a taster of me

Reading, writing, reviewing, ranting


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A little bit of experimentation…part 1

It had started with a wash.  A 40°, 1.5 hour, dark wash to be exact.  Lucy had heard people say, and had said herself a fair few times, that “if you think you’re crazy, then you probably aren’t” because crazy people, don’t know that they’re crazy right?  She thought that meant that as long as you had a firm grip on what was considered normal, then you were most likely sane.  What she struggled with however, was that if a person, who had a definite knowledge of what was considered appropriate behaviour, began to have what they considered to be abnormal thoughts and irrational imaginings.  Then were they still sane?  Then she imagined that a problem may occur if a person began to have trouble separating their rational thoughts from the ones that weren’t and deciding which ones could reasonably be acted upon.  And, what if they weren’t sure if these thoughts were normal or not?  Could they ask somebody?  What if that person thought they were crazy?  And if one person considered them to be crazy, were they?

It was a Monday night when it first happened.  They were sitting on the sofa, Lucy in her pyjamas, half watching the T.V and half reading the newspaper.  She could hear the whiz of the washing machine in the kitchen.  It was definitely a whiz, not a whir like most washing machines, this one sounded, all of the time, as if it were about to take off, blow a hole in the roof and launch itself into space and a galaxy far far away.  It had gone from rinse into spin.  She noticed this when she picked up the remote only to find when she pressed the volume + button, that they had already been listening to the programme at full volume.  She commented on the volume of the washing machine. She wondered if it was getting old.  She thought that Elliot wasn’t really paying attention when he disagreed, with a nonchalant shake of his floppy haired head, that the machine seemed to have been spinning for longer than normal.

In that moment, the noise instantly burrowed it’s way under her skin and irritated her enough to make her drag herself up from the sofa, where she’d not long got comfy, to check it out.  She got to the machine, hit the pause button then crouched to look at the dial.  The blue digital display window showed 0:11, typical.  She waited for the mechanical click of the door; not that long ago she had discovered that impatiently pulling at the handle served no useful purpose.  When it signalled, she pulled out the washing and went back to the sofa, dropping the damp load onto a nearby chair as she went, grumbling to herself mutely.  And as she plonked herself drearily back into her spot, noting that Elliot had been entirely oblivious of the whole process, she began to wonder: was the machine really spinning for as long as she’d thought?  Was she simply driven to distraction by its whizzing, which had never really bothered her that much before? And if that was it, then why did it irritate her so much on that night?  And was the fact that she was still thinking about it on Thursday morning a sign that she was in fact completely cuckoo?

 

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A little bit of equality please

My morning routine usually consists of a bowl of cereal, a cup of earl grey and my iPhone.  I like to relax and prepare myself for the day so naturally I try to avoid the T.V or reading anything that I’m currently studying.  Up until recently I used to trawl Facebook, Twitter, etc mostly for funny videos of cats or snippets of what my friends did to embarrass themselves on the weekend.  However recently I have scrapped my morning trawling and I shall explain why.

Literally, every time I log on to some form of social networking site I am confronted with a barrage of the most ignorant, uneducated, unfounded opinions and comments, spewed all over my news feed by various acquaintances and so-called friends whom in face to face situations generally conform to my idea of what a normal, polite person should be.  Unfortunately behind their keyboards, they feel it acceptable to abuse all social etiquette and voice their normally phobic opinions all over cyber space!  I do not claim to be perfect, however I am aggressively averse to any kind of ignorance, phobia or ‘ism directly involving fellow members of the human race, you know, things like homophobia, xenophobia, etc.  You could say that perhaps I have a phobia myself.  I have a fear of inequality but I am very proud of it.  And wouldn’t the world be a nicer place if we all had this phobia!

My point is that with the Daily Mail telling us what we should be outraged by coupled with the recession and the imminent General Election we have reached a fever pitch of confusion and frustration which is blind sighting us into a general intolerance of anyone whom we consider to be ‘other’.  If you have read my essay on Uncle Tom’s Cabin, you will have worked out by now that I am very against this way of thinking, in fact, as I said, it scares me.  It takes me back to my A Levels when I studied American and German foreign policy before and after the second world war.  Picture this…

Germany is in a state of economic decline…sound familiar?

The German people are frustrated and angry at migrant levels, ensuing mass poverty and lack of sufficient employment…sound familiar?

They are in a state of indifference as to which political party they can actually trust to drag them out of the recession…again?

Out of a fear of communism, a lack of sufficient political knowledge and feeling that there is no other viable solution, they actually vote for Adolf Hitler and the National Socialist German Workers Party because they focused on anti-big business, anti-bourgeois and anti-capitalist rhetoric and they promised to support the purity and strength of the German race…I don’t know about you but when I read this I have a particular party in mind.

