Said’s reading of Conrad emphasizes the belief that Conrad’s novel is influenced greatly by imperial context. That although Conrad attempts to identify and point out how far Europeans will go in orders to exert dominance over other territories; he doesn’t seem to believe in an alternative for these territories but western dominance. He states that:” Conrad does not give us the sense that he could imagine a fully realized alternative to imperialism the natives he wrote about in Africa, Asia, or America were incapable of independence, and because he seemed to imagine that European tutelage was a given, he could not foresee what would take place when it came to an end” (25). Said relates his interpretation of Conrad not only to western control in Africa specifically but uses to tackle a much broader discourse. That through colonization the West has progressed and modernized colonized regions and that these regions are better off because of colonization. He uses Conrad’s example and standpoint on colonial control in Africa to represent how other colonized regions are viewed and how certain attitudes towards these regions still persist today in Europe and America.
“That this group of people is drawn largely from the business world is Conrad’s way of emphasizing the fact that during the 1890s the business of empire, once an adventurous and often individualistic enterprise, had become the empire of business” (Said 23).
He states this fact not as a starting point with examples to prove or uphold his statement, but rather culminates with it and uses support from both Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness as well as societal “pressures” to promote imperialism. For example, the quote above is certainly explained by the the paragraph proceeding it, but the real value of it lies within the paragraph that precedes it. The “white-suited clerk” and the “semi-crazed Russian”, etc all offer a lot for Marlow to think about during his journey as interruptions and digressions of the original narrative. These interruptions no longer allow for the solitary plundering of Africa, but bring about this bigger theme of “Europeans performing imperial mastery”. It is interesting and noteworthy how Said begins with an example of the book, the breaks in narrative. to the generalization of who these interruptions are made by, to become an overarching societal statement, to then finally claim that the both the book and society point to an empire of business.
By Sunday evening:
Read the excerpt from Culture and Imperialism. We’ll be thinking about Said’s specific interpretive arguments about Conrad, but we’ll also think about how Said’s approach transforms our thinking about literature in society more generally. For the blog entry, choose a passage that suggests something striking about Said’s method of analysis: what does he do with his materials? How does he put together an argument? You don’t have to summarize all he says, just show one way he works.
“Power is not an institution, and not a structure; neither is it a certain strength we are endowed with; it is the name that one attributes to a complex strategical situation in a particular society . . .
“Power is not something that is acquired, seized, or shared, something that one holds on to or allows to slip away” (Foucault 1628).
Reading and engaging in literary texts allow us to participate in a similar mode of power that Foucault suggests. All of us that are capable of reading have an ability to participate. The power that I speak of is not only accessible through the ability to read, but the ability to philosophize and politicize and put into context, to imagine. Reading is only a route to these unique abilities of human beings. In the society of humanity, our power to affect and evoke emotion, to create stories and images and that depict the human condition are unique only to us. This power is not acquired nor seized for they are intrinsic to the characteristics of the human mind. Literary texts are pathways to which we can do such things as philosophize and “create art.”
“To return sex and the discourses of truth that have taken charge of it, the question that we must address, then, is not: Given a specific state of structure, how and why is it that power needs to establish a knowledge of sex? […] It is rather: In a specific type of discourse on sex, in a specific form of extortion of truth, appearing historically and in specific places (around the child’s body, apropos of women’s sex, in connection with the practices restricting births, and so on), what were the most immediate, the most local power relations at work? How did they make possible these kinds of discourses, and conversely, how were these discourses used to support power relations?” (1630)
Here Foucault states that discourse has “taken charge” of sex, or more specifically, knowledge and norms of sex, therefore demonstrating the role of texts in presenting collective standards for cognition and behavior. Further, Foucault portrays how power dynamics are embedded into discourse, as power relations allow certain types of discourse and in turn, the discourse reaffirms the status of power relations. Discourse, of course, is a very general term that can encompass any type of communication, but in inserting the example of texts into Foucault’s observations, one can see the role of written discourse in presenting and perpetuating societal ideas. The presence of power dynamics in discourse seems particularly prevalent in written format – perhaps especially in the economics of power in publishing. Foucault also connects “truth” to discourse, which of course in relation to power dynamics is socially relative. This is another important assertion, as commonplace conceptions of truth, derived from discourse (written or otherwise), are dependent on the power relations that enable and disable types of discourse. Foucault later discusses further the historical evolution of power dynamics, which therefore leads to manipulations in discourse and collective notions of “truth”. In a nutshell, Foucault demonstrates the interplay of time, power, and language in constructing an everyday reality that shapes the individual’s cognition and behavior. Language, or more largely, discourse, is thus shown as a key player in shaping and informing an individual’s concept of everyday life. Deviation then, implies not only movement from accepted ideas, but also from discourse. In thinking specifically about written discourse, this relationship seems somehow more covert, compared to verbal/everyday discourse that seems to have a more obvious effect on individual cognition and behavior.
