Reflection of the Archival Theory in the Return of The Soldier

“The archive's dream of perfect order is disturbed by the nightmare of its random, heterogeneous, and often unruly contents”.

It means the archive's perfect order can be disrupted by the irrelevant or unruly contents or data. It can disorganize an organised state and by messing up with the perfect order can lead to an imperfect state.  

Similar to this, In the Return of the Soldier by Rebecca West, the shell shock of the first world war disturbed Chris Baldry’s normal brain. It resulted in a traumatizing experience by the shock that he forgot all his present memories. The horrors of the first world war made him to forget his present identity. He only remembered his past with Margaret whom he used to love 15 years ago. The impact of war was not limited to only individual level, it extended to effect his surroundings including present relationship with his wife,  cousin and everything. He did not remember his wife, cousin or current life.That is why, it was said:

“ he’s not exactly wounded. A shell burst”(P.12). Only thing he remembered, was the past. In this way, it is similar to the archival theory.

Ulysses under the Light of Archive

In the Poetics of the archive, it states that “we (archive) receive their contents as fragments or only as citations in later works”. It is similar to Joyce’s Ulysses. The Ulysses contains many episodes which are quite fragmented stories. It seems like they are in different settings and have different thematic focuses.

It looks like they are not connected to each other. However, all these stories actually represent Ulysses by James Joyce which main theme is exploration of human condition in Dublin in 1904. These fragmented stories refer to the Joyes’s inner depth feelings which gives meaning to the novel.

Drowning in the void

In The Waste Land, the poem "death by water" provides us an idea about the drowning of modern people where there is no resurrection after death. Unlike Abrahamic religions or most constitutional religions, the idea of resurrection is missing in the death of modern people. The central idea of the poem that death is the ultimate destinations and there is no escape. Throughout the whole writing, it has been seen that the post war generation is drowning. They have found absolute nothingness after their death. There is no afterlife anymore and no re-emergence of soul. Every connection we make, experiences we gather of the world finds its ends after death. As like T.S. Eliot states in the poem,

                                             “Phlebas the Phoenician, a fortnight dead,
                                          Forgot the cry of gulls, and the deep sea swell
                                                          And the profit and loss,
                                                            A current under sea
                                        Picked his bones in whispers. As he rose and fell
                                       He passed the stages of his age and youth
                                                            Entering the whirlpool.
                                                                Gentile or Jew
                                           O you who turn the wheel and look to windward,
                             Consider Phlebas, who was once handsome and tall as you”. 

It has been almost 2 weeks since Phlebas has died. After his death, He was drowning in the sea. He could see his life flash before his own eyes as he entered the Whirpool. He lost all the profit and loss which means the connection of the outer world. Every single experience he made make no sense, everything beliefs he used to hold make no sense and only nothingness is present at this state. He is now being faded into ashes. No matter whether you are a Gentile or Jews, death is the ultimate destination.



More thoughts about Thing Theory

I’ve been going back to the Bill Brown’s “Thing Theory,” and there’s one part early on when he provides context for understanding things versus mere objects, and explains that “We begin to confront the thingness of objects when they stop working for us: when the drill breaks, when the car stalls, when the windows get filthy, when their flow within the circuits of production and distribution, consumption and exhibition, has been arrested, however momentarily” (4). This explanation has been particularly helpful for me and my introduction to thing theory. That said, this example also makes me question the perception audiences have of things once that transition happens. If an object fails to function as it was intended by humans, and subsequently humans are able to behold that object as more of a thing, then are they meant to see things in a negative light? Can the thingness of objects only be visible to us when we do not get what we want out of an object? In doing a narrow reading of this one excerpt, I find myself questioning how deeply a consumerist attitude permeates human audiences. I thought this quote was an interesting way to reflect the egocentric characteristics of human beings. We make things to function as objects, but even when they do not, human audiences can still find ways to extract meaning from the things those objects become. From this point, I am drawn to discussions about anthropocentrism. It seems in some ways, the ability to see an object as a thing comes, in some cases, as the result of its failure to produce and be consumed as intended. Instead, things have a more internal value, as those who behold them are able to see themselves, their values and fears reflected back to them. Brown’s quotation makes me think about the egocentric way audiences, characters, and humans in general exist and understand each other. It makes sense, and I am not making a critique of this. Instead, I think there are opportunities for thing theory to illuminate the self and how the ego/self is situated in the middle of how humans interact with the material world, whether it be by obtaining objects for what they signify about the owner, or using objects that have turned to things, as mirrors. 


