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Spirituality in The Calcutta Chromosome

December 4, 2009

The Calcutta Chromosome: A Novel of Fevers, Delirium & Discovery by Amitav Gosh is a thrilling postcolonial science fiction set between the present, past and future.  Set in India yet with a touch of Western identity, the novel involves a computer programmer who comes across some valuable information that takes him back to the cure for Malaria.  He goes on a hunt to find out what happen to the missing L. Murugan, which takes him back to all of Murugan’s discoveries that he had so long been obsessed with.  The novel is a whirlwind of excitement with tales of mosquito’s, malaria, and cures for syphilis and at the same time there is something very spiritual going on between the native people.  Religion and spiritualism is a pressing theme in the novel as there is some sort of spiritual connection present during the ritual like gatherings where syphilis is “cured” by the Malaria disease.

Ronald Ross, the scientist who claimed to have discovered the manner in which malaria is conveyed by mosquitoes, was widely remembered and has a memorial in Calcutta.  On page 41 Murugan discovers a poem to the left of a marble figure of Ronald Ross.  The poem refers to God saying,

“This day relenting God

Hath placed within my hand

A wondrous thing; and God

Be praised.  At his command…” (Gosh 41).

Murugan, in his adventures, finds that Ronald Ross was used as a tool to help Mangala and her people become immortal even though he did not know it, “how do they speed up the process?  The answer is: they’ve got to find a conventional scientist who’ll give it a push… They can’t tell him what they know because of their religion” (Gosh 106).  The religion is very secretive.  From what we do know about it, it seems very spiritual with séances and Mangala has power over the people because of her knowledge, “clustered around the woman’s feet, were some half-dozen people… some touching her feet” (Gosh 150).  She uses her scientific knowledge during the religious meetings, “She folded her hands over it [bird] and her mouth began to move as though muttering a prayer.  Then suddenly a scalpel appeared in her right hand” (Gosh 152).  Sonali snuck into the house and accidently came across these spiritual worshipers, “They were chanting something and some were keeping time with drums…” (Gosh 154).  These little bits about religion make the novel a little eerie because we are never really sure what is going to happen.  The locals to Calcutta are the ones that are involved with the secret meetings held by Mme Salminem.  They were committed to keeping the secrecy between themselves and never share it with outsiders such as any westerners, “It ought to be noted that in general the Spiritualists, Theosophists and their fellow-travelers looked upon British civilian and military officialdom with undisguised loathing” (Gosh 209).  The mixing of science and religion occurred because they looked at Malaria as something more spiritual than just a disease, “it can be more hallucinogenic than any mind-bending drug.  That’s why primitive people sometimes though of malaria as a kind of spirit-possession” (Gosh 249).

There is a spiritual presence throughout the novel which is what made the story so intriguing.  The natives were not falling an ordinary sort of religion.  They were vowed to secrecy which created a barrier from the westerners that they despised so much.

Gosh, Amitav.  The Calcutta Chromosome: A Novel of Fevers, Delirium & Discovery.

Harper Collins: New York, 1995.

Calcutta Chromosome: Postcolonial Science Fiction? A look at James Thrall’s Article.

December 1, 2009

James H. Thrall’s article, “Postcolonial Science Fiction?: Science, Religion, and the Transformation of Genre in Amitav Ghosh’s The Calcutta Chromosome,” uses the novel, The Calcutta Chromosome: a novel of Fevers, Delirium & Discovery by Amitav Ghosh to support his argument that the boundaries of the science fiction genre need to be reconsidered because of the intertwining of religion and science in the novel.  Thrall suggests that there is a new subgenre of science fiction emerging called postcolonial science fiction. Thrall also suggests that Ghosh’s novel raises questions about the nature of knowledge.  The novel seems to reasonably unite Eastern “mysteries” with the standard influence of Western reason, which are usually opposing factors in colonialism. Thralls arguments of a new subgenre and of questioning the nature of knowledge go hand in hand: religion with Eastern “mysteries” and science with Western reason.  Ghosh’s novel, The Calcutta Chromosome unites science with religion and the East with the West creating a new take on science fiction and on postcolonial knowledge.

