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May 1, 2008

Journal 1

April 24, 2008

Waiting for the Barbarians

In class, April 17th the whole group began the second discussion of J.M. Coetzee’s Waiting for the Barbarians. However, before we began direct discussion on that, everyone had an opportunity to express their impressions of the article about some of the military personnel assigned to an Iraqi prison. After a few comments about the requests of Sadam Hussein that seemed peculiar to the students, Yun noted the class that the class must remember that this is a “game of power? and that we must be conscious of “who has the power? in these situations. The class discussion then transitioned to the photographs of what the soldiers had done to the Iraqi prisoners. The behavior of posing for a camera that is capturing one’s indecent activity is something that was quickly pointed out as seeming nonsensical to most of the class. Why would you smile and stand for a picture if it was going to be evidence of what you did?

The environment was the key to this discussion. What the soldiers were told to do and how they were instructed to conduct themselves was something that many of us had not paid as close of attention to. It seems that they were left with fairly loose guidelines on proper behavior and the environment of the dilapidated prison was probably not one for which they had been specifically instructed on how to maintain order. There instructions were guard the prisoners and in certain instances attempt to gain information but how to do this was not laid out as clearly. The photographer herself admitted to feeling quite out of place in the environment and felt less patriotic since she was not able to cope as well with the orders and conditions she was given to deal with. Yun then redirected the class again reminding everyone that if an environment can make a person feel out of place as the soldier had, then what does that say about the environment? Before breaking into our smaller groups Yun added that, the way we feel about things has to do with the environment of those things.

With that comment left open ended, we broke into groups to discuss specifically how the main character starts off as someone who just looks at the things going on around him and shifts to someone who feels he must take part and rebel against the3rd bureau. What actually makes that transformation possible and what does it have to do with his relationship with this girl? In addition to discussing those ideas pertaining to the book, we were asked to relate them to the poem.

In at least partial opposition to the class, my own group saw the main characters transformation as beginning sometime before the novel begins. We believed that he was already partially conscious of his true feelings on what was going on around him, but he chose to suppress those emotions and ideas. The class majority believes moreso that the transition is sparked and occurs a bit further into the story. After seeing so many of the barbarian prisoners brought before him in near death conditions, he eventually realizes that he cannot support such brutality that takes place on the premise of speculation. Specifically his relationship with the barbarian girl forces him to acknowledge the human aspect of this fight that is taking place and that the people that he is supposed to fight against for their oppositional nature are in fact quite similar to him.

As he began to care for the girl, his eyes became more open to the fact that she is not just cold and vacant, but she has been beaten shut in a culture and society that is not hers. Even though at first he saw her as being blind to the truth of what is going on, he later realizes that he is the one who is blind and it is because he can only see the situation from one direction. But still, at this point his transformation is still very much in progress. It is when he takes her back to her people that he sees her ability to interact with them and understand them as he is the one who is an outsider. The reversal of roles allows him to see her as even more human in the way she is able to move back into her society and play a part there. When he returns home, he realizes more so yet what it is like to be the outsider when his own people begin to label him as the ‘other’ and a criminal for helping the girl. He is no longer a strong part of that circle of people. Until that point, he has maintained a mental block disallowing him from seeing the reality of the situation and seeing the barbarians as people. Through his cultural upbringing, he had developed an idea of the ‘others’ as being either not human, or in a way that makes them less human than himself. The ‘otherness’ of the barbarians, he realizes, was created by the people around him and represented a fictitious creation of the government used to control their own people.

The poem represents this story as well as the main character’s transformation in an interesting way. It ends with the concluding line of, “They were, these people, a kind of solution.? The government in the story was able to group and control the people of the town by uniting them in direct opposition of the people outside the town. They needed to label the barbarians as a threat in order to do this, but it was the barbarians’ simple existence that was largely a mystery to the people of the town that made this possible. The government was able to attribute a number of crimes, real and fabricated, to the barbarians and thus the people believed that the barbarians were force to be fought. Having an oppositional force gave the government reason to use all of its instruments of control not just on the barbarians, but the people of the city as well.

Word count: 1,025

Journal 1

Waiting for the Barbarians – p. 1-76

In the first half of this book, Colonel Joll is introduced, a man from the empire who wears sunglasses all the time. The fact that he is described this way immediately gives a sense of separation, since no one can see into his eyes. When he interrogates the prisoners he has captured, this also gives him a sense of distance from the terrible acts he is committing by torturing and (sometimes) killing them. It is almost as if he wears them to shield himself from the rest of the world and the terrible deeds he must commit.

The magistrate that lives in the village sees the terrible acts that Colonel Joll commits and tries to distance himself from them. Yet, he knows that he has already witnessed too much, and that he can never be free of the torturous acts that are committed. He is caught up in a vicious cycle of wanting to be oblivious of what is going on around him, but he feels at the same time that he cannot ignore these things because that would be inhuman (p. 21). Because he cannot honestly be in a state of oblivion but only a state of denial, he is tormented by what he has witnessed and the fact that he does nothing to stop it.

