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Complicating the Idea of Race

In Political Essays on May 17, 2011 by azybazy

The aim of this post is to highlight the way in which Morrison complicates the ideas of race in A Mercy. In doing so, this post will put forward Morrison’s primary way of complicating the idea of race through the representation of class based segregation and animosity rather that segregation based on race in the novel. This shall be explored through the discussion of the ‘people’s war’, Lina’s perception of the colonizer and the animosity Jacob has towards D’Ortego. Furthermore, the discussion of the racial backgrounds of the slaves in Jacob’s household and the representation of race as a social construct shall also be highlighted to show the way in which Morrison complicates the idea of race in A Mercy.

This paper puts forward the argument that Morrison primarily complicates the idea of race through her focus on the depiction of class based conflicts. She highlights class based animosities on different circumstances in the novel to effectively highlight the fact that the institution of slavery was not racial in the context in which the novel is placed. This paper shall extensively discuss these different circumstances of class based animosity in order to unravel the emergence of the concept of race as a result of financial motives.

Firstly, Morrison complicates the idea of race through the depiction of a ‘people’s war’ (pg.8). In context with the American history, this rebellion she highlights is the Bacon’s Rebellion that took place in 1676. The fact that she mentions ‘half a dozen years ago an army of blacks, natives and whites, mullatoes-freedmen, slaves and indentured-had waged war against local gentry led by members of that very class’ clearly shows that she introduces the institution of slavery with relation to a class as opposed to a race. Possibly, Morrison’s intention in including these lines is to depict a sense of racial harmony and unity that existed during this period. Moreover, it is evident through the following lines that she blames the gentry for the separation they created between this racially united class and for the creation of the concept of race. The lines ‘‘by eliminating manumissions, gatherings, travels and bearing arms for black people only; by granting license to any white to kill any black for any reason; by compensating owners for a slave’s maiming or death, they separated all whites from all others forever. Any social ease … crumbled beneath a hammer wielded in the interests of the gentry’s profits’. Through these lines Morrison effectively complicates the concept of race by highlighting it’s emergence as a result of the gentry’s agenda for seeking financial gain. Hine et.al (2003) mentions that the uprising of the Bacon’s Rebellion convinced the colony’s elite that continuing to rely on white agricultural laborers, who could become free and get guns, was dangerous’. Therefore, the gentry disadvantaged the blacks with the privileges as highlighted above by Morrison in order to separate the whites from the blacks of the poor class. Hence Morrison through the excerpt about the Bacon’s rebellion and its effects on the black community successfully highlights the fact that racial segregation emerged as a result of financial motives of the ruling gentry of that period. This invariably complicates the idea of race it presents this concept as an effect of the contempt the gentry had towards the racial unity among the poor class.

Secondly, Morrison complicates the idea of race by portraying the perception of Lina about the colonizers. The fact that Lina mentions ‘impoverished gentry, that is, since they owned nothing, certainly not the land they slept on, preferring to live as entitled paupers’ about her early childhood and her experiences is significant. This is because a close reading of the above statement suggests that the blame is assigned to the’ gentry’, which is a group identified by their financial income. Secondly, the mission of this ‘gentry’ was to acquire land, which is again a motive related to a financial gain rather than cultural domination. Thirdly, the fact that Lina terms them as ‘entitled paupers’ also clearly denote the fact that the individual who experiences these atrocities perceive the colonizers as ‘paupers’ rather than with their skin color or any of their other distinct characteristic. This is certainly interesting as it clearly shows that the element of race did not play a role in the hardships she faced due to the fact that she does not mention anything in relation to it. As a result, the description of Lina’s early childhood experience also complicates the idea of race which furthermore highlights its insignificant nature in this context.

Thirdly, the immense focus on Jacob Vaark’s class based animosity against D’Ortega through out the novel also contributes to the complication about the idea of race as it emphasizes the division between the whites. Jacob’s lines ‘Why such a show on a sleepy afternoon for a single guest well below their station? Intentional he decided; a stage performance to humiliate him into a groveling acceptance of D’Ortega’s wishes’ clearly show the animosity Jacob has towards the gentry. His hatred towards this class is also shown when Florens’s mother states ‘When the tall man with yellow hair came to dine, I saw he hated the food and I saw things in his eyes that he did not trust Senhor, Senhora or their sons’. The analysis of this statement also proves the fact that Morrison not only uses the statement of Jacob to validate his class based animosity, but also the statement of another character in order to firmly state her case of making the reader aware about the existence  of a class based animosity than a racial one.

