A Process Of Representing The Other English Literature Essay

The distinction I am making is really between an almost unconscious […] latent Orientalism, and the various stated views about Oriental society, languages, literatures, history, sociology, and so forth, which I shall call manifest Orientalism. Whatever change occurs in knowledge of the Orient is found almost exclusively in manifest Orientalism; the unanimity, stability, and durability of latent Orientalism are more or less constant. (Orientalism, 206)

Said presents Orientalism as a system of knowledge that, despite its liability to historical change and development, is more or less constant in its underlying assumptions about colonized peoples. The continuity and stability of the modes of representation, which characterize latent Orientalism, are mainly due to the systematic categorization of races and cultures that tends to reduce them to their main traits. Accordingly, this would produce forms of knowledge made up of fixed generalities to which human sciences, such as anthropology, philology, and psychology, resort in their studies of non-Western societies. More specifically, the late nineteenth century scientific categorization of non-European cultures lacked neutrality as a large body of it was loaded with ethnocentric ideologies and unfounded presumptions that underpinned the presumably academic expertise concerning those cultures. The point emphasized by Said is that:

Race theory, ideas about primitive origins and primitive classifications, modern decadence, the progress of civilization, the destiny of the white (or Aryan) races, the need for colonial territories—all these were elements in the peculiar amalgam of science, politics, and culture whose drift, almost without exception, was always to raise Europe or a European race to dominion over non-European portions of mankind. (Said, Orientalism, 232)

What marks the nineteenth century scientific epistemology is that it presupposes the existence of a natural, pre-given essence that characterizes a particular race or culture. Here, Said gives the example of the Semites as a "pre-existing ‘Semitic’ essence […] aiming at […] interpret[ing] all aspects of human life and activity in terms of some common ‘Semitic’ element" (Said 231). The fact of presupposing the existence of an intrinsic trait that characterizes any culture or race has engendered a number of subsidiary stereotypes that are related to the general categories: the Arab, the Indian, the Chinese, and so forth. One of the most common stereotypes, which Said discusses in Orientalism, is that the Orient is assumed to be timeless and unchanging and, thus, "trapped in antiquity far behind the modern developments of modernity and Enlightenment" (96). The Westerner travelling to the Orient is not only moving in space from one location to another, but he is also moving back in time to an earlier world. Another stereotype related to the former is the idea that the Orient is not just different; but "oddly different__unusual, fantastic, and bizarre" (italics in the original, McLeod, BP, 44). The Orient’s eccentricity, besides being a source of mystery and marvel, is regarded as a radical strangeness that proves the backwardness of the Orient. If the Occident is rational, sensible, and familiar, the Orient is then irrational, extraordinary, and unfamiliar.

Subverting the concept of pre-essence is also one of the strategic purposes of Bhabha’s works. He, indeed, affiliates with Said in rejecting all forms of essentialism that characterize the differences between races and cultures. As stated by Bhabha, "[t]he representation of differences must not be hastily read as the reflection of pre-given ethnic or cultural traits set in the fixed tablet of tradition" (LC, 2). In his analysis of colonial discourse, Bhabha focuses on the notion of ‘fixity’ as equivalent to stereotyping: "Likewise, the stereotype […] is a form of knowledge and identification that vacillates between what is always ‘in place’, already known, and something that must be anxiously repeated" (66). Bhabha attempts to subvert the Self/Other binarism by regarding the process of repetition that characterizes the stereotype, such as to say the black is savage, animal, bestial, as a sign of ambivalence of colonial discourse as it resorts to repetition insofar as to give "the colonial stereotype its currency [and] ensure its repeatability" (emphasis added, 66). The objective of fixity, Bhabha contends, which is an essential element in constructing the Other, is, thus:

To construe the colonized as a population of degenerate types on the basis of racial origin, in order to justify conquest and to establish systems of administration and instruction […]. Colonial discourse produces the colonized as a social reality which is at once an ‘other’ and yet entirely knowable and visible […]. It employs a system of representation, a regime of truth, that is structurally similar to realism. (Bhabha, LC, 70-71)

The anxious repetition of the stereotype reveals the "narcissistic and aggressive" self-assertion of the colonizer who continuously tends to produce "repetitive chain" of metaphoric and metonymic stereotypes as a strategy to maintain the "fixity and phantasmatic quality" of the stereotype (77).