Thralls article helped me look at Calcutta Chromosome much differently than I had been looking at it while reading.  I didn’t pay much attention to the fact that this novel could be considered a postcolonial novel because even though the story was set in India, it felt like such a western read.  While I was reading I seemed to forget where the novel was even set in the first place.  I was so into the mystery and “detectiveness” of the novel that I also didn’t really consider it to be much of a sci fi type of book.  I would have called this novel a mystery and wouldn’t have even considered a new subgenre of science fiction.

I do agree with James Thralls argument.  After having read his article, it is very clear that this novel is a science fiction novel because of Ava the computer and with the idea of Malaria curing syphilis and all the other crazy stuff that goes on. Thrall is correct in saying that there is a lot of medical ideas in the novel that would be hard for a conventional scientist to accept. I also could not deny that this novel is postcolonial being set in India but also having a western presence because of Phulboni.  Although the ideas that Thrall gives about the east in the West seem a bit stereotypical they cannot be denied.  The East can be seen in this novel through all of the spirituality and mystery and silence etc.  The West is seen as well but by different means like technology and like Thrall continually says, rationality.  We cannot deny the West their spirituality but I would consider Eastern people to be much more spiritual.  I would agree that this novel could be considered a postcolonial science fiction because I wouldn’t just call it science fiction and I wouldn’t just call it postcolonial.

I liked this article after reading it three times.  I found that I had to look up the definition of every other word.  The article was extremely wordy and it took me a while to understand what the argument was.  Once I figured it out, it was very helpful because Calcutta Chromosome, although it is an easy read, it is extremely complex with its past, present, and future.  Thralls article was split into seven parts, which made each of his points a little easier to follow.  I have no reason to discount anything that Thrall argued.

 

Ghosh, Amitav.  The Calcutta Chromosome: A Novel of Fevers, Delirium & Discovery.

New York: Perennial, 2001.

 

Thrall, James H. “Postcolonial Science Fiction?: Science, Religion and the

Transformation of Genre in Amitav Ghosh’s The Calcutta Chromosome.”

Literature & Theology 23.3 (2009): 289-302.

The Amritsar Massacre in Rushdie’s Midnight’s Children

November 14, 2009

Midnight’s Children by Salman Rushdie is an amazing novel that uses magical realism to portray life in India at the time of Indian independence.  The novel is very complex with its many characters, its supernatural qualities, and jumping from one thing to another.  Although there is “magic” in the novel, it is based around real historical events.  The main character, Saleem, is a metaphor for the country of India.  His fate seems to be the fate of the nation.  One event that Saleem describes in the text is the Jallianwala Bagh Massacre. This can be found at the end of the chapter called “Mercurochrome” on pages 32-35.

The Jallian Wala Bagh Massacre is also known as Amritsar Massacre.  It occurred on April 13, 1919 in Jallian Wala Bagh, a garden in the city of Amritsar, India.  People were gathered there to have a peaceful protest after two Indian leaders had been arrested.  There were many women and children because it was during the Baisahki Fair.  Jallian Wala Bagh was a public square often used for meetings and protests.

The British General, Edward Dyer had recently ordered that all Indians using the streets must crawl on their hands and knees because a missionary woman had reported that she had been molested.  General Dyer had also used brutal force on the Indians by having public whippings.  These occurrences were included in the protest at Jallian Wala Bagh.

British General Edward Dyer showed up at the protest and ordered his men to open fire on the peaceful crowd.  There was no warning to the unarmed crowd and there was no way for them to escape because there was only one small gate that could be used as an exit.  Fifty British soldiers fired into the crowd for about ten to fifteen minutes using 1,650 rounds of ammunition.  379 people were killed and 1,500 were left wounded.  It was reported that the General said he was just giving a moral lesson to the people and it was not his responsibility to care for the wounded.

The Amritsar Massacre was an extremely ruthless attack on Indians. The brutal attacks left Indians horrified.  This led to an Indian uprising, which eventually made way for Indian freedom.

