Entries from October 2009
30 October 2009 · 8.22 pm · by Tlali · 2 Comments
- Aviles, Jaime. Marcos y la insurreccion Zapatista, La “revolucion virtual” de un pueblo oprimido. Mexico, D.F.: Editorial Grijalbo, 1998.
In this book, Jaime Aviles provides an overview of the importance the use of the internet has had to the EZLN movement. Aviles explains that one of the key weapons to the Zapatistas has been the ability to mobilize an international network of supporters of their cause. For many years, Aviles explains, the indigenous people of Mexico have suffered many kinds of human rights violations, including massacres, rapes, and other atrocities. All these years, indigenous people were taught to endure such violations under the idea of their biological and cultural inferiority. Anger, resentment and hate have inhabitated their hearts and souls, but feeling powerless to a dominant (ideological) majority of mestizos, they have kept their revolutionary urges suppressed. The arrival of various socialist activists from Mexico City, with their technological expertise and their understanding of the way the system worked, enabled indigenous Maya to appeal to a broader audience for help in fighting their cause of basic human survival.
This book is written in Spanish and is only available in Mexico, yet it is a very valuable source of information to understand the “virtual revolution” which has been key to the success and protection of the Zapatistas movement. Aviles argues that without the support of a cyberg community, it is very likely that the EZLN would have been massacred by the Mexican military (under the direction of the U.S. government firms such as Chase Manhattan). Aviles also explains how Mexico has always had leftist tendencies and crushing the EZLN could ultimately lead to another civil war. He believes that having access to communication is key to the survival and spread of the Zapatista movement and ideology.
- Batalla, Guillermo Bonfil. Mexico Profundo, Reclaiming a Civilization. Austin: University of Texas Press, 1996.
Guillermo Bonfil Batalla’s book provides a missing aspect of Mexican history, the story of its indigenous people, what he calls “una civilizacion negada” (a denied/unvalidated civilization). This illustrates the negation of a civilization which continues to exist despite the genocidal approach towards its destruction. Bonfil Batalla explains that Mexico is not a mestizo country, but rather a country whose majority continues to be rooted in Mesoamerican civilization as the culture and values reflect those practiced by its ancestors for thousands of years. Mexico Profundo includes those who speak an indigenous language, and who are living in extreme poverty today in the various states of the Mexican republic. He states that “their way of life has endured as they have resisted outside forces, appropriated and adopted as their own useful items from outside, and in turn created new and original elements of Mesoamerican civilization” (p.vi). Bonfil Batalla was a distinguished Mexican anthropologist and served as director of the National Institute of Anthropology and History (INAH) until his tragic death in a car accident in July 1991.
Bonfil Batalla’s Mexico Profundo erupted into the national consciousness in 1994 during the EZLN uprising in Mexico. The strength of Mexico Profundo is most evident in the power and public support of the Zapatista uprising, as well as other forms of civil disobedience present all throughout Mexico. Bonfil Batalla has written extensively on the importance of understanding the indigenous culture and heritage of Mexican people, therefore his book is key to the understanding of the political struggle within Mexican culture.
- Chomsky, Noam. Hegemony or survival, American quest for global dominance. New York: Metropolitan Books, 2003.
Hegemony or survival is a fascinating analysis of the imperialism of the U.S. today and the fast spread of unregulated capitalism through the hegemonic practices of the elite that run the world. Chomsky warns us of the eminent threat that hegemony poses to our survival today. He explains that there are basically two major world powers which hold the fate of humanity, one is the U.S. militaristic imperialism, and the other is public opinion. Chomsky provides a lenghty and well-supported/factual overview of the hegemonic practices of the U.S. during the 21st century all around the world. Furthermore, he explores the way that the U.S. has manipulated the goverments of Latin America to protect its interest and keep people subjugated. Wilsonian theories have promoted a paternalistic view of the indigenous people of the Americas which justify and even promote colonization for the development and civilization of the natives in Latin America.
This book provides a factual based context for the resistance of indigenous Maya people through the Zapatista movement. Chomsky discusses what the media in the U.S. omits to keep us ignorant of the real conditions of indigenous people and their context to maintain the power and privilege of the U.S. at the expense of the indigenous people and their land. Many conservatives have dismissed and even advocated attacks towards the Zapatistas claiming they are a threat to U.S. interests as they allegedly promote communism in Mexico. Chomsky’s book provides the evidence of the political exploitation and genocide which has been taking place among indigenous communities in Latin America. One such massacres took place in the town of Acteál in Chiapas Mexico, when 45 people, many children and pregnant women who were peacefully participating in a religious prayer and were killed by “unknown” paramilitary forces.
- Coe, Michael. The Maya. New York: Thames and Hudson, 1999.