Interestingly, Jacob’s statement ‘Thus tamping envy as taught in the poorhouse, Jacob entertained himself by conjuring up flaws in the couple’s marriage’ is very significant. This is because it shows that class based prejudices were evoked rather than racial prejudices in the ‘poor house’. Consequently, this is yet another clear indication to the existence of class based hostility. Moreover, the lines ‘‘For the first time he had not tricked, not flattered, not manipulated, but gone head to head with rich gentry’ clearly shows the division that exists between these two men as a result of their class.

Significantly, it is also evident that these two men posses different values and codes of conduct. The fact that Jacob says ‘Flesh is not my commodity’ explicitly shows his contempt towards the institution of slavery. Therefore, Morrison through this novel educates the reader that it is not possible to make an assumption or generalize about the characteristics of the whites who existed in the early seventeenth century as they did not share same values and perception. Furthermore, the lines ‘‘One day –soon, maybe-to everyone’s relief the Stuarts would lose the throne, and a Protestant rule. Then he thought, a case against D’Ortega would succeed and he would not be forced to settle for a child as a percentage of what was due to him’ shows the discrimination that took place on the basis of class. The fact that Morrison highlights the way in which the institution of law provides privileges to the gentry dramatically shows the class based division that existed during this period further. Hence it could be perceived that Jacob ‘ disembarked, found a village and negotiated native trails, on horseback, mindful of their fields and maze, careful through their hunting grounds, politely asking permission to enter a small village’ due to his understanding of the immense preparation a farmer goes through in order to maintain his crops. Furthermore, the fact that he asks permission before entering the village also maybe due to the fact that he is more inclined to respect the Native Americans as their share similar social stations. As a result these instances and possible interpretations highlighted above complicates the idea of race as the novel focuses on the class based prejudices and highlights this as the core injustice that take place during this period.

Moreover, Morrison complicates the idea of race by highlighting slaves from different racial background within the household of Jacob Vaarks. Lina is a Native American, Florens is a black, William and Scully are ‘both Europes’ and since Sorrow has ‘red hair’, she is possibly a European. The shared identity of these slaves is their class and their social circumstance which clearly denote that the institution of slavery at that time was not racial.

Furthermore, the blacksmith’s lines in relation to the conversation he has with Florens right after she accidently harms the boy in house is noteworthy. The fact that he says Florens became a slave ‘because her head is empty’ and that she is ‘a slave by choice’ clearly shows Morrison’s attempt to highlight the concept of race as a social construct. Through these lines she complicates the idea of race by highlighting it as a concept that was created and it is only the internalization of that concept that makes individuals perceive themselves as different to others of different racial backgrounds. Although Morrison does not state in the novel that this concept was initiated by the gentry, it is evident through the consequences of the Bacon’s Rebellion that it was. Hence through the enlightenment of this fact Morrison clearly makes her argument about the fact that race is a concept that was socially constructed by the gentry in order to effectively gain their financial aims.

In conclusion, it is apparent that Morrison complicates ideas of race in A Mercy effectively by presenting the notion of race emerging as a result of the selfish motive of the colony’s intention to increase their financial gain. Therefore, this research paper outlines the discussion of the Bacon’s Rebellion, Lina’s perception of the colonizers, Jacob Vaark’s attitude towards the non-whites and the blacksmith’s perception of race in order to complicate the idea of race from the general notion of it being related to the institution of slavery. In that sense this novel plays a significant role in explicitly highlighting the ideas of race as a social construct created for purposes of selfish motives. Hence Morrison presents race as a concept that did not play a significant role in the 1680’s of American history in comparison to class.