Rushdie’s retelling of the massacre in Midnight’s Children is almost completely accurate.  The facts given by Rushdie are,

“It is April 13th, and they are still in Amritsar… The largest compound in Amritsar is called Jallianwala Bagh… On April 13th , many thousands of Indians are crowding through this alleyway.  ‘It is a peaceful protest,’ someone tells Doctor Aziz… Brigadier R.E., Dyer arrives at the entrance to the alleyway, followed by fifty crack troops… There is noise like chattering teeth in winter… There are screams now and sobs… Brigadier Dyer’s fifty men put down their machine-guns… They have fired a total of one thousand six hundred and fifty rounds into the unarmed crowd.  Of these, one thousand five hundred and sixteen have found their mark, killing or wounding some person.  ‘Good shooting,’ Dyer tells his men, ‘We have done a jolly god thing’” (Rushdie 33-35).

Rushdie does not seems to change or modify much.  He describes the gunfire as chattering teeth to give the reader a better idea of the unexpected noise.  He uses Dr. Aziz to make the event more personal.  We get the feeling of horror especially after Dr. Aziz goes home to his wife.  She asks him where he has been.  Rushdie writes, “’Nowhere on earth,’ he said, and began to shake in her arms” (Rushdie 35).  Rushdie did a good job of making the attack seem very sudden and unexpected to the crowd but the reader does get some foreshadowing because of Dr. Aziz’s itch in his nose, which tells the reader that something is wrong.

 

http://www.amritsar.com/Jallian%20Wala%20Bagh.shtml

 

http://www.mapsofindia.com/amritsar/massacre.html

 

Rushdie, Salman.  Midnight’s Children.  London: Random House Trade Paperback, 2006.

A Critique of Jamaica Kincaid’s, A Small Place

October 31, 2009

Jamaica Kincaid’s book, A Small Place, tells of a small postcolonial island called Antigua which is in the British West Indies.  Kincaid describes the unfortunate downfall and corruption of the island after it was free from Britain’s rule.  Throughout the book she makes it very clear that she does not approve of tourists by saying things such as, “An ugly thing, that is what you are when you become a tourist, an ugly, empty thing, a stupid thing, a piece of rubbish pausing here and there to gaze at this and taste that…” (Kincaid 17).  This entire book is a critique of Europeans and white people before and after colonization.

Kincaid’s biggest criticism is that of tourists in Antigua.  She says that “for every native of every place is a potential tourist, and every tourist is a native of somewhere” (Kincaid 18).  She makes it seem as though she believes that natives should stay in their native land.  If natives did stay in their home land and never seek out other places, the colonization of Antigua would never have happened in the first place and it would be a better place today.  Only white men are fortunate enough to be able to leave their native land for vacation purposes, and that makes Kincaid angry.  She says, “Every native would like to find a way out, every native would like a rest, every native would like a tour.  But some natives – most natives in the world – cannot go anywhere.  They are too poor” (Kincaid 18).  She says that the Antiguans are very envious of people who come to Antigua for personal pleasure.

There is so much corruption in Antigua and a lot of it has to do with the local Antiguans but the reason that they became so corrupt is, according to Kincaid, because of the English.  She says, “No natural disaster imaginable could equal the harm they did.  Actual death might have been better… they should never have left their home, their precious England” (Kincaid 24).  She continually criticizes the damage that was done after the decolonization of Antigua.  She gives a lot of very fascinating facts that describe how exactly the island is corrupt.  One such example is that of the Barclays Bank.  The brothers who started the bank were originally slave traders but then went into banking when slavery was outlawed.  They made a fortune borrowing money from the Antiguans (who were once oppressed and enslaved) and then giving it back to them.  She goes on to explain other businesses such as Barclays Bank, businesses that are necessary for the functioning of this island yet no native Antiguans run any of these businesses.  Foreigners still seem to have complete control over this island.

Kincaid makes it clear that this Island has been dominated by the white man for so long that they really do not have their own culture or their own history.  She says,

“…I see millions of people…made orphans: no motherland, no fatherland… and worst and most painful of all, no tongue. (For isn’t it odd that the only language I have in which to speak of this crime is the language of the criminal who committed the crime? … for the language of the criminal can contain the goodness of the criminals deed” (Kincaid 32).