Michael Coe is considered one of the leading experts in Mayan archaeology and ancient culture. He was one of the experts who cracked the Mayan code and has been able not only to decipher ancient Maya culture, but to connect it with modern day Maya indigenous people. Coe explains the cultural perseverance of the Maya as being the result of geographical isolation. The Maya were untouched by the Spaniards as they moved into undesirable territory in the jungles of Mexico and Guatemala. Later, the Mestizo population left them alone as they were considered inferior and backwards. However, after the North American Free Trade Agreement was signed, former Mexican President, Salinas de Gortari, decided to abolish the legislation which granted ownership of land to those campesinos who worked it. This also opened the door for corporations to move in and use the land previously inhabited by Maya indigenous people for crop farming. The Maya would then serve as a source of cheap labor. Coe argues that this has exposed indigenous Maya to western culture, diseases, and exploitation for which the Maya are not able to survive.
In his book, Michael Coe refers to them as the enduring Maya and wonders how a culture which has lasted for thousands of years will respond to the pressures of globalization and hegemony of the west. Coe’s work inspired me to research this fascinating culture which I had been taught was long dead. Many people visit the Mayan ruins in Mexico and are told that the ancient Maya were a very advance civilization, yet fail to recognize the merits of their descendants who carry a wealth of knowlegde about their ancestors and the environment they live in today.
- Collier, George. Basta! Land and the Zapatista Rebellion in Chiapas. New York: Food First Books, 1999.
George Collier’s book Basta! provides an in-depth study of Chiapas, Mexico. He explains the legacy of conquest and moves through a historical analysis of the revolution and its agrarian reform. He then focuses on Eastern Chiapas and the building of social movements in this region, both economic and religious responses to the oppression facing indigenous people. In the second part of the book he explores the economic aspects, including the oil and agriculture crisis, energy development, and political issues of controlling resources, production, and labor in Chiapas. He concludes the book with an overview of what he calls “the New Indigenous movement” or new Zapatistmo and the effects of global networking and Neoliberalism in Mexico.
This book takes a more general view at the complex aspect surrounding the Zapatista movement. Collier has a Ph.D. in Social Anthropology from Harvard and is professor emeritus from Stanford University where his focus was in agrarian politics and agrarian change in Chiapas, Mexico in the 1960s. Chomsky states that “Collier’s inquire into the roots of the Zapatista rebellion lucidly reveals their depth and intricacy…illuminating fundamental and ominous tendencies in the global socioeconomic order” Collier’s book is a must in any academic understanding of the situation in Chiapas pertaining to the EZLN.
- MARCOS, Subcomandante. «Our Word is Our Weapon.» Our Word is Our Weapon. De Seven Stories Press. New York, 2002.
This CD contains the readings of many essays and poems written by Subcomandante Marcos. In these texts, Marcos explains who the Zapatistas are and what they are fighting for. He references the conditions of indigenous people through Mexico’s history. Marcos’s poetry appeals to the well-being of humanity as a whole, by promoting the protection of the earth’s resources and the respect and preservation of indigenous people in the world.
I like this CD because it includes the emic perspective of the voice of the Zapatistas, subcommander Marcos. In it, he expresses the values and the demands the Zapatistas make for their struggle to end. I think it is interesting that their demands include what some may consider basic human rights, such as land, freedom and respect for their autonomy. I love his poetic voice and his elegant use of language though when he translates it to English, I feel it loses some of its charisma and power. Marcos thick accent makes it a bit hard to understand what he is saying.
- Marx, Karl. A contribution to the critique of political economy. Chicago: Charles H. Kerr & Company, 1911.
In “A contribution to the critique of political economy” Marx explores the way that in a capitalist society (of free competition) inequalities become inevitable. Most complex societies have more social stratification, tribes and chiefdoms tend to be more egalitarian. After the industrial revolution, and with the birth of capitalism, 100,000 years of human evolutionary history was erased. The industrial revolution came to be seen as the emergency of “true humanity” and civilization and taken as the historical start point. Marx critiques the development of a capitalist system and its ideology justifying human inequality on the basis of a meritocracy. Marx also explains how the idea of land ownership gives rise to major, inevitable inequalities, and a system based on the exploitation of those who don’t own land, by those who monopolize land ownership.
Marx theory resonates with the Maya ideology which forms the basis of Zapatista culture. The Zapatistas advocate for equality and the idea that land belongs to those who work it (agrarian reform). Just like Marx, the Zapatista fight against the unregulated spread of capitalism, and believe that human equality should be granted to all individuals. I think that Marx’s theories are very much aligned with the demands of the Zapatistas and provide a great framework for understanding an alternative to the ideology which dominates the West and Neoliberalistic practices today. I plan to review more of Marx’s work to compare and contrast with the Zapatista as a counterculture.
—. Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts of 1844 and the Communist Manifesto. New York: Prometheus Books, 1988.
—. The German Ideology. Moscow: Progress Publishers, 1964.