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Assertion of Power through Language

In Political Essays on May 16, 2011 by azybazy

The aim of this post is to highlight the role language plays in representing the dynamics of power in Pinter’s Mountain Language (1988). This research paper shall explore the following aspects in order to stress the use of language by military personnel and those who do not belong to the hegemonic power structure. Firstly, this post shall discuss the way in which the military institution assumes a position of power by forbidding the use of the ‘mountain language’. Secondly, the assertion of power shall be brought out through the form and repetition of language. Thirdly, this post shall also show the role obscene language and terms of address play in representing the power dynamics within the play. Finally, absurd and nonsensical language shall also be explored in order to present the vestige of power within this form of language used in Pinter’s Mountain Language.

Thiong’o (1986) mentions that economic and political control can never be complete or effective without mental control. This proves to be appropriate in the case of Mountain Language as it is evident that the military is not satisfied with the act of capturing those who do not belong to the hegemonic power alone. They strive to oppress the ‘mountain people’ psychologically and culturally by continuously stating ‘you are not allowed to speak your language here’. The officer’s lines such as ‘You hear me? Your language is dead’, ‘You cannot speak your language to your men’, ‘No one is allowed to speak your language’ and ‘Your language no longer exists’ is continuously repeated with fury and anger. This clearly denotes the amount of effort the military is asserting in order to mentally destroy the social identity and distinctive characteristics of the ‘mountain people’ through repetition. As Thiong’o correctly points out, ‘to control a people’s culture is to control their tools of self-definition in relationship to others. For colonialism this involved two aspects of the same process: the destruction or the deliberate undervaluing of a people’s culture, […] and the conscious elevation of the language of the colonizer.

Furthermore, as Fannon (1952) points out “To speak . . . means above all to assume a culture, to support the weight of a civilization”. It is evident that Pinter does believe in the above ideologies through the portrayal of the character of the Elderly Woman and the Prisoner at the end of the play as a result of repetition. A model of cultural erasure and identity is highlighted when the Elderly Woman does not respond to the son even in her own language when the he states ‘Mother, I’m speaking to you. You see? We can speak. You can speak to me in our own language’. The fact that she remains silent even after the perusal of her son shows the way in which repetitious language mentally disheartens and destroys her sense of self. Significantly, the fact that the military personnel’s language involved the proclamation of the death of her language would have resulted in her breakdown. Furthermore, the breakdown of the Elderly Woman resulted in the weakening of the Prisoner as he could not bear to see his mother, a member of his community, lose her social significance within the premises of this institution. The stage directions ‘The Prisoner’s trembling grows. He falls from the chair on to his knees, begins to gasp and shake violently’ clearly shows the dramatic result of a silenced language on an individual. It can be argued that the reason for the breakdown of the Prisoner is also due to his silenced language because he falls apart after witnessing his mother’s sense of loss due the the absence of her language within this context. Therefore, it is evident that Pinter dramatically shows the role language plays in highlighting the assertion of power of the military to those who do not belong to the hegemonic power structure through the elimination of their language and repetitious language that denote death and decay.

Interestingly, the language used by the military personnel also highlights the way in which the military personnel themselves have lost their individual and cultural identity to a certain extent. This is because the form of language used by the personnel conforms to their professional field. The most frequently used words by these personnel include ‘Name’, ‘Any complaints’. ‘Your language is forbidden’ and ‘until further notice’. These words suggest that these personnel are mere puppets of the military institution. Consequently, this highlights the way in which the military institution assumes power over the cultural and social identity of their personnel through language that reflects their attitudes and social significance. Therefore, it is evident that Pinter subscribes to the concept of ‘mouthpiece’ put forward by Derrida (1974) in which he explains that the alphabetic signifier, like the letter, is the mouthpiece and that it is not inspired or animated by any particular language. He mentions that ‘It signifies nothing. It hardly lives’ and that it only ‘lends another’s voice.’ Hence it is apparent that Pinter merely lends the voice of the military institution to its personnel and eliminates the language that promotes the individual’s identity and characteristics. This clearly shows the way in which language plays a key role in the play not only to assert power to those who do not belong to the hegemonic power, but also to those who belong to it.