Conflicted Emotion of Stephen Dedalus

Human emotion is very much complex that people are very helpless before it. It does not consider any logical explanation. There is always a confliction between their emotion and their belief. People what they believe and their emotion or the love for someone can make disillusionment among them. In Ulysses Telamachus, When Stephen’s mother was going to die in her deathbed, she told Stephen to pray for her. Stephen refused it. He would not bend his knee to the catholic church. It illustrates that Stephen does not believe in religion.

But on the other hand, it also shows that Stephen could not separate himself from the religious rituals. He became so emotionally broken or attached to his mother’s death that he unconsciously maintaining all the rituals of mourning. That’s why, Mulligan mocks him by saying that “You wouldn't kneel down to pray for your mother on her deathbed when she asked you. Why? Because you have the cursed jesuit strain in you, only it's injected the wrong way. To me it's all a mockery and beastly”. (p.7)

Wearing black colored dress shows that Stephen is still in his mother’s mourning. So, it means that he still honors and follow the tradition of mourning, but he refused to kneel and pray which is paradoxical and conflicted with his own belief.

Digitization of Texts/The Archive

In the article titled “New Age Scholarship: The Work of Criticism in the Age of Digital Reproduction” by Dr. Sean Latham, I was struck by a few quotations about the digitization of texts and what some of the critiques are around that action. I will speak specifically about the archive in relation to this text and what commentary it provides on digitizing texts in general. 


The text below features a perspective that I understand, as someone who would rather see the actual objects of an archive in front of me, rather than digitally through a screen. 


“The ability to search an archive without paying due heed to the density and linearity of the book, Myron Tuman argues, produces ‘harried and information-driven readers’ whose frenetic motion prevents reading deeply, ‘closely and over long periods of time.’ Such activities are sacrilegious affronts to the rituals of the book and are framed here in a rhetoric of inattentive laziness. The digital text seemingly makes reading too easy, allowing one to search out specific terms without the labor required to place them in their proper context” (416). 


I appreciate that digitizing these materials makes access to them less of an issue, but I can see why some critics may have a negative view of how digitization takes away from the essence of the archive. I found the following excerpt to be more hopeful about the future of digitizing texts, texts which eventually may become a part of an archive one day.


“Digitally extracted from the bound volume and constantly in a state of assembly and dissolution controlled by the critic, the electronic text opens itself to entirely new strategies of reading limited only by a researcher’s imagination” (416). 


In the beginning of this course, I viewed an edition of Scribner’s in both ways, in person and online. I will say that the act of researching was easier and therefore faster, as I was not worried about handling the object harshly or in the wrong way. I could easily flip the pages of the text online, which was not as easily done inside the physical archive space. Had a person not viewed the physical text in person, then having the ease and accessibility of the online version may have led certain audiences to have a lack of appreciation for the archive and the methods which are used in the research of it. I prefer to see these documents in person to understand its aura, to be in the presence of a historical object. However, I do think that after I take note of the physicality of the object and come to know what is special about it with my own perception, then further research, especially on the technicalities involved in recording the documents contents, is more easily done on an online version of a document. I hope the physical archive does not become overshadowed by the benefits of utilizing online versions, although I do hope that those digital versions remain available. Having both versions to research from would be ideal. 



The Archive and Taxonomy in Wide Sargasso Sea

'Bertha,' I said.

