Between wilderness and number : on literature, colonialism and the will to power

Hugo, Pieter Hendrik (Stellenbosch : University of Stellenbosch, 2006-10-11)

Thesis (MA (English))--University of Stellenbosch, 2006.

Thesis

The eras of colonial expansion and the era designated the modern have been both chronologically and philosophically linked from the commencement of the Renaissance period and Enlightenment thought in the 15th century. The discovery of the New World in 1492 gave impetus to a new type of literature, the colonial novel. Throughout the development of this genre, in both its narrative strategies and the depiction of the colonist’s relationship with the foreign land he now inhabits, it has been both informed and formed by the prevailing philosophical atmosphere of the time. In the context of this discussion it is particularly interesting to note what might be termed the level of regression of the modern ideal, and how it is reflected in the colonial novels written at the time. Commencing with the essentially optimistic Robinson Crusoe and The Coral Island, and progressing through the far darker imaginings of Heart of Darkness, Lord of the Flies, and eventually Apocalypse Now and Blood Meridian, it is possible to trace the effects of the declining power of Enlightenment thought. Whereas earlier texts deal quite unambiguously with the issue of the Western subject’s subjugation of both the foreign environment and the foreign subjects he encounters there, and the relation between subject and object remains quite uncomplicated, in later, more self-reflexive texts the modern subject’s relationship with both the alien land and alien people becomes far more problematic. Later texts such as Heart of Darkness and Lord of the Flies depict a world where the self-assurance of early texts is strikingly absent. Increasingly, as the initial self-confidence of modernism is eroded, secular moral values, too, come to be questioned. It is here that the works of Nietzsche come to play a prominent role in the analysis of how such a decline in modern confidence is reflected in later colonial works. Even later works such as Apocalypse Now and Blood Meridian provide a view of the colonial enterprise that is in striking contrast to the optimism of early texts. The chronological progression of texts dealt with here, spanning an era of almost three hundred years prove to be reflective, to a large degree, of the decline of modernity and the effects of this on the colonial enterprise as depicted in the colonial genre.

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