“You yourself just said that love is worse than malaria”: Eka Kurniawan’s Beauty is a Wound

“One afternoon on a weekend in March, Dewi Ayu rose from her grave after being dead for twenty-one years.” (p. 1)

Last summer, while winding down my days at Balliol College, I had one of those chance discussions that that irrepressibly cosmopolitan place often afforded: I sat down to dinner with a Chilean acquaintance, and the talk turned to literature. He said to me, “nobody understands and tells Colombian history like Gabriel Garcia Marquez.” It was a statement that surprised me, because fond as I was of One Hundred Years of Solitude, I had never considered it a work of history. Then, while re-reading Joan Rappaport’s The Politics of Memory, I came across Marquez’s own words: “we must tell our stories before the historians have time to arrive.” It made me understand a little better what my Chilean interlocutor was getting at; and having just finished Eka Kurniawan’s sprawling novel of 20th Century Indonesia, Beauty is a Wound, perhaps I understand it even more now.

In a sense, Indonesia is indeed the place where the historians have not yet arrived. Just last week, I read that the Ubud Writers and Readers Festival at Bali was forced to “cancel a series of events marking the 1965 massacre of alleged communists, after threats by authorities to revoke its operating permit.” My attempts at amateur historical research after finishing the book often led me to the same, rueful destination, websites providing snippets of information, before concluding by noting that discussion about the massacres of ’65 continues to be taboo in Indonesia, with the authorities tightly censoring information about it.

Eka Kurniawan, then, is a few decades late, but still ahead of the historians (although not the film-makers). Beauty is a Wound is set in the fictional Indonesian town of Halimunda, and (in very Marquezian fashion) tracks the life of the extended family of Dewi Ayu, who is born in luxury to a Dutch father, is forced into prostitution during the Japanese occupation, and comfortably remains one after independence. Her three beautiful daughters (after more than a few contretemps) end up married to the three power-brokers of Sukarno-era Halimunda: a former anti-Japanese guerrilla fighter and now in charge of the police force; the chief of the local gangsters; and the leader of the local chapter of the Communist Party. Through the intertwined lives of all these individuals, the history – and tragedy – of 20th century Indonesia is played out: from Dutch colonisation to Japanese occupation, back to Dutch occupation, independence, the great communist massacres of ’65, and then Suharto’s dictatorship.

Those intertwined lives are sprinkled with an admixture of the fantastical. A gravedigger’s son seduces his future wife by his ability to draw into himself the soul of her executed communist father; two pregnancies resulting from rape end not in conception, but a great burst of wind and the nothingness, much to the agony of the putative father; ghosts wander the town, needing active placation; a woman safeguards herself against rape by her husband through a lock upon her privates, bolted with magic spells; the local gangster wins ascendancy because no weapon can hurt him; the scatological mixes with the spiritual in a heady cocktail.

This sounds almost too Marquez, but there is a difference. This New York Times review, I think, brings out the similarities and differences very succinctly. It points out that like Marquez, Kurniawan uses magic realism to “show how the currents of history catch, whirl, carry away and sometimes drown people.” But, it goes on to observe, “García Márquez could fall into sententiousness and grandiosity; Kurniawan, by contrast, has a wry, Javanese sense of humor.” Consider, for instance, the following dialogue:

“The child was surprised to see him reappear after being gone for so long, and asked him, ‘How are you? I heard you were sick.’

‘Yeah, I’m sick with love.’

‘Is love some kind of malaria?’


Alamanda shuddered, and then leading her little sister, she took off walking toward the school. Kliwon followed and walked next to her miserably, before he finally spoke.

“Listen up, little girl,” he said. “Do you want to love me?”

Alamanda stopped and looked at him, and then shook her head.

“Why not?” asked Kliwon, disappointed.
“You yourself just said that love is worse than malaria.” (p. 170)


‘Have you become a communist?’ asked his mother, almost in despair. ‘Only a communist would be so gloomy.’

‘I’m in love’, said Kliwon to his mother.

‘That’s even worse!’ (p. 166)

These passages reminded me of another writer who uses an irresistible combination magic realism and humour to tell a poignant tale: Emile Habiby, in his Secret Life of Saeed the Pessoptimist. When reading Habiby, one is often driven to impromptu bursts of laughter, before the slow, sinking realisation that laughter is the sandpaper that is covering up the cracks of an emerging darkness. Some of the most hilarious scenes in Beauty is a Wound are when the ghosts of dead communists infect the waking and sleeping life of Shodancho, the police chief who oversaw the killings. But, underlying that are the killing. As Kurniawan puts it bluntly:

“That afternoon, in one quick massacre, one thousand two hundred and thirty-two communists died, bringing an end to the history of the Communist Party in that city, and the entire country.”