'Bertha is not my name. You are trying to make me into someone else, calling me by another name. I know, that's obeah, too.' (88)

In Jean Rhys' Wide Sargasso Sea, the colonialist urge to preserve and understand the Unknown is expressed in an oppressive form of archiving. The act of archiving becomes a taxonomy of Creole history, or "its indifference and the cruelty which was part of its loveliness" (103). Particularly in Part II, Mr. Rochester's obsession with Antoinette's renaming is described as a process of creating a zombie, forcefully bringing the past and present of the island into the palatable zone of language that he can understand. Like the prophet characters from Eliot's The Waste Land, Antoinette does not belong to any of the linear time since trauma in Jamaica's history hinders her from clearly cutting the past experience from the present and moving on to the future. The history of Antoinette's family narrative, as well as the island's scar after the Slavery Abolition in 1833, becomes a simple passage of the past glory of the British Empire in Rochester's language. Opposed to Antionette's double-vision of British colonialization, his desire to stipulate the reality of complex regional and personal chronology into a simple matter of 'justice' or 'madness' reflects the colonial Subject's obstinateness: "For she belongs to the magic and the loveliness. She had left me thirsty and all my life would be thirst and longing for what I had lost before I found it" (103).

The novel provides an interesting juxtaposition with Jane Eyre, the "original" novel of Wide Sargasso Sea. Charlotte Brontë's novel focuses more on how feminine subjectivity is established from the ash of masculine subjectivity collapsed. In contrast, this novel delves into the question of from which base colonial subjectivity is founded. The blindness of Rochester at the end of Jane Eyre enables him to see Jane as who she is, giving a new perspective and insight, but in the shadow of the epiphany, exists the candlelight of Antoinette, a buried archive of Creole history.


Colonialism and the Archive

Part III of Wide Sargasso Sea (I almost typed Jane Eyre while writing this) intersects the themes of archive, colonialism, and silenced voices/memories that speaks to the broader implications of the role of colonization in the archiving of history. Rochester's removal of Antoniette and his sequestering of her into the attic, seperate from the spaces and people she once knew, is both a physical and metaphorical act of Rochester "archiving" Antoniette, placing her in a restricted area where she exists to him as a memory rather than his wife. She even has an archon watching over her in the form of Grace Poole, charged with ensuring that Antoniette remains safely locked away in the attic of Thornfield. 

I read this final scene of Antoniette in the attic as a rumination on how history and the archive is impacted by colonialism. Rochester turns the very living Antoniette into an archival object by removing her from the contexts of her life (the people and places of Dominica) and thus silencing her prescence in his own history. This leaves Antoniette in a state of timeless, fragmented understanding as she is severed and placed away in the "archive" of the attic where her own history is almost completely separated from herself: "What am I doing in this place and who am I?" (107). What ultimately helps her to make sense of her displaced history is her ability to reinteract with her past in the form of the red dress: "Time has no meaning. But something you can touch and hold like my red dress, that has a meaning" (109). The attic as an archive thus represents both the dangers and positive posibilities of the archive--it can not only be used to silence histories, but it can also reconnect subjects with a history that may have been lost to them. 

I think about this scene in the context of colonialism and that "victors write the history." Our archives are shaped by colonial practices of deciding what histories and materials are kept, whether consented or unconsented by the individuals whose history is being placed in the archive. Rochester's "archive" of the attic certainly stands in as a colonial appratus, completely organized around the subjugation of people in response to the possibilities of monetary gain (Grace is also complicit in these colonial practices as she contributes to and gains from the economic systems of Rochester's colonialism: "At night I sometimes see her sitting at the table counting money. She holds a gold piece in her hand and smiles" (106)). Antoninette's continued physical existence while being silenced by these archival practices is a reminder that the archive continues to do this today; one of the most popular examples of this is the myth of the "vanishing Indian," where the prescence of Native Americans is skewed to be linked to the past even though they continue thriving and advocating for their rights as First Nations to this day. But as Antoniette demonstrates, the archive also provides the opportunity to reverse this temporal trajectory by reconnecting the past with the present to reinvograte the agency of the colonized individual caught between these archival dangers and their own present experience that is influenced and effected by these archival practices. 

