Thursday, January 31, 2008

Syllabic Sabotage

Upon Reflection
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

Ad infinitum
Tradition began
But by whose authority?
Infinite turtles.

Sic Semper Tyrannus
like you, i did not
choose these shackles. art? i am
brave enough to break free.

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Apocalypse Now

I think of the difficulties facing the screenwriter (Nicholas Cage) in the film Adaptation whenever I see a movie that is an adaptation of some well-established story. Within that context, I consider this movie to be a tremendous success. First of all it does a great job of captivating the essential storyline elements and style of Conrad's original "Heart of Darkness." From the very start of the movie, in the images of the fan superimposed upon the images of the helicopters you are starkly and vividly thrown straight into the mind of the main character in a modernist fashion--you are living his experiences. Also the narrative style of the story reflects Conrad's original design nicely. There is even great since of imperialism in the actions of the one army colonel, by deciding to go to the one peak simply for reasons of "surfing." Not only that but as any good adaptation does it brings in it's own new elements and styles to enhance the original story without stealing from its original intrigue. I think by setting the story in Vietnam it makes the story a little more meaningful to modern audiences, and is able to bring in a whole new element of psychological intrigue--the difficulties of battle, and the ridiculousness of the Vietnam war are thrown in your face with intensity unlike I have seen in a movie for a long time. Of course this is made to parallel also the insanity of the jungle in Heart of Darkness, however, in the context of this war it takes on a very different meaning. Perhaps the best example of these new elements are seen around the bridge, the last outpost on the Nong river. You see clearly the complete and utter destruction of human sensibilities in the midst of a situation which is fundamentally inhuman. You vividly see a message that is also very apparent in Kuberik's "Full Metal Jacket" that many of the soldiers in Vietnam were simply boys, scared, and unable to make rational decisions when faced with the task of killing. A clear statement that no human being is designed to deal with such situations in a sane manner. Specifically I am referring to the scene on the river in which they freak out and kill everyone on the boat. This scene strikes me as one of the most powerful moments in the movie. Also the character and development of Mr. Kurtz seems to be very well done, and in the spirit of Conrad as well. The movie ends in darkness and gave me a very similar impression over all that I had when reading heart of darkness, however, maybe even a with a little more profundity because of the newly introduced psychological elements of war. Overall, I loved the movie, and I think it did a great job of paying homage to classic British literature while at the same time creating an extremely powerful commentary on the futility of the Vietnam war.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

After-class Note about the Sacrifice Paintings

I wanted to mention this in class, but we ran out of time. The contrasting views of sacrifice that we saw in those last two paintings (I can't remember the exact titles) is especially interesting from a contemporary standpoint.

Left painting (modern sacrifice): What stands out to me is the silhouette/statue of a soldier in the background, suggesting that it is a military sacrifice. The fanfare surrounding the soldier depicts a sense of honor, pride, and celebration (i.e., the trumpets, drums, wreaths, the colorful flags, and what looks like a version of the Eternal Flame). Thus, while the soldier does not want to die, which we can see from his "death grip" (trying to hold on to life), as someone pointed out, he HAS to die for the cause because that is what the situation has lead up to. At this point, there is no way out of death and, though frightened, the soldier seems to be proud as well. He/she knows that there will be a parade, a celebration of his/her life and military actions.

Right painting (ancient sacrifice): What is interesting to me in THIS painting are the masks that the people seem to be wearing; either they are masks or the artist is purposely distorting their faces. However, this is different from the other painting, as there IS indeed some depiction of a face. Thus, we get to look into the "face" of the ancient hero, the brave soul who is giving up his/her life for the cause of the ancient people. The painting makes me question what that cause is, however, as I do not know much about that time period as opposed to my own. For what reasons would someone be sacrificed in this time? Is there really a sense of pride coming from the sacrificed person (re: is it a somewhat willing sacrifice, or forced?) I am also interested in the fact that there are four sacrificers in this painting, yet the other painting does not show anyone else, does not show exactly how the man/woman was sacrificed. Finally, the difference in clothing styles is intriguing. Are these ancients military personnel? Religious subjects? High-class/low-class individuals?

I'm sure there are more questions, but I will stop here. What does everyone else think? Does anyone have a good grasp of ancient rituals of sacrifice, and would you care to share that knowledge?

Empire of good intentions

As the documentary was named ''Empire of Good Intentions'' I am certain many people may have been left with a feeling of doubt. This feeling of doubt due to the fact the British really did not do much ''Good'' while in India, or Ireland for that matter. Although this maybe true this documentary brought a light on the issue of British Imperialism and outlined its harsh reality. 
Specific issues that were particularly interesting to me were the Irish potato famine and the amount of Indian peasants that died during this British reign, 5 million I think, once again really outlining the reality of this issue. Ultimately India was left in ruins and the IRA was formed in Ireland, so although the British may have had ''good intentions'' clearly none of these intentions had much of a positive affect on Britain's image during this particular time period. 

The Wind that Shakes the Barley

I thought that the movie was controversial and questionable. The movie tells the story of two brothers joining the Irish Republican Army to gain freedom from the British. The British were depicted as the devil, while the Irish were depicted as courageous resistance fighter for the greater good of the Irish people. Toward the end however, it was interesting to see the Irish fighting their own people, and a brother ordering the death sentence of his younger brother. I question the portrayal of the British as the devil and the Irish as the saviors. What is the point of fighting without complete freedom? Why would you stop if you are so close to your goal? The last thing I thought of was the death sentence ordered by the brother. Are the ideals and order more important than you own brother?

