems in the whole tradition of imperialism. Seeing as expansionist policy is loosely defined as expanding one's territory outward to encompass more land (and hopefully tradition and culture), we should ask where this land suddenly appears from?
UNDER THE FEET OF OTHER PEOPLE, WHO INHABITED THE LAND BEFORE.
Indian citizens were a deeply conservative people with traditions and ways of life not understandable, (FOR A REASON), by the Western culture. The British found a whole civilization, seemingly unsullied by Western ideas, and subsequently injected a supposed vaccine, or cure, to bring them up to date. As sure as dirt though, the vaccine was not a solution, nor was there a problem to begin with.
The premise that there was something wrong with the Eastern Culture (Africa, India or any differing culture) is a premise that I can't accept. Therefore, if there is no premise, then a conclusion can not follow, and the claim that a solution was needed is therefore superfluous.
I think maybe the fundamental root problem for British Expansionists (which eventually brought about their demise), would have to be a lack of tolerance.
With the advancement made in technology Britain feels that their control could be felt from a distance. This was belief was made possible thanks to the invention of the telegraph. Now with the majority of the controlling Brits out of India the native people revolt. The people of India do not accept the change and are not willing to change. Again, what Britain attempted to do, in their eyes, was make changes for the better because they felt that their society seemed to work, so why shouldn’t it work for everyone else.
Britain’s Eight Step List to Screwing over the New World
1. Britain gains more power.
2. Britain enters a new country (mostly through invasion or colonization)
3. Britain instills it’s ways of life and belief systems on the countries inhabitants.
4. Britain makes some new technological advances back home, ergo…
5. Britain abandons the country and completely ignores it.
6. Problems in the foreign country pop up on account of either lack outside assistance from Britain, or problems begun by Britain that are still a major hassle
7. Rebellion and several deaths occur in the country
8. Repeat with a different country
This is (almost) exactly what happened with India and Ireland and the populations of both countries suffered because of British interference or lack there of. Britain itself seemed like a kid with too many toys and it couldn’t decide which one it wanted to play with more. “Empire of Good Intentions”? It takes more than one spoiled rich country to change the world. And Britain sure wasn’t the right applicant for such a job. Let the countries evolve on their own, or don’t be so pushy about advancement without fully committing to it. No matter how many times I have to watch this documentary again and listen to the hosts same excuses, I still won’t be impressed.
Sunday, January 20, 2008
So yeah, lovely movie. Ignorant colonizers (all-encompassing) still believe their own lies.
Eu-ro-cen-tric to the T, or, well, to the E. For Eurocentric.
Friday, January 18, 2008
I would have liked to hear more about other British colonies such as Australia, Canada, the Islands just for that perspective. And what about Africa? Britain held enormous amounts of land in Africa, and they weren't mentioned. Were these colonies not part of the Empire of Good Intentions? Was England's only "intention" in those place wealth and power?
Thursday, January 17, 2008
One problem that I had with the movie was in its discussion of Indian affairs in comparison to Irish matters. The documentary discussed almost 20 minutes (roughly) of the Irish potato famine, while previously mentioning the numerous Indian famines in passing. The Irish famine was discussed in the Irish viewpoint, from the Irish perspective, while later on discussing only those aspects of Indian famine that relate to the British, from the British perspective. It seems that the Irish famine was handled more sensitively than the Indian famines, and I found some problems with that.
The narrator was also very proper British and boring and sounded like he had some nasal congestion, and it almost appeared that he was expecting to sneeze; or he was inebriated. Either way, this made the documentary difficult/almost boring to watch.