Weekly Blog Post

In the pathways…

When I saw “hybridity” as one of our concepts this week, I was troubled, thinking that its association with biology may cloud its association with people living in contact zones, but Ashcroft, Griffiths and Tiffin had that covered. As well when I approached “binarism” I felt an assumption of meaning but the book helped sharply define my thoughts.  “Palimpsest” and “Syncretism” were relatively new, as if I’d seen them in the hallways enough to recognize them, but not formally introduced. “Liminality” I had experienced before in doing my research on fairy tales and in a sense it is no different here, a place of existence–that Third Place as Bhabha calls it–where the colonizer and the colonized cultures battle for dominance. But when a person realizes that they are living in that third space, standing in the doorway between two cultures, how does that push-pull existence manifest?

http://www.deviantart.com/art/Where-They-Grow-584995759

Where They Grow by Chibionpu on DeviantArt

Perhaps it begins with that first moment in the mirror; when the binary is created for each us. The collapsing of ourselves into an “I” reflected back but not exactly. The reflection pushes back and says ‘I am you, but not you’. And in that space between the view and viewer is where we define ourselves. It is the first contact zone of our consciousness. The whole of our being is invented and investigated in the space between our gaze and the glass. When Walcott conjures up the image of the ape looking at its reflection on the stream as a possible spark of sentience, perhaps he was describing what happens to each of us. We see our mirrored reflection, we see ourselves reflected in our mother and fathers, brothers and sister, our communities and our friends and we continually redefine ourselves based on that push back, that luminal space where all the signifiers and signifieds converge and attempt to form signs. We formulate our self-knowledge in those few inches between ourselves and these reflections. These are the micro-binaries that first tell us who we are and who we are not. It is only later, when the reflection is unrecognizable that we succumb to the more powerful other, the other that insists and defines and refracts (bends the waves of our consciousness) instead of reflects. Nyasha is Tambu’s refraction. Jeremiah is, to a certain extent, Babamukura’s; images that present an awareness of ourselves, but continually trouble our assumed self-knowledge. 

Upon reflection, I found myself mixing up scenes between Nervous Conditions and Hamid’s story in The New Yorker. I couldn’t remember which character was sick on the floor under the cot, who rode either inside or on top if the bus…the colonizer had colonized my brain as well, showing me that distinctions between non-whites was not necessary. They are all so alien, it said, what is the difference. They do not exist in reality, it says, they exist in the liminal world.

When the colonizer approaches and the reflection is not imminent, the colonizer slips into that space and invents a new consciousness. Tambu sees a path before her (the convent) but Nyasha is the one to show her the path is actually a tunnel, with walls built by others. And even in knowing this, Tambu understand that while the far end of the tunnel is unknown, at the beginning is the image of her mother, her homestead and one possible future. She has no choice but to quickly sidle along the walls, heading for somewhere else,

The open ending of Nervous Conditions reminds us that there are no neat solutions for those who are colonized. Tambu has to persist, grasping at any shred of agency she can. Nyasha has become too aware of the doorway in which she exists, and her moments of true existence bring only anger, violence and despair from her father. He cannot provide for his family without living in the tunnel. He has accepted this and quite possibly, after so many years believes he belongs there. Nyasha suffocates, Tambu perseveres, and Babamukura oversees. The colonizer delegated his colonization.

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Lean In

My thesis work and my postcolonial readings collided again this week. As I read an article about, of all things, the attitudes of Victorians toward the Japanese wearing Western clothes, Hami Bhaba and his assertions on mimicry and ambivalence came into play. The Victorian’s deprecating comments and attitudes toward people attempting to assimilate part of their culture was a perfect example of the disruption of mimicry. The reaction, on the surface, seems like the paternal condescension of a large empire to its new pupil, but deep down it is the uneasy realization of one’s own preposterous-ness when presented from the outside. It is also the disruption of that paternal state, equivalent to your child marching around in your shoes; one day they will fit and they will no longer need you.


kramer-not-so-easy-japan-victorian-reaction-to-japanese-dress

“Tourist photographs rarely depicted the Japanese in European dress, and, when this did occur, the intention seems to have been to critique rather than to flatter. In the photograph […] c. 1870s, entitled ‘The civilized Japs’ [sic], there is something uncomfortable rather than graceful in the appearance of the unidentified man and woman depicted; the man, for example, gnaws on an almost comically large cigar and his suit billows around him ” (Kramer 18).

Source: Kramer, Elizabeth. “‘Not So Japan-Easy’: The British Reception Of Japanese Dress In The Late Nineteenth Century.” Textile History 44.1 (2013): 3-24. Historical Abstracts with Full Text. Web. 24 Sept. 2016.