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Sorry Conrad, But You're a Racist

I agree with Achebe and believe that Conrad was racially prejudiced. Throughout the story, Conrad fails to distinguish his opinions from the opinions of his characters, so why would I be compelled to believe that the opinions of his characters aren't his own? Little comments such as "The African is indeed my brother but my junior brother" suggest that Conrad had a prejudice against the African people. Also, in Firchow's analysis of the Heart of Darkness, he tries to justify racism by saying the word wasn't in existence during that period of time. To me, that is the same as saying murder was okay to perform before there was a law that condemned such an action. In short, I feel like Firchow is full of bologna and I agree with Achebe that Conrad is indeed a racist.

Achebe Vs. Firchow

In a comaparison of these two authors, it is easy for one to see that racism and contraversy similiar are up to personal interpretation. When looking at a short story written by John Conrad entitled, "Heart of Darkness" one can see both points made by each author. First, Achebe that their truly is a distained look at Africa and its people, as they are not truly represented and many other problems that many British sailors witnessed during their struggles in the African Congo. Yet, one must also see Firchow's point that this was how a British writter is going to write since this is his social background and what he knows. As well as this was the context of so much of the time. Therefor, when the question is asked if "Heart of Darness" is racist, One must look from all perspectives and the context of the time and ask him/herslef if he/she feels in their heart the extent of the racism.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Racism in Conrad's Heart of Darkness

I fully believe that there is a lack or what we, today, conventionally refer to as racism in Conrad's Heart of Darkness.  I was entirely convinced by the essay by Firchow and his points.  His most convincing bit was when he was talking about the classification of, for lack of a better word, racism at the turn of the century.  It was stacked on 3 tiers, the first being a recognition of a difference between races, the second being the belief that one race is superior to another, and the third is acting on that belief in a destructive manner.  Nowhere in Conrad's novella are Europeans referred to as superior to the Africans they are around.  It is stated that they are different, in many many ways.  The Africans are called ugly, they are said to dance and scream, and this is a source of fear for many of the Europeans.
Another, and much more strongly stated fact, is the difference in the surroundings as compared to European lifestyle.  The "wilderness" is what is questioned here, wilderness that could easily have been placed in any other setting, but Africa was, at the time, a strongly recognized political backdrop.  Simply put, Africa was a convenient location to put a wilderness that would drive men insane and to do things they normally would not have done, such as murder.
I believe that the strongest argument against racism in the novella is one of the focuses of the story, Kurtz himself.  Kurtz is just as savage as those around him, and for Conrad to reduce a "superior" race to the savagery of the "inferior" races proves just enough that he has contempt for the actions of all men, not simply blacks.  This is a novel about the devolution of a human's mind, not of the inferiority of a race.


Yes, Conrad was racist. What we have to remember is that he was crazy. This is a man suffered from anger problems and depression. He wrote Heart of Darkness similar to his real life expedition. He had the opportunity to change image of Africa and its natives but he didn’t. He wrote a book that enhanced the image of savages, and uncivilized people that were native to Africa. He dehumanizes the continent of Africa and all it’s people. He makes the people to be like animals and refers to Africa as “the other world”. Conrad writes this story through another character thus, allowing Conrad to allow his real feelings come out. So in the end I agree with Chinua Achebe that Conrad was a racist.

What is Conrad trying to say?

After reading both Firchow and Achebe, I can see where they are both coming from. Each has it's own support for their views regarding the Heart of Darkness. In class today, I heard both sides of the argument during the debate. I have to say that I can not pick which one is better. On one hand I believe that yes Conrad is a racist at heart, even though at that time, the term racism has never been heard of. The way Conrad expresses his views in the book suggests his state of mind. On the other hand, I can also see that Conrad was not a racist. The most important support for that is in my opinion is the unknown. The unknown has many effects on people, including the ability to be to think without the outside influence. Overall, I thought that Firchow and Achebe put a different light on the way of thinking. The class debate was also very helpful for the better understanding of both sides.

Hm. Conrad is/isn't/does/doesn't/hasn't/has a/believe in/a clue of RACISM?!

That Conrad is a racist?
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…

The africa within the mistress

A very good theory was proposed to me today in class. Unfortunitly I am horrible with names and can't give credit to the owner of the theory. I was presented with the notion that Kurtz's mistress symbolized the African people. His reasoning was that Kurtz, prior to coming to Africa, was considered a normal successful man. Once in Africa he altered. My classmates theory is that the mistress altered him. She was for him what Conrad viewed as Africa, or maybe even the foil, as Alex would say. I re-read the portion where Marlow describes the mistress. It strikes me that I thing we, as a class might have overlooked her significance. Marlow is clear in every notion, whether we call it racism or the norm of the time, of the description and image of the savages. Yet when he sees the mistress and is forced to describe her, he falters. He can't make up his mind. He states on page 1944, "She struck me as beautiful- I mean she had a beautiful expression. I know that sunlight can be made to lie too, yet one felt that no manipulation of light and pose could have conveyed the delicate shade of truthfulness upon those features." Time-out, that to me is a man torn by a precedent, and now must swallow the reality that all savages might not be animals. I am glad that my fellow debates hadn't risen this point for I am hard pressed to counter it. Let me know your view point, it is interesting never the less.