An Archive of One's Own

“I was never sad in the morning,’ she said, ‘and every day was a fresh day for me. I remember the taste of milk and bread and the sound of the grandfather clock ticking slowly and the first time I had my hair tied with string because there was no ribbon left and no money to buy any. All the flowers in the world were in our garden. . . If I could make you see it, because they destroyed it and it is only here now.’ She struck her forehead.” (84)

This passage in Wide Sargasso Sea, in which Antoinette recalls memories of her childhood home to Mr. Rochester, stands out in its function of memory as an archive. Her home and its contents are gone, much as the world in which she lived in is gone, too. As her family is left with only the memory of their former wealth and status, so, too, is Antoinette only left with the memory of her Coulibri youth. These scraps of memory function as archival materials, artifacts that act both individually in their own right – the ticking clock, the tied string, the sensation of milk and bread – and collectively as documents of Antoinette’s childhood. They can both exist on their own, and also be arranged specifically to communicate a memory, a message, a picture. Like an archive, this is only a partial documentation of a period, only a scrap of the story not a broad coverage of it. Like an archive, these artifacts are not intentionally selected, but have naturally found their way into the archive, collected merely as memories that have remained with Antoinette.

Antoinette’s childhood has long come and gone, its evidence destroyed by others, its memory tarnished by others. But as she states, she will always keep some of it with her, in her head. The archive will remain with her for as long as she remembers it. The archive of these memories will serve as an encapsulation of random scatterings from her childhood, tethered in physical objects and senses, one that she can carry with her and access whenever she wishes to return to it. This archive, however, is one only she will ever be able to access.

Non-human and the Cyclical Presentation of Innocence and Experience in Rebecca West's The Return of the Soldier

Rebecca West's critics face a dilemma in analyzing the interplay between the human and non-human in triggering memories for the shell-shocked protagonist, Chris. While psychoanalytic interpretations focus on the sacrificial roles of women, either individually or collectively, and their impact on Chris's recollection of past experiences, a posthuman perspective delves into the author's deliberate selection of objects, especially those connected to his deceased son. Throughout the novel, the bond between Chris and his son is exemplified through the latter's toys, notably the rocking horse purchased by Chris as a symbolic gift. This object, adorned with Blakean imagery of lamb and tiger, symbolizes the contrast between innocence and experience. In Chapter One, Jenny narrates that Chris, before attending the war, hoped to acquire “an experience that would act on his life like alchemy, turning to gold all the dark metals of events”. Prior to the war, Chris, depicted as a lamb, embodies the innocence of childhood, while post-war experiences transform him into a tiger, symbolizing maturity. The resolution of the narrative, wherein Chris overcomes his amnesia and prepares to return to war, illustrates the cyclical presentation of innocence and experience. The objects selected by Margaret from Oliver's toys—a ball and a jersey, as an article of clothing—serve as reminders of war materials like cannonball and khaki uniform, prompting Chris to mentally prepare for his return to the battle. Therefore, a posthuman interpretation, bolstered by West's dismissal of any psychoanalytic connections to her work, gains credence when considering the implications of the selection and association of objects within the narrative.

Memory and Materials

Wide Sargasso Sea also presents the connection between memory, meaning, and objects, similar to our discussions about objects and memory from The Return of the Soldier. At the end of the novel, when Grace Poole retells the events during Richard's visit, Antoinette connects the dress to the mechanism by which Richard would have better remembered her by saying, "If I'd been wearing that [red dress] he'd have known me." Antoinette continues saying, "But something you can touch and hold like my red dress, that has meaning" (page 109)." again connecting the meaning to items. The red dress also brings back memories of Antoinette's meetings with Sandi. This parallels the discussion we had during the seminar about The Return of the Soldier and how physical items can remind those who have forgotten. 

Another example of the connection between memory and objects is the Coulibri estate and Antoinette's memory of her mother. As she tells her husband about her mother and early life, she shares the experience of the events following the burning down of Coulibri. Again, we see this connection between a thing (the Coulibri Estate) and memory. "This did not seem strange to me for she was a part of Coulibri, and if Coulibri had been destroyed and gone out of my life, it seemed natural that she should go too" (page 80). In this case, we see Antoinette's connection between an object and a memory. When the object is gone, Antoinette rationalizes that her mother and her memory of her mother should also be gone.

