Writing in the Postcolonial: Postcolonial Legal Scholarship

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5. The Harolds

5.1 Harold 1: Grammar School Headmaster
Three people called Harold tell us something about the Englishman of the second imperial phase, two of them tangentially connected with the writer27, and the third, paradoxically a US scholar, caught in one text in (surely) feigning lament for the demise of high culture. In 1965, drawing on many years’ experience as a teacher and headmaster in selective, but state-funded grammar schools, Harold Davies published a book that he entitled Culture and the Grammar School28. He tells his readers that:
‘[i]ncreasing numbers of children whose families have no experience of the grammar school, and little of the cultural standards they will be expected to assimilate there are crowding into its courses. Many of these (children) come from that large area of society which … used to be thought of as the lower middle and upper working classes ... It is to children from homes like these that the school must transmit our cultural heritage, and this book is largely concerned with the problems ... involved in this difficult task’29.
The social location of the ‘pupils’ he has in mind is slightly disingenuously put: if Davies considered that they were no longer thought of by his readers as classed in the way in which the passage denies they are still classed, the identification would not be helpful. And clearly it is a crucial identification, since the purpose of the book is expressed as an exploration of the difficulties involved in transmitting our cultural values to them, of enabling them to metamorphose into Englishmen. Anticipating Foucault’s remarks about ‘the question of the subject’, Davies frames his aspiration for the grammar school as, in part, the reconciliation of a ‘first generation child’ (repeating, too, the trope of European discovery: real existence first comes about when a subject comes to the European’s or headmaster’s notice) to ‘a comfortable reception of ideas and knowledge ... outside the range of his home background. He has to be persuaded to co-operate willingly’30. He has to metamorphosise, to pupate, which is of course, what successful pupils do.
b) Harold 2: The Physician
But, of course, not all pupils do metamorphose successfully. Some perish or remain immature without realizing their telos, which is why children need headmasters and natives require missionaries. Thirty-five years after the publication of Davies’ book, a second Harold, Harold Frederick Shipman, was convicted at Chester Crown Court of the murder of fifteen of his patients, and subsequent inquiries suggest a total of more than 200, perhaps as many as 400. Shipman completed his studies at Davies’ school a year before the publication of Culture and the Grammar School. Shortly after the trial ended in 2000, a book by two journalists investigated ‘the most prolific serial killer the world has known’. The authors, the cover continues, ‘had unparalleled access to friends, colleagues and patients. Their in-depth and authoritative investigation looks at how he killed, how he was able to get away with it, and – most important of all – why he did it’31.
The horrific nature of the crimes of which Shipman was convicted needs no further emphasis. What is of interest, though, is the way in which Shipman was positioned in the text. Setting the scene for the main events, the investigation, trial and conviction, the writers situate Shipman’s – and Davies’ – school in the mainstream of an adaptive, moderate, society, inherited from before Shipman’s student days and bequeathed to the writers’ and their readers’ presents. To this English society, nourishing and nourished by, the grammar school, extremism of the Baader-Meinhof or the Paris evenements variety remained foreign. England’s ‘first generation children’ would leave their parents, with their rented housing, behind, and move conscientiously into middle class careers like characters in a Margaret Drabble novel32. If any of Shipman’s contemporaries at school became sex offenders, burglars or embezzlers, tramps or shady businessmen, either Whittle’s and Ritchie’s ‘in-depth and authoritative investigation’ did not discover it, or the reader is not told.
Shipman’s difference from this proper English character, the implied answer to the question ‘why he did it’ tracks the native’s difference, in the imperial gaze, from the ideal of who he should be. Smaller than his wife, who is photographed as a very large woman, there is a hint of his effeminacy in the suggestion that Shipman is ‘henpecked’ that echoes the significance for the writers of his wearing fancy coloured waistcoats at school. As a schoolboy he was aggressive on the rugby field but shy and socially inept on other occasions. He was later arrogant in his response to the investigating police, but never especially intelligent (he almost failed to get into medical school). He was cunning (he literally got away with murder) but stupid (his forgery of the murdered patient’s will that proved his undoing was crudely prepared). At a time when wholesomeness meant that ‘girls were still keeping their legs together in real-life encounters with the opposite sex’33, Harold’s girl had not done so, and he had ‘got her into trouble’. Harold is dirty 34, treacherous (to former colleagues)35, drug addicted and evil.36
Sexual instability has long been a feature of the native in the occidental gaze37, although the concern that this instability might infect the master does not reach its Victorian level of anxiety until the full development of the imperial relationship of master and servant, when intimate contact between the two seemed to threaten the purity of the homeland across the whole range of Englishness38. If we bear in mind the connectedness of power and subjectivity in Foucault’s writing, we can make particular sense here of his remark that:
‘..colonization, with its techniques and juridical and political weapons transported European models to other continents, but ... this same colonization had a return effect on the mechanisms of power in the occident ... a whole series of colonial models had been brought back ... so that the occident could traffic in something like colonization, internal colonialism’39.
