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Politics: Race, Empire, Tyranny

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Having looked at gender and class, we now move onto the politics of race, empire and tyranny. Romanticism had strong ties with imperialism and colonial conquest, and therefore a keen interest in race. During Romanticism, Europe discovered the East. William Jones, the Clapham Sect, various humanitarian societies worked to document, translate and propagate Eastern texts. Humanitarian and evangelical societies set up networks in the East, generating a new humanitarian globe, so to speak. If you look at the work of geographers like Alan Lester, he will make this connection about how humanitarianism begins to spread across the globe in conjunction with imperial conquest and imperial expansion. Raymond Schwab’s monumental work – Edward Said wrote the preface to this – and demonstrated how Romanticism overlaps with an “Oriental Renaissance” from the late 18th Century through the availability of Eastern texts for European consumption. The making of a Romantic Orientalism The scholar Saree Makdisi summarizes it thus: With the notable exception of William Blake, every single major writer in the period (and most of the minor ones as well) had at least a passing flirtation with imperialism or its major cultural manifestation, Orientalism. But it is not adequate to say that all of England had an imperialistic attitude towards the rest of the world. Within England itself there were differences in approaches towards race and empire. (Refer Slide Time: 2:19) In its attitudes towards race and Empire, there were differences within England itself. • The curiosity about other races and cultures • The appeal of the exotic • The humanitarian ideal of uplifting the ‘poor’ racial other • The economic imperative of having such possessions • The availability of a vast body of knowledge from the late 18th C. of other cultures and races • The East as a career One of the key debates revolved around the third – the humanitarian ideal. Statesmen Burke argued that while England may have made technological progress and was superior to other races, this did not give the English any kind of cultural or moral superiority over peoples they governed. That is, you may have made economic and material progress but that does not make you morally superior. Burke would say… If we undertake to govern the inhabitants of such a country, we must govern them upon their own principles and maxims, and not upon ours … We must not think to force them into the narrow circle of our ideas; we must extend ours to take in their system of opinion and rites, and the necessities which result from both. (Refer Slide Time: 3:12) Burke also noted that what would be unacceptable behavior in England was deemed legitimate in the colonies, what he famously termed geographical morality. That is, whatever action would be found unacceptable within the shores of England would be performed elsewhere in the colonies. Burke used the term geographical morality to say that England was basically hypocritical. What it would not tolerate for a minute within its geopolitical borders was a freefor-all in the other parts of the world. (Refer Slide Time: 4:06) The British began to produce a huge apparatus of knowledge, grammar textbooks, treatises, documents, translations, historical, ethnographic, archaeological commentaries roughly around this period. And there is a key moment here, the key moment here is the founding of the Asiatic Society in Bengal, that is in 1, Park Street even now, by Sir William Jones. And tasked with providing authentic material from Indian languages, Indian literatures for Western consumption. William Jones’s Grammar of the Persian Language, 1771, Nathaniel Halhed’s Gentoo Laws 1776, Charles Wilkins’ translation of the Bhagavad-Gita in 1785 were all part of this great movement towards Romantic Orientalism. The translations and the textual archive not only provided the literature, the materials for imperial rule but also for literary productions by the English writers themselves. (Refer Slide Time: 5:04) England defined itself in this period by comparing and contrasting itself with its cultural and racial Others. This means cultural difference was important for England’s sense of self as a nation. Even ‘serving’, ‘saving’ or studying the aboriginal, the Native American or the East Indian meant that England was seeing itself in contrast to these ‘others’. Tropes of the Noble Savage, the injured/vulnerable Native American or East Indian woman, so common to the period, were instrumental in exoticizing the Other but also in creating a sense of English identity. Some samples of the politics of race, Empire and Othering: First, the Noble Savage trope in Pope and Wordsworth. Tropes of the Noble Savage, the injured or the vulnerable Native American or East Indian woman, the saving of the Indian woman like in poems such as “Her Eyes are Wild” by William Wordsworth were very common to this period. They were instrumental, we can see very clearly, in exoticizing the other. But you see only when you exoticize the other do you gain a sense of yourself. I define myself as not that, not him, not her, so England was setting up a sense of Englishness by calling into question or bringing into the picture or the equation the racial cultural other. (Refer Slide Time: 6:15) Lo, the poor Indian! whose untutored mind Sees God in clouds, or hears Him in the wind; His soul, proud science never taught to stray Far as the solar walk, or milky way; Yet simple Nature to his hope has given, Behind the cloud-topped hill, an humbler heaven; Some safer world in depth of woods embraced, Some happier island in the watery waste, Where slaves once more their native land behold, No fiends torment, no Christians thirst for gold. To be, contents his natural desire, He asks no angel’s wing, no seraph’s fire; But thinks, admitted to that equal sky, His faithful dog shall bear him company. Alexander Pope, “An Essay on Man” Pope says here that the Indian is pure as opposed to the perhaps corrupt Westerner whose education has actually damaged him and following from that is something very well-known as well. (Refer Slide Time: 6:58) Oh, many a time have I, a five year’s child, A naked boy, in one delightful rill, A little mill-race severed from his stream, Made one long bathing of a summer’s day; Basked in the sun, and plunged and basked again Alternate, all a summer’s day, or coursed Over the sandy fields, leaping through groves Of yellow groundsel; or when crag and hill, The woods, and distant Skiddaw’s lofty height, Were bronzed with a deep radiance, stood alone Beneath the sky, as if I had been born On Indian plains, and from my mother’s hut Had run abroad in wantonness, to sport A naked savage, in the thunder