Ambivalence is one of those words I remember learning. Sometime in my early teens, around the same time I thought I knew what patronizing meant, ambivalence became part of my lexicon. But I only had a partial meaning, thinking that I had no clear opinion, or none at all, about a particular topic. “I’m ambivalent about the whole matter” meant that I didn’t care. Only upon reading Homi Bhaba’s use of the word, did I realize my initial relationship with “ambivalence” had been entirely wrong. My “ambivalence” did not exist between two conflicting feelings, those feelings didn’t exist at all. Only when confronted with an extended definition, one that seeks to highlight the muddy existence of people caught between two worlds, neither one metaphorically black and white, did I realize what I thought was ambivalence was actually indifference.

In Tsitsi Dangarembga’s Nervous Conditions, Tambu exists in an ambivalent world, kneeling in the doorways between education and ignorance, urban and rural, girlhood and womanhood, Shona and English. She elevates one over the other at different times. When she begins menstruating her initial reaction is a practical one, duly educated by her mother, aunts and other female relatives, though still a matter too dangerous for male ears. She only experiences shame when confronted with the pristine bathroom of Babamukura’s house, anticeptic and porcelain white. The wholly natural process stands out in stark contrast to the construction of civilization – which would not exist without it. At this point in our reading, her cousin Nyasha appears as a possible guide to help Tambu navigate between all possible realities, though she has much navigating to do for herself. She, too, exists between two worlds, when recalling her visit to Tambu’s homestead upon their return from England:

“For [her parents] at least, because now they’re stuck with hybrids for children. And they don’t like it. They don’t like it at all. It offends them. They think we do it on purpose, so it offends them. And I don’t know what to do about it, Tambu, really I don’t. I can’t help having been there and grown into the me that has been there. But it offends them – I offend them. Really, it’s very difficult.” (78).

Nyasha finds some solace in books and cigarettes and, at least at dance-hall distance, boys. She also surprising enjoys church. Bhaba’s description of the portioned dispersing of Christian morality to colonized people is expressed in Nyasha’s attitude toward church, recognizing the “Christian cause, which was conformist but could clandestinely be translated into a progressive ideology” (98).

As we continue reading, I will be curious to see from which side of the doorway Tambu leans. Perhaps she will continue to remain there, standing rather than kneeling, leaning to and fro, gathering everything she can from both sides. Her position as an African woman insists that she never fully control her own life in either place, as exemplified in Maiguru’s lack of agency even while holding her own Master’s Degree. Will the ambivalence of Tambu’s situation force her to choose, and will she have the power to make that choice?

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私の日本語はとっても悪いです!

Note: My apologies for the last minute entry. You can see why here.

Somewhere between Wilde and Derrida I realized that language was something I was thrust into. It filled the world around me and gave form to everything. As I grew and became a reader, language created a temporal gateway between myself, the writer and the world they created. Its nuances and inconsistencies—as exemplified by the apex of all word-play, the pun—gave me hours of delight. Language can bend, turn back on itself and surprise. Yet, like the air, it is invisible and, like the air, its contamination or elimination would be deadly.

Rushdie’s master manipulation in the short story “The Courter” is frustrating. Whenever I come upon a writer who can transform simple words into a colorful experience, my jealousy gland flares up and I fume. And what’s brilliant about “The Courter” is how the whole story turns upon the mispronunciation of one word. By changing “porter” to “courter”, Certainly-Mary introduced a new idea into Mixed-Up’s mind and sets the rest of the tale in motion. Language, so easily manipulated by those with nefarious intent, is also the means of communicating kindness and love, and its mishaps often express something we hide even from ourselves.

Outside of my own reading and writing, language takes shape as I work with students in the Writing Center. I am always impressed with how students learning English—and many times it is their third or fourth language—have such mastery of its form. English is a particularly difficult language to learn, from what I am told, though the world is infused with it from politics to pop culture, it must be difficult to steer away from it. The jealously gland throbs again when talking to a student who worries about their paper in English, all while juggling multiple vehicles of expression in their head. How does English explain our culture to someone learning the language? At what moment does the ELL student think, ‘oh, they arrange the words this way, well that explains a lot.’

Ngũgĩ’s essay gave me a small, safely-privileged sense, of what it feels like to have your own language rejected. His school experience was the pained twin of the experience of America’s indigenous people in our boarding schools; their language rejected, demonized and banned. And it is a brilliant scheme. Eliminate the language of a culture and you slowly eliminate the culture. Remove the barrier between communication entirely and sedition is slow to stir. Assimilation, with the necessary deference to the “proper” speakers of the master language, is key to maintaining an exploitable class structure. I admit, it was difficult to hear of how my language was used this way, but I am not so naive to think that English is not a terrible and effective weapon. We routinely use this weapon on ourselves.