Their lives have always been completely based around the English.  When the queen came to visit Antigua the repaved all of the roads that she would be driving down, and cleaned up all of the areas that she would see just so she would have a comfortable stay there, yet nobody ever bothered to clean up the old library that had been destroyed years ago for the use of the local Antiguans nor did anyone create a proper sewage system.

A Small Place critiques the corruption created because of the English, even though they thought they were doing some good.  Kincaid says about the English, “you loved knowledge, and wherever you went you made sure to build a school, a library (yes, and in both of these places you distorted or erased my history and glorified your own)” (Kincaid 36).  She is very harsh in all of her criticisms.  The one quote that really made an impact on me is when Kincaid defends the Antiguan culture before colonization and says, “Even if I really came from people who were living like monkeys in trees, it was better to be that than what happened to me, what I became after I met you” (Kincaid 37).

Representation of Power in Lispector’s Hour of the Star

October 23, 2009

Clarice Lispector’s novelette, The Hour of the Star, is a very intriguing read that portrays the unfortunate life of a poor typist through the eyes of the narrator.  The story reveals the poor girl as being a “nobody” trying to get by in the postcolonial slums of Rio.  Her destiny is in the hands of Rodrigo S.M. because he is the story teller/ narrator of the novelette.  We are very aware of Rodrigo’s presence throughout the novelette because a lot of the focus is on him.  Lispector’s text is a representation of “power.” Rodrigo S.M. has complete power over the girl because he is making the story up as he goes.  Whatever comes to his mind will be the life of the girl.

Rodrigo S.M. is an integral part of the story.  He has power over the life and total existence of Macabea’s character.  In the beginning of the novelette he says, “so I shall attempt, contrary to my normal method, to write a story with a beginning, a middle, and a ‘grand finale’ followed by silence and falling rain” (Lispector 13).  I believe that he did just as he said he would, he created a story and I was left with “silence and falling rain” at the end because it is some what mystifying and nothing has really been answered at the end.  The novelette ends leaving the reader feeling sympathy for the girl.  I almost wished there were a happy ending, and there could have been if Rodrigo’s character wanted Macabea’s story to end happily, but that was not his purpose.  His purpose was to reveal the life of Macabea, whos life is just like that of thousands of other poor girls from Rio, “What I am writing is something more than mere invention; it is my duty to relate everything about this girl among thousands of others like her” Lispector 13).

Although Rodrigo seems to have all the power here, his power is limited because he wants to reveal the life of a girl in a hostile city.  He must portray her in a “real” way, the way that thousands of girls live.  Macabea’s character is meant to be interchangeable and generic.  Rodrigo says, “I am holding her destiny in my hands and yet I am powerless to invent with any freedom.  Rodrigo also says, “I must add one important detail to help the reader understand the narrative: it is accompanied from start to finish by the faintest yet nagging twinge of toothache, caused by an exposed nerve” (Lispector 23).  Rodrigo is the creator of this “nagging toothache.” It is my belief that Rodrigo is the exposed nerve.  He has exposed himself from the very beginning and from that point on he creates the nagging which is a constant portrayal of the misery of Macabea. He reminds us throughout that Macabea is unhappy even if she does not fully realize it.  It is made fully clear to the reader.

This fictional story feels very real and although we are warned from the beginning that the events of Macabea’s life are false.  You would think that with Rodrigo being so revealing of himself it would take away from the reality of the novelette but it does the opposite.  Rodrigo guides us through the narrative in a way that we believe everything that he is saying.  Macabeas misery is at the hands of the narrator but he is only narrating secret truths lived by the poorest of the poor in a postcolonial slum.

Lispector, Clarice.  The Hour of the Star.  New York: New Directions Publishing Corporation, 1992.