The question of “truth? comes up several times in the text. On p.5, Colonel Joll explains that his method of torture is what brings the truth to the surface. He correlates infliction of pain with the discovery of truth, which is not always the case. Many of the prisoners tell Colonel Joll what he wants to hear in order to make the torture stop. Therefore, both parties get what they think they want. For the prisoners, it is getting the torture to stop. For Colonel Joll it is the “truth,? or at least what he thinks is the truth. He is looking for a certain predetermined answer from the prisoner, whether or not it is really the truth. When the magistrate takes the barbarian girl back to her people, he instructs her to tell her people the “truth? (p.71), then tells her to tell them whatever she likes. The truth again is buried in order to avoid conflict. However, the truth can only remain concealed for so long. Burying the truth always comes at a price. For the magistrate, he endured internal turmoil because he tried to bury the truth, to deny his complicity in the torture of innocent people.

In the entire first half of the book, the barbarians are not actually seen committing any heinous acts. The Empire has cast this cloud upon them, painting them as unruly, bloodthirsty people, but the only encounters that people from the Empire have with them are voluntary; they seek the barbarians out for trade or to imprison them for imagined crimes. The “truth? again seems to be buried under this unfounded common belief that the barbarians are uncivilized, violent people. However, the magistrate sees that civilization does not equate to humanity. Colonel Joll is “civilized,? yet he commits more heinous acts against other human beings than the barbarians are ever witnessed committing. The magistrate mentions several times that if this is “civilization,? then he would rather not be a part of civilization. “Civilization? acted out in this manner is at the very least distasteful and sickening.

The relationship that the magistrate has with the barbarian girl is somewhat confusing. On the one hand he has sympathy for her because her father was killed and she was maimed. However, at other times she repulses him. He seems to enjoy her companionship at times, but casts her away like an old sock at others. In either case, there is not much passion in his relationship with her. His relationship with her in some way characterizes his interaction with the prisoners as a whole. While he sometimes feels sympathy and even some affinity for her, he cannot bring himself to be intimate with her and create a bond with her. In the same way, he felt some sympathy and caring for the prisoners that Colonel Joll was torturing, yet he pushed away these feelings, living in denial so that he could distance himself from everything that was going on. As the story progresses, he struggles with his own humanity, or lack of it. His passions and desires become less, and he becomes somewhat numb to other people. Yet he wrestles greatly with these emotions, tormented by the fact that he does not really desire and love the girl, yet wants her with him.

Word Count: 780

Journal 2

Journal 1
April 10, 2008

In class, April 3, we began discussing chapter ten of Benedict Anderson’s book Imagined Communities. The chapter is composed of three main points: The census, the map, and the museum. For the most part, the class had hardly considered the possibility of these three things being tools which are used to develop and promote a ‘national identity.’ In order to gain a better idea of how that is possible, we discussed first the historical context into which these three elements of nationalism were introduced. Through the use of a map and a bit of background information on the countries which were colonizing the area of Southeast Asia, we came to a better basic understanding of the premises surrounding the growth and promotion of these elements of nationalism.

The first question we encountered was brought up after reading the second paragraph on page 163: How is it that the rise of nationalism can be so directly linked to the map, the census, and the museum, creations of the colonizers, if the colonizers themselves were the ones who were attempting to discourage nationalism? As we broke into our small groups, we were prompted to consider anything that might help us understand the “grammar? of the opposing sides, the colonizers and the colonized, as well as the effects of colonialism even after the colonizers had been displaced - the lingering effects colonialism on the nationalist movement.
Through our smaller group discussions as well as through the synthesis of these in a larger class discussion, we were able to identify a number of ‘grammatical’ signifiers that helped many of us come to better grasp the concepts within the chapter, as well as the role of the three elements – the census, the map, and the museum – within nationalism.

Anderson defines the three aforementioned elements as “institutions of power? (163). Although they were not created just at the time of colonization, it is the first time that they can be seen as used so directly covertly assert the dominance of the ruling “power? over the native people of the territories that were colonized. It is important to note the covert nature of each “institution? because its true effect was not only evident to the natives, but also to the colonizers. Anderson’s chapter revolves around the idea that although the colonizers and the native people of these regions were fighting for control, they both embraced these “institutions? as justification for each party’s right to the territory. This is the discrepancy in ‘grammar’ that Anderson refers to throughout the chapter; while each party was arguing toward opposite directions, they were both pointing to the same elements and artifacts to justify their right.

First Anderson discusses the census. This institution is what enabled the colonizers to define “the nature of the human beings it ruled? (164). By breaking down, separating, and singling out the various people within the territories, the colonizers were able to identify and accentuate the differences amongst the people, and therefore classify them in a way that the native people themselves would have possibly overlooked or simply ignored otherwise. Though this is not the case to every degree, the census enabled the native people themselves to identify with other people within their group and separate themselves from the ‘other’ that was now classified as being outside of that group. This was the first in developing a national identity. Even though nationalism was the very thing that the colonizers fought to discourage, their own classification of the people let the people themselves identify the colonizers as an outside ‘other’ and thus an opposing force.