We all know the rest, mass genocide ensues during which Hitler uses the public need for economic reform to breed anti-Semitism, homophobia, hatred for those with disabilities and a general intolerance for anyone who is ‘other’.  However what he also does, because despite his narcissism, he is also a very intelligent man is create new jobs for the German working public, in accordance unemployment levels drop by approximately 25% (if I’ve remembered correctly.  Please excuse me if I haven’t but they do drop!) and this in turn creates a new-found feeling of stability which resonates with the German public so much that they go about their business, ignoring the scent of burning flesh in the air for miles and the constant ash snow around Auschwitz.

I advise anyone who hasn’t already to have a look at some footage or watch a documentary covering the reaction of the German public to Nazi regime.  One particular piece of footage which has stayed with me for the ten years since I first watched it is of an old woman (post second world war) who is asked about why she thinks the German people ignored what was going on around them.  She says that they did not know, it was hidden from them and kept very secret.  Plausible deniability? Possibly, or perhaps guilt.  This woman is then confronted with a piece of paper with her signature on.  This piece of paper essentially condemned to death, a female neighbour who was homosexual.  The elderly woman had signed this woman’s death warrant by agreeing that she had witnessed behaviour that was considered ‘other’.  In the footage the woman is horrified, she either didn’t sign it or doesn’t remember.  When I watched this in the classroom at 18 years old, I fear that my reaction was somewhat different to my classmates.  I was sad.  Not only affected by the horror of the crimes that the Nazis committed, but also sad for the German public who were possibly so indoctrinated and so phobic and so blissfully ignorant that they not only let this go on, they became complicit in it.

 

Why am I rattling on about Nazi Germany?  Well, I guess what I’m asking you to do, is to just take a moment, next time you pick up a newspaper or comment on a Facebook post or pick up a ballot paper or consider an extremist group to be practising Muslims, to think about what you might be making yourself complicit in.

 

 

 

This post is the opinion of myself only and is not in any way intended to offend.  Please feel free to comment, your opinions and interpretations are much appreciated but please be aware that anything offensive or aggressive is not appropriate.  Thank you 🙂


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A little bit of academia…and a subject I am passionate about

Edward Said, Culture and Imperialism.  London: Vintage, 1994:75

“As a reference, as a point of definition, as an easily assumed place of travel, wealth, and service, the empire functions for much of the nineteenth century as a codified, if only marginally visible, presence in fiction very much like the servants in grand households and in novels, whose work is taken for granted but scarcely ever more than named.”

 


 

  In considering Said’s suggestion that empire, or indeed in the case of American literature, colonial discussion is only really marginally visible in nineteenth century texts, the following extract from Uncle Tom’s Cabin, holds remarkable significance as it is my view that it illustrates the fundamental cultural dogma hidden within the text:

Dinah was a character in her own way, and it would be injustice to her memory not to give the reader a little idea of her.  She was a native and essential cook, as much as Aunt Chloe – cooking being an indigenous talent of the African race; but Chloe was a trained and methodical one, who moved in an orderly domestic harness, while Dinah was a self-taught genius, and, like geniuses in general, was positive, opinionated and erratic, to the last degree. (Stowe 1995, p192)

Stowe’s efforts to bring into the forefront of the readers mind, the individual characters affected by imperialist ideology and therefore the slave trade in order to advocate abolition, at first seem to resist Said’s notion.  However I argue that it is in the contrapuntal reading of texts such as this that we can uncover the more disturbingly marginally visible cultural values these texts support.  Uncle Tom’s Cabin: a text seemingly open to the discussion of imperial doctrines and the critique of them serves, to mask something altogether more alarming in some nineteenth century literature.  In this case the opinion that whilst white American society should not play their part in the brutalisation of anyone who is racially other, they should not actively seek to integrate anyone whom cannot be “trained” to move within the American “orderly domestic harness” either.  It is my opinion therefore that contrary to Said’s suggestion, texts which unveil discussions of empire may be disguising issues relating to culture, race and equality which are in fact ingrained into imperialist ideologies.  This is what I intend to theorise throughout this discussion.