- Ramirez, Gloria Muñoz. The Fire and the Word; A hisotry of the Zapatista Movement. San Francisco: City Lights Books, 2008.
In this fascinating book, Gloria Munoz Ramirez provides a rich overview of the history as well as the poetic symbolism of the EZLN. Gloria was born in Mexico City and worked as a journalist for many newspapers during the EZLN uprising, including Punto, German news agency DPA, and La Opinion (a U.S. based newspaper. In 1997 she left her family and work to live with the Zapatista communities for seven years, which gave her an insider perspective of the EZLN culture. She currently works for La Jornada a Zapatista sympathizing newspaper in Mexico and also writes for the magazine Rebeldia.
This book provides a general story of the Zapatista movement, from the moment it came out publicly in 1994, to its international impact which continues as of today. Gloria provides rich emic perspectives by incorporating interviews of indigenous Maya who struggle to survive on a daily basis. The story is composed of what Subcomandante Marcos calls “the little pieces of mirrors and crystals that make up the various moments of the Zapatistas, years of open struggle, the reflections of a history that is still being made, one which continues to inform and inspire activists and intellectuals around the globe.” This book will be a great source of information as it provides a rich insider view of the actual Zapatistas, as well as a more up-to-date analysis of the movement and its effects worldwide.
- Ross, John. Rebellion from the roots, Indian Uprising in Chiapa. Tennessee: Common Courage Press, 1995.
One of my favorite parts of the book is the first chapter titled: “?Feliz Año Nuevo, Cabrones!” This is in reference to the EZLN uprising in January 1994. John Ross is a journalist who has been reporting on the popular struggle in Mexico and Latin America for over two decades. He is considered a poet and an activist. His extensive experience and knowledge of the media and representations of liberation movements make this book a compelling read for understanding the impact of the media to the Zapatista movement. Ross explores questions like, what does the EZLN uprising mean for the U.S.? Who really killed presidential candidate Luis Donaldo Colosion? Who is Marcos? Will Mexico have freedom or a free market? Do elections represent a step toward democracy or the promise of further strife?
This book provides a different view on the Zapatista movement , one which includes the perspective of the media. Ross has extensive experience writing for Mexican newspapers as well as U.S. journals, including the Nation, the Village Voice and the San Francisco Bay Guardian. I think this book provides a general overview of the perception of the Zapatistas around Mexico and in the U.S. with a bit of Mexican “picardia” or cultural twist. Rebellion from the Roots was the American Book Award Winner in 1995.
- Said, Edward. Culture and Imperialism. New York: Vintage Books, 1993.
In this book Edward Said explores the various aspects that lead to the imperialistc power of the West over the colonized continents. He explores the effects of the production of an ideology that was based on the power to narrate and reconstruct history and culture in order to promote the superiority of the colonizer. Such ideology promotes the inferiority of some races and provides justification for their inferior condition. Said explores the roles of the novels of the 19th century to strenghten the ideology of the colonizer as superior and “cultured.” He describes the continous hegemonic spread of colonizers in the West who achieved (and in term of the U.S. continue to do so) their power through the exploitation of the natives. Said points out that by 1914 “Europe held a grand total of roughly 85% of the earth as colonoies, protectorates, dependencies, dominions, and commonwealths” (p.8). When such as small minority has control of such a vast majority of oppressed, the internalization of an ideology is key to its existance.
Said’s work is very important to understanding the struggle and political dimensions that led to the uprising of indigenous people in Mexico and their dedication to the EZLN. Said explains the way that the annals of schools, missions, universities, scholarly societies, hospitals in Latin America established so-called modernizing trends, yet maintained the divide between the native and Westerner (p.223). Such divide however, was broken when University professors, in exile, joined the movement in 2001.
- West, Cornel. «The New Cultural Politics of Difference.» Ferguson, Russell. Out There: Marginalization and Contemporary Cultures. New York: The MIT Press, 1990. 19-37.
Cornel West explores the “New Cultural Politics of Difference” in an essay. He states that “the new cultural politics of difference consists of creative response to the precise circumstances of our presen moment” The three bais changellend of the new cultural politics of difference include: intellectual, existential, and political. The intellectual challenge centers in the monopoly and homogenization of history, culture, and society. In this he cites Fanon and his theories on the decolonization of the Third World, as it marked the end of the Age of Europe, but the emergence of the USA as a world power. This historical analysis applies to Mexico, as it too was colonized and controlled by Spain, only to find itself “liberated” from Spanish control but exploited by what Fanon calls “the national bourgeoisie” and now the U.S.