 

Another interesting phenomenon about the language used by the military personnel is their form. The form of speech they use to denote the subjugation of the cultural heritage and distinct characteristics of the ‘mountain people’ are proclaimed in the passive voice. Lines such as ‘It is not permitted to speak your mountain language, it is out lawed’, ‘your language is forbidden’ clearly represents the fact that the military institution does not want to take responsibility for the actions that they implement. This is rather significant as it implicitly highlights the fact that the military institution is powerful enough to say what they please in any manner they wish. Moreover, the Officer’s lines ‘He doesn’t come from the mountains. He’s in the wrong batch’ clearly show that they do posses the power to ignore inefficiencies made on their part although they do not tolerate the mistakes of the oppressed. These instances clearly show that language is a medium through which power can be transplanted. Consequently, this feature within language makes it able to vestige power within words which create an aura of authority to those who use it along with his/her actions and body language. Thus language plays a significant role in not only asserting power, but also in building up an atmosphere of fear in order to intimidate the oppressed.

Language used by the military personnel also plays the role of inflicting torture within the oppressed in the play along with physical torture. This is clearly highlighted when the officer uses words that denote bloodshed, violence and horror. For instance when he says ‘You hear, your language is dead’ it clearly shows the way in which he brutalizes the language of the oppressed. Furthermore, the fact that he says ‘You will be badly punished if you attempt to speak your mountain language in this place’ clearly inflicts mental torture as the words posses the ability to disorient the self definition of the person. Additionally, the utterance of the Officer ‘This is a military decree. It is the law’ highlights the inseparability of this linguistic force from the suppressive brutality it can command. This instance furthermore, shows that torture can be committed not only through physical means but also mentally through the means of language.

Military manipulation erodes the language and the dignity of these people who do not belong to the hegemonic power structure. The fact that the Officer and the Sergeant talk with the voice of the military establishment clearly states the fact that their words establish definitions and authority. Therefore, they attempt to terrify the women and make them feel insecure through a language that they are not comfortable with. Interestingly, Ford (1988) mentions that ‘the Sergeant has a stick which he does not have to use because he uses the words instead’. Hence it is evident that language is a very credible means to assert power as it not only affect the psyche of the individual it is being inflicted upon, but it also serves the function of creating an atmosphere of fear and authority which oppresses the individuals outside the hegemonic power structure.

Use of obscene language plays a significant role in highlighting the assertion of power in Pinter’s Mountain Language. This research paper shall discuss the use of obscene language in relation to four different instances and how each instance highlights the assertion of power or authority of the speaker.

Firstly, this paper shall highlight the way in which the sergeant uses obscene language in order to assert power through language. His lines in scene one ‘your husbands, your sons, your fathers, these men you have been waiting to see, are shithouses…they are shit houses’ are significant. This is because the use of these obscene words in this particular statement highlights two different factors about the military personnel. Firstly, it shows the power the military personnel in this play poses to be comfortable enough to use such offensive language in a formal and professional context. Secondly, it highlights the way the military institution assaults a society. The fact that the sergeant not only uses obscene words to a particular individual but to a family and a community denotes his motive of destroying a whole group of people through obscene language. Using an obscene word to dehumanize and destroy the importance of a community is an effective strategy on the part of Pinter as he produces another distinct way in which he shows the different ways language can assert power.

Secondly, the lines ‘She looks like a fucking intellectual to me’ and ‘intellectual arses wobble the best’ clearly show that obscene words are used to marginalize and oppress an agentive woman. She is claimed to be agentive and courageous due to the fact that she does not get intimidated by the statements of the military personnel but urges them to let her see her husband as it is her ‘right’. Therefore, it is evident that Pinter highlights the use of obscene words by chauvinistic males to suppress the determination of females who are forward. Consequently, this shows that obscene words contributes to the affirmation of power within language to males in this particular instance to repress an individual who is a female and assertive.

