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"what centuries of culture"

A quick update from the office with a quote for the day. I've been reading George Orwell's Burmese Days, a rather remarkable novel for its condemnation of colonialism from the perspective of the colonizer as well as the colonized. At any rate, this passage struck me in particular. As I finish the book, I find myself returning to it. The speaker is a British official, an agent of empire who is far from home and attempting to understand the Other:

"Just look at that girl's movements--look at that strange, bent-forward pose like a marionette, and the way her arms twist from the elbow like a cobra rising to strike. It's grotesque, it's even ugly, with a sort of wilful ugliness. And there's something sinister in it too.... And yet when you look closely, what art, what centuries of culture you can see behind it! Every movement that girl makes has been studied and handed down through innumerable generations. Whenever you look closely at the art of these Eastern peoples you can see that--a civilisation stretching back and back, practically the same, into times when we were dressed in woad. In some way that I can't define to you, the whole life and spirit of Burma is summed up in the way that girl twists her arms."

-from George Orwell, Burmese Days

Comments

( 8 comments — Leave a comment )
onegoat
Feb. 16th, 2005 11:13 pm (UTC)
Oh I like that -an amazing description of Burma, an amazing description of colonisation.
Diola Ile (((((Amy)))))
eldritchhobbit
Feb. 17th, 2005 04:50 pm (UTC)
Remarkable, isn't it? I'm so glad you thought it was amazing, too. Thank you so much for your reply! (((onegoat)))
fungus_files
Feb. 17th, 2005 12:45 am (UTC)
must admit I haven't read much Orwell beyond the school stock of 1984 and Animal Farm. I was deeply scarred by AF and the level of satire (hey, what can I say, I was young). four legs good... :)

and, by golly, coloniser/colonised, the Other, Orientalism - you are talking my talk, girl! I was reading an LJ entry by mimesere the other day and she used "cognitive dissonance" while savvily discussing Commodore Norrington and the figure of the Good Man. this is all good, tho my worlds are threatening to collide. ;)
eldritchhobbit
Feb. 17th, 2005 04:53 pm (UTC)
this is all good, tho my worlds are threatening to collide. ;)

Ack! Edward Said is everywhere! ;) Sorry about that. But it is neat to see how all of our interests dovetail, isn't it? If you catch me using footnotes in my posts, though, you have my permission to deliver the LJ smackdown. :)
randomalia
Feb. 17th, 2005 12:56 am (UTC)
In some way that I can't define to you, the whole life and spirit of Burma is summed up in the way that girl twists her arms.

Wonderful quote! And I thought that last line was especially interesting. It seems to really capture that idea of an outsider looking on something significantly different to his/her experience, and yet also finding something familiar in it, some deeper facet of shared humanity. As though the officer understands what he is seeing, but not quite enough to 'define' it.

Thanks for another interesting quote :)
eldritchhobbit
Feb. 17th, 2005 04:55 pm (UTC)
It seems to really capture that idea of an outsider looking on something significantly different to his/her experience, and yet also finding something familiar in it, some deeper facet of shared humanity. As though the officer understands what he is seeing, but not quite enough to 'define' it.

Yes, that's it, exactly! And even though the tone of the work as a whole is very negative, and rightly so, I can't help but take heart at those moments of almost-contact, when what is common seems to break through what is unfamiliar. Thanks so much for your reply!
eldritchhobbit
Feb. 17th, 2005 04:58 pm (UTC)
PS. Your new journal layout is SO gorgeous!
randomalia
Feb. 18th, 2005 06:11 am (UTC)
moments of almost-contact, when what is common seems to break through what is unfamiliar

Yes, that's a lovely way of putting it!

Your new journal layout is SO gorgeous

Thank you! I thought it was time for a change, and I like that picture a great deal.
( 8 comments — Leave a comment )