West’s second challenge is the existential challenge, which refers to the cultural capital to thrive independently of the nation or the status quo. I believe that the EZL has the “high-quality skills require to engage in critical practices and the self-confidence, discipline and perseverance necessary for success without an undue reliance on the mainstream for approval and acceptance” (32). The mainstream approval refers to the conservative, capitalist mestizo Mexican population which has openly criticized the subversive aspect of the EZLN. Finally, West poses the question of whether or not a civilization that evolves more and more around market activity, buying and selling commodities, expand the scope of freedom and democracy. The EZLN has been critical of this unregulated abuse of resources, and the inequalities of a market system based on consumption.
29 October 2009 · 3.45 pm · by meg · 2 Comments
- Boxer, Diana and Gritsenko, Elena. “Women and surnames across cultures: reconstituting identity in marriage.” Women and Language. 28.2 (Fall 2005): p1. From Literature Resource Center. Accessed 23 Oct 2009. <http://go.galegroup.com/ps/i.do?action=interpret&id=GALE|A141493509&v=2.1&u=clar46892&it=r&p=LitRC&sw=w&authCount=1>.
To quote the abstract, “Through questionnaire and ethnographic data we study how women in the U.S. and Russia address the surname issue when faced with marriage or partnership.” Boxer and Gritsenko explore how surname choice affects and reflects personal and professional identity, as well as perpetuates “gendered power hierarchy of a society.” The latter part is what I think will be most useful for me, in my exploration of marriage’s affect on hegemony.
- Boyd, Alamilla. “Sex and Tourism: The Economic Implications of the Gay Marriage Movement.” Radical History Review (Winter2008 2008): 222-235. Academic Search Premier, EBSCOhost (accessed September 27, 2009).
Boyd suggests that gay marriage becomes a commodity, a tourist attraction, something that cities “sell” to get more gay tourists to come spend their money in those cities. Ultimately, this functions to absorb gay culture into the dominant ideology, reducing homosexuality to another identity group to which certain things can be sold, rather than “sinful” or another such deviation from the norm. Whether this commodifying whose result is a kind of acceptance is good or bad is finally unclear.
- Christensen, Jen. “Love! Valour! Commerce!.” Advocate (July 2008): 27-27. Academic Search Premier, EBSCOhost (accessed September 27, 2009).
Christensen reports on money statistics that suggest legalizing gay marriage increases net gain in a state’s budget by the influx of marriages and all the related spending—a shorter article to conclude much of what Boyd discussed regarding economics.
- Church, C. C. “Communism in Marriage: Human Relationships at the Oneida Community.” Nation 123, no. 3188 (August 11, 1926): 124-126. Academic Search Premier, EBSCOhost (accessed September 27, 2009).
Astonishingly, Church describes a community formed in the early or mid-nineteenth century in New York that utilized a variety of Marxist principles; he argues that the main reason the community worked so well is because of the use of communism in marriage. Thus literally everything was shared in this small society (although the shared relationships appear to have been only heterosexual). Once their form of marriage was outlawed by the state, the community deteriorated, but it remains a testament to the possibilities of Marxist ideas.
- Gray, Betty MacMorran. “Money and Marriage: The Usable Truth.” Nation 214, no. 26 (June 26, 1972): 820-821. Academic Search Premier, EBSCOhost (accessed September 27, 2009).
Gray argues, in 1972, that the main reason that marriages and families are deteriorating is because of the capitalist system and its exploitation of labor. It is an interesting argument to read considering the even higher statistics of divorce today and considering more recent attacks on gay marriage as being the reason behind so much divorce.
- Handley, William R. “Belonging(s): Plural Marriage, Gay Marriage and the Subversion of ‘Good Order.’” Discourse (26:3) Fall 2004, 85-109,197. Literature Online (accessed September 27, 2009).
Except for Church’s discussion of the Oneida Community, this was by far the most fascinating read, because Handley describes much of the polygamists’ history and demonstrates how a good portion of the crap that was thrown their way is now being repeated for the proponents of gay marriage. He also crucially points out that while gay marriage and polygamy are often compared because they both threaten the idea of “traditional” marriage, at the base they are fundamentally extremely different ideas of human relationships; and while gay marriage can subvert one of the biggest ideological ideas in our society (patriarchy), polygamy actually took patriarchy to its extreme conclusion. It is interesting that neither end of the spectrum is generally welcomed in American hegemony.
- Langbein, Laura, and Yost, Mark A. “Same-Sex Marriage and Negative Externalities.” Social Science Quarterly (Blackwell Publishing Limited) 90, no. 2 (June 2009): 292-308. Academic Search Premier, EBSCOhost (accessed September 27, 2009).
Using statistics already gathered that are used by the Family Research Council to denounce gay marriage as having adverse affects on society, Langbein and Yost analyze the data in an almost dully scientific way that effectively proves that gay marriage does not have adverse affects on society, and in some instances has actually improved it. They focus on those aspects of society that the FRC considers most important (marriage, divorce, abortion rates, proportion of children born to single women, and percent of children in female-headed households) so as to most clearly prove the FRC wrong in its statements. After reading so much literature that discusses gay marriage in ideological (or at most, economic) terms, it is odd to see it present in a scientific study, and I wonder if such a study is actually useful in arguments when so many of them are not based in scientific research.
