Where Post-Colonialism Takes A Nineteenth Century Stroll

A Short Introduction (1)

Post-colonialist criticism has won my favour today, because I’ve been revising all the theories that I haven’t written about in my essays. This presents a problem, because I didn’t realise at the beginning of the year that I couldn’t write about the same topic twice. This means I’m in the slightly tricky position of having to write about all the theories that quite frankly, well, I’m mediocre (at best) at. This means that a frantic revision of all the compulsory reading ensued, and now I’m feeling marginally calmer, I’ve  had an epiphany: I will not have to write about Jacques Derrida under exam conditions. Anyone familiar with Derrida’s work will realise what a completely beautiful blessing this is.

Anyway, I’ve been reading extensively around the subject of post-colonialist criticism today, which essentially considers the nature of literature in terms of its understanding of ‘the subaltern’, and how Britain perceives the world, whilst it perches on something of a pedestal due to its great imperial past. It was certainly a great past, if slightly ethically questionable. Some would argue that because our empire has disintegrated, that we are no longer great, and instead ride on the coat-tails of the reasonably new superpower, the United States of America. But that’s a whole other conversation.

Title page from the first edition of Jane Aust...

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I like the idea of the subaltern; the idea that we cannot communicate with the subaltern, as proposed by Edward Said is interesting, because it suggests we have no way of creating a common language with which to communicate. Structuralist theory, as dictated by Ferdinand Saussure, suggests that in order to communicate, we must have a culturally agreed code to fall back on, to determine the meaning of the sign. (In this case, words). Without this shared culture, it is seemingly impossible to communicate quite literally, across the world.

Jane Austen’s Mansfield Park is one of the best examples of literature that is concerned with empire. She discusses the role of Sir Thomas Bertram in Antigua, running a slave plantation. She personally was opposed to slavery, however in the novel, it is implicitly accepted as a commodity that is fundamental to the wealth of the Bertrams. Interestingly, when the financial difficulties of the plantation become apparent, no lifestyle changes occur, almost as if to suggest there is an innate wealth underpinning the lifestyles of the family.

Post-colonial critics have suggested any number of things about Jane Austen in relation to this novel, such as the idea that she supports slavery because of the nature of the Bertrams wealth. An interesting counter to this argument however is that Fanny Price, the novel’s protagonist, asks her uncle, Sir Thomas about the plantation, and he neglects to give a reply. This could be interpreted as showing an awareness of immorality, and therefore an unwillingness to discuss the situation with his niece.

Returning to the ideology itself however, I find it extremely compelling because of its entanglement with history, perhaps more so than other forms of literary criticism. The key critics behind post-colonialism, including Spivak and Said, present repeatedly reputable arguments that discuss the British attitudes towards empire, and towards this culture that we are unable to communicate with, due to our extreme cultural differences, and historic hegemony towards them.

For anyone with a particular interest in the British Empire, I’d suggest reading Orientalism by Edward Said; it presents some very interesting forward thinking on the subject of empire and dominance, and for anyone unfamiliar with the concept of hegemony, I’d suggest looking that up too. Antonio’s Gramsci’s marxist thoughts on hegemony provide a very interesting inside into the ways of imperialism in the modern world, a world that has long moved on from naval conquests, into a more political kind of empiricism.

Happy reading!

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(1) http://cultural.emulty.com/wp-content/uploads/wpid-41ecV3AnOOLSL500.jpg

(2) Image courtesy of Wikipedia

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A Classic Case of Writer’s Block

We’ve all been there; the moment where you stare at your computer screen, and continue to do so for the following three hours. During this time, words begin to lose all meaning and instead become small squiggles that no longer signify very much in relation to the English language. Your brain begins to explore the possibility of having yet another cup of tea, and what to have for dinner, what time you ought to shower, etc. But nevertheless, sitting staring at the computer screen, working at approximately three lines an hour, is what could be considered the journey of a thousand miles. What is worse is the apathy that follows, leading to procrastination, and watching endless amounts of TV, just while you “think about what to work on next”. This is the affliction that has cursed me this morning; an attempt to write an essay, ending in me staring at the screen, rearranging sentences, but writing hardly anything that could be considered coherent.

