Sunday, May 3, 2009

Orientalism - Judging for identity

“The Man Who Would Be King,” is based on a short story by British author Rudyard Kipling. It is a film about two ex-British soldiers in India, Daniel Dravot and Peachy Carnahan, who have decided that they want to leave India to go to Kafiristan, a country next to Afghanistan to become kings. As Kafiristan is so ignorant to what’s going on in the rest of the world, they believe that with their ammunition they can take over the smaller outside villages and train them to take over the larger one’s, eventually becoming king’s of Karifistan. In order to get there they have to travel through mountains and glaciers and when they do arrive, they meet a man in a small village who speaks English and ends up being their translator. When Dravot finds out that the people worship Alexander the great whom had visited them in 328 B.C. and had left them a lot of gold, he pretends that he too is a god and son of Alexander the Great that has come back to rule the country after 2200 years. This idea works in the beginning, however Dravot, feeling powerful, attempts to marry one of the Kafari’s which do not believe that mortals can marry a god. The new wife then bites Dravot and he draws blood which also confirms the Kafari’s belief that he is not a god. Dravot and Carnahan attempt to escape however are caught, Dravot is forced on to a bridge with ropes that are cut by the villagers, he falls to his death and Carnahan is crucified but remains alive.

Dravot and Carnahan’s plan to take over Kafiristan came from only what they had heard and read of it. This gave them the idea that somehow they had enough cultural power over this eastern country to take it over. It’s reminiscent of Edward Said’s “Orientalism,” in which he describes how Napoleon Bonaparte and Ferdinand de Lesseps used only their knowledge through textbooks of the traditions of the Orient to gain power over it. He called the “relationship between western writing (and its consequences) and Oriental silence the result of and the sign of the West’s great cultural strength, its will to power over the Orient,” (Said, handout pg. 2). This theory can also be applied to other cultures, events in history and even to the way individuals judge one another. So is Said saying that in writing about the history of another culture in textbooks is actually what creates it or makes it more distinct? If so, is that really the endeavor of the Orientalist? One might argue that theory.

Kipling was British however born in Bombay, India which is now Mumbai. Most of his writings indicate his troubles with trying to struggle to find his identity within the cultures of India. Kipling was also a traveler and his works provide readers with his interpretations and views of the world, including the differences that incorporate the cultures of the west and the east. Kipling once said, “Oh East is East and West is West and never the twain shall meet,” (Crook). Kipling himself might have been what Said considered an Orientalist. When Said describes Orientalism he states:
Orientalism can be discussed and analyzed as the corporate institution for dealing with the Orient – dealing with it by making statements about it, authorizing views of it, describing it, by teaching it, settling it, ruling over it: in short, Orientalism has a Western style for dominating, restructuring, and having authority over the Orient. (Said, handout p.1)
Although considering Kipling a corporate institution or stating that he was trying to have authority over it may seem a little far-fetched, his works are historical and influential and he does try to teach the distinctions that differentiate the west from the east.

In the story of “The Man Who Would Be King,” there are signs of Said’s theory of Orientalism everywhere, visions of the west trying to inhabit the east by using what they have learned about it, but in reality know nothing of it. He gives the audience his interpretation of how the Oriental culture is, showing that authority and power is all that is needed to take one of its countries over and become king. The story is reminiscent of the Bush administrations take over of Iraq, with Cheney playing Dravot and Bush playing Carnahan. Said even uses Kipling in his essay to describe how an organization of power is set up from East to West. Kipling states:
Mule, horse, elephant, or bullock, he obeys his driver, and the driver his sergeant, and the sergeant his lieutenant, and the lieutenant his captain, and the captain his major, and the major his colonel, and the colonel his brigadier commanding three regiments, and the brigadier his general, who obeys the Viceroy, who is the servent of the Empress. (handout p.7)
To Kipling as well as to Said, authority plays a major part in Orientalism. It seems that they both believed that authority over the knowledge of the Orient and how one comes to be able to gain that status should be analyzed. Said states that “everyone who writes about the Orient must locate himself vis-√†-vis the Orient,” (handout p.2). When reading Kipling’s work it is clear that this was something that he attempted to do.