Racism in Heart of Darkness

I strongly believe that Conrad was a racist and that the attitudes and descriptions presented in his book are glaring evidence of this fact. However, I do not believe that his racist attitude should necessarily be held against him. It is important to consider the social climate of the time and understand that nearly everyone shared these same views. Yes, his descriptions of the Africans as anamalistic and un-human are extremely racist, but at the time he did not know any better. So, instead of being critical of Conrad's apparent racism, perhaps we should be critical of his failure to think progressively and see past the African's differences. It seems to me that Conrad's only major flaw was his failure to be enlightened during such a dark period.

Conrad: Racist, or Race-thinker

After reading the two articles put forth from Achebe and Firchow and enduring the heated debate between the two groups arguing either side, I have become even more convinced that Conrad was not a racist.

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.

Again, Passing on Passing Judgment

Themes of racism present themselves in Conrad's Heart of Darkness.

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.

Conrad a racist?

Conrad a racist? No I believe not. Conrad was not a racist. I do agree with Firchow though, he was writing in a different time and for different people. Race and racism were not even word used then and don’t hold the same meaning as they do today. When looking at Heart of Darkness you have to understand that. Marlow does change through the book and seems less racist as the book goes on, like in the case of the helms man. After reading both Achebe and Firchow I do believe that Conrad was not a racist.

Firchow and Achebe

I think that Firchow had a strong argument when he said that there are degrees of racism. I also agree with Firchow's distinction of Conrad being a racialist. I think that while Conrad was aware of differences between the races, it was an awareness that did not give way to obvious endorsement of hatred or a need to supress the differences of others. Conrad's distinction of the people as being "ugly" could simply be a matter of preference that indicates Conrad's obvious unfamiliarity with the customs of other these people. It would be very difficult to take a person from a culture and force him to look at customs completely unfamiliar to himself and find the beauty in them immediately even if there is beauty abound (which in my opinion there always is). Imagine taking one of the natives from their home and making observe a British lifestyle and expecting them automatically accept it as a beautiful. In fact in many cases this is what happened, and the result was not an appreciation but disdain for European lifestyles. It is in many ways is no different than a person finding the food of a certain country disgusting because his/her pallette is not accustomed to tastses of this kind. Certainly in issues of race the harm comes in is when actions are attached to such beliefs that cross the line and suppress the differences and choices of others. Actions that both Marlow and Conrad seem to be strongly against and distance themselves from them throughout Heart of Darkness. However, a stronger argument would be in the more subtle dismission of the African's in general. The story seemed to be solely focused upon the actions of the Europeans in the story and while these are people Marlow was likely to have interacted with at this time, it did little to strengthen Marlow's image as being sympathetic to the plight of the locals (with the exception of the helmsman). An analysis of the more subtle depiction of the story as being centered upon European actions would have been a stronger argument than Achebe's which seems to present many fairly disjunct arguments that he punctuates near the end with something like "I think you can see what I am getting at, Conrad was a racist." The character of Marlow, while oftens times viewing the natives as weak, sickly and pathetic often did so as a presentation of these people as being pathetic as a result of the colonial inhabitancy as seen by the start constrast of the lavish british lifestyles (such as the presentation of the accountant) to the lifestyles of the natives (as seen by the "valley of death" for example).


Is Conrad rascist? In our day, despite his sympathy for the natives he most likely would be considered as such, but in his his degree of sympathy makes his shade of rascism much paler than that of his contemporaries. Despite his description of the savagery of these natives and their proximity to inhumanity, he seems to scorn the pilgrims even more. He seems disgusted by the plight of the newly enslaved people dying under the tree and cannot conceive of them as enemies.
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.

Firchow vs. Achebe

After reading both Firchow and Achebe, I have come to the conclusion that Conrad was not racist. I tend to agree with Firchow because I too feel that he was writing for the demographic of the day. In that time period the majority of the public was under educated and had the same ideals that Marlow displayed in the novel. Throughout the novel we see the evolution of Marlow from a racist to someone who shows compassion for Africa and the Africans. We see this evolution when the man assisting Marlow at the helm is killed. Yes, even though he does not show full compassion he does show his compassion for his helmsman by calling him a friend. This evolution showed me that Conrad was not a racist because it exhibited his open minded feelings towards other races.

Achebe and Firchow Discussion

Both Achebe and Firchow make very valid points as to the interpretation of Conrad’s narrative style in “Heart of Darkness”. Achebe’s noting of the somewhat degrading and segregation esque thoughts on the Africans in the Congo, as well as his constant use of “The ‘N’ Word” would definitely get me riled up (I really, really hate that word; the only swear I will never say). However, I would have to lean more towards Firchow’s argument in the end. He is right saying that the way Conrad wrote the book was in a style fitting the civilization at the time. The term “racism”, although ever present in it’s own fashion, was never used back in the time Conrad was writing “HoD”. And even though the title of the novel is “Heart of Darkness” it is not directly referring to the Africans, but the journey into any human beings darkest depths of self. Chris Sidebottom and I briefly discussed this and he noted that inside every person’s heart, he believed that there was a tiny bit of darkness in all of us. This novel, pun intended, just got to the heart of the matter in one particular person and his experience of the dark unknown.