Thirdly, the lines ‘who’s that fucking woman? What’s that fucking woman doing here? Who let that fucking woman through that door?’ furthermore highlights the Sergeant’s level of comfort in using obscene language due to his social position in the military institution. However, the significant aspect of the use of obscene words in this particular context is that they are used as adjectives. Interestingly, Sara Johnson uses the obscene word ‘fucking’ as a verb. Her lines ‘Can I fuck him? If I fuck him will everything be alright?’ denotes two distinct characteristics. Firstly, it highlights the fact that Sara is not agitated or depressed as a result of the illegitimate conduct of the military personnel. On the contrary, she is adapting to the requirements of the military personnel so much so that she uses the obscene word ‘fucking’ as a verb unlike the sergeant to assert her power (in the form of courage) through obscene language. This is an interesting technique used by Pinter as he not only uses obscene words to highlight the sexual exploitation of women verbally but also to highlight their sense of will and courage through their use of obscene language. This is a rather significant point as it shows that language has the potential of asserting power not only to those who belong to the hegemonic power structure, but also to those who are oppressed by that very same power structure. In that sense, language plays a crucial role in this play in distributing power not only to those who belong to the military institution but to those who are outside this power structure as mentioned before. Therefore, as Silverstein (1993) states there is a certain level of abstraction in the way Pinter’s plays conceptualize power, a level at which power no longer remains bound within particular institutions or apparatuses, but is hypostatized as a kind of anonymous, transcendent force.

The use of particular terms of address is also fascinating as they highlight the assertion of power of certain individuals who hold significant social positions over those who do not have the privilege of holding those very positions. The use of the term ‘Lady Duck Muck’ with reference to Sara and ‘joker’ by the guard with reference to the Prisoner in scene two is rather remarkable. The use of these terms clearly shows that the guard and the Sergeant are able to use this derogative term on the Prisoner due to their attachment to the military institution. However, the interesting aspect about the term ‘joker’ is due to the event that precede this act of name calling. It could be argued that the guard was motivated to call the Prisoner a ‘joker’ due to his attempt to share a common aspect about the members in their families. The fact that the Prisoner says ‘I’ve got a wife and three kids’ right after the Guard says ‘…I’l tell you another thing, I’ve got a wife and three kids. And you’re all a piece of shit’ rages the Guard as he does not want to share any characteristic with those who belong to the powerless structures in society.

Silverstein(1993) mentions that through this instance Pinter raises the possibility that ‘those who are allowed to identify with the subject positions through which power articulates itself can never completely escape a certain instability, the threatening suggestion that when the despotic gaze of power’s ‘ mouthpiece’ looks into the eyes of the other it sees reflected version of itself’. This clearly suggests that those who assume positions of power posses the need to differentiate themselves from the powerless in order to dismantle their shared identity. Therefore, the Guard calls the Prisoner a ‘joker’ in order to preserve asymmetries of power and privilege which comes merely with the language he is allowed to use as a result of his attachment to the military institution. Hence this instance highlights the role of language in two distinct ways. Firstly, it highlights the role language plays in attempting to assume a position of power through a shared identity. Secondly, it highlights the way in which language alone provides a sense of social significance and power to certain individuals.

Finally, this paper shall discuss the way in language that makes no sense play a role in highlighting the insertion of power within language. This point shall be made in relation to the following excerpt that is stated by the Officer to the women in the play in scene one. The lines are ‘Every dog has a name! They answer to their name…Before they bite they state their name. It is a formal procedure…if you tell me one of our dogs bit this woman without giving his name I will have that dog shot’. This excerpt highlights two distinct ways that highlight the assertion of power through language. Firstly, the use of nonsensical language clearly shows the way in which the officer dehumanizes and humiliates the women in a ridiculous manner. Secondly, it highlights the Officer’s audacity to privilege the dog with a name but not the women. Consequently, this highlights the way in which the Officer is indirectly placing the dog on a higher social hierarchy than the women who do not belong to the hegemonic power structure. Therefore, it is evident that language plays a significant role in this excerpt as it attempts to not only dehumanize the women, but also to humiliate and ridicule them in a crude manner.

