Tuesday, February 3, 2009


this is the first essay of the semester for canfield's british literature. it's just a diagnostic essay, so give me a check minus, a check, or a check plus. not a A, , B, C, D, or F. everything below the line will be printed and handed in. he's always said i should take risks. wish me luck.


“Taking off the mask. Unpacking interdependency in Pantomime and Burn!.”

Is is the master who depends on the slave, or is it really the slave who depends on the master? We will be looking at two examples of this problem: Walcott’s play, Pantomime, and Pontecorvo’s film, Burn!.

In Pantomime, the issue of interdependency is portrayed through the psychological dynamic between a master ad his slave. While Jackson, the slave, can be seen as dependent on his master Harry in a somewhat immediate way, since it is he that provides Jackson with essential things such as food and housing, it is never Jackson who is the one to be seen as dependant in a psychological respect. However, for Harry, Jackson can be seen as something like a 'life-coach'. In the last scene of the play, we see Jackson take on the role of Harry’s once wife. In doing this, Jackson is essentialy identifying the maxim of Harry’s problem, which is his sadness. Jackson speaks to Harry through the guise of his wife, whom Harry is still pretty broken up over. Jackson breaks Harry down in this late dialogue, as a way for Harry to see what is really bothering him. The moment is eerily sentimental, and potentially adorable.Jackson literally wears the mask of Harry's wife, holding a photograph of her to his face, crying at times, and at other times mocking him. After this pantomime has run its course, it is as if his job is done. Jackson then promptly resigns from his role as slave. He says his will devote his time to his true work, and the play ends in a moment that leaves the reader wondering what Jackson will really do with his newly acquired ‘freedom’.
Though the relationship between Jackson and Harry is staged as dyadic, one between master and slave, which suggests that there would be some equal dependency going on, the moments in which we see Jackson actually depending on Harry are rare.

On a different note, “Burn!” shows the subject of interdependency in a different light. Here, we do not see the master so much as being dependent on the slave. Sir William Walker is sent from Great Britian on a mysterious mission with a seemingly hidden agenda. He essentially ‘coaches’ the working slaves on the island into a revolution. This problem is most evident in the beginning half of the film. Later, we begin to see Walker’s intentions more for what they are. However, in this beginning, we hear many questionable lines coming from Walker that inform our later interpretation of his character.
What can be seen as faults in Walker’s imperial logic, actually show through as admirable points. For instance, the whole bit where Walker stages a scene as a way to make a point to Delores. He accuses him of stealing his bags, when he is aware that this was not the case, but is able to make Delores plead gulty for a crime he did not commit. He points out Delores’ conditioned response to submit immediately to the will of the colonizer, as a way of telling him he shouldn’t do such a thing. While this benefits Jose at the time, it also provides satisfaction to Walker, and causes us to question what his motives for this instruction really are. Another scene where a similar conclusion can be made is when Walker gifts guns to a group of slaves. He proceeds to tell them how the guns are used, providing both the tools and instructions to use these tools for revolution.
While the slaves are dependant on the master in this respects, there is more or a sense of interdependency, at least as an evident exchange in "Burn!", Walker, as a character, is charismatic and suave in his delivery, and we could perceive him as doing no wrong, if we didn’t know any better.
The exposure of this fault, and Walker's country’s dependency on the slave is outlined for us in a way that is more blatant.. We do not have to look at subtle clues in Brando’s delivery to understand the monetary benefits of free labor to the colonizing country.

Despite differences in the way interdependency is treated in filmic and dramatic text, both do a good job of unpacking, or at least exposing the complex political issues that drives their reasons for being written. They make a good pair, in that the dependency can be seen in two opposing formats. A more complete perspective of the issues between master and slave, and their underlying political motivations, can be acquired through a thorough comparison.

