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Against the 'death of the Authors'

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When cultures cross over each other, there will be comparisons. Yet, in the sixteenth to the nineteenth centuries, such comparisons between the 'West' and 'East' were not made on equal footing. Such political peculiarities are highlighted during which a few explorers brought back interpretations of the world being explored. One way to experience such period of time is through literature. Said argues, in his Orientalism, that nineteenth-century literature upholds an implicit set of hierarchies, which position the colonies as profoundly antithetical to the colonizers. His analysis explicates how nineteenth-century literature operates as the body of knowledge on the basis of which Europe developed an image of the East to accompany its territorial expansion. In particular, the colonized are represented as the inferior 'Other' of the colonizers so as to justify the dispossession of the natives. Said asserts the enormous importance of imperialism in shaping modern literature. Literary works of the nineteenth century had internalized such ideology. Writers' originality was 'willed' by orientalism, or even serving its ends. On one hand, Said's orientalism is useful as a cultural apparatus to deconstruct the discursive constraints that govern the ideologies of Kipling's Mandalay and Lady Montagu's Turkish Embassy Letters as being serving the ends of the nineteenth-century empire. However, it would be too reckless to assume that oriental ideologies are the only driving consciousness between all those literatures. To claim that the discourse of empire underpins every piece of nineteenth-century literature is to certify the death of the genuine originality of the writers. Still, the oriental discourse has its limitations when interpreting individual writers.

Mandalay as a textual exemplar of orientalism

First, Said provides one approach to deconstruct Kipling's Mandalay as being constrained by oriental assumptions. Said's discussion of orientalist discourse is based on two assumptions. (Said, 1978) First, the sense of self against which the Other is positioned embodies the cultural hegemony of the time, thus representing the dominant voice. Second, the west as the 'self' exists as a trope of positive function and value against which an alternative east as 'not self' can be measured. Kipling's Mandalay is a poem about how an ex-soldier, being caught in his tedious working-class civilian life, remembers his exotic experience of colonial soldiering in the Far East. Constructed under the predominance of men, orientalism discursively interprets colonialism as a male institutional practice, involving the feminization of colonized peoples. Textually, the oriental discourse is a way to read Kipling's Mandalay which demonstrates the nostalgic fetish of Burma from a masculine stance as the colony is actually represented by the girl who is expecting the soldier. Mandalay also echoes Said's oriental mould on the textual level since it was premised on acceptance of the Empire as a fact. Throughout the poem, there are binary oppositions between London and Mandalay. For example, there are: the tranquility of Mandalay as to the hustle-bustle of London and the 'cleaner, greener land' as to the 'Henglish drizzle'.

What's more, how Kipling picks up 'ingredients' to represent the binary and imperial conquest should not be overlooked. No doubt, a consciousness of Britain's position as imperialist power is projected throughout the poem through the fetish tune of the protagonist towards the colonized, represented as the Burma girl. Yet, Kipling deliberately distanced the violence of imperial conquest throughout the poem. Mandalay, the Burmese capital, was occupied by British troops under General Prendergast in the Burma War of 1885. Following the deposition of King Thebau, the whole country was annexed to the Empire. Literally, Burma is represented as the much desired binary opposite of the Occidental London. Despite the military background of the protagonist, he is welcomed, longed by the Burma Girl; he enjoys the exotic food and sceneries; he embraces the adorable landscape. Such romantic ambiguities, nostalgic delight in adventure, exotic endorsement of imperial mission all beatifies the many brutalities of imperialism behind the scene.

Failure to explain subtlety beyond the text

However, Orientalism may discursively deconstruct the 'orient' element of the content of the literature, but somehow ignore the subtlety and form of narrative beyond the literal meanings of the text. In Kipling's Mandalay, the yearning of the protagonist for the 'Burma girl' and the way of life 'somewheres East of Suez' is definitely more than simply Orientalist (Boehmer, 1998). Besides being interpreted as coercive efforts to set up racial binaries, the descriptions of the colonial territories could be regarded as contact zones crossed-over by other cultural perceptions, multiple different histories and stories. Moreover, Mandalay was written in first-person narrative. The protagonist is a former soldier serving in Burma, expressing his nostalgic desire of this exotic place. This objectification of the narrator's thoughts can distance the author from the narration. Such narrative framing maneuvers readers into a more skeptical, questioning role in relation to the narrator. In this way, all those binaries, patriarchal yearnings and nostalgic desires could be projected as the subjectivity of the soldier himself. In addition, the language of the poem is cockney which has long been looked down upon and thought of as inferior among British dialects. This adds complexity to the interpretation of the poem. Is there the possibility that the author, Kipling, wants to make use of the fetish longing of this working class soldier to denounce all those superficial binaries on the textual level of the poem? Could this 'ignorant' soldier, who uses a despised dialect, be means employed by Kipling to condemn the apparently oriental texts? In this way, it would be false for Said to assume that every writer intentionally wrote in an inferiorizing tune against the colonized because the literary side of Kipling's writing should not be neglected; its poetic subtlety should not be disregarded; its narrative form should not be overlooked.

Orientalism at odds with travel writing

In addition, it is difficult for Said to generalize the use of his oriental spectacle to discursively deconstruct the epistolary genre of travel writing as inspired by Lady Montagu. Said assumes 'empire' as a 'fact' which shows the unilateral narrowness of Orientalism as a cultural



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