Even as one can scarce forebear from laughter, that knowledge is on the edge of consciousness, shadowing it. Colonial exploitation, the rape of women in times of conflict, lawlessness and violence, mass murder – these truths of Indonesian history are ever-present, deftly written into the story as framing devices, occasionally sliding forth, rapier-like, into prominence. And then there are the moments of gravitas, rare, and all the more effective for their rarity. The musings of Comrade Kliwon, for instance, as he is about to be forced into exile:

And the one thing that made him happy was that I can leave all this behind without having to become a reactionary or a counterrevolutionary.” (p. 312)

The bitterness of a two centuries of experience in countries all over the world lies heavily upon this simple sentence. At other places, it would be cloying; but here, in the midst of gibbering ghosts and bizarre miscarriages, almost paradoxically, it fits like a glove. Magic, irony, burlesque, narrative, tragedy – this novel gets the combination almost perfectly right. What emerges is a truly memorable read.

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On Salman Rushdie’s Latest

A few months ago, PEN Foundation decided to honour Charlie Hebdo at its annual New York Gala, by giving it its Freedom of Expression Courage award. In response, a few prominent writers withdrew from attending the gala. “Six authors in search of a bit of character“, was what Salman Rushdie tweeted, when he heard about this. In a longer comment, Rushdie rejected the distinction between supporting Charlie Hebdo’s right to free speech, and endorsing the content of its cartoons, and wrote that “this issue has nothing to do with an oppressed and disadvantaged minority. It has everything to do with the battle against fanatical Islam, which is highly organised, well funded, and which seeks to terrify us all, Muslims as well as non Muslims, into a cowed silence.” In writing this, Rushdie was taking a side in what has recently become a fractious and acrimonious debate. One point of view has it that certain core values of the European Enlightenment – reason, free speech, and secularism – are under serious threat from “fanatical Islam”, and must be defended at all costs. This is the point of view that Rushdie endorsed.

One can, of course, oppose the argument without resorting to caricatural arguments of cultural relativism. Many have, indeed, pointed out its simplicity, its ahistorical understanding of the Enlightenment, and its propensity to reduce the world into binaries. But that is not at issue here: Salman Rushdie is perfectly entitled to his views, and indeed, given his circumstances, perhaps more entitled to hold them than most others. The problem arises when he attempts to use the vehicle of fiction – and, specifically, that of the fairy tale – to stuff his politics down our collective throat. Two Years Eight Months and Twenty Eight Nights, his latest book, bears all the signs of an excellent writer who has begun to take himself and his politics too seriously for his art.

Two Years Eight Months Twenty Eight Nights (which adds up to a thousand and one nights) is ostensibly a story about an epic battle between rival Jinn armies around the present time, using our world as their battleground. The ultimate origin of the quarrel is mirrored in an earthly quarrel going back almost a millenium: between the rationalist philosopher Ibn Rushd, and the religious hardliner Ghazali. A long time ago, when the commerce between the human world and the world of the jinns was regular, Dunia, a Jinn princess, fell in love with Ibn Rushd for his reason. Her descendants, now spread out across the world, can be known by their missing earlobes. At the same time, Ghazali had released the jinn Zumurrud Shah from captivity in a bottle, and postponed his three wishes to a more opportune day. Now, with the slits between the world of humans and the world of jinns open again, Ghazali claims his wish, which is that Zumurrud (and his jinn companions) spread fear throughout the world in order to bring everyone to the path of the true religion. In this battle, Dunia (who has always loved humans), and her descendants are arrayed on the other side.

So far, the premise is suitable for an entertaining story, with unmistakable – yet unintrusive – political resonances. At some point, however, Rushdie seems to forget that his primary task is to spin a good yarn, and allows the politics to take over. Dunia’s forces are the defenders of (Enlightenment) reason, and Zumurrud (and the other “Grand Ifrits”) represent religious fundamentalism. At certain points, the allegory becomes so thinly veiled, that it is almost jarring. For instance, while recounting a parable within the main story, Rushdie writes a page-and-a-half of prose that is unsubtly about the political situation in present-day India, complete with the most favourite political slogans of our day: “anti-national”, “development” etc. Such references can make for good, and witty, political polemic, but a story is simply the wrong medium for such obvious point-scoring.

