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Franziska Schweitzer

Mapping Prejudices. Africa and India in Colonial Fiction

ISBN: 978-3-96146-850-8

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Produktart: Buch
Verlag: Diplomica Verlag
Erscheinungsdatum: 07.2021
AuflagenNr.: 1
Seiten: 96
Abb.: 4
Sprache: Deutsch
Einband: Paperback


Africa, the Dark Continent” and India, the Jewel of the Crown” – both British colonies, both home to hundreds of different cultures and ethnicities, yet both can be reduced to two distinct catchphrases that trigger an avalanche of pictures and associations. But they never say no” was an exclamation of utter disbelief when the Mutiny of 1857 took the Indian Raj by complete surprise. That the Zulus or Xosa started another raid or war, on the other hand, was somewhat expected of the African subaltern”. Why and how all these ethnicities were lumped together under two such very different views can be explained by taking a closer look at the landscapes found in the literature of colonial fiction. This work shows how novels and romances of colonial fiction have shaped and perpetuated images and prejudices via the descriptions of landscapes they contain.


Textprobe: Kapitel 2.1. Describing the Indescribable: So pervasive was the influence of the picturesque on landscape aesthetics that its tenets could be unyoked from specific associations. Travellers could eschew direct transcription from African landscape spaces into picturesque European scenes. Instead, they could acquire fluency in its vocabulary, deploying it on its own terms” (McAleer 70-71). As mentioned before, it is not unusual that the writer encounters landscapes, either while actually travelling or via photographs, that are alien to him. He is confronted with the problem of how to describe something that he has never seen before to people who have not seen it at all. Most writers resort to describing it with European imagery, particularly with the picturesque (McAleer 74) and the sublime: In the late eighteenth century, the British politician Edmund Burke viewed India with both astonishment and also terror, ‘ungraspable’ in its sublimity” (Lehning 236). The writers revert to using sublime vocabulary because the picturesque vocabulary is not satisfactorily explaining the mountainous regions – e.g. the Himalayas or the Kilimanjaro in Africa. It offered the possibility of differentiating while still retaining an aesthetic rein on the representation” (McAleer 77). The Victoria Falls are one, though often used, example of how the sublime was adapted and employed extensively in the representation of a non-European, inherently unknown scene” (McAleer 86). It is evident, that the codifying of landscape has an effect on how a certain landscape is received by the reader, but it creates an image of a landscape that he might not have chosen, had he seen the Victoria Falls himself. The choice of the writer thus presents an image that may or may not faithfully represent what he has seen because it is codified within a discourse that not everybody adheres to in the same measure, which can sometimes blur the line between novel and romance for the reader. Smith makes a very good case for the difficulty of coding and decoding: an individual’s perception of water depends on the ability to swim, and on cultural attitudes towards swimming, as much as it depends on the sound of splashing, the feeling of wetness, the sight of liquidity or the smell of seaweed. Given these ‘sedimentations of later knowledge’, we have a key, and with this key a pond is objectively a swimming place and on a hot summer’s day it is literally beautiful. (82) Even though the intention might not coincide with the effect of the landscape description, for the writer it was nevertheless preferable to represent a codified landscape than not describing it at all. According to Lindy Stiebel, the desire to name is balanced against the fear of not being able to name the foreign terrain, of not having the right words” (12). Again, the Victoria Falls are a perfect example of a landscape that has been described in the tradition of European discourse: On first observing them, Livingstone produced the classic European response by attempting to relate them to known experiences and familiar features” (McAleer 78). This need to describe something new without having a suitable vocabulary seems to have had a strong prevalence throughout literature, for even the German Hermann Roskoschny takes note of the loss of words the writers describe: ‘Die Zahl unserer Adjektive,’ sagt Johnston, ‘Ist zu dürftig, um den Pflanzenwuchs solcher Plätze wie Kissange annähernd zu schildern. Wir müssten in der Sprache Mittelafrikas reden, welche mitunter sieben verschiedene Ausdrücke für einzelne Gattungen der Waldgewächse hat’” (Kongogebiet 112). This quote could stem from Conrad’s Marlow, who also has trouble describing what he sees (McClintock 44). The horror of the inarticulate” is an evocation of the native or colonised land as ‘the quintessence of mystery, as inarticulateness itself’” (Böhmer qtd in