For instance in Kipling’s poem “We and They,” he makes a clear distinction of what he believes are the differences between the East and West, allowing his audience to have a pre-conceived notion of what those differences are which to Said is like adding fuel to the fire. Said might say that this type of text is what an Orientalist author might write:

We and They
By Rudyard Kipling
Father and Mother, and Me,
Sister and Auntie say
All the people like us are We,
And every one else is They.
And They live over the sea,
While We live over the way,
But-would you believe it?—They look upon We
As only a sort of They!

We eat pork and beef
With cow-horn-handled knives.
They who gobble Their rice off a leaf,
Are horrified out of Their lives;
While they who live up a tree,
And feast on grubs and clay,
(Isn’t it scandalous? ) look upon We
As a simply disgusting They!

We shoot birds with a gun.
They stick lions with spears.
Their full-dress is un-.
We dress up to Our ears.
They like Their friends for tea.
We like Our friends to stay;
And, after all that, They look upon We
As an utterly ignorant They!

We eat kitcheny food.
We have doors that latch.
They drink milk or blood,
Under an open thatch.
We have Doctors to fee.
They have Wizards to pay.
And (impudent heathen!) They look upon We
As a quite impossible They!

All good people agree,
And all good people say,
All nice people, like Us, are We
And every one else is They:
But if you cross over the sea,
Instead of over the way,
You may end by (think of it!) looking on We
As only a sort of They!

Said explains how this type of texts can make the differences valid. It also indicates that this will never change, that We and they will never be us. It’s the natural way for humans to try to define one self, the only way to do this is by trying to define the identity of another group of individuals. Since the east and west are already different because of their geographical location, the only way to make identification is through judgement which Kipling does well in this poem. Said explains this basis when he says:
For Orientalism was ultimately a political vision of reality whose structure promoted the difference between the familiar (Europe, the West, “us”) and the strange (the Orient, the East, “them”). This vision in a sense created and then served the two worlds thus conceived. Orientals lived in their world, “we” lived in ours. The vision and material reality propped each other up, kept each other going. (handout p.6)
There are other ways besides literature in which the west has had an influence on it’s interpretations of the east.

The artist Eugene Delacroix’s painting “The Death of Sardanapalus,”

shows a gruesome depiction of the east. In her book “Introducing Cultural Studies,” Elaine Baldwin states that the painting “represents the east as a place of sex death and power,” (170). If we use judgment as a way to identify who we are then the way we analyze other cultures, traditions or even individuals would be important. The way we analyze these subjects is how we make an identification of ourselves. This could even be why Delacroix used Orientalism in his painting. “It is possible, then to argue that Delacroix used Orientalism as a peg on which to hang his personal and Romanitic obsessions and as a means of exploring and expressing his identity as an artist,” (Open Learn).

Orientalism has also been used in a satirical and modern way in which the west interprets the east. The drama-comedy film “Topsy Turvy,” by Mike Leigh, is about the production of Gilbert and Sullivan’s Japanese musical The Mikado. It is a Japanese musical with Japanese music, and English lyrics and the London theatre actors play all the parts. They actually have Japanese girls come in from Japan to try to teach them how to be Japanese. This is an hysterical illustration of how the west visions the east. It also indicates how Said's "Orientalism" can embedded into any form of literary content.

Although Said only speaks of the west interpreting the east, it seems to be that this form of logic could be used in an opposite way. There have been times that even the east has made assumptions about the west and brought their culture here as a way to incorporate it into western philosophy. There's a Japanese religious group called the Soka Gakkai, which was founded in 1930. It was developed by an educator named Tsunesaburo Makiguchi and his partner Josei Toda. They used the teachings of Nichiren Shoshu Buddhism to help to reform the military education system in Japan into a more humane one. It became popular in Japan and was brought to the U.S. in 1960. Before then, this religion was only in Japan, they now have 12 million members all over the world.

When the teachings were brought here the founders had to present it in a way that the west would understand so they made careful decisions of how they would integrate the religion. They re-wrote some of Nichiren’s teachings in English and they gave pamphlets of their interpretations of his teachings. Their philosophy states “This is the idea that the self-motivated inner change of a single individual positively affects the larger web of life and results in the rejuvenation of human society,” ( This is one way of showing how the east also defines the west in order to integrate their beliefs into it.