As I struggled through the book, it reminded me more and more of Ayn Rand’s The Fountainhead. A book that began as a gripping, engaging story, gradually began to relegate the story part of itself to the background, until it became clear that it was a sideshow, in service of a distinctly non-story goal. In The Fountainhead, that was Howard Roark’s courtroom speech. In Two Years Eight Months Twenty Eight Nights… well, I will refrain from spoilers, but suffice it to say that it was a mercy that, when it finally came, it was only a page long, and nowhere near as arduous as Roark’s never-ending defense of selfishness.

I am reminded of Haroun and the Sea of Stories, a book that Rushdie wrote during his period of enforced exile-and-hiding in the shadow of the Ayatollah’s fatwa. Haroun is, and always has been, one of my favourite books. And now, looking back, I feel that it makes all the political points that Rushdie tries so hard with Two Years… Haroun’s two realms of “Gup” and “Chup”, of the battle over saving the ocean of stories from being destroyed by those who would not have any stories in the world, speaks to the issues of our day – censorship, conformity, violent suppression of difference – far more powerfully than Two Years… The reason, I think, is that as Kundera pointed out, the novel stops being a novel when it begins to make definitive statements about the nature of things (in Two Years, the definitive statement is about the superiority of reason over unreason, although Rushdie does make a token attempt to undermine it in the last paragraph of the novel). The purpose of the novel, as Kundera argues, is to depict “the world as ambiguity, to be obliged to face not a single absolute truth but a welter of contradictory truths (truths embodied in imaginary selves called characters), to have as one’s only certainty the wisdom of uncertainty.” There is very little ambiguity, however, in Two Years…

Recently, I skimmed a review of another reader who was none too impressed by Two Years…, and asked Rushdie to retire. That, I feel, is a little harsh. There are moments in the book when Rushdie remembers that he is a writer, and not a political polemicist (at least not here and not now), and crafts words and phrases and sentences of great beauty. For the people of New York during the great war, for instance, “their childhoods slipped into the water and were lost, the piers built of memories on which they once ate sweets and pizza, the promenades of desire under which they hid from the summer sun and kissed their first lips.”

Unfortunately, those moments are too few and too far between in this book.

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“… the subtle fabric of fleeting impulses, transient feelings, fragmentary thoughts…”: Milan Kundera’s ‘The Art of the Novel’

Two years ago, I read Milan Kundera’s The Art of the Novel, and was very struck by it. On re-reading it this week, I still fond the odd brilliant turn of phrase, the flashes of insight and of wisdom – but I also found the two central claims of his essays, which had captured my imagination last time, to be over-generalised, ahistorical, and even, at times, faintly ludicrous in the sheer, unreflective confidence with which he voices them. All of Kundera’s novels teach us of the perils of certainty. Re-reading The Art of the Novel, I found myself wishing that he would take some of his own advice, when it came to his beliefs about the history and purpose of the novel.

Kundera’s first claim is that the novel is a “European” creation, stemming out of the Enlightenment’s “passion to know” (a quote from Husserl) and, in a sense, embodies “European” history. “We have a history of Europe“, he writes, “From the year 1000 up to our time, that has been a single common experience”. The key to understanding a significant part of that common experience is the novel. Kundera has his canon, assembled chronologically: “with Cervantes and his contemporaries, it inquires into the nature of adventure; with Richardson, it begins to examine “what happens inside”, to unmask the secret life of the feelings; with Balzac, it discovered man’s rootedness in history; with Flaubert, it explores the terra previously incognita of the everyday; with Tolstoy, it focuses on the intrusion of the irrational into human behaviour and decisions; It probes time: the elusive past with Proust, the elusive present with Joyce. With Thomas Mann, it examines the role of the myths from the remote past that control our present actions.” In the late eighteenth century, when readers and writers “signed the verisimilitude pact“, and the novel began to attempt to imitate reality, there was a brief phase when the novel went astray; but it was restored, in a way, by Tolstoy and Proust, and then by the modernists (Borges makes a similar argument in his introduction to Bioy Casares’ The Invention of Morel).