If othering in Coetzee’s novel pervades imperial discourse and shapes its view of the Other, stereotyping of the barbarians is the other mode of representation that works at endorsing and propagating the Self/Other binary opposition. Along the process of othering in the novel, there are many instances of stereotyping.

1. 2. 1. The Other as a ‘Ghostly’ Presence

The most common stereotype of the indigenous people is that they are often represented as a body of ghostly figures that lack individual identities. In fact, the barbarians are conspicuously unnoticeable in the novel. Throughout the narrative, the barbarians are systematically referred to as unhomely, shadowy, shapeless, specks, tiny figures, and above all invisible. All these attributes are, indeed, subsidiary features of one general stereotype: incomplete entities that lack full corporeality. After the second military expedition, the Magistrate describes the barbarian captives who are aligned in a column "roped together, neck to neck, shapeless figures in their sheepskin coats" (emphasis added, 22). Later on, during the journey the Magistrate makes to take the barbarian girl back to her people, he observes: "The specks […] are men on horses […] quickening my pace, I turn our march towards the three tiny figures in the distance […]. Are they reflections of us?" (Emphasis added, 74). By constructing the Other as a reflection or shadow, the Self tends to create another version that is familiar but still different. Nevertheless, despite the fact that the barbarians have repeatedly been regarded as the Other of Empire, after the return of the Magistrate from the barbarian lands and the humiliation he undergoes, the binary opposition between barbarians and Empire is subverted when he refers to Joll as the "true enemy" (125). Here, the reflection becomes reciprocal as the dichotomy between Self and Other is reversible.

During the journey across the borders, the Magistrate describes the barbarian horsemen as diminutive figures or "specks materializing again on the blank face of the plain" (emphasis added 75). At this stage, stereotyping starts gathering pace and density when the Magistrate, while heading towards the group of barbarians, unchains a series of metonymic images that can be grouped under a general stereotype: the barbarians are hardly visible to the Empire; if they do, they appear only as dim specters: "I count as I ride, twelve tiny figures […] and behind them the faintest ghostly blue of the mountains […]. They group in file like ants climb the rise […]. A swirl of dust obscures them, then they reappear […]. I fail to catch the moment they vanish" (emphasis added, 75). All these expressions in addition to "specks," mentioned earlier, operate as a chain of repetitions that tend to maintain the stereotype of invisibility. The general impression created by those images is that the barbarians are so dwarfed, so crushed that they are rendered microscopic in the eyes of Empire. The barbarians’ invisibility is not due to their intentional absence; rather, it is due to the Empire’s dominative presence that leaves no room for the Other to exist, to be visible. Ironically, it is only when the Magistrate gets closer to the group of barbarians that he becomes able to see them in full detail; that is, in their individual human features that include their physical portraits, clothing, and even their horses’ breed: "They emerged, men on shaggy ponies […] dressed in sheepskin coats and caps, brown-faced, weather-beaten, narrow-eyed, the barbarians in the flesh in native soil" (76).

1. 2. 2. The Other as Inhuman

In addition to the invisibility image, another stereotype is attributed to barbarians: primitiveness. In the eyes of Empire, they are all savage, uncivilized, and barbaric. The very fact of labeling them as "barbarians" is a form of categorizing them both ethnically and culturally as non-civilized subhuman species. Therefore, they are repeatedly described in animal terms such as smelly, dirty, and unclean. The Magistrate who, despite his rejection of Empire’s violent policy against the barbarians, cannot surmount the stereotypical representation of the Other, as it is part of the internalized cultural knowledge that is inherent in the colonial ideology. While describing the commercial exchange between the settlement and the nomads, the Magistrate launches a series of stereotypical images that tends to produce a general impression about barbarians: they are so wretched and debased that they do not deserve to belong to civilization: "I do not want to see a parasite settlement […] populated with beggars and vagrants enslaved to strong drink […] confirming thereby the settlers’ litany of prejudice: that barbarians are lazy, immoral, filthy, stupid" (41).

