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张在新

John Zaixin Zhang

 
 
 

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Deconstruction and New Historicism  

2012-05-09 20:11:57|  分类: 后结构理论 |  标签: |举报 |字号 订阅

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Deconstruction and New Historicism

Discussion

      Brook Thomas in her New Historicist essay “Preserving and Keeping Order by Killing Time in Heart of Darkness” comments on the following three scenes in Conrad’s novel. (Ross C. Murfin, ed. Joseph Conrad, Heart of Darkness: A Case Study in Contemporary Criticism. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1989, pp. 240-45)

      Your task is to identify binary oppositions and decide whether they can be deconstructed.

      1. On the one hand, back in Europe Marlow tries to forget Kurtz. On the other, Marlow cannot will Kurtz’s memory away. For him and the reader it serves as what the French historian Michel Foucault has called a “counter-memory,” a memory that disrupts the narrative of enlightened progress that official European culture tried to tell about its history. Unable completely to repress this counter-memory when he visits Kurtz’s Intended, whose forehead, as the room grows darker, “remained illumined by the unextinguishable light of belief and love,” Marlow refuses to destroy her illusions and tells her that the last word Kurtz had uttered was her name, thus linking this woman and all she stands for with “the horror.” Official memory of light and counter-memory of darkness are in Conrad’s narrative inextricably connected, even though the official memory’s ascendancy depends upon the lies that repress the counter-memory.

1)  Irony serves to reinforce the binary opposition of light and darkness:

2) “The unextinguishable light of belief and love” is maintained by a lie, thus turning the light of belief and love (“official memory of light) into Kurtz’s last word (counter-memory of darkness) - “horror.” The connection is there, between light and darkness, but one of reversal and subversion. (Anti-colonialism or colonial critique)

3)  Ironic twist: Light turns out to mean dark, to reveal the darkness of the enlightenment program of colonialism.

4) No ambivalence about light/dark

Similar to the irony about illusion and reality in Levertov’s “Epilogue” (Leggo 189-90). [Leggo, Carl. “Open(ing) Texts: Deconstruction and Responding to Poetry.” Theory into Practice 37.3 (1998): 186-92.]

Binary opposition between illusion and reality:

      I thought I had found a swan

      but it was a migrating snow-goose.

      I thought I was linked invisibly to another’s life

      but I found myself more alone with him than without him.

     Leggo's comment: “Instead of reading ‘Epilogue’ as a lament for lost love, why not read it as a witty and wry proclamation of maturing wisdom? Perhaps the narrator challenges the mesmeric quality of illusion in order to embrace reality with a jubilant spirit.”

1)  Displacement of the binary opposition?

2)  Reality privileged, still maintaining the binary opposition.

      2. About Marlow as a young boy staring at the “many blank spaces” on the map of the world:

      Vowing some day to visit those unexplored regions, he finds, by the time he sets out on his journey, that what had once been “a blank space of delightful mystery – a white patch for a boy to dream gloriously over” – had become “a place of darkness.” Finally recognized by the West, those unexplored, blank spots on the globe known as Africa were represented as darkness, the same metaphor psychoanalysis uses to represent the unexplored areas of the mind.

1)  “A blank space of delightful mystery” or “a white patch for a boy to dream gloriously over” in the past becomes “a place of darkness” in the present.

2)  White or blank on the globe (to stand for glory and innocence) turns out to be dark (to stand for “horror”). Again exposing the evils (darkness) of the enlightenment program of colonialism

3)  A reversal

4)  A lapse of time or growth in characterization

5)  No ambivalence about the program of glory/evil, a program to explore the blank space

6)  A transformation from glory to evil

      3. In one passage, Marlow describes the Africans as follows: “We are accustomed to look upon the shackled form of a conquered monster, but there – there you could look at a thing monstrous and free… They howled and leaped, and spun, and made horrid faces; but what thrilled you was just the thought of their humanity – like yours – the thought of your remote kinship with this wild and passionate uproar. Ugly. Yes, it was ugly enough; but if you were man enough you would admit to yourself that there was in you just the faintest trace of a response to the terrible frankness of the noise, a dim suspicion of there being a meaning in it which you – you so remote from the night of first ages – could comprehend. And why not? The mind of man is capable of anything – because everything is in it, all the past as well as all the future.”

      The horror of the story is not that the Africans are a deviant form of humanity, but that the monster is also within the Europeans who consider themselves superior…. On the one hand, the African continent is a shackled and conquered monster. One the other, it is the European conquerors who are conquered, as their ruthless and violent imperialism unleashes their latent savagery, making them more monstrous than those they profess to civilize.

1)  White self vs. African other

2)  Civilized vs. monstrous

3)  Superior vs. inferior

4)  Conqueror (free) vs. the conquered (shackled)

But

1)  Ruthless and violent self vs. free and passionate other

2)  A remote kinship of the White self and the African other

3) The (White) mind encompasses “all the past” (primitive man as in the African other) “as well as all the future” (civilized man as in the White self)

4)  Not a transformation from self to other or the other way around

5)  Self is by nature never free from the “contamination” of other, a self already “supplemented” by other.

6)  The dichotomy of White self and African other displaced or blurred, and thus deconstructed

For presence to function as it is said to, it must have the qualities that supposedly belong to its opposite, absence. – displacement of presence and absence (Culler)

Deconstruction as an approach that paves the way for post-colonialism in problematizing racial identity - political and cultural in its own right

      A new historicist element of my graduate course on Chaucer’s The Canterbury Tales:

This course aims to study The Canterbury Tales from different perspectives, using history and theory to make sense of the tales we are going to read. These tales uncover the “truth” about man and woman, soul and body, time and space, Christianity and Judaism, Word of God and language, Providence and agency, truth and rhetoric, nature and art, youth and old age, truth and belief, metaphor and metonymy, etc. But the ultimate truth about these binary oppositions turns out to be truths constructed by ideology and culture. In this way, The Canterbury Tales, a literary discourse, responds to, interacts with, and participates in the construction of philosophical, social, psychological, religious, and rhetorical discourses.

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