February 16th, 2005

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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
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