This cat is serious.
All the other memes I looked at were either racist, pejorative or otaku-related. I am only one of those

When I started seriously pursuing learning another language, I didn’t realize all the small connections that would be created in my brain. Japanese in its syntax is not terribly different, though differently arranged, but the switch from alphabet to syllabaries and kanji appeared to be mountainous in scale. Yet, little by little, I see how certain ideas join together to form larger ideas—my favorite so far is that the kanjis for “certain” and “death” join together to make the word “frantic.”

capture
“Hisshi” This will never not be wonderful to me.

In learning another language you get a sense of those who speak it, and Ngũgĩ spelled this out beautifully when he said that language is the carrier of culture (Desai and Nair 153). They are impossible to separate, and while I may study for years, my upbringing in America will always prevent me from being entirely fluent in the cultural aspect of the language. My goal is to be able to read in Japanese, to get closer to the authorial intent of a text.

Walcott’s poems are another example of getting closer to the intent through language. Ironically, the pdf’s had some of the footnotes cut off, thereby rendering some of the references “untranslatable.” I will fully credit Dr. Clemens for doing this intentionally as a way to showcase how beauty may still be gleaned from a text even without a full context of the allusions or the culture to which it refers.

This is where translation gets muddy. Translation may open the door to many texts, but the view is more through a foggy window.

An example: a stanza from Pablo Neruda’s poem “Sólo la Muerte”

Hay cadáveres,
hay pies de pegajosa losa fría,
hay la meurte en los huesos,
como un sonido puro,
como un ladrido sin perro,
saliendo de ciertas campanas, de ciertas tumbas,
creciendo en la humedad como el llanto o la lluvia.

My preferred translation by Robert Haas, who I feel attempts to capture the lyrical nature of the original:

There are corpses,
there are feet of clammy stone,
there is death in the bones,
like pure sound,
like a bark without a dog,
growing out of certain bells, certain tombs,
swelling in the humidity like a lament or like rain.

A poorer translation, in my opinion, by Robert Bly, which can be found here:

And there are corpses,
feet made of cold and sticky clay,
death is inside the bones,
like a barking where there are no dogs,
coming out from bells somewhere, from graves somewhere,
growing in the damp air like tears of rain.

The “clunkiness” of English is clearer here. There appears to be less attention to the music of the poem as opposed to the more literal translation. Even an entire line is missing. Translation is an art, but a “lossy” one. Shapes and movement may be clear, but some meaning is lost. A desire to only read in your own language seems lazy to me—those time I want to learn French to read Derrida are fleeting, but I generally drown those thoughts in beer—yet there will still be a cultural barrier. Ngũgĩ highlights this in showing how the comprador class uses native languages—often forgotten and rejected by the intellectual elites—to heighten fear and superstition in the working class. His refusal of English in his own work, and his desire to speak to the working class in their own language feels like a repossession of discourse that some of the writers that came before him abandoned. We English-speaking, intellectual-elite should take note and remember that for the American working class, academic English reads as another language.

It’s time to translate.

Weekly Blog Post

It’s privilege to not care that I’m Irish.

How timely this week’s reading is. I’m not referring to the unprec/sidented executive order banning the entrance of people from seven countries into the United States, but that bastion of nationalism, the prime example of “us” versus “them”, the microcosm of competition and hate that signifies America’s willingness to come together and hate someone else, in harmony: the Superbowl.

We foster our nationalism early. Between pee-wee league matches, high school rivalries and post-Christmas bowl games, we indoctrinate our children into futile feuding at a young age. Eagles fans are Eagles fans because their fathers were Eagles fans–certainly not out of nostalgia for some past greatness. We create small societies around “our team” and remind ourselves that at least we’re not Patriots fans. This athletic support is well placed to prime our sensibilities for the jingoistic, rally-around-the-flag that a hegemonic power structure needs in place when their populist ideals are neither popular, nor ideal.

We wear sports jerseys to practice wearing fatigues; pennants become flags, fight songs become anthems. We invest in the small rivalries to be prepared to invest in the large ones.

Yet, even in the midst of all this “healthy competition” when America needs us, we come together. We put aside our differences and stand as one united nation; a symbol of freedom and tolerance. That’s what we put on ribbon stickers. That’s what we tell ourselves. White people are delusional.

White people are particularly good at cultivating these little feuds: that rival high school; the Baptists next door; the Steelers fans down the street; the Pepsi drinker. And we tell ourselves that we’re so brave for overcoming these differences, all the while caving under the insecurity of American whiteness. That insecurity is the fuel that drives Ancestry.com into million dollar profits. The need that white Americans have to know from which European nation their ancestors sprang. We enjoy a privilege of knowing that our records are there, preserved, waiting for that little leaf to show up on grandad’s name to say “hey, white person, your heritage matters.”

We have internalized and commoditized the old colonial rivalries of nineteenth century Europe in its mad dash to gobble up the rest of the world. We are Spartans, and Rough-Riders, and Fighting Irish, and Knights. Our ancestry and our history is tightly packaged into professional competition sponsored by Duracell.