There are many who disagree with Said’s theory. Some say Orientalism can be described when writing texts about anything. Any text has been written by an author, and is that author’s analysis of how he or she thinks on any particular subject that influences the reader. Some scholars have written essays that defend Orientalism, in his essay “In Defence of Orientalism: Critcal Notes on Edward Said,” Irfan Habib says:
Modern democratic, as against colonial, notions have thus created an increasing belief that oriental societies, like all human societies, are susceptible to the same methods of study—indeed, with the same essential assumptions—as the history of western societies. There has accordingly developed within oriental learning almost parallel, but ultimately conflicting, trends based respectively on colonial and what may be called universalist approaches. The dichotomy can be seen even in individuals. (44-45)
When thinking about Habibs statement, one might consider it to be true. Even Religious texts all are the interpretations of another person, and have also been written over and over by other people many times. When Said himself says “What seems unexceptionable good sense to these writers is that it is a fallacy to assume that the swarming, unpredictable, and problematic mess in which human beings live can be understood on the basis of what books – texts – say; to apply what one learns out of a book literally to reality is to risk folly or ruin,” (handout p.3). Does that only apply to the text written about the Orient? Wouldn’t that also apply to every text, even the Bible for instance?

After taking a closer look at “Orientalism,” it seems somewhat illogical. It reads as if he’s trying to blame a complete literary society for the ways the west identifies with the east. Said believes it’s to deepen or harden the distinction of it, but really it’s to make us more tolerant of the differences of all people. Not to judge it as good or bad, but to understand it. That’s something Said might not understand or have even thought about.

Works Cited
Baldwin, Elaine. Introducing Cultural Studies. University of Georgia Press. 2000 p. 170

Crook, Steve. Biography for Rudyard Kipling. 1990-2009.

Delacroix, Eugene. The Death of Sardanapalus. Museè de Louvre. Paris, France.

Habib, Irfan, “In Defence of Orientalism: Critical Notes on Edward Said”. Social Scientist, Vol. 33 No. ½ (Jan.-Feb., 2005), pp. 40-46

Open Learn. Home Page. May 15, 2009

Said, Edward "Orientalism." Literary Theory: An Anthology. Ed. Julie Rivkin, Michael Ryan. Oxford, 2004. Handout.

Soka Gakkai International. Home page. May 15, 2009

The Man Who Would be King. Dir. John Huston. Perf. Sean Connery, Michael Caine, and Saeed Jaffrey. Allied Artists Pictures, 1975.

Topsy Turvy. Dir.Mike Leigh. Allan Corduner and Dexter Fletcher. Goldwyn Films. 1999

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Miss Piggy – “The Starlet”

Miss Piggy is a main character on The Muppet Show. She’s intriguing in that she is a pig that carries all the traits of a Hollywood starlet. She considers herself to have incredible talent and singing abilities and if you tell her any different she will be sure to let you know. In an interview with Time magazine, Miss Piggy performer Frank Oz said, “She wants everyone to treat her like a lady, and if they don’t she’ll cut them in half,” (Skow). Her life story is identical to one of a star. She began her career in the entertainment industry by winning a beauty pageant. She walks the red carpet, has been on the covers of people and life magazines, had her own perfume and published a book entitled “Miss Piggy’s Guide to Life”.

She presents herself as a strong and independent woman. Bonnie Erickson, the designer of Miss Piggy said in an interview with Smithsonian magazine, “The character was inspired by the jazz singer Peggy Lee who was a very independent woman,” (Gupta). Although she is a pig, her exterior appearance is reflective of a blond bombshell. She wears revealing clothing and carries extreme sex appeal. On the other side she knows karate and if insulted will not hesitate to use her expertise. All of her eccentricities are exaggerated and none of them reflects any type of sexuality. Miss Piggy’s costume designer Calista Hendrickson said in an interview with New York Times magazine, “Miss Piggy’s not aware of the fact that she’s overweight, she dresses as if she’s 30 pounds lighter. So she has a lot of fantasy,” (Culhane). Since Miss Piggy doesn't actually fit the stereotypical beautiful qualities of an actual woman, she uses her strength and character to be judged as an individual.
She's a prima-donna and has an inspiring personality. Miss Piggy’s attributes are just a presentation of what any sexual human being may be like. In “Imitation and Gender Insubordination,” Judith Butler states, “It is necessary to consider that sexuality always exceeds any given performance, presentation or narrative which is why it is not possible to derive or read off a sexuality from any given gender presentation. And sexuality may be said to exceed any definitive narrativization,” (725). Therefore, the character that Miss Piggy portrays is not reflective of any particular sexuality. It's just Miss Piggy.