Conrad, Two Pair; German, Three Of A Kind

So Conrad was once a sailor, Peter E. Firchow wrote. "Half a lifetime" on the sea - "wandering the world in ships... often sharing close quarters with people from a wide variety of national and ethnic backgrounds ('Race, Ethnicity, Nationality, Empire,' P. 237)." Conrad laying down two pair against a German's three of a kind, Conrad and Egyptians sitting starry-eyed with lyre and folk tales, Conrad and "Cheers!" to a table of Indians, Italians, and Iranians - "half a lifetime, practically (P. 237)." And in that floating world of a ship, oceans and oceans away from his school chums, Conrad assimilated to the ways of foreign company - he must have. We've already seen how he feels about isolation in a mystery environment - see Mr. Kurtz in the Congo, see even Marlow in the Congo. Each, unlike the Chief Accountant who still wore his starched collars, lost a part of his identity when faced with mystery, foreign lands, and foreign peoples. Conrad didn't want that, and so surely took up the German's card game, the Egyptians' campfire sing-a-longs, and traded rounds of ale for more rounds of ale with the other sailors.

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.

Debate of Achebe vs. Firchow: A Further Nuance

First, I want to! That debate was pretty heated, today, and I wished I could have said something once it began, not just in the preparation period. I tend to get flustered in the face of this kind of pressure to talk. It is difficult enough to participate in normal discussion, but this was very quick, and I usually need time to come up with my comments. In any case, I was interested in what we were talking about, but I couldn't form a thought quick enough to complete and give voice to it before we moved on to something else. So, here is something I was trying arrive at:

(1) During the debate, I was reminded of a text by Allan Johnson, a text I am reading for two classes with Dr. Aden this semester. It is called Privilege, Power, and Difference. As one might expect from a book with this title, it discusses racism at length. Johnson posits that everyone has "isms" inherent in them (sexism, racism, heterosexism, etc.) It is not possible to escape them. These "isms" exist because we are all different and we all have opinions about what is good and bad. "Isms" exist because culture tells them to exist and because we let certain people take control, for some reason (e.g., movies depict women as being passive, men and women treat each other differently in different cultures,  and so on). Over the course of history, sets of accepted standards arise in each culture; in the US and Europe, the main standards seem to be white, male, and heterosexual. Keep in mind that there are many different characteristics. The European men in the Congo, including Marlow, thus, have all grown up in that kind of environment, with certain standards of what they deem to be civility and certain images of barbarism, savagery, etc. One of Johnson's main points is that people allow racism to happen by not doing anything about it; they might take advantage of privileges they receive as white male heterosexuals, for example, when they know that someone else, equally qualified, could not get them ONLY because of skin color or gender (and so on). One might also take privilege for granted: a white woman looks in the mirror and sees a woman, and a woman of color sees a "black woman." There is always a qualifier. (There are many other points that "prove" that people are racist, or have racism in them, but this post is already long enough, so I'll stop there.)

Okay, therefore...

(2) Marlow does not seem to try to do anything about racism, and through his words, he even perpetuates it. He does this by describing Africans derogatorily/negatively. Thus, even if Marlow later says that the Africans are, in fact, human, he does so in a way that still allows his bias and his racist attitude to show through: "We are accustomed to look upon the shackled form of a conquered monster, but there—there you could look at a thing monstrous and free. It was unearthly, and the men were—No, they were not inhuman. Well, you know, that was the worst of it—this suspicion of their not being inhuman. It would come slowly to one. They howled and leaped, and spun, and made horrid faces; but what thrilled you was just the thought of their humanity—like yours—the thought of your remote kinship with this wild and passionate uproar. Ugly." He goes on to say more, but I'll stop there. In any case, my point is that, although Marlow mentions that the natives are free instead of shackled, he thinks of them as monsters in EITHER case. Then the idea that these people are NOT inhuman, that they ARE human, is "the WORST of it." He seems to be saying that thinking they are human is a bad/disgusting/blasphemous/etc. idea, and the comment is, therefore, racist, at least to me. He talks about the erratic behavior of the Africans. He says that it is thrilling to think that such a creature (as he might say) could be in the category of human, that such a being could be related to him REMOTELY (here, he keeps the Africans at a distance). Finally, he describes the situation, or perhaps the Africans themselves, as ugly (this part is kind of ambiguous). So, he is distancing his fellow humans from himself because he originally perceives them to be ugly, wild monsters. Even after thinking about it and relenting to their actually being human, he cannot seem to say that they are human beings without using some kind of qualifier. They are humans ONLY on a technicality. THIS, fellow bloggers, is racism.

Okay, so what did I miss?

Racism in Heart of Darkness: A Conflicted View

Conrad/Marlow is obviously a conflicted character in this novel. One moment he is praising the natives for their restraint and the next he finds ugliness and fear in their potential humanity. Achebe and Firchow each take up a side in this argument, and as our class demonstrated today (by split decision), each make legitimate points. Similar to Conrad, I find myself also conflicted in this debate.