An Extreme Case... (1)

So, how to tackle the problem? Well, I’m not quite sure. But I’m going to start by switching off the essay screen, and reverting to the plan. And when I’ve finally found a new direction for my essay (hopefully at some time this evening), I will post-it note all the relevant pages, and start writing again. But for now, until that happy moment arrives, I’m going to attempt study group questions; at the very least, they provide prompts. The hardest part of university, without a doubt, is the idea that you are very rarely given a detailed description of what you must do; it tends to be your own ideas, and running on your own steam. Most of the time, this is a freedom that I adore, however sometimes, I get a classic case of writer’s block. The worst part of writer’s block is writer’s block  just when you have a deadline to contend with. A deadline in a week, in fact. And I am as close to finishing this essay (or working out where I’m going to go with it) as I am to working out the molecular structure of hydrogen without the assistance of Google. So, after my lecture, I shall make an extremely black coffee, and re-evaluate the plan and hopefully it will clear itself up. I’m sure I’ll unblock myself soon enough.

The problem is at its worst when I want to sit down to write pretty metaphors and lyrics, but I can think of nothing new and original to say. Not a new word or thought in my mind. And then I get frustrated, and feel worthless in my capacity as a writer, which is precisely how I feel now. Sometimes, I wonder why I decided I wanted to be a writer in the first place, and why couldn’t I have considered something that relies a little less on my own creative capacity, and focussed on something with a little more scientific basis; something where there is a solidly correct answer. And when I think about this, I tend to go back, and read through my blog, and have a flick through my favourite novels, and all my writing to date, and I remember, in the style of a true romantic, that I will always love to write, and it’ll always be for love as opposed to any logical factor.

This is what leads me to believe that my writer’s block will clear in a day or two; if I allow it to percolate, then something will happen. I’ll come back to it later, greet it like an old friend, and find a new way of thinking about it, as opposed to having to force through it. In the mean time, I’ll bumble through my study questions, finish off Mansfield Park and read my way through my anthology. Interspersed with tea breaks, and watching “The Simpsons”.

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(1). http://creativeconfessions.files.wordpress.com/2011/07/6a00d8341c928153ef0112796ec55b28a4-800wi.jpg

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My Misguided Affair with Jane Austen

For a long time now, I’ve hailed Jane Austen as my least favourite author. Having suffered through Pride and Prejudice at GCSE and despising every second of it, I couldn’t bring myself to suffer through Sense and Sensibility. However now, I’m compelled to read Mansfield Park  in preparation for next term, and so snuggled up in bed with a pot of tea, I braced myself for yet another sitting room drama and social commentary. And was extremely pleasantly surprised.

I’ve always found the endless social details of Jane Austen nothing but intolerable, but when I began this novel, I was slowly brought around to the idea that I may actually enjoy Jane Austen. The story of Fanny Price departs from the diatribe that is (at least in my opinion) Pride and Prejudice and begins to explore themes a little wider than marriage, and the roles of women; she begins to look at adultery and themes of friendship. The humility of Fanny is endearing to any reader, and unlike Pride and Prejudice, there seems to be a little more in the way of progression and action, which as a reader, I find crucial.

Jane Austen's House (1)

In much the same way as I find Much Ado About Nothing intolerable, I like a novel to have an engaging and interesting plot, if only so that I can enjoy it on a superficial level, and to give some enjoyment to  the physical act of reading. There is nothing worse than having to struggle with a novel, reducing it to being an unendurable experience. Fundamentally, reading should be a positive act, something to entrance the mind instead of repelling it. By making literature inaccessible to everyone say a selected few, the author strangles his industry. That is not to say that Jane Austen is inaccessible however; only in my personal opinion, at least she was, up until now.

Whilst I haven’t quite finished the novel quite yet, I feel as though I’m going to enjoy it. I may become fascinated with her as both a person and a writer, and I think that after this novel, I will try to tackle Emma. Suggestions here are welcome!  I think my plan for the evening involves a small drink with my flat mates, an episode of Blackadder, and then an evening of Mansfield Park. What more could I ask for?

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(1) http://www.infobritain.co.uk/Jane_Austen_House_Garden.jpg

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