“The music hall’s loss is the calypso’s gain”

In a way, this play was written for a psychological interpretation. It is an extensive dialogue between two characters, one whose troubles are more personal (real problems?), and one who has learned to deal with the complex condition of being an enslaved person (real problems!). However, to make this interpretation alone would be to only look at surface issues. Walcott writes in a poetic language, making countless references and analogies. However ambiguous they may be, they allow for the reader to outwardly make connections between the personal, social, and political realms in which these issues are relevant.
In this dialogue, and within the relationship in general, the master and slave are in a constant exchange of roles. It is predefined that Jackson is slave, but he is often dominant because of his ability to reason more clearly, and control his emotions. To see this for what it really is, it is important to acknowledge that Harry’s and Jackson’s problems arise from very different circumstances. Harry’s comes from being a privileged man who is shipwrecked, stranded, out of his element and reacting in the best way he knows how. While this must be complex psychologically, this is really nothing in comparison to Jackson’s condition. Jackson’s ‘problems’ never seem like problems to him, but what is there is still far more complex. They are the result of being forced into performing free labor, while being provided much less compensation for his efforts than any white man performing the same tasks. He is at the same time a man without history, as it was taken from him upon his enslavement. The very language he speaks was imposed on him through the barrel of a gun. While both conditions could seem cause for dependency issues, Jackson’s issues are much more of a cause for a need to be dependant. Still, he is never the one to show weakness. It seems that weakness has no place in Jackson’s vocabulary. His problems have always been there. He has lived with them for the entirety of his life, and is hence able to deal with them, while still having enough free time left over to coach a character who we see sometimes as a his master, sometimes as his slave, and sometimes as his friend.
The dynamic between the two is confusing. Henry often lashes out, using Jackson as a scapegoat for his misguided aggression and emotional problems. Jackson is always levelheaded, speaking rationally to Harry even though most of the time he does not hear him. Much of the play takes place around the reading of the play Harry has written. Jackson is consistently frustrated with doing this, as he feels his diginity being stripped away from having to wear the mask of a created role over the mask he already wears in the face of Harry. Still, he goes along with this, from obligation, but also to humor Harry. Through much of the complications that arise between them over this role-playing, Harry is often cruel in what he says to Jackson. Harry feels okay doing this because he sees Jackson as a lesser human, Jackson seems to know this is the case, but doesn’t exactly have a choice in the matter. He is for the most part very civil in this interaction, and when he does express frustration it goes unnoticed by Harry.
This can be seen most clearly in a single scene, in which Walcott utilizes his poetic ciphers as a way to acknowledge the complexity of Jackson’s character. Harry’s command is to “Make them Laugh.”, since this is supposed to be a pantomime and all. Jackson responds with a monologue about shadows that at first is funny at first to him, but loses it’s humor when it’s truth begins to resonate. He speaks of shadows, something easily metaphorical in this context. In this monologue, Jackson is talking about his personal history with his own master, but also about all of the slave and master relationships of this same context. He says, “For three hundred Years I have served you”, and he has, along with the people who share this same burden. He addresses Harry by calling him “boss bwana, effendi, bacra, and sahib”, all of the names for master that he could be called by, and that all other masters could be called by their slaves in some confused, native language that has been lost in this process of colonization and relocation. He stops laughing when he begins to speak more literally of shadows. He says, “You smiled at me as a child does smile at his shadow’s helpless obedience”, acknowledging the difference between himself and his master, by alluding to a history that has caused the differences in their ‘senses of humor;’. He goes on to acknowledge that the humor is lost, and that the child stops smiling when he becomes frightened by his power to influence the obedience of the shadow; That it becomes even more frightening when the obedience of the shadow cannot be controlled, when the master cannot control the obedience of the slave. This is Jackson’s way of reversing the role of master and slave. The master loses his power when this happens. This is what he calls “The power and black magic of the shadow.”
Harry writes off what Jackson says by saying he “Got really carried away that time, didn’t you?” What is possibly the most profound moment of the play, goes unnoticed by the very person to whom the speech was directed. After this, the conversation quickly resumes to it’s normal, lighthearted mode of banter. However, in this moment, Jackson has in a way succeeded in liberating himself from his slavery, at least ideologically, before the second act has even begun. Long before he declares his freedom at the end. Jackson knows he doesn't need Harry, but is only able to free himself after helping Harry to free himself.