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.

Is Conrad a Racist?

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

The Empire

While watching the film "Empire of Good Intentions" links between the colonial mishaps of Britain and the current situation in Iraq came into my mind. Both were the result of an overwhelming hubris to on the one hand eradicate disease, filth, and ignorance, and on the other to spread the light of freedom and democracy to an oppressed people. Both were upset by poor administrative planning and execution, and believed that the natives would bow in shock and awe to the awesome might of their military, political, and "moral" superiors. Both had companies from the Imperial power make huge sums of money. So it seems that maybe not so much has changed in the brief span of time where the capital of commerce moved.

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.

Empire of Good Intentions

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.

Review of Simon Schama's Empire of Good Intentions

In Simon Schama’s Empire of Good Intentions, the reoccurring theme was the empirical power and how that power was used. When the British Empire was on the rise, they reached out to other less fortunate countries with the intention of helping. At least that is what the narrator portrayed. Western education was imposed on India in order to exchange the Indian man’s thought with the mind set of a British man. The truth was not a good intention, in fact, it was colonization. Eventually the people of India rebelled against the British rule.Britain’s power was also prevalent in its interaction with Ireland. East Ireland was prosperous through its trade with Britain, but west Ireland was very poor. When the potato famine of 1845 forced many peasants to migrate east, the land owners took control of the land and raised livestock which was far more prosperous then peasant farming. The narrator also made it seem like Ireland was fully responsible for the many families forced from their homes, but Britain also played a role in the mayhem.Overall, I would say that although the video was very informative, some of the information was biased. Not to mention, the movie was not the most exciting video I have seen.

Empire of Good Intentions

As one looks into the documentary Empire of Good Intentions, one realizes that the producers of this film are trying to give what one would see as a Eurocentric historical account of the British Empire at the turn of the 19th century. As one understand this one can understand that they do a rather good job of discussing many of the ideals that were set forth through the colonization of the countries in which they discuss. However, they fail to mention all of the remaining colonies and territories that the British Empire was involved in at that time. This being said one must identify with the “middle class white British man” that is presenting these ideals and understand that if he is to go on record as only criticizing the British Empire for their wrong doings in so many countries and not recognizing the benefits that other countries obtained because of the British colonization, he would again be looked down upon by critics of this documentary. Therefore it is my conclusion that this film does a good job of identify many positive aspects of colonization from the British Empire, yet, could use a balance of the reality and struggles of much of the colonized world to be considered a true documentary.

Empire of Good Intentions Blog

The movie Empire of Good Intentions showed me a lot that I did not know because I have never really been that interested in history. The biggest thing it showed me was that not all bad things happen at the hands of historically "bad" people. In other words, the famous tyrannical rulers I have heard about are not the only wrong doers in history. The previous sentences make me sound extremely naive, but that is not really the case. I am pretty aware of major historical events and all the players involved with them, but I suppose I never really took to the time to examine or evaluate any. After seeing the movie, I have become aware that even historically good people or empires had their shortcomings. For instance, I never knew that the Irish potato famine devastated the Irish people while the British simply looked away. I guess I always assumed that they would have tried to help given the catastrophic nature of the situation, with one third of the population dying or fleeing the country. I guess I was wrong.
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.

Firchow and Achebe on Conrad

In reading Chinua Achebe's An Image of Africa, the following passage jumps out at me: "...Which is partly the point. Africa as setting and backdrop which eliminates the African as human factor. Africa as a metaphysical battlefield devoid of all recognizable humanity, into which the wandering European enters at his peril." The passage is important because it epitomizes Achebe's use of absolutes, words or phrases that do not allow any "wiggle room" at all; they are what they are. Absolutes are problematic in that they allow for the spread of exactly what Achebe is fighting against: generalizations/stereotypes (and racism). Some of the absolutes are direct (the word "all"), and some are merely carefully implied (that "Africa as setting/backdrop" HAS to eliminate "African as human"). In the passage, Achebe asserts (without literally saying so) that Joseph Conrad's simple act of setting his Heart of Darkness in Africa makes the story and, by extension, him into racists who would go to great lengths to "eliminate the African as human factor." Achebe says that Africa becomes a "metaphysical battlefield devoid of all [...] humanity." I do not think this is true.

While Conrad often depicts the Africans as animalistic and savage-like, through the voice of Marlow, who in turn speaks through the main narrator,  he also offers clues that lead me to believe he (and perhaps Marlow as well) is not necessarily racist toward Africans, and the following are just two examples: (1) He seems to make fun of the portrayal of races as walking on "all-fours" (animalistic) on page 1909, even after he has just used the same phrase on page 1902 to describe the Africans. While this may create character inconsistencies, to some, to me, it is Conrad's way of getting his own thoughts into the story. I say this because a great deal of the story DOES depict Africans negatively, so a few bright spots, to me, signify Conrad's stance on the issue or at least reveal that he is aware of his negative portrayal and that he wants to make things right. (2) Conrad also speaks about colonialism, or conquest, on page 1894, basically saying that it sounds nice in theory but is ugly in reality. He writes against the taking of land from "those who have a different complexion or slightly flatter nose than ourselves." Would a racist man write this? I don't think so, but maybe some do. To me, it is a deliberate "shout out" to the issue of racism, the fact that it is ugly and harmful.
Additionally, as Peter Edgerly Firchow says in "Race, Ethnicity, Nationality, Empire," Achebe does not define the term "racism" before speaking out against it. Thus, the reader is forced to project his/her own interpretation/connotation of the word "racist," which may not coincide with Achebe's interpretation/connotation. This is problematic because it detracts from the ease of communication between Achebe and the reader, who may not necessarily understand what Achebe means to say. The argument is, therefore, "lost in translation."