Mid Semester Self Evaluation

October 17, 2009

Introduction to Global Literature provides very intriguing and challenging texts that have pushed me to look deeper into my reading.  Before taking this class I knew little to almost nothing about post colonial nations or what that term actually meant.  I had no idea that there was such a thing as postcolonial literature.  This is all very new to me.  I do find some of the texts to be quite difficult to understand, but at the same time I enjoy reading novels with deeper meaning.  I have read all of the novels thoroughly.  I try to highlight information that puts an emphasis on what the novel is critiquing.  Other than highlighting, reading and putting a few notes in the margins I don’t think that I have any other strategies for approaching the texts.  As for class participation, I tend to stay quiet during class discussions.  I spend the time listening to others thoughts and opinions.  I seem to participate more when we are in smaller groups.  I find the reading load to be quite heavy which prevents me from being able to really analyze the novels we read.  I find myself speed reading and missing a lot of detail, so once we are in class I sit back and try to better understand by listening.  I have learned a great deal in this class regardless of my lack of participation.

Of all that we have read thus far in the semester, I have enjoyed reading Season of Migration to the North by Tayeb Salih the most.  It was an easy read with more challenging underlying themes. I found the theme of the orient in relation to the occident to be quite interesting.  I am fascinated by other cultures and their customs and would even say that I myself have “wanderlust” which is quite possibly why I enjoyed this read.  Waiting for the Barbarians by Coetzee was my second favorite.  I had a lot of trouble understanding what was going on and it took a class discussion for me to figure things out, but once the themes were clearer to me, I was able to give the novel much deeper thought.  I absolutely dreaded reading Petals of Blood by Ngugi.  I probably could have enjoyed this one better had I not been so pressed for time.  I was reading a lot of different novels at that time, and for some reason this one just didn’t stand out to me.  The African names were confusing and I kept mixing characters up.  What really threw me for a loop was Fanon’s text.  Considering that was the first thing we read this semester, this class was a bit intimidating to me from the very beginning.  I was so completely lost while reading Fanon and on top of that, the discussion of Fanon did not help me much either.  I was unable to understand Fanon until after we read other texts to compare it to.

I have noticed things that we learn in this class being mentioned in other classes that I am in.  Nothing in full detail relates to my other classes but there was mention of Salih in my Trauma and Mourning in U.S. Lit class.  We have also touched upon the idea of a postcolonial country.  I think I’ll be able to relate Fanon to a lot of different texts once this class is over.  My goal is to better plan my reading so that I can get ahead.  I think this will be beneficial to my class participation.  Now that I am getting a better feel for this sort of material, I would like to make a stronger effort in speaking up during class discussion.

Season of Migration to the North Response on Subjective Knowledge

October 9, 2009

Season of Migration to the North, by Tayeb Salih is an Arab novel portraying the subjectivity of the Orient and of the struggle of European knowledge on Africans and Arabs in a postcolonial era.  The narrator of this novel is from a town on the Nile in Africa but has traveled back and forth from London, England for the purpose of education.  Mustafa is another character who is also from Africa, but spent much time in London, where he gained much knowledge of European societies.  The text reveals the extreme difference between cultures and the subjectivity of knowledge on foreign countries.

There is a clear distinction between the society of Arabs and of Europeans.  The inequality of women is a major indicator.  The homes in the village on the Nile have rooms that keep men and women separate, “Like the other houses it was divided into two parts: one for the women and the other containing the diwan or reception-room, for the men” (Salih 11).  There is also a lack of education among the Arabs.  Mustafa speaks of his first encounter with education saying,

“That was the time when we first had schools.  I remember now that people were not keen about them and so the government would send its officials to scour the villages and tribal communities, while the people would hide their sons – they thought of schools as being a great evil that had come to them with the armies of occupation” (Salih 19).