- McPheeters, Martha. “Gays to Marry? Let’s Not!.” Journal of Lesbian Studies 3, no. 1/2 (March 1999): 197-203. Academic Search Premier, EBSCOhost (accessed September 27, 2009).
As Mcpheeters writes in her initial summary, “Marriage has lost any connection it may have had to spiritual or emotional bonding.” She argues that gays shouldn’t bother trying to gain the right to marry as it currently stands, because marriage is a State-sanctioned economic contract that simply furthers capitalist and patriarchal society—things that should be contested instead. The idea of pair bonding for life (i.e. marriage) as being a natural thing is, to sum up, bullshit. Thus the gay rights movement should be fighting to change the ideas of marriage and how society functions, rather than trying to incorporate themselves into the current ideology.
- Seidman, Steven. “The social construction of sexuality.” Contemporary Societies. New York : Norton, 2003.
Seidman explores the history behind the views of sexuality in contemporary American society, relating the changes to similar changes in views on race (pertinent especially since many people relate antagonism toward gay marriage to earlier antagonisms toward mixed-race relationships). He also discusses the histories of the various gay rights movements, including those of specifically lesbian and bisexual organizations. Taking this text in relation to the Langbein and Yost text provides some variety (both scientific and ideological) in looking at the development of social attitudes toward the idea of gay relationships and, specifically, gay marriage.
26 October 2009 · 11.11 am · by erin · 1 Comment
In reading Culture and Imperialism, I was most struck by Said’s final section, entitled “Movements and Migrations.” This makes sense, as it is the final section of the book – and every author hopes to make their final section noteworthy, impactful, implanting something in the reader’s mind that keeps poking, provoking. In this section, Said offers up a solution – or at least a form of resistance – to nationalism and imperialism in the figure of the exile. I am partially unsatisfied by this because it has been done before (or maybe, actually, Said was among the first to do so – the historical timeline in my head is practically non-existent) – many an author has championed hybridity, liminality, the paradoxical here-not-here presence of the exilic figure. At the same time, however, I am intrigued by his discussion of the exile and the ways it reflects his thoughts on identity.
In this discussion, Said makes a very Marxist move, claiming that the figure capable of undermining nationalism and imperialism has been created by those very systems: “As the struggle for independence produced new states and new boundaries, it also produced homeless wanderers, nomads, vagrants, unassimilated to the emerging structures of institutional power, rejected by the established order for their intransigence and obdurate rebelliousness” (332). Particularly ironic is the way in which the exile is almost forced into the role of revolutionary figure, emphasized by Adorno’s statement that “He who offers for sale something unique that no one wants to buy, represents, even against his will, freedom from exchange” (333). Refugees, migrants, exiles are excluded from the very nationalist system that they often desperately want to be a part of – and so have been forced by that system into a homeless state that allows them to effectively challenge nationalism.
I think Said saves himself and his argument by acknowledging the pain of this position. Said values the exile for the challenge this figure poses to the essentializing, dichotomizing, binary-creating philosophy of imperialism. Imperialism wants to divide the world into East and West, wants to give us distinct, permanent labels and identities. Existing “between domains, between forms, between homes, and between languages” the exile reminds us that “we need to go on and situate [our identities] in a geography of other identities, peoples, cultures, and then to study how, despite their differences, they have always overlapped one another, through unhierarchical influence, crossing, incorporation, recollection, deliberate forgetfulness, and, of course, conflict” (330-331). This claim can verge on sounding too idealistic and humanistic, romanticizing the role of the exile and seeming to encourage us to find what is commonly “human” among us. Said, however, interrupts us with the reminder that “unexpected, unwelcome loss” is central to this state, that this position is often uncomfortable and painful. The value in it is that it reminds us that all attachments to nation, all identities for that matter, are constructed and transitory – and inherently contain a similar loss, a similar pain. In this argument, Said works to emphasize the positive and creative possibilities of this exilic position, but does not let us forget that it is the real, lived, often harrowing circumstance of millions of people currently in our world.
Tags: reading responses
26 October 2009 · 10.52 am · by Rose · No Comments
I found Said’s discussion of the “geographical element” of decolonization to be particularly interesting. First of all, geographical occupation by an outsider is the most obvious aspect of colonialism. The psychological effects of this occupation therefore seem worthy of attention. Said says the “geographical identity must thereafter be searched for and somehow restored…the land is recoverable at first only through the imagination” (225). Yet in many cases, the actual geography has been changed by the colonizer in order to “transform territories into images of what they had left behind” (225). The original, natural landscape is also transformed in order to optimize industry. Said refers to this transformation as “second nature” because the landscape is evolving according to the rules of production. Thus he claims that the colonized people must discover a “third” nature that is based on the real “deprivations of the present” (226).