Stiebel 12). In most cases, these difficulties are overcome by a terminology that the audience in Great Britain recognises and understands. Describing an unknown landscape in familiar terms – at least familiar to Europeans – creates the sense of belonging and ownership. ‘The alien landscape is tamed by being rendered in familiar terminology, not only for the artist’s comfort, but also for his (European) viewer to whom the country has to be opened up’” (Van der Watt qtd in Stiebel 15). The African colonies are supposed to become estates for farmers and farmers-to-be in order to fight poverty in Great Britain. It was therefore necessary to encode the reactions of Europeans to those spaces with regard to the promotion of settlement as well as the processes by which European settlers impacted on them” (McAleer 156). A tactic that seems to have worked out well, since – as already mentioned – over 7 million Britons settled in the colonies between 1850 and 1900. The representation of landscape in terms that are familiar to the reader and conform to a pre-existing discourse of landscapes lessens the feeling of unease that goes along with resettling to a colony because the once-reader-now-settler can feel at home within the new set of surroundings (McAleer 65) constituting a transition of the colonies from Freud’s unheimlich” to heimlich”. When the settlers arrive in the colonies, they, in turn, change the landscape by urbanising it, transforming jungle and wilderness into a pastoral countryside of farms and villages, destroying the the indigenous environment” (Tiffin Introduction xxii) as they continue to rapidly push onward. The settlements increase enormously in the late nineteenth century and transform the country into what has been promised by the writers beforehand. While the African colonies are often praised in the novels for their fertile land (and later for gold and diamonds), India tends to be promoted as a career choice, a way to ascend in the ranks and become rich by trade (Said Orientalism 166). Here, the Other” is already defined. When the British chance upon African tribes, India’s days as unknown landmass are already over and have been replaced by a discourse that was, though contradictory, established. From the early beginnings as a trade partner, India and its inhabitants transformed in the eyes of the public over time according to the discourse back ‘home’ in Great Britain. As Lorimer states, visions of separate development gained the ascendancy over the older doctrines of assimilation” (41), which went so far that the children of the expats, such as Kipling – to name a famous person – were sometimes more fluent in Hindi than in English (Michalson 218) because they were raised by Indian staff. The image of India, too, is shaped by many writers, such as Goethe: William Beckford, Byron, Goethe, and Hugo restructured the Orient by their art and made its colors, lights, and people visible through their images, rhythms, and motifs. At most, the ‘real’ Orient provoked a writer to his vision it very rarely guided it” (Said Orientalism 22). The Orient, or rather the conglomerate of different, contradictory cultures often proves too much for the European mind to understand. India seems to be the whole Orient on a smaller scale, even though it is a gigantic mass of land: Indien ist Lärm und Gestank, ist riesig, überfüllt und ungeordnet. Ist aufgesplittert in unzählige Völker, Religionen, Kasten. Ein Land der klaffenden Kontraste, und nichts, das es zusammenhalten könnte, kein Zentrum, keine Sprache, keine geteilte Kultur . . . Wuchernd grüne Dschungel und karg verbrannte Wüsten, verschwenderischer Reichtum und erbärmliches Elend. (Kindel 55) Thus, India must be rationalised, explained and sorted into categories that people can understand. One of these manifold categories is the concept of the Other”, which then contains more categories, each category a label attached to a certain other” object or subject for example, mild Hindu” to the Hindus in India, or effeminate” to the Oriental” in general. In India’s case, we speak of this practice as Orientalism. Said’s namesake study can also be applied to Africa and be named Africanism, according to Stiebel (16, 27). When combining these two –isms, a pattern emerges: ‘Otherism’, a practice to discern the familiar, which was us – the West – from the strange, which was them – the Other Africa”, the East”, the Caribs” and so on (Said Orientalism 41). ‘Otherism’ is always a question of power and control that found its expression in the depiction of landscape and native peoples. Through knowledge – generalising, rationalizing – the Europeans make sense of what and whom they encounter in the colonies. The argument was easy to grasp. There are Westerners, and there are Orientals. The former dominate the latter must be dominated, which usually means having their land occupied, their internal affairs rigidly controlled, their blood and treasure put at the disposal of one or another Western power” (Said Orientalism 36). The same is true for African natives, but the racist discourse ranked