The next institution detailed is the map. By defining and outlining the territories and creating imaginary lines draped across the land, the colonizers accentuated “the geography of its dominion? (164). This took the groups of people outlined by the census and gave them a place that they were allowed to call theirs, when in actuality the colonizers would define it as their own as well. These lines were drawn by the colonizing parties, but they were assigned to the groups that lived there, whether the agreed or not. Quickly, as the generations changed, they began to identify with those boundaries instead of oppose and work against them. The colonizers themselves had defined and created the fighting ring in which the match for control was to take place.

Lastly, through the promotion of the museum, the colonizers were able to justify “the legitimacy of [the country’s] ancestry? (164). The country itself was something created along with the institution of borders, and yet the people native to these regions identified with the artifacts of their own culture within those museums. When that culture and those artifacts were assigned to that region, it reaffirmed the initial feeling of identity that was created with the censuses and maps. All three of these institutions were manifestations of the colonizers power over the people, but they were accepted by the people and turned around to justify their argument for their own national identity – the thing in which the colonizers were trying to inhibit with these institutions. The two sides were both pushing for different causes, but using the same tools fight the battle against each other.

Journal 1

Journal #2
Themes:

The reading for this week was the second reading in Benedict Anderson’s Imagined Communities. The chapter was segmented into three different sections: Censuses, Maps, and Museums. The class went into detail on how these forms of citation were useful, what they were used for, and the significance of their existence in terms of the classification and segregation of peoples and states.

The first section discussed was the Census. Up until the invention of the census, there were no accurate counts of any number of people. Everyone must be documented. The main point to make about this new method of counting individuals was that it not only recorded their existence, but also put them in categories. This made censuses extremely political, as they could define individuals and effectively change their identity in the eyes of the state. Censuses were developed to create an easier way for the taxation of people within a certain area of rule.

The second section was about the creation of Maps. Maps were a way of documenting area. Up until this time, there was just a vague sense of the area in ones vicinity. Maps now defined areas of ownership and rule. Early maps were more horizontal, giving an idea of the way the surrounding area looked from a particular point. They also gave specific coordinates to area of land that has no one has known about up until this time. This stemmed from the idea that an area did not “exist? until it was bounded.

The third and final section of the chapter discussed the creation of Museums. Museums kept a variety of historical documents and artifacts in hopes to retain a connection to the past. These places were often more educational and the only of the three new creations to emphasize the need for educational aspect of documentation and categorization.

Discussion:

One easy mistake that could be made when looking at this chapter is to look at each of these sections as completely separate ideas. Although they are split up into different sections, The Census, The Map, and The Museum are all a way to categorize individuals completely and utterly in every way possible. According to Anderson, this created a grid of thinking, defined as:

The ‘warp’ of this thinking was a totalizing classificatory grid, which could be applied with endless flexibility to anything under the state’s real or contemplated control: peoples, regions, religions, languages, products, monuments, and so forth. The affect of the grid was always to be able to say of anything that it was this, not that; it belonged here, not there. It was bounded, determinate, and therefore--in principle--countable (Anderson 184).

In addition to this separation, these devices are able to give way to new categories which did not exist previously, only furthering the idea that the grid was a total and all encompassing entity.

The first of the three sections deals with Censuses. This was a new way of recording all peoples within a certain area. One of the most interesting aspects of censuring, is that is forces every single person to be put into a category. No longer could there be question as to where an individual belonged. If a person wasn’t able to fit within the categories provided, then a new segment was made. However, this classification was often very different from the old ways of classification. For example, there was an instance in colonial times where “the [native] court classified people by rank and status, where the ‘Dutch’ court did so by race. This caused many problems in determining the differences between different people.

The second of the sections deals with Maps. Maps were created in order to relate what one sees in relation to everything else around him or in the world. What is most interesting about the creation of maps is that certain areas undiscovered were suddenly accounted for. This was, in a sense, the creation of new area since its existence was previously unknown. According to Anderson, “a map was a model for, [not] a model of, what it was meant to represent? (Anderson 173). This marked the ability for man to create area, bound area, that had never existed before. Also, it was another was of arbitrarily categorizing people by putting imaginary lines through land. Where there exists nothing visible, there is actually a division.

The Museum was the last of the three sections. This way of cataloging the history and all past data and objects for a certain state/area was extremely valuable. The manner of categorizing also begot new sections for individuals to be divided into. Previously uncategorized peoples were now put into sections. Also, since the state controlled the museums, they were able to relay history in a way that may or may not have been entirely accurate or truthful.

The Census, the Map, and the Museum are all extremely valuable forms of categorization. They were a way of collecting and sorting all information. Also, these ways of categorization were not only a means of sorting what is, but creating areas to put previously undefined data through the past, the present, and the future.