The novel shows that it is very difficult for knowledge about foreign lands to be accurately depicted to those who have not traveled there, and because of this difficulty there is a limit on knowledge creating a subjective and sometimes inaccurate view of societies, especially of the “Oriental” lands.   When Mustafa traveled to Europe, he completely submerged himself into the culture, and when he returned to his homeland, he created a library with all books written in English, none in Arabic.  The people of the village looked up to him and considered him a very intelligent man, but could never actually understand the way that Europeans live.  As for Europeans, their view of Africa is very subjective.  Mustafa even told tales of his homeland based on the subjective thoughts of Europeans, “I related to her fabricated stories about deserts of golden sands and jungles where non-existent animals called out to one another.  I told her that the streets of my country teemed with elephants and lions and that during siesta time crocodiles crawled through it…” (Silah 33).  Mustafa made a clichéd character for himself while he was in London so that people would be entranced by him and by his foreign homeland.  He spoke many lies and even gave “educational” speeches about Arabs that included more fabricated stories that were much further from the truth than people believed.

Because of Mustafas many lies, he left a “fake” perception of the East upon many European women.  They fell in love with the idea of something and the only was they would ever know the truth would be if they traveled to these places.  The same goes for those in the East.  The only was they could truly understand the western way of life would be to travel there.  Even then, if one traveled to a foreign country, they would not fully understand the immense differences of education, religion and the treatment of women etc.

Salih, Tayeb.  Season of Migration to the North. New York: The New York Review of

Books, 1969.

Waiting for the Barbarians response on hope

September 11, 2009

Waiting for the Barbarians by J.M. Coetzee is an intriguing postcolonial novel.  It portrays an unnamed Empire which hopes to defeat the Barbarians.  The leaders of the Empire are cruel and unjust in their punishments on the “Barbarians.”  They use methods of torture and leave many people permanently deformed without much reason as to why they are punishing these people.  The leaders of the Empire are heartless and use their evil tactics to scare the civilians into believing that the Barbarians are actually a threat.  Among all of the death and inhumanity there is a shred of hope for the Magistrate, who goes from being an oppressor to standing up against injustice.

The Magistrate’s character is seemingly neutral toward the situation at the beginning of the novel.  He goes along with his duties in the military with the belief that somebody will do his job regardless if he does it or not.  At the end of the novel he rethinks the accounts of his position as magistrate and says,

“I toyed more than once with the idea of resigning my post, retiring from public life, buying a small market garden.  But then, I thought, someone else will be appointed to bear the shame of office, and nothing will have changed.  So I continued in my duties until one day events overtook me” (Coetzee 136).

The events that he speaks of overtaking him progress slowly throughout the novel.  A very small part of him begins to become less neutral and more sympathetic toward the tortured Barbarians when he meets the blind girl with the injured legs, although he does not become a changed man immediately.  He helps the girl by giving her a place in his bed and helps her healing process but he is unaffected by her and shows her no real affection.

Hope for the magistrate can be seen after he risks his life and the life of other men by taking a long journey through the cold desert just to bring the girl back to her people.  After he is accused of being a traitor he is locked up and his position of magistrate is taken from him.  It is during this time in his cell that he turns against the military.  Colonel Joll returns to the settlement with twelve Barbarian prisoners and makes a public show of prosecution.  The magistrate cannot stand to see these people be prosecuted with his new change of heart.  The magistrate steps in. “I am in the arena holding my hands to still the crowd: No! No! No!…You are depraving these people!” (Coetzee 104).  Even though he does not call for justice, it is a big step for him to speak up against the Colonel.  He himself is beaten after making a scene.

As the novel nears the end, there are many more situations where the Magistrate voices his stance against the military.  He questions Mandel saying, “How do you find it possible to eat afterwards, after you have been… working with people?” (Coetzee 123).  He also tries to stop the men from destroying innocent people’s homes.  Every time that he voices his opinion he is beaten.  He has lost all of his power but he is now a more moralized man.  There is hope for him and for the future because of the changes that he undergoes. He learns a very valuable lesson, “I have a lesson for him [Colonel Joll] that I have long meditated.  I mouth the words and watch him read them on my lips: ‘The crime that is latent in us we must inflict on ourselves… not on others” (Coetzee 143).  He is no longer an unjust man.  He has taken a stance against something he believes in and no has more purpose in his life.

Coetzee, J.M. Waiting for the Barbarians. London: Penguin Books, 1999.

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August 31, 2009

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