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Thread: Racist Literature....?!

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    Alive In Our Hearts mercy_mankind's Avatar
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    Racist Literature....?!

    Is there such a thing as Racist Literature?!

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    Well... yeah. I mean, considering how severely racist all of western society has been for a long time, yes.

    There's probably not too much a-typical racist literature, but someone like Conrad is obviously going to share a lot of the common racist views of his time. Though obviously he dissented on others.

    nowadays I don't really know of any but i'm sure there will be some...

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    As many races were belittled by Europeans in the 18th century, it's influenced books, such as Robinson Crusoe.

    But as meh! said, I don't know about books today.
    "And was Mr. Rochester now ugly in my eyes? No, reader: gratitude and many associates, all pleasurable and genial, made his face the object I best liked to see; his presence in a room was more cheering than the brightest fire."


    Jane Eyre, by Charlotte Bronte

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    ignoramus et ignorabimus Mr Endon's Avatar
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    What, do you mean the likes of Mein Kampf? Yes, I guess there will always be racist literature, but very much underground. I mean, not something you'll find given pride of place at Barnes&Noble.

    meh!, I'd expand your comment and dare say there's not one "society" which isn't racist. Why vilify the western society only, isn't all human nature filled with hatred towards the 'Other'?
    I am still alive then. That may come in useful.
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    For an example of racist literature read The Turner Diaries , though it is indeed a stretch to designate said volume as 'literature'.


    B.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Mr Endon View Post
    meh!, I'd expand your comment and dare say there's not one "society" which isn't racist. Why vilify the western society only, isn't all human nature filled with hatred towards the 'Other'?
    Yes I'd say it is. It is quite a popular story in modern journalism too, events are often twisted and selected to fit a racist angle - I can quote some examples if anyone cares to disagree.

    With literature though I think you have to be careful before you start judging writers as racist in the modern sense. It is important to look at the works in context. Conrad and Steinbeck were not racist in the context of their societies, though perhaps elements of their work are when viewed anachronistically through modern eyes.

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    ignoramus et ignorabimus Mr Endon's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Neely View Post
    With literature though I think you have to be careful before you start judging writers as racist in the modern sense. It is important to look at the works in context. Conrad and Steinbeck were not racist in the context of their societies, though perhaps elements of their work are when viewed anachronistically through modern eyes.
    That's a very good point, and I agree that anachronist readings can be very misleading. In those terms, however, it's impossible for there to have been racist literature before the Nazis:

    racist
    1932 as a noun, 1938 as an adjective, from race (n.2); racism is first attested 1936 (from Fr. racisme, 1935), originally in the context of Nazi theories. But they replaced earlier words, racialism (1907) and racialist (1917), both often used at first in a British or South African context.
    (@ www.etymonline.com)

    Take homosexuality in literature as an example. The 'homosexual identity' only came about in the 20th century - so what to make of, say, The Picture of Dorian Gray? It's not about homosexuality per se - 'homosexuals' didn't really exist at the time, only 'sodomites' - but it's certainly something to be taken into account when reading it.

    So even though when we read Conrad we do see some racist elements, there wasn't, like you said, racism per se at the time Conrad was writing...

    Shall we call it proto-racism? 'Proto-racist literature'... Not as catchy, but sounds quite scholarly.
    I am still alive then. That may come in useful.
    Molloy

  8. #8
    Yes, good point about Dorian Gray, I absolutely cringe when I hear it described as a "homosexual novel" aside from the fact that they are reducing a solid work of art as some sort of sensationalist, throwaway read.

    Going back to the question Agatha Christie wasn't been racist when she wrote the And Then There Were None under the original title, although quite rightly it was changed by the publisher's at a later date:
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/And_Then_There_Were_None

    In the same way it is largely redundant to criticise the likes of Steinbeck for what today are inappropriate terms. It's also like having grandma round for tea, (not particularly my grandma any really) she is likely to use incorrect terms, quite embarrassing in public, my dad is the same sometimes, though none of them are racist intentionally or at all.

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    ignoramus et ignorabimus Mr Endon's Avatar
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    I see what you mean. I guess Christie wasn't being racist, no, but I think there is indeed proto-racist literature in 20th century Western literature. The way I see it there must be a distinction between Christie's previous title and, say, Kipling's The Eyes of Asia.

    I don't think Christie wasn't being what we now call 'racist' because she would have to be aware of the word's connotation (which it had, at least some, even at that time) and have chosen it precisely for that reason, which I'm not sure she did. I mean, it's a word, a convention, so it's different; for example, if you use the adjective 'denigrate' people won't assume you're a racist.