“Did you see that Cowboys, Redskins game last night? What a bloodbath.”

Frantz Fanon’s argument that “the expression of a nation, the expression of its preferences, of its taboos and of its patterns…and that a national culture is the sum total of all these appraisals” (217). He argues that the colonial intellectual trying to reach back into a pre-colonial past to justify a sense of the expunged culture, to reclaim an identity to justify independence is doomed to fail. Culture is the germination of struggle and liberation from the oppressor in the colonized nation, he suggests. And while the new culture that develops out of that struggle may call back to its pre-colonial roots, it will still be a new national culture of its own, grown out of the people and their struggle.

Perhaps this is what Fredric Jameson was getting to as well, albeit indelicately. As I approached the Jameson piece, after having read the concept definitions, I expected the essay to be an outright dismissal of “third world” literature as part of an ever expanding canon. Yet, I believe it’s the canon he wishes to blow up. When he states that “the third-world novel will not offer the satisfactions of Proust or Joyce” he is not dismissing the novel’s literary quality, but it’s their status as a cultural group new at writing in the novel genre (65). The Eurocentrist view of literature would undeniably force all “third world” stories into national allegory simply because there is not a long-standing, widely-dispersed body of literature from these lands. Jameson, I believe, is pointing out not that these books don’t belong, but that shaking the colonist out of the postcolonialist is difficult. We are so invested in the beliefs of our own superiority (and inferiority in the face of European culture) that we don’t even know that we too need to be decolonized. We’re in a penthouse prison that we don’t even recognize.


This video is relevant, in a way, at the very least for the following line: “The best way to keep people in prison, is to keep them in a prison that they don’t know they’re in.”

The descendants of European culture need to decolonize their own minds to consume postcolonial texts with the rhetorical attention that they deserve. We must acknowledge our privilege and let in voices that are troubling, humorous, erotic, political, human. We must begin from a shared biological and emotional framework and attempt to discover and move through a new culture that sprang forth from the struggle of independence or the abandonment of the colonizer. We must remember that our every-day rivalries are constructions, tiny models of warfare ready to be waged at any moment.

 

 

 

Go Falcons!

Weekly Blog Post

Hi, my name is Heather and I’m a…

Defining my subject position seems…infinite. I can easily say female and white – the two broadest categories; add in cisgender and heterosexual – for the less interesting bits. Class? Well…when? I’ve gone from lower-middle to upper-middle to middle-as-you-can-get-middle and back again. All of those levels have their own nooks and crannies, if you will, and each has constructed my subject position at each time. I am more interested in where this positional classification actually ends (probably at the quantum level, but there position is only in potential).

I am also an atheist, overweight, a smoker, peanut-hater (non-allergic), lover of 1970s R&B, Moon-landing defender, possible Highlander, cat owner, book reader, and confessor that at this point in the list it becomes increasingly less humorous and more like a terrible eHarmony profile. Does having access to a public park as a child affect my subject position? The age I lost my virginity? Does being a non-traditional (middle-aged) student make my academic positions more or less conservative? Is turning the dehumanizing act of categorization back upon ourselves instead of toward others an essential part of postcolonial studies?

Yes.

By assessing “what am I” instead of declaring “what are you” we include ourselves in the broader scope of humanity, instead of sitting above it, looking upon a people as specimens swimming in microscope slides. We remove the unspoken superiority when placing people into checkbox-shaped compartments. We stop being an “us” and realize we are all “them.” Yet, this realization is not an end game. I do not wake up the next day all of a sudden…woke. It is the start of a process; the absorption of the stories that paint a fuller picture of the world and the deconstruction of the stories that have shaped it thus far. The Western stories written in and about the colonized world shape(d) the lives of people newly independent and those struggling under a colonial legacy. Yet, it is important not to stop at that new lens on the old cannon, satisfying as it may seem. Keeping focus on Western stories, even within the postcolonial view still only tells part of the whole story. Opening up the colonized narratives expands the story from the “flat” experience that Adichie speaks about in her video.

Others than Kipling wrote of India.

And here is where, even in week one, postcolonial studies intersects with my own research. Columbus’ letter is a brilliant example of the earnestness of the colonizer in his (and I use his most emphatically here) infantilization of the colonized. They are “of simple manners and trustworthy” like children, eager for the paternal affection of a far away crown (Desai and Nair 20). And it’s through stories–travelogues, treaties, psalms–that this infantilization is reflected back on the colonized and internalized. Adichie’s words, when confronting the Western stories she read as a child, cannot be understated: “how impressionable and vulnerable we are in the face of a story, particularly as children.” The stories we tell about ourselves are in constant discourse with the stories told about us, and therefore, I think, postcolonial studies is about giving voice and validity to the fuller volume of stories that shape people’s lives.