To make this easier to read, I saved citations for the end: all Achebe quotations are from page 2713 of the Norton anthology, the Firchow information comes from page 233 of the PDF, and Conrad quotes/ideas are on pages 1894, 1902, and 1909 of the Norton anthology. Where I thought it was necessary, I included page numbers in the above text; any idea/quote without page numbers can be found on the page numbers I have just listed, with respect to the writer in question (Achebe, Firchow, Conrad). Finally, colloquialisms/clich├ęs/phrases have been enclosed in quotation marks to signify that I realize they are overused or not generally used in academic writing. I hope everything is clear.

The Road to Hell Is Paved With Good Intentions

Did the British Empire commit a heinous sin by slaughtering untold numbers of 'savages' in an earnest attempt to civilize the world?


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.

Empire of Good Intentions

The Empire of Good Intentions has opened my eyes to the reality of what an empire really is. It showed me that the British Empire between 1830 and 1925 was corrupt and irresponsible. The British assumed that they were doing good, going into struggling colonies building them up and giving them stable economics, government, and defense. In reality, they were using these colonies as a resource for money and power. They were milking these territories of their goods and profiting from them. By doing this they created problems that ran deep within the native peoples. Native Indians were starving while the aristocrats of the empire were feasting. In India the British neglected the native Indians causing them to rebel and speak out against the turmoil that was the British Empire. This film has shown me that an empire is not always what it seems. It has shown me the true corruption that exists when an empire is formed.

Empire of Good Intentions???

Empire of Good Intentions? After watching this documentary about Britain’s move into India, I have mixed feelings on whether Britain truly had good intentions. The documentary was interesting and informative and about how Britain was helping India by imposing Britain’s ideologies and beliefs on India. I don’t believe Britain was doing the right thing though. It might have seemed right for them to run into India and tell them how to do things but ultimately it’s wrong. It wasn’t the first time Britain had tried this. In the Heart of Darkness it was the same thing. They began trading with a country then try to take it over, like in the case of Congo. Personally I find this funny. I don’t believe in anyways that Britain wanted to help India. They wanted to take what India had to offer, then impose there beliefs on them and make it seemed like they care. In conclusion it is obvious they did not have good intensions.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Good Intentions...Bad Intentions....does it even matter?

As I mentioned briefly in class the fact that the director of the movie purposefully left out some critical punctuation in the title of the movie leaves the focus of the movie up for questioning. For example: The Empire of "Good Intentions" would automatically imply sarcasm and say that the empire obviously had bad intentions. While as The Empire of Good Intentions? would imply that the goal of the movie is to bring into question and analyze whether or not there were good intentions. I think, however, from the structure of the movie the latter truly was what the director meant by the title. However, even if the movie determined that the motives of British Colonialism had been good intentions this does not mean that their actions are justified by any means, therefore, the argument that this movie was in defense of British action seems unlikely to me. Determining whether or not Britain had good intentions in colonization only determines whether or not they thought that they were doing what was right, which of course will be true as a whole. I think it would be hard for a political campaign that had the moral grounds of a mob gangster would have trouble finding traction, and that in general anyone that is mentally stable, morally sound, and sensible will always, on the whole mean well by their actions. As is often seen in history, it is when people feel justified by their actions and thus have good intentions that we see some of the most troubling conflicts. This is because there is then a personal, sometimes even religious motive behind their actions. The Crusades are a perfect example of this. Even slaveholders in the United States had eventually developed a (warped) system of Christian justification for their actions. Of course, to most it would seem absurd to think that anyone would find mass killings or torture is in any way justified but in history we see this time and time again. Therefore, determining whether or not the British Empire had good intentions is in some ways a moot point. The important thing to look at is the result of their intentions good or bad, and the result of course was obviously very bad for the inhabitants of these colonies. However, I think in the end its impossible to say clearly that the entire movement had good or bad intentions because there were obviously an overwhelming majority of people that had greedy intentions and used the creed of good intentions, such as Kipling's "White Man's Burden" more or less as a personal justification for their actions. But there more than likely at least some people that had good intentions. The reason I think these intentions, whether good or bad ended up so poorly I think is obvious from the reaction they incurred: Intentions that fail to take into account the personal life, religious beliefs, cultural identity and freedoms of a group of people in my estimation may appear to be good from the perspective of those who have them, but are ultimately gravely harmful to everyone involved. On a lighter note, while I think it would have been good to include African colonization in this move I will have to admit the contrast presented by Irish and Indian tragedies gave the movie a good contrast and flow, because one was abroad and one was very close to home. I was especially surprised to realize that the degree of suffering in Ireland during this time was comparable to the suffering in India for which this period is famous. Another thing I found very interesting about this film was seeing the political workings of colonization in play. I think many of us growing up get the sense that maybe just the queen sent people off to loyally conquer the "savage lands" but in this film we see real political turmoil between those who obviously have bad intentions but guise it within the good, such as McCauley, and those who could easily see through this guise and fought vehemently against it, such as Gladstone in his 3.5 hour speech. Though my argument probably doesn't hold as much weight because I am of European descent (somewhere way down the line) I would have to politely disagree with Bernard that the movie was Eurocentric. While the title of the movie does bring into question the positive coloring of such a phrase (which as I said earlier is a moot point anyways) and honestly the weird ticks and behaviors of the narrator was driving me a little "batty" I would have to say the movie on the whole presented the actions of the British Empire during this time as having very bad results on the world as indicated by the constant theme of suffering, death, and revolution, which in no ways indicates Eurocentism but rather disdain for the result of European actions. I agree, though that there should have at least been a mention of African Colonization, but I also agree that at some point a director has to decide where his area of focus is going to be. I think if he had chosen Ireland and Africa for example then there might have been those who complain that Indian colonization was left out and the same with Ireland. I think that the choice of Ireland and India has more to do with how nicely the two contrast each other, and has little to do with any sort of bias or aversion from Africa.