Works Cited
Butler, Judith. “Imitation and Gender Insubordination.” Literary Theory: An Anthology Ed. Rivkin, Julie, and Michael Ryan. Blackwell Publishing, 1998. p. 725
Culhane, John. “The Muppets In Movieland; Muppets Moving Muppets.” The New York Times. June. 1979
Gupta, Anika. “The Woman Behind Miss Piggy.” Smithsonian Magazine. Oct. 2008
Skow, John. “Those Marvelous Muppets.” Time Magazine. Dec. 1978

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

The Postmodern Group Presentation

The idea of the presentation was to produce a game that the class could all be involved in. We wanted to use this game to interpret the theories of postmodernism. Thinking about the particular ways of how to make something random, reflective, self-referential, allegorical, pastiche, etc., we came up with the improvisation. With the improv, just as with postmodernism, anything goes. We were also fortunate to have Dominic in our group as he is the improv expert and came up with both of the interesting ideas entitled “Cliffhanger” and “The Patent Office”.
All of our ideas were formed within group discussions, once in front of Starbucks and then we all met together in “Second Life”, a website in which you can create your own Avatar, and your own virtual world. It was technologically enlightening and a little scary because within this little world anything can happen and you can be whoever you want to be, and while in our “Second Life” world we found that it reflects postmodernism in many ways. In our meetings, other than deciding what we would present, we also discussed the theories and tried to get a better handle on what postmodernism and post structuralism really consists of.
My personal contribution was given when advising the group that after each game, we should discuss how we included insight into all of the postmodern theories within the improvisations. Also, to make sure that we asked the class questions regarding the aspects of postmodernism that they saw within the games.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Life of Pi

Lyotard’s “The Postmodern Condition” and “A Thousand Plateaus” by Deleuze and Guattari, provides theories of the how to interpret the structure of literature. The reference of the allegory within postmodernism can be illustrated in each of the theories presented. The panopticon, metanarratives and rhizomes can all be considered allegories. A novel that represents the aspect of the allegory is “Life of Pi” by Yann Martel. It is highly eclectic and also carries post modern reflections of randomness, artifice and fragmentation.
Pi is a tale of survival under the most catastrophic circumstances. It’s complex because it’s actually a story within a story. The author tells his personal story and in doing so tells the story of another man. In “A Thousand Plateaus,” Deleuze and Guatarri say “The book imitates the world, as art imitates nature: by procedures specific to it that accomplish what nature cannot or can no longer do. The law of the book is the law of reflection, the One that become two” (380). This type of novel helps that statement to carry validity. When one begins to read it, it becomes a reflection of what one may think is reality, but there is no sense of reality in the tale.
The religious part of the allegory is introduced when Pi tells the author that when he finishes telling him his story, he will believe in God. Pi himself has grown up believing in 3 religions, he’s a Christian, Muslim and Hindu simultaneously. One of the strong quotes in the book is when Pi says “I know zoos are no longer in people’s good graces. Religion faces the same problem. Certain illusions about freedom plague them both” (24). This is reminiscent of the panopticon theory that Foucault speaks of.
Pi’s father is a zoo keeper in Canada, who flees the country because it is going through political turmoil. There is a terrible shipwreck in which the whole family is killed. Pi is the only survivor besides an orangutan, hyena, zebra and a Tiger. The story explains how human values might change when in a life or death situation. When Pi is telling his story it’s difficult to decide if the story is true and the end explains the nature of why and how the tale was told in the first place.
Within the story there are symbols for all disciplines. It indicates the power of humans being territorial when it comes to having to live alone with a tiger on a small boat for 277 days. It shows how starving changes the human condition. The whole story is symbolic of human nature and what one will do in order to survive. Martel does this by using a lot of metaphors and visuals that are unrealistic and combining them with postmodern theories of life.