The lecherous, opium-smoking ‘Chinaman’, for example, whose alleged irresistibility to young white girls spelled miscegenation, was an important impetus for the partial constitutional separation of Australians – who were persuaded to see themselves as purer, more vigorous Englishmen - from the UK in 1901:
‘One strand of evolutionist thinking identified ‘savages’, women and children as three types of inferior humanity, evincing in common certain moral and mental inadequacies that signalled their incomplete state of evolution’40.
But anyone familiar with TB Macaulay’s descriptions of the ‘soft Bengalee’ and with Macaulay’s prescriptions for empire will recognize the repetition that both of the above Harolds represent, which is about the redeemability that Leela Gandhi refers to when she discusses the empire as a pedagogical exercise41. In the text I referred to Shipman’s evil is certainly a mark of difference, and that difference is imbricated in the evil in the form of an enigma that titillates and horrifies, but the question, ‘why’, is raised principally because the grounds on which it could be answered can never be established. The story is instead a moral one like Davies’ account of the progress of ‘the first generation child’, the first child of his class who has placed before him the opportunity to grasp ‘our’ heritage, the reality that makes him the first and his predecessors unreal, invisible. Dedicated young teachers, a new purpose-built grammar school with ancient origins, and a Guardian-reading headmaster raises those whose measure Shipman makes it possible to take. They have to be brought to want the future. For Macaulay, the depraved superstition of the native, as the upright servant of the Company finds him, provides the measure of what the willing native can be brought to desire through the pedagogy, the wisdom and above all the honesty and dependability of European rationality42. This is Macaulay’s ‘empire exempt from decay’43. Such a native will be, in Macaulay’s vision, English ‘in taste, in morals and in intellect’44 but, and this is the point, he will still be a native, still, in Macaulay’s words, Indian ‘in blood and colour’. He must qualify for his status and there will always be a point beyond and above him from which those qualifications can be evaluated.
c) Harold 3: English Professor and Cultural Warrior
This brings us briefly to the third of our Harolds, to make the point that we still to a considerable extent dwell within the conceptual context of the second empire. In an immensely erudite text, The Western Canon45, Harold Bloom defends both the performance of, and the work of identifying, artistic excellence against critics whom he identifies as belonging to the ‘Schools of Resentment’. These schools, collectively, Cultural Studies, he accuses of reducing aesthetics to ideology by studying high culture for its social effects, or the political uses to which it may be put. One could surely have no quarrel with an aesthetics that sought to define excellence – and Bloom admits that definitions of excellence vary over time – but at the same time one needs surely to notice their ideological use. It is in his rejection of the importance of this latter, not in his defence of high art, that the political dimension of his argument appears, ironically, whatever his intentions, deploying High Culture in the cause of what Leavis referred to as ‘technologico-Benthamism’46, but also, connectedly, in the cause of colonialism, in the sustaining of the comprador.
For, as Said has pointed out, ‘imperialism is a cooperative venture’. The subject of English, untainted by the political animus of Lacanians, feminists and others, nourishes ‘those bourgeoisies (who) in effect have often replaced the colonial force with a new class-based and ultimately exploitative force; instead of liberation after decolonisation, one simply gets the old colonial structures replicated in new national terms’47.
Bloom mournfully intones:
‘What are now called Departments of English will be renamed departments of cultural studies, where Batman comics, Mormon theme parks, television, movies and rock will replace Chaucer, Shakespeare, Milton and their peers’48.
The imputation to anthropological and political evaluations of cultural phenomena – in which Neighbours may well assume – why not ? - equal importance with The Tempest, Batman with Chaucer - of the conclusion that they are all also aesthetically equal, is calculated intellectually and politically to subvert study of the regulatory use to which high and low culture may be put. And this in turn assists politically the argument that, since, therefore, universities have apparently abandoned intellectual judgment in favour of mindless relativism, it is better that they be turned into technical colleges. Here they can be trained according to the nostrums of Matthew Arnold’s farcical Businessman Bottles, vocational training full of the latest techniques of whizzes and bangs dressed up instantly obsolescent managerial clichés. When we look at the components that make up the Schools of Resentment, we revisit the sites, that the pedagogical empire was concerned should remain in their place, preferably unrecognised: what are the concerns of ‘Feminists, Marxists, Lacanians, New Historicists, Deconstructionists, Semioticians’ 49? Not, indeed, the denial of aesthetic excellence, but rather investigation of the signs of subjectification, which may be also signs of oppression, and which can never be entirely separated from aesthetic concerns.
The empire of which I am arguing such expressions as Bloom’s are the sign is the empire of conquest, it is the empire of Bentham and social engineering – strongly applied in India, the quintessential empire of conquest, as Eric Stokes has shown50. It is the empire of the penitentiaries51 and the new poor law. The law in this empire is ‘the sign of the volition of the sovereign’52. Its ethics is the objective science of utility and political economy, which the state can draw upon through its corps of experts.

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