White Skins/Black Masks: Representation and Colonialism

By Gail Ching-Liang Low | Go to book overview

4

THE COLONIAL UNCANNY

Adrian Poole describes the classic Victorian narrative as characterised by optimism regarding the possibility of reconciling individuals and society. Fiction at the turn of the century, however, is dominated by a crisis of faith over the possibility of ever healing the schism between the public and the private world. Literary, social and political fragmentation present authors with the difficulties of identity; late Victorian writers exhibit an 'unprecedented intransigence in terms of the opposition between the inner, personal and subjective, and the outer, public and objective' (Poole, 1975:8-9). For Poole, Kipling represents a throwback, a modern writer who in a gesture of bad faith indulges in the pleasures of demarcation. Kipling 'essay[s] a Dickensian confidence about naming', thriving on his 'ability to define “us” and “them”'. Unlike George Gissing, Thomas Hardy, Henry James and Joseph Conrad who are all 'examining the disastrous consequences of man's propensity for naming the living and moving into fixity', Kipling exalts in the fiction of absolute control that finds political justification in the ideas of imperialism (Poole, 1975:22-23).

In sketching the concerns of an incipient modernist aesthetic, Poole is perhaps wilfully missing the uncertain voices which come from a more dialogic reading of the impact of colonialism on the culture and literature of writers of Empire. Poole cites Conrad's texts with approval, but argues that Kipling's writing merely exhibits a 'magical correspondence between names and things'. In this chapter, I hope to show that the 'Dickensian confidence' alluded to in Kipling's early work is tenuous and fragile, and by no means established with ease. Robert Miles, in his survey of gothic fiction, argues that the gothic is best understood as a 'coherent

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White Skins/Black Masks: Representation and Colonialism
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents v
  • Illustrations vii
  • Acknowledgements ix
  • Note on Spellings xi
  • Introduction 1
  • Part I 11
  • 1 - Body/Border Lines 13
  • 2 - The Dominion of Sons 36
  • 3 - Mimesis of Savagery 66
  • Transitions 104
  • Part II 111
  • 4 - The Colonial Uncanny 113
  • 5 - The City of Dreadful Night 156
  • 6 - The Colonial Mirror 191
  • 7 - Loafers and Story-Tellers 238
  • Conclusion 264
  • Notes 269
  • Bibliography 277
  • Index 291
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