Works Cited

Deleuze, Gilles, and Felix Guattari. “A Thousand Plateaus.” Literary Theory: An Anthology Ed. Rivkin, Julie, and Michael Ryan. Blackwell Publishing, 1998. p. 379

Martel, Yann. Life of Pi. Canongate books, Ltd. Great Britain. P. 24

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

The Laborer in "Silas Marner"

After reading Karl Marx, I was reminded of the literary work of George Eliot’s “Silas Marner.” This story is embedded with Marxism. The themes carry a complete materialistic undertone. The lives of each character in the book surround the obsession with monetary value. Within the life of Silas it is mistrust and abandonment that leads him into material mania, with the other characters it’s within the social class system that they lose themselves.

In the story, Silas, a weaver, is banished from his home town for being accused of stealing. He feels so betrayed when he arrives in the new town of Raveloe, he becomes obsessed with his work which provides his earnings. This becomes his only will to live. He loses all social ties and constantly works on his loom. As his faith in his old community fades, he replaces it with his fixation with money.

Eliot’s description of the way Silas looms his weave is reminiscent to Marx’s description of man becoming nothing more than a machine in the labor force. She writes “Strangely Marner’s face and figure shrank and bent themselves into a constant mechanical relation to the objects of life, so that he produced the same sort of impression as a handle or crooked tube, which has no meaning standing apart” (20).

In Marx’s “Wage and Labor Capital,” he states “the exercise of labor power, labor, is the worker’s own activity, the manifestation of his own life. And this life activity he sells to another person in order to secure the necessary means of subsistence. Thus his life-activity is for him only a means to enable him to exist. He works in order to live. He does not even reckon labor as part of his life, it is rather a sacrifice of his life” (660).
Marner’s earning’s then become the only value he can identify with. These earnings become a replication of his lost community and his will to exist.

Eliot also indicates Marx’s writings in the relationship carried out by one of the families in the story. This bourgeoisie family is the hierarchy of Raveloe. Marx describes this type of family in “The Manifesto of the Communist Party,” when he states “The bourgeoisie has torn away from the family its sentimental veil, and has reduced the family relation to a mere money relation” (256).

Since Marx’s writings came right before Eliot’s his theories may have inspired her while writing Silas Marner. There is definite indication of that in the book.

Works Cited
Eliot, George. Silas Marner. New York: Penguin, 1996

Marx, Karl. “Wage Labor and Capital.” Literary Theory: An Anthology Second Edition. Ed. Rivkin, Julie, and Michael Ryan. Blackwell Publishing, 1998. p. 660

Marx, Karl. “The Manifesto of the Communist Party.” Literary Theory: An Anthology Ed. Rivkin, Julie, and Michael Ryan. Blackwell Publishing, 1998. p. 256

Monday, March 2, 2009

Freud's interpretation of Nirvana's Lithium

I'm so happy. Cause today I found my friends.
They're in my head. I'm so ugly. But that's ok.
'Cause so are you. We've broke our mirrors.
Sunday morning. Is everyday for all I care.
And I'm not scared. Light my candles. In a daze cause I've found god.

Yeah yeah yeah yeah.....

I'm so lonely. And that's ok. (alt: 'cause today )
I shaved my head. And I'm not sad, and just maybe
I'm to blame for all I've heard. And I'm not sure.
I'm so excited. I can't wait to meet you there.
And I don't care. I'm so horny. But that's ok. My will is good.

Yeah yeah yeah yeah yeah.....

I like it. I'm not gonna crack.
I miss you. I'm not gonna crack.
I love you.I'm not gonna crack.
I kill you. I'm not gonna crack. (x2)

I'm so happy. Cause today I found my friends.
They're in my head. I'm so ugly. But that's ok.
'Cause so are you. We've broke our mirrors.
Sunday morning. Is everyday for all I care.
And I'm not scared. Light my candles.
In a daze cause I've found god.

Yeah yeah yeah yeah.....