Earlier in the narrative, he observes: "the two prisoners lie bound on the floor. The smell comes from them, a smell of old urine" (2). Being displaced away from their natural milieu, the barbarians seem to manifest no quality worth of civilized people. Instead, they are represented as dehumanized outcasts excluded from the realm of civilization; they are simply regarded as "destitute tribespeople with tiny flocks living along the river" (4). When the barbarian prisoners are first brought back to the town to be detained until Colonel Joll returns from a military expedition, the Magistrate confesses that he and the other guards "stand watching them eat as though they are strange animals" (19).  The barbarians are kept in a yard, locked in by a gate, which makes this whole picture reflect the environment of a zoo where people come to marvel at captive animals that have been displaced from their natural habitat. The Magistrate goes on to observe, "their habits are frank and filthy. One corner of the yard has become a latrine where men and women squat openly […]. They are happy here; indeed unless we chase them away they may stay with us forever, so little does it seem to have taken to lure them out of a state of nature" (20). Moreover, he explains that many of the prisoners have become ill from the unclean environment, which has obliged the kitchen staff "to toss them their food from the doorway as if they were indeed animals" (21).  Another instance of the animal-like image of the barbarians is when the Magistrate "watch[es] the women picking lice, combing and plaiting each other’s long black hair […] their strange gabbling, their vast appetites, their animal shamelessness, their volatile tempers" (20). The use of expressions such as ‘picking lice,’ ‘vast appetites,’ ‘animal shamelessness,’ and ‘volatile temper’ at the above scene is quite suggestive of an explicit analogy drawn between the communal activities of the barbarian captives and a shrewdness of apes.

What is noticeable in these descriptions of the barbarians is the degree to which the stereotype of primitiveness and animal-like bestiality is deeply engraved in the Empire’s view of the Other. Even the Magistrate, who often shows signs of sympathy toward the barbarians, cannot help but use and circulate these stereotypes because they are part of his culture. This is noticed in the way the Magistrate adopts the barbarian girl who has been left behind by her people. In fact, his relationship with the girl invokes a relationship a person would have with an adopted pet. His regular massaging of the girl is analogous to the act of caressing a pet animal. When he buys a fox cub and keeps it in his room, he says to the girl: "People will say I kept two wild animals in my rooms, a fox cub and a girl" (37).  Later on, while contemplating her disfigured body, he refers to her as "feeling no more deformed than a cat feels deformed for having claws instead of fingers" (61). In keeping the girl as a pet seems to show that the white man’s need to dominate those of a different race or lower status just as a pet owner feels a sense of contentment from being the owner and controller of the helpless animal’s life. The Magistrate comes to the conclusion that he has kept the girl because he needs to "obliterate" her (50), just as some pet owners mistreat or abuse their pets in order to get a feeling of domination. At this point, he discovers his complicity with Colonel Joll as both men of Empire make use (or abuse) of the barbarian girl’s body which is the animal side of the human being. While Joll tortures and ruins the body, the Magistrate massages and heals it as an act of expiation. It is only when the Magistrate is himself tortured and treated as an animal that he becomes empathetic towards the barbarians, and thus, aware of what it means to be Other. The point is that, before his moral transformation and dissent from the oppressive regime of Empire, the Magistrate’s obsession with the barbarian girl, though it might reveal a kind of sympathy and compassion for the Other in the novel, does not emerge from a sense of recognition of her as an equal human being. Rather, he uses her as an object of scrutiny and probing through which he attempts to access her inner experience of torture.