First I want to unpack the idea of “second nature.” Capitalist societies in general produce “a particular kind of nature and space, an unequally developed landscape that integrates poverty with wealth, industrial urbanization with agricultural diminishment” (225). This is an interesting idea. In a place where the state controls all property, space will develop differently. In a capitalist economy, there will be slums as well as wealthy neighborhoods. But how would communist be defined geographically? In capitalism, there is an emphasis on private property, so the geography mirrors the classes: a few wealthy individuals own a lot of “nice” space, whereas many proletariats own practically no space, and the space they do have is not considered valuable. In a communist society, there are no classes so space would theoretically also be more equalized. Yet the analogy doesn’t quite work, because in capitalism people own land so it makes sense to make people analogous to their property. In communism, the state owns the land so it is feasible that the connection between people and geography is not as strong.
Imperialism is presented as the extreme form of a capitalist geography. The colonized people must invent a way to reclaim “their” land. Yet isn’t this putting things in capitalistic, land-ownership terms? In some ways imperialism is not only an example of capitalism, but also an example of communism-gone-wrong, where the state owns all the land and is seen as an alienated, external force from the people.
Early in this chapter, Said mentions in passing “a standard imperialist misrepresentation…that exclusively Western ideas of freedom led the fight against colonial rule…and claims the fight against imperialism as one of imperialism’s major triumphs” (199). This idea seems incredibly telling of the ways in which decolonization analysis often functions. In this case, the misrepresentation fails to take into account “the reserves in Indian and Arab culture that always resisted imperialism” (199). This is relevant to Said’s case about geography. Colonized people must reclaim their land by doing so in their imaginations and creating a “third nature.” In other words, decolonization must be more than just claiming ownership in the same way the colonizers did; the reclamation must be within the culture of the colonized.
Tags: reading responses
26 October 2009 · 10.14 am · by meg · 2 Comments
As with Fanon, Edward Said in Culture and Imperialism discusses (among many other things) the views of both the “natives” and the colonizers about colonization. Early in this week’s reading, he posits that “most cultural formations [in imperialist nations] presumed the permanent primacy of the imperial power. Still, an alternative view to imperialism arose, persisted, and eventually prevailed” (199). This presents a basic and concise view of the oppositions. The latter statement gives brief hope that despite the majority of this book talking about the ways that the colonized were repressed, in the end they have overturned their rulers. The former statement is, I think, much more interesting. That the imperialist nations assumed they would forever be able to subjugate other nations to tyranny is more surprising than, I suppose, it should be. Such a mode of thinking must have been present or they would have been much more terrified to rule in the first place (“They’ll take back power someday; we’d better treat them nicer . . .”). But the assumption that power dynamics would never change is just hubristic and naive.
Said points out later that of course the colonized peoples weren’t going to allow the status quo to remain. He discusses Thompson’s odd way of looking at it, that the British needed to “recognize that Indian men and women ‘want their self-respect given back to them’ ” (206). This sentence immediately calls Fanon to mind, whose arguments always rested on the colonized people taking back what they want, forming their own identity. Nothing is ever given back to them; and Said knows this as well: “as Fanon argued—the empire never gives anything away out of goodwill. It cannot give Indians their freedom, but must be forced to yield it as the result of a protracted political, cultural, and sometimes military struggle . . .” (207). Of course, this is not something the colonizer nation wants, so even the sympathizers cannot imagine (or at least describe) the violent struggle that will actually be necessary for the colonized to gain sovereignty. Instead, writers like Thompson wanted the imperialist nations to take the first step of realizing the humanness of the subjugated people and return to them what the imperialist nation had first taken away and, honestly, could not return.
A final viewpoint to mention here is one mentioned in one of the various novels Said discusses that rework Conrad’s Heart of Darkness to relate better to the colonized’s experiences. The passage Said quotes includes the following: “Sooner or later they will leave our country, just as many people throughout history left many countries. The railways, ships, hospitals, factories, and schools will be ours and we’ll speak their language without either a sense of guilt or a sense of gratitude” (212). The first sentence recalls the first idea mentioned in this response, that the colonizers thought they’d never leave. In the passage here, the speaker is not proposing violent removal of the colonizers, but rather asserting that, eventually, they will simply leave of their own accord. This way of looking at the colonizer nation is unique to most of what we’ve read: either it appears they will stay forever (whether because it’s a good thing or because it’s impossible to get rid of them) or that the only way to remove them is through violence. The second sentence contains another novel idea: once the colonizers leave, the nation left behind will get on just fine, continuing to create history from the spot where the colonizers left off. According to the speaker, the former colonized people will “speak their language” rather than attempt to return to life before the colonizers came; but in doing so they will hold neither “a sense of guilt or a sense of gratitude,” the former proposed by many others in the colonized nations (they shouldn’t perpetuate the culture of the colonizers), the latter assumed by the colonizers (“They ought to be grateful that we brought them such a variety of knowledge and culture”). The speaker thus rejects the oppositional binary that could trap the colonized nation in the same system it wanted to break free of.