But this is, in many ways, a bizarre argument. The conception of Europe as a geographically, spiritually and culturally bounded unit, going back a thousand years, is deeply ahistorical. Where, in Kundera’s cultural and spiritual universe, for instance, does the Moorish rule over Granada fit in? How does a thousand-year old history manage to avoid the fact that four hundred of those thousand years were defined by colonialism (and then Empire)? How, indeed, does Kundera manage to even talk about European identity, and the “passion to know” as distinctly “European”, without a single mention of how that very identity was irrevocably shaped by colonialism?

As history, this is bad enough, but as literary history, it’s even worse. Kundera’s canon is Cervantes, Richardson, Balzac, Flaubert, Tolstoy, Proust, Joyce, Kafka, Mann (and a few other modernists). Each of these writers, he argues, made some striking advance in our understanding of the human self and the human condition. Missing from his canon are precisely those writers, equally important in the history of the novel, who, as Edward Said points out – cannot be understood without understanding the relationship between “Europe” and its colonies: Austen, Conrad, Kipling, Camus. Kundera would probably simply write them out by fiat: according to him, a true novel must never affirm, must eschew verisimilitude, and must only deal in hypotheticals. But surely this more an arbitrary constraint, rather than a faithful interpretation or historical reconstruction, of the place of the novel in history.

Kundera’s approach, interestingly, seems to be an embodiment of precisely what Edward Said warns against in Culture and Imperialism: that is, to treat novels written in (the geographical) space (that we now know as) Europe as being either about Europe, and/or “parables about the human condition“. The role of the colony in shaping the very identity of the metropolis (cultural and material) is ignored. In The Art of the Novel, Kundera ignores it not only in his sweeping claims about the novel being about the European spirit of enquiry and enigmas of the self, but even in his construction of the literary canon.

His second claim is one made repeatedly as well: that the novel must never affirm, but only “remain hypothetical, playful or ironic.” In his first essay, the claim is somewhat softer: the novel must “take, with Cervantes, the world as ambiguitybe obliged to face not a single absolute truth but a welter of contradictory truths (truths embodied in imaginary selves called characters)… [and] have as one’s only certainty the wisdom of uncertainty.” Insofar as the novel must not reproduce totalitarian thought processes, I find this statement to be uncontroversial. A totalitarian novel, which ignored the complexity and ambiguity of human existence, would be an aesthetic failure before it became a political failure. But through the course of the essays, via discussions on verisimilitude, the claim grows stronger. By the fourth essay, it has split into two: encompassing complexity, and not carrying an “apodictic message”, but rather, as quoted above, being “hypothetical, playful or ironic.” This is somewhat similar to Joseph Brodsky’s praise of Danilo Kis, and his ability to convert political tragedy into the purely aesthetic.

Which is all very well, but as Edward Said (again) reminds us, playfulness and irony are luxuries that many do not have. In his introduction to Elias Khoury’s Little Mountain, Said points out that in places were the sheet anchor of existence itself has become unmoored, where daily life has no stability amidst continuing violence, separating the political from the aesthetic is no longer a matter of artistic choice. Elias Khoury’s Gate of the Sun remains one of the finest novel that I have read, as well as being a politically committed work in precisely the way that Kundera takes great pains to denounce. It must be said that there is a certain arrogance to taking specific “European” social and political backgrounds, and developing a universal aesthetic theory of the novel on the basis. While he does mention Octavio Paz at one point, it would seem that for Kundera, novelists outside Europe do not exist. There is no Mahfouz, no Tayeb Salih, no Ghassan Kanafani, no Elias Khoury; the political and social context out which their writings emerged is not discussed; on the other hand, we are to take the European condition as defining once and for all time what will be the “spirit” of the novel.

Much as I now am no longer quite so impressed with The Art of the Novel, there remain flashes of Kundera’s regular brilliance. The distinction between Proust and Kafka, for instance, is particularly striking:

“For Proust, a man’s interior universe comprises a miracle, an infinity that never ceases to amaze us. But that is not what amazes Kafka. He does not ask what internal motivations determine man’s behavior. He asks a question that is radically different: what possibilities remain for man in a world where the external determinants have become so overpowering that internal impulses no longer carry weight?”

And on language:

“Metaphor seems to me indispensable as a means of grasping, through instantaneous revelation, the ungraspable essence of things, situations, characters.”

When I inevitably sit down to read The Art of the Novel a third time, it will be for these.