“Power is everywhere; not because it embraces everything, but because it comes from everywhere…‘Power,’ insofar as it is permanent, repetitious, inert, and self-reproducing, is simply the overall effect that emerges from all these mobilities…[‘Power’] is the name that one attributes to a complex strategical situation in a particular society” (Foucault).
Because Michel Foucault sees power as something that is present always and in every realm or interaction, we can extend his theories from “History of Sexuality” to understand not just how power relates to sexuality, but also how power relates to literature and texts. To Foucault, power relations of society dictate our discourse, which then perpetuates power. Extending this theory, the ways in which we comprehend, talk about, or even create literature are dependent upon the ways in which power relations operate both within and outside of the text; the text then serves as another source that mobilizes power because it is an interaction between itself and the reader. Thus, Foucault would consider literature and text to be yet another medium through which power is communicated and exerted, as well as something that comes to be and comes to be understood as a result of the power relations surrounding it. However, this is not a process that breeds and rebreeds the same result time and time again. Foucault purports that power relations are not static, and so the process must also not be static. This is why literature and our understanding of literature have both shifted so frequently and so drastically over time.
Foucault, Michel. “The History of Sexuality,” The Critical Tradition. 3rd ed. Richter, H. David. Boston: Bedford/ St. Martin’s, 2007. Print.
“Discourse transmits and produces power;it reinforces it, but also undermines and exposes it, renders it fragile and makes it possible to thwart it” (Foucault,1632)
This quote seemed to me,to sum up one of the main purposes of having a class called “The Social Construction of Literature.” What we deem worthy of examination and the way in which we produce knowledge through fiction perpetuates the gender binary and the ways in which we absorb and transmit the messages we receive from what we read.
“The ensemble of relationships between works, audiences, and some particular aspects of the Orient therefore constitutes an analyzable formation – for example, that of philological studies, of anthologies of extracts from Oriental literature, of travel books, of Oriental fantasies – whose presence in time, in discourse, in institutions (schools, libraries, foreign services) give it strength and authority” (Said, 1811).
Specifically in terms of authority and the power it ensures, Said comments on how different types of texts are interrelated with the different types of institutions. Throughout his introduction, Said analyzes the idea of the West vs East, Occident vs Orient, or the Civilized vs Uncivilized, and how they are framed through different texts using the lens of European superiority. If there is one thing I learned from Edward Said, it is how to be critical of texts – especially those coming from the dominant writers. Said suggests how different types of text frame the ideas of the world in sometimes an inacurrate and distorted way. This is a huge idea that effect the way texts are used and respected today, especially those used in school institutions that can dramatically influence the readers. Said shows perfectly how different types of text can influence the world in a negative way. In his idea of Orientalism, the West has always seen the East to be its inferior, an idea that has preserved all throughout history and up until today, and is primarily maintained through texts. It is common knowledge that all humans have biases derived from their knowledge, and Said shows how these biases are framed by the West in order to maintain their superiority and justify their colonization. As literary readers, it is important to be literary critics as well because texts are what shape our thinking and ideas of the world.
Foucault denies the existence of two opposed discourses, one of power and one of resistance, in his book “The History of Sexuality.” Instead, he explains that discourse and silence can serve as both instruments of and hindrances to power. He gives the example of pre-19th century reticence in Western texts on male homosexuality, and how that made sodomy an “utterly confused category,” generally allowed to exist and occasionally severly punished (1632). Foucault further posits that the “the appearance in 19th century psychiatry, jurisprudence, and literature of a whole series of discourses on the species” of homosexuality “made possible … social controls” of this behavior (1632). He says, curiously, that “homosexuality began to speak on its own behalf… in the same vocabulary,” and it is not clear in which genre this begins to happen or who exactly was speaking on behalf of homosexuality (1632). Literature would provide (and has provided) fertile grounds for this reappropriation of medical terms originally created to explain homosexuality as a perversion. Many strategies could converge to support this resistance through literary depictions of force-relations, for example novels that depict violence and dysfunctionality in patriarchal heterosexuality, as well as homosexuality being shown as a means of liberation.
Langston Hughes uses words created to enable social control in discourses of resistance in his poetry, as in the use of the word “Negro” in his poem “Ballad of the Landlard.” The poem illustrates how the word is obfuscates a reality of oppression in institutional settings, like the printed word of newspapers.
Literature can create ironic reproductions of discourses of power that “undermine” and “expose” those discourses, in order to render the power “fragile” and make it possible to “thwart” it (1632).
By 6 p.m. on Sunday:
Choose a passage from Foucault or Said that helps to reflect on the question: “What do texts do?” Comment briefly on how the passage suggests a capacity of texts to do things in the world. Neither Foucault nor Said is exclusively concerned with literary texts, so the theoretical challenge is to extend or adapt what they say.