them much lower than the Indians, and I have to specify that I, when talking about Indians, mean the inhabitants of India because the American Indians were also ranked, but differently. According to Lorimer Huxley identified five main races: the Australoid the Negroid the Xanthochroi (fair whites of Europe) the Melanochroi (dark whites of Europe, North Africa, Asia Minor and Hindustan, including Irish, Celts, Bretons, Spaniards, Arabs and Brahmins) and the Mongoloid (including the peoples of Asia, Polynesia and the Americas)” (74). African people were described and classified in ways that to us, today, are horrific: [Keane] described the ‘Negritic Temperament’ as ‘sensuous, indolent and unintellectual, fitful, passionate and cruel, though often affectionate and faithful little self-respect, hence easy acceptance of yoke of slavery mental faculties generally arrested after puberty. Science and art undeveloped’.” (Lorimer 143) When the British encounter the Indians, there is no science to justify the racism that might have prevailed in society. In combination with that, the encounter happens in a time when the beginning Empire’s focus lies on trade contrary to the Victorian era and the industrial revolution. The view on Africa is therefore quite different from India’s image in the popular mind. Contrary to Europeans and Africans between whom there is a far greater difference […] than between the gorilla and the chimpanzee” (Hunt qtd in Cole 29), the first dealings with Indians were rather amiable and according to Dalrymple most freelances adopted Indian ways of living, and several converted to Islam” and some even ‘lived in the style of an Indian prince, kept a seraglio, and always travelled on an elephant, attended by a guard of Mughals, all dressed alike in purple robes, and marching in file the same way as a British Cavalry regiment’” (White Mughals 112). That is a very different approach to the one adopted towards Africa and its peoples. Another important influence not yet noted, but which I will cover now, are the maps that were drawn of the countries. Maps of Africa, for example, included pictures of Africans riding an ostrich or cannibalising each other (Stiebel 13-14), the landscape is littered with graphic images of (sexual) depravity and dark rites that shock the British public. On maps. Africa’s landscape was littered with graphic images of depravity and dark rites. The political potential of mapping is obvious. New territories can be delineated by drawing lines upon paper, important potential resources can be emphasized and disadvantages such as resistant indigenous peoples, animals and difficult terrain can be demonised” (Stiebel 13). The truth of these depictions was hardly questioned because they neatly fit into the discourse of empire. In Haggard’s King Solomon’s Mines we will encounter a map of Africa that is an example for maps with such far-reaching implications. Lindy Stiebel states that the various elements naming, classifying, mapping and painting – were the cornerstones of a composite image of Africa and corresponding discourse of Africanism of Haggard’s time. This image of Africa emerged primarily in explorers’ and other travellers’ accounts of their discoveries and adventures” (16), and it is continued in the wider discourse, partly by the novelists who write about Africa and, naturally, India as well. In this way, the indescribable, the unknown, the Other”, becomes vested with certain sets of images – the landscapes as well as the people inhabiting the landscapes – and becomes over the course of time familiar in its strangeness. The way in which the colonisers write is telling, for the landscape descriptions are like a mirror that refracts the light which is thrown upon the landscape back onto the person writing the description, and it is of importance to pay attention to it. From the landscape description it is possible to draw conclusions on the changing attitudes in Britain as much as new preoccupations in southern African colonies” (McAleer 174).

Über den Autor

Franziska Schweitzer, M.A., kam schon als Jugendliche mit Indien in Berührung und nahm an einem lokalen Austauschprogramm teil. 2010 begann sie ihr Studium der British Studies (Hauptfach) und Indologie (Nebenfach), das sie wieder, dieses Mal für ein ganzes Semester, nach Indien führte. Immer wieder stieß sie während des Studiums auf das Thema des Kolonialismus und auf dessen weiterhin prävalente Auswirkungen auf Politik, Wirtschaft, Kultur und besonders Vorurteile, die in der westlichen Welt noch immer Personen aus den ehemaligen Kolonien entgegenschlagen. Die im Studium behandelte Literatur legte die Vermutung nahe, dass die Darstellung der Landschaften Afrikas und Indiens in der Populärliteratur einen schwerwiegenden Einfluss auf die Rezeption der Kolonien in Europa hatte und zu generationenübergreifend perpetuierten Vorurteilen führte. Auch privat beschäftigte sich die Autorin mit den Themen des Kolonialismus und des Orientalismus und konnte dieses Wissen in den Text mit einbringen.

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