Filed under Czech Republic, Literary Studies/Criticism/Theory, Milan Kundera, Milan Kundera

Samuel Delaney, Language, and Representation

I just read Samuel Delaney’s novel Babel-17 and (accompanying) novella, Empire Star. Babel-17 won the Nebula in 1966, and would probably find a place on most Science Fiction canons. The interesting thing about reading Babel-17 in 2015, however, is that it rests upon a largely discredited scientific theory: a strong version of the Sapor-Whorf Hypothesis. As its protagonist, Rydra Wong puts it:

“… most textbooks say language is a mechanism for expressing thought… but language is thought. Thought is information given form. The form is language…. When you learn another tongue, you learn the way another people see the world, the universe.”

Babel-17 is an invented “analytically perfect” language that is used as a secret weapon in an inter-galactic war. It’s mastery not only results in mental ascent, but even physical superiority. While it is well-accepted now that language has an influence upon cognitive processes, its influence is nowhere near as strong as Delaney puts it in Babel-17 (for a lucid discussion, see Guy Deutscher’s The Language Game). This makes many of the central events in Babel-17 – and indeed, its central plot – at odds with science.

While time and science have not been kind to Babel-17, the book is perhaps the best example of how science-fiction grounded upon a falsified thesis can nonetheless be a great read. Like the other SF masters of the 60s and 70s, Delaney has a great sense of plot and pace. His protagonists race across the galaxy to decipher the alien language, and the narrative is pock-marked with entertaining starfights, intrigue and treachery, and the craters of love. However, Delaney is not simply a gifted plotter: like M. John Harrison and James Blish, he is a wordsmith as well. In the first chapter, I was pulled up short by this marvelous line:

“… he needed another moment to haul himself down from the ledges of her high cheekbones, to retreat from the caves of her eyes.”

And this could be right out of A.S. Byatt at her best:

“I listen to other people, stumbling about with their half thoughts and half sentences, and their clumsy feelings that they can’t express – and it hurts me. So I go home and burnish it and polish it and weld it to a rhythmic frame, make the dull colors gleam, mute the garish artificiality to pastels, so it doesn’t hurt anymore: that’s my poem.”

Empire Star, on the other hand, fares much better against the march of time – perhaps because it is a novella about time paradoxes themselves. Reading it, I was strongly reminded of Robert Heinlein’s classic 1941 short story, By His BootstrapsIn both stories, time loops back upon itself, and characters meet their past and future selves again and again, as realisation begins to dawn slowly. Like in By His Bootstraps, Delaney parses out his revelations piecemeal, leaving the readers in deep confusion for much of the novella, and without any satisfactory resolution at the end (think of Philip K. Dick’s Ubik, and the lingering feeling of non-fulfillment with which one finishes that book. But that, in the end, seems to be the nature of time-paradoxes. Trite to say, but they would hardly be paradoxes if they could be resolved.

(After finishing the book(s), some quick googling informed me that Babel-17 is said to have influenced both Ursula Le Guin’s The Dispossessed, and China Mieville’s Embassytown – two books that I love to bits. Embassytown itself draws from the Sapor-Whorf hypothesis: its central premise is that alien beings with no physical brain-mouth filter find it impossible to lie, and are therefore easily colonised by human beings. The influences are clear. About The Dispossessed, I’m not so sure. Curiosity held me for a little while more, until I came across this fascinating article about an invented script exclusively for women, in medieval China:

Only men learned to read and write Chinese, and bound feet and social strictures confined women to their husband’s homes. So somehow — scholars are unsure how, or exactly when — the women of this fertile valley in the southwestern corner of Hunan province developed their own way to communicate. It was a delicate, graceful script handed down from grandmother to granddaughter, from elderly aunt to adolescent niece, from girlfriend to girlfriend — and never, ever shared with the men and boys.

So was born nushu, or women’s script, a single-sex writing system that Chinese scholars believe is the only one of its kind.



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The Sultan’s Seal on Sargon Boulous

The Sultan’s Seal blog has an interesting essay discussing the life and work of the Iraqi poet Sargon Boulos, whose poems I have loved (whenever I can get my hands on a translation). It also includes a beautiful (and, I suppose, topical) translation of the poem “The Refugee Tells“. I find this essay particularly interesting, because it extols the Boulos for being “an uncommitted wanderer”, “free[ing] text of its historical onus… [to push] it back into the broadest possible human context.” As always, I wonder whether this is strictly possible – whether one can liberate oneself from the essential situatedness of human beings (including political situatedness), and find refuge in an abstract “human context.”