1. 2. 3. The Other’s Collective Identity

While the barbarians are stereotyped as animal-like, they are treated as such. More specifically, they are treated as a herd of cattle with no individual and personal discrimination. Colonel Joll, who comes fresh from the capital carrying with him all the ornaments and opulence of Empire, has no real and authentic knowledge of the native people. Rather, influenced by the stereotypical image of the barbarians as savage people, he cannot draw the difference between a warrior, a rebel, a bandit, and an ordinary fisherman. He asserts that there is a general "unrest among the barbarians. Traders travelling so far routes had been attacked and plundered" (8). All ‘barbarians,’ accordingly to his version of the story, are guilty and, thus, deserve to be tortured. The Magistrate expresses his revulsion when the Colonel brings captives who turn out to be not the barbarians he set out to find: "Did no one tell him the difference between fishermen with nets and wild nomad horsemen with bows? Did no one tell him they don’t speak the same language?" (Emphasis added, 19). The Magistrate is aware of the fact that the Other is not merely a homogeneous community; but rather a heterogeneous Other with varied as well as distinct communities. This is suggested by the linguistic aspect which is an important marker that separates different ethnic or cultural groups as well as different social sub-divisions that are reflected in the different life styles___ fisherfolk live along the river, nomads are scattered on the mountains. Colonel Joll, who seems to be totally engulfed by his monolithic view of the Other and his ignorance of the geographical reality of the frontier region, views the barbarians only as enemies that have to be captured: "prisoners are prisoners" (23).The Magistrate, who is so much aware of the fact that Empire overreacts in its "precautionary measures" (9), deems the Colonel’s behavior as "an episode of hysteria about barbarians" (9). The Magistrate, trying to undermine the Empire’s claims against barbarians, confesses that: "of this unrest I saw nothing […]. Show me a barbarian army and I will believe" (9). In fact, the Magistrate has taken a skeptical position against the Empire’s schemes; he is aware that all the mobilization and demonstration of power against the barbarians is based on sheer rumors and some few isolated incidents that do not grow up to an act of war.

The Empire’s violent campaign against barbarians is not built upon solid information or real threat; rather, it feeds on the fixed image of the barbarians as ruthless, barbaric people who would not miss any opportunity to attack and finish the Empire. This is reflected in the collective imagination of the imperial population, especially the soldiers. When the Magistrate asks the newly arrived young officers whether the people who were trailing them at a distance were barbarians, one of them replies with certitude: "Who else could they have been?" And "[h]is colleagues concur" (53). This general consensus among people from the capital that the barbarians are the only source of danger reveals a growing tendency to demonize the invisible Other. Of this the Magistrate tells the reader:

There is no woman living along the frontier who has not dreamed of a dark barbarian hand coming from under the bed to grip her ankle, no man who has not frightened himself with visions of the barbarians carousing in his home, breaking the plates, setting fire to the curtains, raping his daughters. These dreams are the consequence of too much ease. (WB, 9)

The fear of barbarians seems to have contaminated most of the settlement dwellers, who are supposed to have better knowledge of the barbarians as they live within the precincts of their territory. They are so afraid of the barbarians that they imagine them as specters, bogeymen and looters. The Magistrate is aware that the fear of barbarians has taken the form of public phobia that hides a primeval fear of the unknown and the inconceivable Other.

1. 2. 4. Feminized Other

The Other in Coetzee’s novel is not only demonized, but also feminized. In his book Orientalism, Said contends that geography is part of the Western imagination. The Oriental lands are hardly seen as separate territories that belong to Orientals; rather, they constitute an important part of Western fantasy. One of the fantasies related to the Orient, Said maintains, is that it is often referred to as being ‘feminine,’ and the encounters between West and East are thus described in sexual terms. Namely, the Orient is "penetrated" by Western travelers; it is "possessed", "ravished," "embraced," and "domesticated" by the masculine colonizer (Said 207- 08). In Coetzee’s WB, the frontier trespassing and transgression, which are reflected in the consecutive military expeditions inside the barbarian territories, can be regarded as an act of imperialism that takes the form of usurping the right of the natives to exist upon and control their own lands. The Empire’s transgression of borders, therefore, can be interpreted as a chauvinistic masculine intrusion into the Other’s lands.