    Kipling, on the other hand, was a staunch imperialist, a believer in the supremacy of the white race, particularly the 'British race', and The Eyes of Asia is basically imperialist propaganda. Even though it wasn't an unusual point of view in his time and you can't really call it 'racism' it's certainly much stronger than Christie's title, for instance. Kipling I believe was a 'proto-racist', whereas Christie probably wasn't.
    I am still alive then. That may come in useful.
    Molloy

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    dafydd dafydd manton's Avatar
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    Similarly, accusations could be made about Dickens being anti-Semitic when writing about Fagin, but then, modern perception being what it is, would there have been the same fuss if he had been a Methodist, say. Obviously not. There are many modern critics who seem to be looking for a hidden agenda, as opposed to accepting that the writer was merely creating a good story. Kipling was accused of the same thing, but then, only by modern standards, not by the standards of the day.
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    ignoramus et ignorabimus Mr Endon's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by dafydd manton View Post
    Similarly, accusations could be made about Dickens being anti-Semitic when writing about Fagin, but then, modern perception being what it is, would there have been the same fuss if he had been a Methodist, say. Obviously not. There are many modern critics who seem to be looking for a hidden agenda, as opposed to accepting that the writer was merely creating a good story. Kipling was accused of the same thing, but then, only by modern standards, not by the standards of the day.
    Well, it's a complicated issue, of course. Haven't read much Dickens, can't argue about what I don't know. I do know a thing or two about Kipling, and when it comes to him I think that 'proto-racist' is a good compromise. He wasn't a fully-fledged racist because there was no such thing as 'racism'; on the other hand, there are some important factors to consider:
    - not everyone in his time was an imperialist/supremacist, so it's not like he didn't have a choice (and, he was Indian, which I find incredible);
    - although there was no 'racism' then, his worldview coincides exactly with what we would today call a racist one (hence the 'proto-' prefix);

    One thing is to not have questioned what we now would call racism (which seems to be Christie's case), i.e. going with the flow. Bad enough as it might be, they're Dante's lukewarm at best. Quite another is actively rallying people for a cause that is now perceived as being racist. That's proto-racism.
    I am still alive then. That may come in useful.
    Molloy

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    DON'T PANIC! Tsuyoiko's Avatar
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    Black Mischief by Evelyn Waugh could be considered racist, but I didn't think so. He made everybody look like idiots.
    "Books don't offer real escape but they can stop a mind scratching itself raw." David Mitchell

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    dafydd dafydd manton's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Mr Endon View Post
    Well, it's a complicated issue, of course. Haven't read much Dickens, can't argue about what I don't know. I do know a thing or two about Kipling, and when it comes to him I think that 'proto-racist' is a good compromise. He wasn't a fully-fledged racist because there was no such thing as 'racism'; on the other hand, there are some important factors to consider:
    - not everyone in his time was an imperialist/supremacist, so it's not like he didn't have a choice (and, he was Indian, which I find incredible);
    - although there was no 'racism' then, his worldview coincides exactly with what we would today call a racist one (hence the 'proto-' prefix);

    One thing is to not have questioned what we now would call racism (which seems to be Christie's case), i.e. going with the flow. Bad enough as it might be, they're Dante's lukewarm at best. Quite another is actively rallying people for a cause that is now perceived as being racist. That's proto-racism.
    Some excellent points, but I still wonder about Kipling's attitude. Take Gunga Din as a case in point. Incidentally, he was born in India, but was not exactly Indian. His parents had been in India less than two years, and originated from Staffordshire - indeed the man himself was named after Rudyard Lake in Staffs. However, only minor detail. Your final paragraph is absolutely inarguable, and a sad reflection on what mankind can do to other people. Thanks for your reply.
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    Quote Originally Posted by Neely View Post
    Yes I'd say it is. It is quite a popular story in modern journalism too, events are often twisted and selected to fit a racist angle - I can quote some examples if anyone cares to disagree.

    With literature though I think you have to be careful before you start judging writers as racist in the modern sense. It is important to look at the works in context. Conrad and Steinbeck were not racist in the context of their societies, though perhaps elements of their work are when viewed anachronistically through modern eyes.
    I didn't do that. Conrad's society was racist, that's a fact. I don't don't judge Conrad by today's standards (Conrad's anti-empire stance was more progressive than many) but he was racist.There is no way that Heart of Darkness isn't racist. No more racist than most and we shouldn't despise him for it, he's a product of his times, but he was undoubtedly racist and so was his writing and that's what the TS was asking, I thought.

    I was meaning that he wasn't 'a-typically' racist, simply as racist as everyone.
    Last edited by meh!; 06-29-2009 at 12:32 PM.

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    rat in a strange garret Whifflingpin's Avatar
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    "Conrad's anti-empire stance was more progressive than many"

    Really? I seem to recall posts on this forum arguing that "Heart of Darkness" is anti-Imperialist. Read it carefully. however, and you will see that it is a criticism of bad empires, empires without an Idea, if I remember correctly. Anyone living at the time would have recognized it instantly as a criticism of the Belgian Congo, as contrasted against the British Empire, which, by that time, was run with an Idea. "The conquest of the earth, which mostly means the taking it away from those who have a different complexion or slightly flatter noses than ourselves, is not a pretty thing when you look into it too much. What redeems it is the idea only. An idea at the back of it; not a sentimental pretence but an idea; and an unselfish belief in the idea--"

    This Idea that Conrad (or his character, Marlow) believed justified imperialism is exactly what Kipling also believed - "Send forth the best ye breed— Go, bind your sons to exile To serve your captives' need" And to Kipling, as to Conrad, technologically advanced nations who grabbed empires were "lesser breeds without the law" unless they followed the ideal of bettering the lot of subject peoples.

    Of course, even the best of empires did not meet the standards that Kipling set for it. And it is, and always was, arguable whether it is right to conquer others even for their own good.
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