Tag Archives: Colonialism

Safari

A bronzed and Brylcreemed Victor Mature plays Ken Duffield, an American soldier turned white hunter, in this turgid colonial romance that also stars a benzedrine-thin Janet Leigh as a former showgirl on holiday with her pompous billionaire fiancé.

When the dreaded Mau-Mau horribly butcher his wife and son with the aid of one of  his Kikuyu “house boys,” Jeroge (Bermuda-born actor Earl Cameron), Ken vows to avenge them. He escorts Linda Latham (Leigh) and the increasingly erratic and demanding Sir Vincent Brampton on safari, intending to use the hunting expedition to locate his nemesis and kill as many Mau-Mau as possible.

Also features Zanzibari child actor Juma as Odongo, a tagalong scamp prone to bouts of loud, forced laughter.

Men with Guns

After 2 days of aerial bombardment, the Israeli military may invade Gaza with infantry and armor. The motives for this looming assault are complex, though given the nature of politics the Israeli elections in January surely play a role. (As Randolph Bourne wrote during WWI, “War is the health of the state.”) If you are interested in seeing how geopolitics play out pay close attention in the coming days. Notably, both the (democratically elected) Hamas government and the IDF have taken to social media to present their views. Beware of over-simplified, context-free pronouncements and active disinformation about the conflict. I recommend consulting non-US news outlets to get a clearer picture. Of course none of these events will make total sense absent a basic understanding of the history of Israel/Palestine. Students of HUM455 and HUM303 might keep a critical ear to the ground for the rhetoric of civilization and barbarism.

Queimada (HUM455)

If you’re interested in anti-colonial cinema about the Caribbean you might watch Gillo Pontecorvo’s Queimada (Burn!) which draws from multiple historical sources, including the career of US filibusterer William Walker (who crowned himself king of Nicaragua) and British interference in the Antilles. It’s streaming on netflix.

The Calcutta Chromosome

If you’ve made it past the first few chapters of Amitav Ghosh’s novel then you know the world its characters inhabit is one fraught with the significance of events that lie just beyond the realm of observation and evidence. The primary theorist of these conspiracies is Murugan, a scholar of the history of malaria, whose study of Ronald Ross, the Nobel prize laureate credited with the discovery of that disease’s vehicle of transmission, the anopheles mosquito, has led him down into a labyrinth of mysticism and “counter-science”– the arcane methods of the final enhancement humankind has been seeking for centuries: immortality (or, as Murugan phrases it, “interpersonal transference”).

The Calcutta Chromosome’s narrative leaps across time and space: from a future New York where Antar, a computer specialist who telecommutes for the International Water Council, processing that organization’s Faustian plan to inventory the world, to India in the 1890s, when Ronald Ross apparently stumbles across the key to the malaria pathogen, guided unknowingly by an obscure sect of believers. The secret history of this achievement moves through the silence Phulboni speaks of at his lecture: “indeed the Word is to this silence what the shadow is to the foreshadowed, what the veil is to the eyes, what the mind is to truth, what language is to life” (29). A cryptic message, one that seems to unravel the foundations of western rationality and the assemblage of principles it deems indispensable under the rubric of “Humanism.” The upper-case W of “Word” is one clue here, as an English equivalent of the Attic Greek “Logos”– variously defined as rule, ratio and reason.

Because in one sense Humanism is a set of techniques for rendering the cosmos intelligible by discovering its mechanisms, a collection of methods for the gathering of “facts” and testing of hypotheses. Along these lines, Humanism as a concept precedes the term itself, going as far back as Kongfuzi (Confucius), the Ancient Greeks and the Carvarkas of 6th century BCE India– all of whom, broadly speaking, as materialists, held that true knowledge was to be found not in divine authority but in weighing the world.

The Calcutta Chromosome, then, posits the presence of another way of knowing, an epistemology founded not on empiricism or scientific realism, but on other, opaque foundations. Remember what Murugan tells Antar as they eat noodles in the Thai restaurant? “‘Not making sense is what it’s about– conventional sense, that is. Maybe this other team started with the idea that knowledge is self-contradictory; maybe they believed that to know something is to change it, therefore in knowing something, you’ve already changed what you think you know so you don’t really know it at all: you only know its history. Maybe they thought that knowledge couldn’t begin without acknowledging the impossibility of knowledge. See what I’m saying?” (105).

If we think back to our conversations on colonialism we might find that these matters are more than philosophical– they underwrite the colonial project itself. As a form of domination, colonialism relies not only on brute force and technological superiority, but on various forms of knowledge, from the truth-claims of Orientalism, which purports to know “the native” better than he knows himself, to anthropology, philology, and even the so-called pure sciences. Why was it so important to determine how malaria was transmitted and to develop, if possible, its cure? Could the burgeoning discourse of “tropical medicine” have something to do with the phase of history we now know as “High Imperialism”? As those who colonized Africa discovered, Europeans were susceptible to diseases to which indigenous Africans were largely immune. In a curious reversal of the 16th century CE colonization of the Americas when Aztecs and Incas succumbed to germ-laced conquistadores, European settlers in Africa watched as their family members and livestock sickened and died. Prophylaxis was crucial to the expansion of Western empires.

So we can read The Calcutta Chromosome as science fiction or as a “medical mystery”, but also, more germane to our purposes, as a post-colonial text, one that seeks to trouble Empire’s self-interested account of its history and its science with a secret history and counter-science– “local knowledge” we could call it– of the colonized.