Tags: reading responses
26 October 2009 · 9.52 am · by Tlali · No Comments
As I try to digest the numerous readings we have each week, it is helpful to see how all these concepts interrelate as authors cite each other’s theories. Said makes references to Benedict Anderson’s “Imagined Communities” as he explores the importance of nationalism and ideology. Althusser also discusses the importance of ideology in the exploration of culture and nationalism. Said also quotes Fanon in order to illustrate the long lasting effect of European colonization of the developing world, Fanon states that the world was really two warring factions, where Europeans owned most resources (85% by 1914) while natives were the labor force that supported this system (p.196).
In “Subculture” Dick Hebdige further explores the importance of the ideology and culture to maintain the status quo discussed in Said’s book.
Said explores three great topics which emerge in decolonizing cultural resistance; the firs is “the insistence on the right to see the community’s history whole, coherently, integrally. Restore the imprisoned nation to itself” (p.215). What Benedict Anderson also discussed as the creation of a nation-state, one that is homogeneous in its history, culture, language, and goals. This served to validate the ideology of those in power, while denying any alternative histories and even people who are ethnically/racially diverse. The second is the idea that “resistance, far from being merely a reaction to imperialism, is an alternative way of conceiving human history” (p.216) He also this “voyage in” and it refers to ability to include resistance as a normal aspect which was been part of societies’ histories. The third and final point is “a noticeable pull away from separatist nationalism toward a more integrative view of human community and human liberation” (p.216). Yet, Said also explains that “the history of all cultures is the history of cultural borrowings” which basically tells us that this pull away is not a new invention but a revised nationalism which is based on the interpretation and justification of the decolonized power elite or “national bourgeoisie.”
Overall, the concepts of culture, colonialism & imperialism, and hegemony are key to our understanding of societies and power struggles which continue to threaten human populations all around the world. In his book “Hegemony or Survival,” Noam Chomsky warns us of the imminent threat to the survival of our species b the hegemonic and imperialistic power of the U.S. today. Reading Chomsky’s book helped me understand how real all these concepts are.
Tags: reading responses
26 October 2009 · 9.14 am · by qwertyuiop · 4 Comments
In The Wretched of the Earth, Fanon raises the concern that in the process of decolonization, nations are faced with the threat of failing to make systemic changes to the colonial goverment and merely replacing the white leaders with “natives”. In Culture and Imperialism Edwards Said further examines how the process of decolonization involves a constant struggle with the colonized ideology. Said argues that the first struggle in decolonization is for land, and the second is for ideological freedom. This is more difficult than it seems because the decolonized people’s struggle for an independent identity and culture needs to include their history as an oppressed group. Said’s description of the fluidity of culture highlights why determining an independent identity (which is often required to fight colonialist ideology) is so difficult:
Cultures are not impermeable; just as Western science borrowed from Arabs, the had borrowed from India and Greece. Culture is never just a matter of ownership, of borrowing and lending with absolute debtors and creditors, but rather of appropriations, common experiences, and interdependencies of all kinds among different cultures. This is a universal norm. (217)
In my Gender and Women’s Studies class we’ve been discussing the idea of using an interesectionalist approach to understanding people’s situations (ie being careful not to over-generalize individual’s experiences — looking carefully at class, gender, sex, nationality, race, etc. to understand situations.) Though I realize the importance of this, I have struggled with the alienating and isolating view of human experiences which this creates. I think Said’s suggestion for the ways decolonized people should understand their experience offers a solution.
Said argues that decolonization creates “dangers of chauvinism and xenophobia (“Africa for the Africans”) [which] are are very real” (214). The solution to this problem, Said suggests is when decolonized people see their own history “as an aspect of the history of all subjugated men and women, and comprehends the complex truth of his own social and historical situation” (214). This offers a critique to the intersectionalist approach to understanding ones situation. In addition to looking at all of the complex factors which led to a groups experience, it is also necessary to situate this experience within a larger context. This same idea comes up in Said’s discussion of the native peoples ability to revise western narratives. One of the main means of resistance which Said highlights is the idea of “writing back.” Citing Salman Rushdie’s work as an example, Said explains how this consists of, “disrupting the European narratives of the Orient and Africa, replacing them with either a more playful or a more powerful new narrative style” (216).