The barbarians have never shown signs of aggressiveness, except some suspected incidents the account of which is based on hearsay. Along the narrative, they are systematically depicted as docile, harmless, and submissive people that have hardly sought trouble with Empire. In the light of Empire’s ideology that highly values the notions of power and domination, the docility and the passivity of the barbarians are regarded as signs of feminine weakness and submissiveness that incite both literal and metaphorical invasion and penetration. Right from the first encounter with Colonel Joll, the Magistrate is aware of chauvinistic intrusion made by Colonel Joll: "We sit in the best room of the inn with a flask between us and a bowl of nuts" (emphasis added, 1). The metaphorical references to male and female organs can be read as a sexual connotation of Empire’s phallocentric tendency to exhibit its power and maintain its dominion. Moreover, the same scene can be regarded as a prelude to the forthcoming penetration and intrusion first into the settlement which has resulted in stripping the Magistrate of authority, and then into the barbarian lands that takes the form of consecutive military expeditions. Another scene, where the connotation of violent sexual penetration is evoked, is when officer Mandel, provoked by the Magistrate, "flexes the fingers […] ‘I used to poke this finger’__ he holds up his index finger—‘through a pumpkin-shell’" (129). The culmination of the feminization of the Other, takes place right before the scene of the mock hanging of the Magistrate when Mandel forces him to wear a "woman’s calico smock" and then he whispers in his ears: "[d]o your best to behave like a man" (128). According to the emissaries of Empire the Magistrate’s condemnation of their atrocious ways of treating the barbarian prisoners is an effeminate behavior. For them the Magistrate, who is charged with treason for consorting with the barbarians, has become one of them and, thus, he deserves to be treated as such.

Aside from the above stereotypical representation of the indigenous population, it is interesting to wonder why these people are considered as ‘barbarians’ when the Magistrate explains: "The people we call barbarians are nomads, they migrate between the lowlands and the uplands every year, that is their way of life" (54). While a nomad might not be the most civilized person, he is far from being classified as a barbarian. More importantly, nomadic life reflects a way of existence, a state of being; however, barbarism is a quality that can be attributed to civilized as well as uncivilized people. According to the Magistrate’s observations of the so called barbarians, they do not seem barbaric at all.  He describes how a loaf of bread is offered to the oldest prisoner and that "the old man accepts the bread reverentially in both hands, sniffs it, breaks it, and passes the lump around" (19).  Now, some might consider the man sniffing the bread savage, but what is more important as well is how he shares the bread with the other prisoners.  An animal would have kept the entire loaf of bread for itself, which would have started a fight amongst the pack.  Instead, their act of sharing which reflects a high level of social solidarity shows a very developed sense of civilization that the representatives of Empire fail to recognize. Therefore, the so-called "barbarians" are not so barbaric after all. A label has been assigned to this group of people so that Empire can endure its domination and "prolong its era" (WB, 146). 

Interestingly, the Magistrate, who has shown a deep interest in history, predicts that the barbarians will "outlast" the men of Empire (55). The subversion of the stereotypes discussed above manifests in the Magistrate’s hobby of archeology. He has managed to excavate old poplar wood strips that refer to an ancient civilization that had belonged to the ancestry of the indigenous population referred to as barbarians now. In other words, the Magistrate’s interest in the ancient civilizations unveils his deep apprehension of history not as a teleological process that evolves naturally and progressively towards a finality, which is reflected in the Empire’s hegemonic and expansionist project of self-realization. Instead, he perceives history as a disruptive process that entails interruption, discontinuity, and even conflicts between civilizations. His reference to the "rise and fall" of civilizations (146), reflects his awareness of the possibility that the Empire would really jeopardize its existence, provided that it blindly went on oppressing and probably annihilating other races.