Good Intentions... or Not?

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. Britain claimed that its imperial ambitions in India, Ireland, and other nations, were for the benefit of the colonized—that they were there to educate, nurture, and protect the “backward” peoples of the earth. Narrator Simon Schama suggests that it was an empire built on virtue…unselfish dedication to eradicating poverty and disease. Indeed, Britain’s rhetoric truly professed the White Man’s Burden. Upon examination of Kurtz, similar notions become evident. He asserts, “By the simple exercise of our will we can exert a power for good practically unbounded” (1927). His painting also professed these ideals, portraying a blindfolded woman carrying a lighted torch—Europeans seemingly spreading light to the savage darkness and native peoples. But, as we all well know, this isn’t exactly how it played out. Rather than help the intended peoples, they exploited them and subsequently promoted famine and disease in their countries (exactly what they had professed they were trying to cure). The potato famine in Ireland is an excellent example. Additionally, Conrad describes colonialism as having, “no more moral purpose at the back of it than there is in burglars breaking into a safe” (1912). It seems so true. Kurtz had stolen more ivory than all of the other agents in the Congo combined. But my question is why do the “good intentions” not fit the results? Did Britain and Kurtz truly never have any intentions of aiding the local populations as they had professed? From the beginning, were they simply there to appease their avarice and quench their thirst for wealth? These are not easy questions. Some might say, “heck yeah, they never had any benevolent intentions, the Europeans were just there to exploit the natives.” However, maybe Britain and Kurtz did truly have “good intentions” at the beginning, but maybe they were quickly overcome by man’s heart of darkness—mankind’s innate savagery— and they lost sight of their original goals. At least Marlow might agree with that!

Thank you, Rome

With damning talk of imperialists and stiff-collared Brits, I think it amiss if we forget to give credit where credit is due - however, I must leave that to those more learned than I in history's battles and imperialism and culture sharing and stiff-collared Brits. What I do recognize, though, without knowing much of the names or instances of imperialism gone good, is that it can go good: spreading the culture of one people group to the land of another is beneficial to the colonized if the introduced ideas improve the colonized peoples' lives. In short, rather I have a window than a hole of broken branches in my kitchen wall, and rather a kitchen than a fire pit!

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.

Britain: Empire of Good Intentions?

While I agree that Africa probably should have been included in Simon Schama's Empire of Good Intentions, I also agree that to do so would invite even more colonized nations into the fray (Australia, Canada, U.S., etc.). Thus, Schama cannot make everyone happy; he cannot even begin get to all the issues (re: countries/nations), and that fact is inherent in the form he chose, a "short" documentary. For him to include everything that we seem to feel is necessary, the documentary would have to be much, much longer, although he could probably cover some of the ground by mentioning these other countries in a sentence or two. However, I think doing this would be detrimental to the documentary's power. "This happened to these countries, too. It was an incredibly violent time." Okay. Examples? Elaboration? Such a loaded comment like this would make us eager to know more, and it would throw off the already fragile balance of the documentary (as we mentioned, the sections on Ireland and India do not get equal "face time" or detail).

With that said, the documentary is adequate but not exceptional; it certainly gets us thinking but does not provide all the answers or talk about all the issues. Perhaps a book form would be better suited for this kind of detail, the kind that some of us on the blog seem to want. On the other hand, I do not think it is realistic to require an historian to get to everything, and as such, I think it is important to note intertextuality as a key concept for this kind of work. Even looking at the title, I do not think this documentary is supposed to be an all-encompassing look at Britain and colonialism. Rather, it is meant to comment on both previous and future documentaries, as well as written texts, and to provoke thought in the viewer; indeed, it ASKS the question "Is/was Britain an empire of good intentions?" It is that simple; it does not ask about or necessarily even point at colonialism, and it certainly does not purport to be the end-all-be-all documentary on Britain. While we posited in class that the short answer to the above question is "no," there is more to be discussed. We are only getting started. Schama gets us interested in whether Britain had good intentions, and in doing so, he plants the seeds of colonialism/imperialism in our heads, and then he invites us to do further research if we are interested.