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26 October 2009 · 1.19 am · by william · No Comments
From reading the first section of Resistance and Opposition, it would seem that, try as they might, the Western intellectual elite were entirely incapable of any sort of large-scale questioning or resistance to the imperial system of which they were a part. For novelists like Forster and Malraux, who treated directly the subject of imperialism, the form of the novel impeded them in some way. Forster accepts “the novel’s nineteenth-century legacy of seeing the natives as subordinate and dependent” and Malraux is greatly influenced by other writers such “Leo Frobenius, the Conrad of Heart of Darkness, T.E. LAwrence, Rimbaud, Nietzsche, and I am convinced, Gide’s character Menalque” (208). Said makes this observation about the two: “Perhaps the novel form itself dulls their perceptions, with its structure of attitude and reference held over from the previous century” (208). Because the novelists are influenced by authors of the past centuries, the ideas of those authors influence the more liberal-minded authors in negative ways. My question is, is this really the truth? Is there really no real resistance to colonialism within the European cannon?
In an earlier section of Culture and Imperialism, Said takes on Jane Austen’s Mansfield Park, concluding about it that Austen’s protagonists rely on the supply of colonized countries for their satisfaction and happiness. In “Jane Austen and Edward Said: Gender, Culture, and Imperialism”, Susan Fraiman offers a different interpretation of Mansfield Park. She takes issue with Said’s critique of Lady Bertram’s request that her husband go to India so that “I may have a shawl. I think I will have two shawls.” Said claims that this is a misrepresentation of India that goes unchallenged. Fraiman argues that Lady Bertram is not approved of by the narrator—in fact, she is extremely lazy. Her words do not go unchallenged by the narrator, who establishes a distance between the two. Fraiman reads the request for a shawl as “an inverted sexual metaphor in which the recumbent, feminized East rises to its feet, and the veil that once symbolized its mysterious allure reappears as a shawl, a figure for the consumerism of a pampered and feminized West” (29). The shawl, traditionally a symbol of the East, is transformed into a critique of the West, which itself becomes feminized. Said does not leave open any possibility for resistance to imperialism (at least in the years preceeding World War II) in his critiques of works from the western canon. However, this does not mean that it is possible to interpret these works in such a way as to manifest resistance. In some way, his interpretations are a bit one-sided.
Tags: reading responses
26 October 2009 · 12.31 am · by zap245 · 2 Comments
I was really struck by the argument that members of the colonizing countries made that that colonists were only able to revolt based on the knowledge bestowed on them by the colonizers. Obviously, this argument is mostly ridiculous. As Said points out, the colonized blatantly want to be free from the moment their independence is taken from them. In general, however, a successful revolution does take a while to come by. I think this is in part because the colonized peoples really do need to learn something from the colonizers, most specifically, it is impossible to overthrow something very powerful without understanding their weaknesses, furthermore I think the level of anger and “language of violence” necessary to stage a complete take over takes some time to build up. To deny that the colonizers had a lasting effect on the colonized is silly (I don’t think that’s what Said is doing, I’m just saying it would be silly to argue this.) The colonized can never become 100% like the colonizers, but they can never return to what they used to be either. Instead, the postcolonial countries remain trapped in some sort of limbo. Personally, I think this is a part of the reason why several postcolonial countries experience problems upon gaining independence. It is most obviously not the argument that the “natives” are too ignorant to govern themselves. It is more that they have reached a situation where the governing system of the colonizer won’t work for them, but neither will the system they previously used. The newly independent countries need to find a new system, that suits their new identity, which is not an easy thing to do…
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25 October 2009 · 4.14 pm · by calvin · 1 Comment
The more diverse our readings in this class get, the more I realize that I appreciate the calculated subtlety and nuance of Said and Williams over the radicalism of Fanon or Althusser. For me, there is something to be said about acknowledging the intricacy of an issue, as Said seems to do in his discussions on imperialism and colonialism.
The specific example I’m thinking of is his acknowledgment on page1 19 of Fanon’s theory of “national bourgeoisie”, and their ideological domination of the colonized, post colonization. Now having acknowledged this as a legitimate issue, Said brings up the converse side of this relationship in a discussion on immigrants of colonized countries to the cities of their colonizers (Algerians in Paris, Indians in London etc.) and the enormous impact they have made on the western cultures of these major European cities. To me, this is an extremely important aspect of imperialism which is generally overlooked in other accounts such as Fanon’s. Not to say that I find it a positive aspect of imperialism, it is merely an aspect, not to be overlooked.
Playing into this more over-arching idea of imperialism presented by Said, is his warning against “compartmentalizing” histories of imperialism. He addresses the issue on page 28 as such, “…it is one of the virtues of such conjunctures of politics with culture and aesthetics that they permit the disclosure of a common ground obscured by the controversy itself. Perhaps it is especially hard for the combatants directly involved to see this common ground when they are fighting back more than reflecting.”
Said’s dissection of culture and imperialism offers something more accessible for me than the moments of rage, and promotion of violence. Maybe this comes from a colonial education, such as that of Said’s (and to a certain extent, mine), but I find his points to be more useful and grounded than Fanon’s.
Tags: reading responses