In conclusion, it is apparent that Pinter’s Mountain Language is a significant play in terms of its ability in highlighting the use of language to assert power. This research paper extensively discusses the way in which language asserts power in numerous ways. Firstly, it discusses the way in which language provides a platform to societies to create an identity and culture of there own. Thereby, the elimination of a language has the potential to destroy the very same community it built. Therefore, individual or social institutions have the potential to assert their power over another community through the elimination of the language of that particular community. Secondly, the role language plays in inflicting torture is discussed clearly. Thirdly, the use of the passive voice for certain statements and the impact of repetitious words have on the Elderly Woman is discussed. Moreover, this paper discusses the way in which obscene words contribute to the affirmation of power within language to males in order to repress an individual who is female and assertive. Additionally, the use of obscene language by a female can also be interpreted as her way of asserting authority / power in a context. Hence this paper plays a significant role in highlighting the way in which language plays a crucial role in distributing power not only to those who belong to the military institution but to those are outside this power structure as well. Moreover, this paper shows the role language plays in attempting to assume a position of power through a shared identity. Therefore, it is evident that to certain individuals language alone provides a sense of social significance and power. Finally, language plays a significant role in attempting to dehumanize women through nonsensical language, which is rather interesting. Therefore, the analysis of this research paper suggests that language in Pinter’s Mountain Language needs to be looked at in a critical manner in order to understand the ways in which the hegemonic power structure and the individuals who are marginalized assert power in their own way.

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Lord of the Nation

In Political Essays,Watch Out on December 27, 2010 by azybazy Tagged: , ,

I am going to play the role of the Devil’s advocate so I am going to start off with a ‘bang’ by scandalizing chapter 7 and 8 of the Sri Lankan constitution that deals with the Executive President – the Lord of the nation. I say the president is the lord of the nation because frankly,he is the be all and the end all in a practical sense. Let me get to the facts that I feel are significant to unravel the supreme powers of the lord of Sri Lanka.

Clause 43 (2) in Chapter 8 of the Sri Lankan constitution states that “The President shall be a member of the Cabinet of Ministers, and shall be the Head of the Cabinet of Ministers”. Ahem ahem – This clause seems to be rather fishy to me, I can almost sense the stench! Due to the ‘fishiness’ of this clause the present president of the nation enjoys the priviledge of also being the Minister of Highways , Defence, Ports Authority and Aviation, and Finance and planning. I believe I do not need to explain the importance of these ministries in forming and implementing social policies on a developing nation now don’t I?

I personally feel that this clause needs to be eradicated from the constitution as it invests too much of power on the executive and provides a platform to be the soul decision maker of social,political and economic strategies of the nation! That is ceratinly a scary thought for a nation that defines itself as a democracy.

Furthermore, as  a result of the immense involvement of the president in key areas of the social system in the nation, the legislative and other authorities do not have the discretion or power to question the initiatives of the president due to the total immunity that he enjoys within his presidental term – which introduces the second major flaw in the constitution!

Clause (60) in chapter 7 mentions tha fact that “Any proceedings of whatever nature shall not be instituted on any grounds whatsoever or continued against the President in any court, tribunal or institution in respect of anything done or omitted to be done by the President in the official capacity of the President”. Yes, this is exactly what I was talking about – immense concentration of privileges to the executive so much so that he is above the law. Consequently, this clause in the constitution leads to corruption and fraud within the political system which in effect impinge on the functioning of a just social system if the president does not have genuine patriotic and selfless concerns. Point to ponder – don’t you think? Lets face it – what is the probability of finding selfless and flawless politicians?

Additionally, I also have a problem with clause (58) in chapter 7 with particular reference to the following. Firstly, (d) to appoint the Prime Minister, other Ministers of the Cabinet of Ministers, Deputy Ministers and Governors of Regions .Secondly,(e) to receive and recognize, appoint and accredit, Ambassadors, High Commissioners, Plenipotentiaries and other diplomatic agents. The main issue I have with these clauses is the fact that ‘checks and balances’ have taken a ride to far far away land as Shrek would put it! In this sense I really admire the constitution of the US as it requires the approval of the senate even when the ambassadors and diplomatic agents are appointed by the president. This way the president cannot be biased and recruit his ‘homies’ and ‘machangs’!

Therefore, in conclusion my main issue with the chapters that deal with the Executive Presidency in the Sri Lankan constitution is the fact that it lacks checks and balances with the other branches of legislature and judiciary which in effect makes the executive president the supreme lord of the nation. This is certainly a threat to the principles of democracy.