“You sell the sugar, but we cut the cane”

As stated earlier, “Burn!” deals with interdependency from a different standpoint. Here, slaves are dependant of their master figure in order to formulate their liberation, while the masters are dependent on the free labor of slaves to further progress their economic agenda. Walker’s agenda is hidden throughout most of the film, mostly to the slaves to which he is aiding ‘liberation’. However, it is said that he is employed as a secret agent of sorts, so his intentions do not go unnoticed to the viewer. Walker implants into Dolores’ head all that he needs in order to be viewed by the slaves as the right person to lead their revolution. Walker intends for the information he gives to be used as ammunition against the Portuguese, as that is what would be economically beneficial to himself and his country.
He never intends for the information, or the status of ‘revolutionary leader’, to be used against him. After the successful revolution against the Portuguese, Walker departs, as his job is done. He must however return after a number of years, once Jose uses his knowledge to provoke a second revolution against British rule. This scenario is an excellent setup in that it clearly outlines the logic of the colonizer, and exposes all of the interdependency that was present before this point.
Though Dolores uses the knowledge he gained from Walker, and the apparent ways it fueled the success of the first revolution, he later denies it’s use in the second revolution in almost a single line. At one point, Walker offers Dolores his freedom after he is captured. Dolores promptly responds by saying “Freedom is something you take for yourself.”. This knowledge subverts all of the previous knowledge he gained from Walker. It seemed as if Doores understood this well before, but we know know that he really gets it now. In a way, he is saying that your freedom is not something that can be handed to you by your colonizer, whether is is staged or unstaged, whether it had a hidden agenda or did not.


Both of these approaches to unpacking the problem of slavery are great attempts, and successful in their own rights, but still leave us with questions about the nature of freedom to the slave. How is it that the enslaved can declare their own freedom from the colonizer, or have it handed to them? What is freedom to someone who knows nothing but slavery? Someone with a sense of history that has been erased? Someone with no ‘homeland’ to go back to, or even a native language to speak? What we can learn from this someone in this situation is that identity is not something that should be considered as inherent, or something you are born with that is based on a sense of your country’s history, or your heritage. Instead, identity is something to be made for yourself, or constructed based on personal experience. When freedom is acquired by the slave, this becomes the immediate problem at hand. Understanding, and constructing this selfhood is the only way to gain true, personal form of liberation, or a sense of self that is more honest than anything that could be inherited. This can apply across any boundary of race, gender, age, or culture. “Pantomime”, puts this into a personal perspective, which can then be applied outwardly. “Burn!” acknowledges the social and political aspects of this problem more directly.

My translation, in short:

You mean to tell me a man can't sit in his own hotel, casually eating his breakfast in his underwear when there's not a soul around for miles to see? Why the hell not?

This is a game called 'self deception.' This is a humanity you were born with, and must get rid of. This is what started the wars. This is the same projectile that no matter how much your favorite 19th century philosopher encourages you to dodge, keeps hitting you in the face and knocking you back down. Down to what is essential. You were born to be this way, and it is your obligation to not go down again without a fight. Saying 'This is just the way i am' is not acceptable. To learn anything new, you must first unlearn everything else.

The Industrial Revolution jumped the gun, woke the baby, called us stupid, forgot our names, left and never came back, and didn't even bother to write. Four o’clock is coming up fast behind us, and all we can do is let it pass and hope we don't make eye contact or show weakness.The weakness implied by our differences. You can try and take off the mask, but you can't rewrite the history. You can't retell the stories your grandmother told you when you were still young enough to not know any better. it's time to grow up, reconcile cultural difference, and forget all of that money we were gonna make off of free labor and abundant sugarcane. I’m white, 21 years old, and economically privileged, but I don’t think I’m stupid. I mean, don’t get me wrong, I like sugar just as much as the next guy, but if we accept that 'no man is an island', we'll just have to get back up and start harvesting on our own.

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