Attempting to analyze the song "Lithium" by Nirvana might seem impossible. It is difficult to decipher what it all means. However, the title itself does shed light on the unusual lyrics. Lithium is an anti-depressant medication taken by those who suffer from bipolar disorder. The story of the lead singer of Nirvana, Kurt Cobain, is a popular one. After being addicted to heroine for several years he committed suicide on April 8, 1984. It is rumored that he may have suffered from bipolar illness. According to the Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance, almost 6 million Americans suffer from the disease (

In an interview with Flipside, Cobain was asked if the line "Lite my candles, in a daze, because I’ve found God" was about his view on people who are brainwashed by religion? Cobain replied "Yeah, I guess you could say that. The story is about a guy who lost his girlfriend, I can't decide what caused her to die, let's say she died of AIDS or a car accident or something, and he's going around brooding and he turned to religion as a last resort to keep himself alive. To keep him from suicide" (Al and Cake).

Freud might say that the guy whose lost his girlfriend is experiencing the same type of loss discovered during the early stages of development. The same loss that Freud discusses when he says "That efflorescence comes to an end in the most distressing circumstances and to the accompaniment of the most painful feelings. Loss of love and failure leave behind them a permanent injury to self-regard in the form of a narcissistic scar, which in my opinion...contributes more than anything to the "sense of inferiority" which is so common in neurotics" (435).

However, the lyrics do not seem to indicate what Cobain states the song is about. The song actuallly is representative of someone who is suffering from bipolar disorder, also known as manic-depression. When Cobain sings, "I like it. I'm not gonna crack. I miss you. I'm not gonna crack. I love you. I'm not gonna crack. I kill you. I'm not gonna crack" ( These lyrics are typical of somone who is suffering mania. It relates to someone who is battling between the conscious and the unconscious. According to the National Health Institute some signs of mania are, increased energy, activity, and restlessness. Excessively "high," overly good, euphoric mood. Extreme irritability. Racing thoughts and talking very fast, jumping from one idea to another. Poor judgement. Increase sexual drive. Denial that anything is wrong ( According to Rivkin and Ryan in Strangers to Ourselves, "Freud spend most of his life studying the boundary and the dynamic movements between the conscious self or ego and the unconscious, which he later came to call the id." (391).

There is no doubt that the person described in the song is experiencing a state of neurosis. The repression expressed is carried so deeply that if he experiences loss again suicide may be inevitable and as for Cobain personally, that turned out to be the outcome.

Works Cited

Al and Cake. An Interview with...Kurt Cobain. Flipside. May/June 1992.

Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance

Freud, Sigmund. Chapter 5, Beyond the Pleasure Principle. Literary Theory: An Anthology. Ed. Julie Rivkin, Michael Ryan. Oxford, 2004. p. 435

National Institute of Mental Health

Nirvana Lithium Lyrics –

Rivkin, Julie. Ryan, Michael. Chapter 1, Introduction: Strangers to Ourselves: Psychoanalysis. Literary Theory: An Anthology. Oxford, 2004. P.391

Monday, February 23, 2009

Freud - The Lonely Woman

She is a 67-year-old divorced woman. Her ex-husband passed away years ago. She had three children, one passed away at 34, the others don't want to have anything to do with her. Her mother recently passed away. They never had a good relationship, she was basically raised by her grandmother. She is extremely lonely and suffers from chronic fatigue syndrome. She constantly associates love with money and treats her youngest son as if he is the one that is supposed to handle all of her unhappiness even though he lives 4000 miles away and has a family of his own. She is a helpless soul and is still searching to find herself. She is manipulative, conniving, stubborn and unhappy. She constantly is switching from one mood to the next. Blaming her environment for all her unhappiness and then trying to act like she is happy. This makes her seem selfish and narcissistic. She has anxiety and claims she feels as if she's walking on pins and needles.

Freud might call this women neurotic, she "maintains the relationship to an external reality while in psychosis that relationship breaks down all together" (391). She seems to be in a constant battle with her inner self. The people she loves seem to keep abandoning her and she has never had any type of role model in her life which is causing her to live in a state of neurosis. So according to Freud the introjection which she has received all of her life, which has been nothing but negative, has caused her to project that on to her environment. "Introjection and projection are terms used to describe how the self shapes itself by adapting models from outside itself and externalizes its own feelings by assigning them to others" (391).

"Introduction: Strangers to Ourselves: Psychoanalysis. Literary Theory: An Anthology. Ed. Julie Rivkin, Michael Ryan. Oxford, 2004 p. 391