shower. Wordsworth, The Prelude Book 1 This is William Wordsworth, Prelude Book 1, where he will again compare himself to an Indian boy. By Indian here please understand we are referring to Native Americans, not Indian Indian here, as in not us. He describes himself as a 5-year-old child, “a naked boy, in one delightful rill, a little mill-race severed from its stream” and he goes on to talk about how he is so free as though he were born in the Indian location in the United States. The exotic East (Arabia, India): Its fairy-palace and enchanted bowers; There all Arabian fiction e’er could tell, Of potent genii or of wizards spell. (Felicia Hemans, England and Spain) But the East as a place and culture where women are slaves and victims to be rescued by the white male, in a classic Romantic-Orientalist fantasy: his creed, Which saith that woman is but dust, A soulless toy for tyrant’s lust. (Byron, The Giaour) large dark eye show’d deep Passion’s force, Though sleeping like a lion near a source. (Byron, Don Juan) The lines from Byron present the woman in a certain way and what the assumption is, is that in places like Arabia and India the woman is always vulnerable. An overlapping theme here would be Sati and female infanticide and during some parts of the early decades of 19th century the campaign against Sati and female infanticide often presented the native woman as vulnerable, helpless, non-agential. As Gayatri Spivak would famously describe it, as a project of imperialism: the white man who is saving the brown woman from the brown man. And you can see many of those illustrated in these texts. (Refer Slide Time: 8:45) The vulnerable Native American woman: My child! they gave thee to another, A woman who was not thy mother. When from my arms my babe they took, On me how strangely did he look! Through his whole body something ran, A most strange something did I see; —As if he strove to be a man, That he might pull the sledge for me. And then he stretched his arms, how wild! Oh mercy! like a little child. Wordsworth, “The Complaint of a Forsaken Indian Woman” (Refer Slide Time: 9:13) Romantic thought and poetry, from Blake to Shelley, was also interested and participated in debates about class, monarchy, rights and governance, as we have seen in the sessions on the contexts. Blake questioned religion, the authority of certain classes of people like the clergy in poems such as “Holy Thursday”, “The Human Abstract” and others where pity and humanitarianism become, in Blake’s view, the means of controlling the poor. Twas on a Holy Thursday their innocent faces clean The children walking two & two in red & blue & green Grey-headed beadles walkd before with wands as white as snow, Till into the high dome of Pauls they like Thames waters flow. O what a multitude they seemd these flowers of London town Seated in companies they sit with radiance all their own The hum of multitudes was there but multitudes of lambs Thousands of little boys & girls raising their innocent hands. Now like a mighty wind they raise to heaven the voice of song Or like harmonious thunderings the seats of Heaven among Beneath them sit the aged men wise guardians of the poor Then cherish pity, lest you drive an angel from your door. Blake, “Holy Thursday” Look at the description. “The children walking two and two in red and blue and green.” All very systematic, all methodical, and he refers to them as multitudes of lambs – they are all raising their hand, they are all working together, there is no sense of the creative energy of a child. And now here is Blake’s “The Chimney Sweeper” which is arguably one of the more anthologized of the Blake poems. A little black thing among the snow, Crying "weep! 'weep!" in notes of woe! "Where are thy father and mother? say?" "They are both gone up to the church to pray. Because I was happy upon the heath, And smil'd among the winter's snow, They clothed me in the clothes of death, And taught me to sing the notes of woe. And because I am happy and dance and sing, They think they have done me no injury, And are gone to praise God and his Priest and King, Who make up a heaven of our misery.” Blake, “The Chimney Sweeper” Blake is talking about deprivation, about class conflict and some of you might recall the poem London where he will refer to the chartered streets, where he will refer to the way certain classes of people, the prostitute, the soldier, the chimney sweeper have been marginalized although they are essential to the society. This theme of class-based exploitation, about social justice, is also the subject of poems by people like Percy Shelley. (Refer Slide Time: 11:04) Poets like Shelley were concerned about the despotism of England’s monarchs and the collapse of welfare and social justice, exploitation and unending tyranny. His best known poem on the subject, with numerous images of such exploitation, is “The Mask of Anarchy”. I met Murder on the way– He had a mask like Castlereagh– Very smooth he looked, yet grim; Seven blood-hounds followed him: All were fat; and well they might Be in admirable plight, For one by one, and two by two, He tossed them human hearts to chew. --------------- And each dweller, panic-stricken, Felt his heart with terror sicken Hearing the tempestuous cry Of the triumph of Anarchy. He will categorize murder, the action, as a person – using personification - and the person’s face as Castlereagh. So what he does in Mask of Anarchy is to present the upper-class or ruling class people and attribute various kinds of criminal and sinful attitudes and actions to them. And the prostrate multitude Looked -- and ankle-deep in blood, Hope, that maiden most serene, Was walking with a quiet mien: (Refer Slide Time: 11:58) `Rise like Lions after slumber In unvanquishable number, Shake your chains to earth like dew Which in sleep had fallen on you -- Ye are many -- they are few. `What is Freedom? -- ye can tell That which slavery is, too well – For its very name has grown To an echo of your own. `'Tis to work and have such pay As just keeps life from day to day In your limbs, as in a cell For the tyrants' use to dwell, --- `'Tis to see your children weak With their mothers pine and peak, When the winter winds are bleak,-- They are dying whilst I speak. So clearly the Romantic writers were not escaping from politics. They were not escaping from the everyday, messy politics of either the monarchy, of class, or of gender. You can no longer have a depoliticized reading of the English Romantics. Conservative critics will continue to fight the argument that they were only interested in aesthetic approaches to the land. But we do understand that aesthetics itself is a political choice that they make. So when you read those poems, return to some of these poems, be aware of the fact that they all encode politics of a certain kind, thank you.