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Edward Said and Carl Jung

Last year, while reading Danilo Kis’ book of short stories, A Tomb for Boris Davidovich, I was particularly struck by an observation made by Joseph Brodsky in his Introduction. After observing that European totalitarianism was a theme that was treated often in the 20th century, Brodsky went on to write:

By virtue of his place and time alone, Danilo Kis is able to avoid the faults of urgency which considerably marred the works of his listed and unlisted predecessors [Koestler, Orwell etc]. Unlike them, he can afford to treat tragedy as a genre, and his art is more devastating than statistics… with his emphasis on imagery and detail, combined with ironic detachment, Danilo Kis’s obviously poetic prose puts his horrid subject matter into the most adequate perspective by alerting the reader to the prose’s own intelligence. Thus, the reader’s ethical evaluation of the phenomena described ceases to be merely a matter of his distraught sentiment and comes out as a judgment made by his profoundly offended supreme human faculties. It is not that the thought is felt but, rather, that the feeling is thought.”

That critical distance allows the aestheticisation of tragedy in a way that makes the work of art all the more impactful, is not new. I’ve read it before, in analyses of the scene from the Aeneid, where Aeneas sees his ancestors’ statues in Carthage, and of course, in Eliot (“poetry is an escape from emotion).

Recently, I have been re-reading Edward Said’s beautifully rich “Culture and Imperialism“, and I came across this quotation from R.P. Blackmur, on Yeats’ poetry:

“His direct association with Parnell and O’Leary, with the Abbey Theatre, with the Easter Uprising, bring to his poetry what R.P. Blackmur, borrowing from Jung, calls ‘the terrible ambiguity of an immediate experience.’ (Blackmur, Eleven Essays in the European Novel, p. 3).

I haven’t read Blackmur’s book (it’s unavailable in India), so I don’t know the context in which Blackmur used this phrase, and I’m not entirely sure what Said means by it. I looked up what Jung seemed to mean by it; he uses the phrase in a lecture at Yale, saying that “if, therefore… a person should be convinced of the exclusively sexual origin of his neuroses, I would not disturb him of his opinion, because such a conviction… particularly if it is deeply rooted… is an excellent defence against the onslaught of the terrible ambiguity of an immediate experience.” This interpretive article opposes the terrible ambiguity with “the reassurance of logical systems.” The point, I suppose, is that distance allows you the luxury of fitting the experience in a systemic context of prior and subsequent causes, temporal and logical sequences, and allows you to explain it by imposing symmetry and order upon it.

Immediately after, Said goes on to write:

“Yeats’ work of the early 1920s has an uncanny resemblance to the engagement and ambiguities of Darwish’s Palestinian poetry half a century later, in its renderings of violence, of the overwhelming suddenness and surprises of historical events, of politics and poetry as opposed to violence and guns (‘The Rose and the Dictionry’), of the search for respites after the last border has been crossed, the last sky flown in.

I suppose that, in applying Jung’s words to the poetry of Yeats and Darwish, Blackmur and Said are trying to say that immediacy of experience can liberate you from the explanatory structures that distance will impose. Art that expresses – or embodies – the ambiguity of an immediate experience is not inferior with art that sublimates it with the benefit of distance.

There will be two very different kinds of art, of course. But perhaps the point is that contra Brodsky, we need the “faults of urgency” as much as we need the aestheticisation of distance, and neither of the two are inferior to each other.

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Filed under Edward Said, Literary Studies/Criticism/Theory, Postcolonial Theory

Addendum: Edward Said and Colm Toibin

Coincidentally, soon after finishing Colm Toibin’s The South, I came across the following lines in Edward Said’s Culture & Imperialism, analysing the novels of Flaubert and Conrad:

“Unlike Robinson Crusoe on his island, these modern versions of the imperialist who attempts self-redemption are doomed ironically to suffer interruption and distraction, as what they had tried to exclude from their island worlds penetrates anyway. The covert influence of imperial control in Flaubert’s imagery of solitary imperiousness is striking when juxtaposed with Conrad’s overt representations.

Within the codes of European fiction, these interruptions of an imperial project are realistic reminders that no one can in fact withdraw from the world into a private version of reality.”

The constant impingement of the world into increasingly desperate, and increasingly doomed, attempts to create a private reality is, I feel, one of the central concerns in Toibin’s The South.

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Filed under Colm Toibin, Edward Said, Ireland, Postcolonial Theory