England's Imperialism

I have learned much about this topic, both with briefly touching on it here and much more intensely last year in my European History course.  All evidence of the matter points towards selfish almost ridiculous oppression of the Indian people.  The glory of the English empire was placed far in front of the well being of a group of people, meaning, England viewed these people as expendable in their pursuit of distinction.  
Having finished Heart of Darkness I notice many parallels between the two situations and would not hesitate to assume the novella is an allegory for all Imperialism, most especially that of the English empire, being as it was the most prominent of its time.  In both, history and fiction, men who were otherwise considered good and just are corrupted by a search for power, they begin to murder because they are in an environment where that is okay.  They steal and rape because there are not rules forbidding it.
Going along again with what I had mentioned before, regarding England's ignoring the problems of India, I cannot be at all surprised that this happened.  Look at the situation in Ireland, as the film pointed out.  Here there are a huge amount of people, people not far away at all from England, dying in droves because of famine.  What does England do to intervene though?  Of course the answer is nothing at all, England is worried about England, an unforgivable offense.
Thus, as Conrad hopes to show us, are the evils of selfish imperialism.  People, frankly put, die.  They die in absurd numbers under, often times, the watch of a more powerful group of people who, if they honestly cared or tried or if it weren't a loss of profit, would certainly be able to alleviate some of the suffering they had caused.

Empire of Good Intentions

Can imperialism and good intentions co-exist? This was my first question of the film, and I have trouble believing it to be true. The humble narrator explains that Britain planned to teach its colonies self-reliance and then leave, yet the film showed little evidence of this goal. Instead we saw the classic sign of imperialism gone wrong: marginalization of Indian/Irish culture. The British seemed to view their adventures into India as a great experiment, and every British leader simply wanted to make a name for himself or get his share of the Indian riches. I don't doubt that many in the empire truly wanted to help these third world countries build themselves up with the help of Britain's industries and wealth, but these were not the people who controlled the government and military policies.

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

Calling Them as They Come

1/21/2008, 10:25 PM

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?


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.

Empire of Good Intentions Response

Empire of Good Intentions, that’s just it. Britain’s intentions were good but that does not mean that they should have invaded India. As Britain gains more power, they attempt to colonize more places. In this colonization process they believe that if they can make the people of India like the people of Britain, the people of India will be more successful in life. WRONG! India has its own set of values and beliefs and it is not right for the Brits to change them. It seems to me that Britain had a notion that to be successful, one has to be identical in all areas of life. This is like the father that makes all the decision for his child. Examples would be, making your son play baseball even though he does not enjoy the sport, or making your daughter go to college to be a doctor. In the end most of these kids rebel against their controlling parent much like India did.
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.

Empire of Good Intentions Response

I saw this little documentary last semester in my Post Colonial Literature and Theory course with Professor Brewer. I can safely say that even in my second viewing of Empire of Good Intentions, I was still able to sum up the material in a short, 7 step list, within the first few minutes of the documentary.

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

EoGI Cont'd

I would like to point out that the Empire of Good Intentions was indeed a very effort. In fact, it does surprise me that Africa seems to have been left out of the analysis for the very proper, nasally-confused Brit narrator. I mean, colonization was such a large part of the 20th century, and India did get its independence a few years before Ghana or other African nations that were under the colonial oppression of the imperialist Brits. The brute colonizers, even in the late-20th or early 21st century still wish to spread their consistent lies of: even though we colonized, rape, pillaged, destroyed these nations, and we recognize the tongue in cheek-ness, the slight sarcasm of the title Empire of Good Intentions (heehee), we still feel it wasn't that bad, honestly, and...we did some good for them, didn't we? The ends must truly justify the means, and by the ends we mean, the way we left it before the hooligan Africans or savage Indians messed up their nations even after all our efforts.
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

The Empire of Good Intentions

Unlike Bernard, I thought that overall it was a pretty good historical documentary. It of course, did have its downfalls and its slants, but it wasn't horribly biased for or against the British Empire.
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

The Empire of Good Intentions Response

The Empire of Good Intentions attempted to show the different political aspects occuring in the British Empire in the late-19th as well as 20th-centuries. Although the documentary seems to be recent enough, and admitting many aspects of the British Empire to display itself as benevolent and venerable, and exposing it as anything but such, I still found some interesting aspects (and problems) with the documentary. In the beginning of the documentary, the narrator comments on the British attitudes towards the Indians as "children of the liberal dream" and assisting them in their pursuit for "freedom." This reminded me of the United States' occupation of Iraq, and similar sentiments that we are helping them to gain liberty, democracy, freedom, [insert soundbites], with them supposedly wanting these things. Of course, comparing US to British imperialism brings up many political feelings, but I found myself brooding on that comparison while viewing the documentary.
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.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008


Welcome! This blog site is created by Wabash men who study writers and literary trends of the British Isles after 1900. They investigate major premises of Modernism and Postmodernism, and trace important political, cultural, and aesthetic changes reflected in 20th- and 21st-century texts. They also focus on representations of gender roles and race in selected texts by Joseph Conrad, Wilfred Owen, T.S. Eliot, W.B. Yeats, James Joyce, Virginia Woolf, Katherine Mansfield, George Orwell, Samuel Beckett, Eavan Boland, Angela Carter, and others.