Said also suggests that in correlation with the marginally visible, “imperial possessions…their existence always counts, though their names and identities do not.” (Said 1994, p75)  If we apply this to those characters in the text who are slaves, and thus possessions as a result of colonial ideologies we could at first contest Said’s proposal because Stowe goes to great lengths throughout the novel to give us accounts of the lives of each individual character, she does this we can assume to encourage sympathy for example with the likes of Eliza who is running away to save her child from a life of slavery.  We could therefore argue that their identities are significant, especially if Stowe is putting forward a case for abolition to the American public.  However in order to make this case the text must assimilate the reader with Eliza and the way in which this is done is troublesome:

I have tried…most faithfully…to do my duty to these poor, simple, dependant creatures…I have taught them the duties of family, of parent and child, and husband and wife…I have talked with Eliza about her boy – her duty to him as a Christian mother, to watch over him, pray for him, and bring him up in a Christian way…I have told her that one soul is worth more than all the money in the world.  (Stowe 1995, p32-3)

This extract ascribes Mrs Shelby as the person responsible for Eliza’s understanding of what it means to be a mother.  In gaining the readers sympathy the text also supports the view that because she is not white, she will not have natural maternal instincts and must be taught them.  It is perhaps also noteworthy that Eliza is ‘mullato’ and therefore perhaps it is suggested that she can only be taught these things because she has white blood also.  The text therefore is in fact underneath the surface doing exactly what Edward Said suggests.  It is stripping raced characters of their identities where the only links that can be made with them and white American society are through the presence of white blood and the training from a white American woman.  Consequently despite the text outwardly discussing imperialist stereotype and critiquing the ideologies of the slave trade as opposed to Said’s theory, there are less visible discussions involving equality going on beneath the surface.

Another of Said’s points in Culture and Imperialism is that “western writers…wrote with an exclusively Western audience in mind…but just because Austen referred to Antigua…without any thought of possible responses by the Caribbean or Indian natives…there is no reason for us to do the same.” (Said 1994, p78)  When considering that Uncle Tom’s Cabin was primarily written for a white American society it is important to question whether it is in fact the case that Stowe herself, like Austen did not anticipate possible responses to her text.  I have already looked at an example of Stowe’s attempts to engage the reader in the plights of the slave, making it evident that a white American audience was intended in the mission for abolitionist support.  However we also see this at the end of the novel when George Harris, now a free and educated man does not intend to remain in America:

I have no wish to pass for an American, or to identify myself with them…On the shores of Africa I see a republic – a republic formed of picked men, who, by energy and self-educating force, have, in many cases, individually, raised themselves above the condition of slavery…Our nation shall roll the tide of civilisation and Christianity along its shores.  (Stowe 1995, p400-1)

 

To a white American public the idea of George travelling to Africa to Christianise and civilise may not have seemed strange.  Perhaps even the thought of him embracing his roots and wanting to form a life in the birthplace of his mother seems perfectly reasonable, but take into account that George is of mixed ancestry.  Why is George unwilling to embrace an African American identity to which he is entitled?  In a contrapuntal reading of this extract it is clear that what is only marginally visible, is the fact that despite the texts abolitionist stance, it is inherently racist and bears no mark of racial equality.  Evidently Said appears to be accurate in remarking that writers such as Stowe only considered a likeminded audience and not those of African Americans and the likes of William G. Allen who expresses in Frederick Douglass’ Paper “I have one regret, with regard to the book, and that is that the chapter favouring colonisation was ever written” (Allen 1852).  Not only does this reiterate one of Said’s further points that in nineteenth century fiction “the colonial territories are realms of possibility” (Said 1994, p75) enabling George to have a fantastical view of what a mission to Liberia will be achieving; which is also deeply imbedded in the imperialist philosophy he has been suppressed by, it also serves to encourage us to question why an abolitionist text, written for the purpose of persuading white American society against slavery is promoting repatriation and racial inequality at the same time.

This is where Said’s theory of contrapuntal reading becomes paramount in the understanding of what lies beneath the surface of Uncle Tom’s Cabin.  “We must…read pre modern European and American culture, with an effort to draw out, extend, give emphasis and voice to what is silent or marginally present or ideologically represented,” (Said 1994, p78) and in doing so with this text I aim to illustrate how in fact what is marginally visible in Stowe’s writing is that the reason for the undercurrent of racial inequality is that the abolitionist movement the text supports is not primarily for the benefit of the enslaved people in southern states of America but for the spiritual and moral well-being of white American society.  If we return to the extract I referred to at the start of this discussion and attempt to draw out what is “ideologically represented” it becomes evident that the texts sole purpose is to unite the southern and northern state of America in morality and virtue:

Dinah was mistress of the whole art and mystery of excuse-making, in all its branches.  Indeed, it was an axiom with her that the cook can do no wrong; and a cook in a Southern kitchen finds abundance of heads and shoulders on which to lay off every sin and frailty, so as to maintain her own immaculateness entire.  If any part of dinner was a failure…it was the fault undeniably of fifty other people, whom Dinah berated with unsparing zeal.”  (Stowe 1995, 192)

 

Dinah like the southern states, makes the rest of the servants complicit in her wrongdoing, just as the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850 made northern citizens complicit in the brutality of slavery, preventing them from helping any runaway slave by offering up a $10,000 fine for anyone who so much as turned a blind eye and didn’t turn in the property of a slaveholder in the south.  However what is glaringly obvious, and in opposition with Said’s argument of the marginally visible, is the texts stand point on this.  Mrs Bird in chapter nine is forthright in stating that she believes the bible to be above the law and “that bible I mean to follow” (Stowe 1995, p75), she mimics the shift in religious culture of individual accountability before God.  Tom reiterates this when he expresses his belief that to sin, even if that sin is forced upon him, makes him answerable before God.  It is clear that the ideology here is not simply marginally visible but drummed home for the reader at every opportunity however what this masks as I inferred earlier is the more disturbing racial inequality still present in Stowe’s writing.  It is disconcerting when considering the viewpoint of the African American that the significant raced characters are expelled to Africa at the end of the novel, the numerous references to raced characters being able to pass for white also reiterates this problematic issue of the hidden philosophy of white American supremacy deeply embedded within the discussion of imperialist attitudes which lie on the surface.  Therefore it is my theory that what Said is missing in his assertion that the discussion of empire being only marginally visible in nineteenth century texts is that in some cases it is so illuminated that more troubling ideology can be veiled beneath it.

The text is pro-abolition and this is so forcibly told and retold within the text that the reader doesn’t always stop to consider for whose benefit Stowe pushes her point through.  If Frederick Douglas was perturbed by the close of the novel then this surely highlights a racial issue that America is, according to the text, reserved exclusively for a white Christian American society.  A society that must repent of the sins of slavery because it is not “right and Christian” (Stowe 1995, p75), a society for whom Tom has been martyred and like Jesus Christ asks “Father forgive them, for they know not what they do” (Stowe 1995, p335), a society that should absolve themselves by shipping the racially other back off to Africa to civilise others, but only once they have been taught to move within “an orderly domestic harness” by the orderly and civilised white American Christian people they have been oppressed by.  Said asserts “as far as cultural work is concerned, a distinction between particularity and sovereignty (or hermetic exclusiveness) can usefully be made” (Said 1994, p78),   and it is the distinction here that demonstrates the texts unequivocal position, that some Americans are more equal than others and those of superiority are white.  In unveiling this opinion I concur with Said’s idea of contrapuntal reading being necessary to uncover colonial ideology and there is undoubtedly evidence to suggest that imperialist ideas are hidden beneath the surface of texts such as this.  However it is my view that where Said’s argument falls short is in the distraction caused by the imperialist ideas and how they sometimes serve to cloak more sinister cultural opinion.


Bibliography

  • ALLEN, William (1852). Frederick Douglass’ Paper. [Online]. Uncle Tom’s Cabin and American Culture. Last accessed 25March 2014 at: http:/utc.iath.virginian.edu/reviews/rere03at.html
  • SAID, Edward (1994). Culture and Imperialism.  London, Vintage
  • STOWE, Harriet Beecher (1995). Uncle Tom’s Cabin. Hertfordshire, Wordsworth Editions Ltd


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You have the perfect view from up here

It’s like sitting on the edge of the world

The closest to the sky I’ve ever been

Even to be here alone, I am comforted

As you are in your ever lasting sleep

The sun shines on you even here

The first and the last place in the sky

This would have been your perfect place

Leaning towards the sun you look your best

Your scent washes over me in the breeze

But you have taken your place now

And even though I can see your smile

It is not the same


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A little bit of hopelessness

How could I be so foolish?

To stop and think of your smile

To think it ok to remember you a while

I scold myself with tears

How could I be so foolish?

To go to that place again

To think dreaming of you would ever be the same

I scorn myself with longing

How could I be so foolish?

To pick a memory lost

To be forever missing you at such a cost

How could I be so foolish?

To fill my world with these things

And think it could be anything but empty

Without you in it

http://fineartamerica.com/profiles/kanchan-mahon.html


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A little bit of love

I breathe you in deeply, hungrily

And I go under

Heroine induced sleep

Softly, sweetly, dreamily

Sigh

I listen to your melody

And I drift away

Carried on a cloud

Gently, safely, tenderly

Sigh

I taste your sweetness

And I melt into nothing

I slip into dreams

Easily, amorously, greedily

Sigh

I feel your softness

And I am helpless

Hypnotized by longing

Patiently, calmly, lustfully

Sigh

I quiver

I ache

I pine

You are gone