Material Things

“. . . my mind refused to consider the situation any longer and turned to the perception of material things. I leant over the banisters and looked down at the fineness of the hall: the deliberate figure of the nymph in her circle of black water, the clear pink and white of Kitty’s chintz, the limpid surface of the oak, the gay reflected colours in the panelled walls. I said to myself, ‘If everything else goes there is always this to fall back on’” (120).

This passage in The Return of the Soldier interests me in its speaking to Jenny’s – and Kitty’s and everyone else sheltered away from the war front – false sense of security. While Chris was away, the war seemed relatively far removed from the world Jenny inhabits. She is separated geographically, on a distant estate in the countryside, as well as socioeconomically, enjoying the benefits of Chris and her family’s wealth and the luxury of their manor. In this sheltered world Jenny believes she is also sheltered from the world at large, that the war and its horrors are far removed, topics of discussion never actually to be lived or felt. In this isolated, material world, Jenny believes she can lose herself in it, escape from the world. Chris’s return complicates this by bringing the war to them -- a different war in a sense, though he also brings with him the effects of the war he just endured. Though Jenny does her best to grapple with her cousin and his set of issues, this quote illustrates that Jenny still believes she can find escape in her material things, that they can provide her with something more than just their physical use. Together, these material things – from the nymph figure to Kitty’s chintz – form a fortress for Jenny within which she places her fears and anxieties about the world and her brother. The material things take on a meaning larger than what they simply are.

Jenny reminisces early in the novel about the intention she and Jenny put into creating their surroundings, specifically as a place for Chris: “we had made a fine place for Chris, one little part of the world that was, so far as surfaces could make it so, good enough for his amazing goodness” (16). But this fine place for Chris does not prove so fine for him, becoming instead a place for Jenny and Kitty to ground themselves in amidst the instability of their world. Perhaps, in working to make the place so fine for Chris, Jenny and Kitty actually made it more fine for them.  

This modern world's different horrors

“As I played I wondered if things like this happened when Purcell wrote suck music. . . Why had modern life brought forth these horrors that make the old tragedies seem no more than nursery shows?” (63)
I find this quote compelling because it is the first instance in the novel where Jenny truly begins to grasp the effect that the war has not merely on her brother, but on all of them, on the world collectively. In this scene, Jenny and Kitty have just finished reminding him that all the people he believes to be alive, are dead, dying long before the war, even. The world that they shared together is gone. For Kitty and Jenny, the blunt of those losses was overshadowed by the horrors of the war and the distance and time. For Chris, delivered to him in one fell swoop with his loss of memory, it is shattering. For Chris, those deaths are not nursery rhyme tragedies because he is living a version of himself from the past. But for Jenny and Kitty, living in the present reality of the war, those deaths are nothing compared to the bloodshed on the battlefield and what it has done to the world.
Jenny goes on to set the scene around them: Kitty lounging by the fireplace, Chris standing by an open window, she at the piano. What would have been a standard evening before Chris left for the front is not completely and totally different. Even the sky is different, and the grass, too. In understanding that scenes of everyday life will never be the same again, that even though reunited they are not together as they were before, Jenny begins to grapple the true devastation of the war and how it has reached her.

A soldier in the past and the present

In The Return of the Soldier, Rebecca West depicts one of the lasting horrible consequences of war to the immediate family and the ex-lover(?) of the soldier from the point of view of the cousin, not the soldier himself. Chris, after his return to home, goes back to 15 years ago and lives in that time. He is present in this current moment but lives in past. It's so fascinating to see how he deals with this issue. It’s weird for the family because they must have heard about disability or physical wounds of the soldiers not about the “crippled mind”. Chris suffers uniquely and this makes him to be alone, like attack moments in the trenches, among his family. In some moments, he forgets that he is not living in 15 years ago and acts based on that. Jenny, the cousin, tries to remind him of that. Jenny is compassionate toward Kitty, “who had somehow become a decorative presence” (133) in the house and Margaret and tries to help them all not to suffer. This story is similar to other war literary works in the sense that it depicts suffering of a soldier but it differes at the same time in the way it deal with time.  


Boxing in Joyce's Ulysses: Ezra Pound and Ernest Hemingway

In our recent visit to Special Collections, I noticed a transcribed letter written by Ernest Hemingway on 9 March 1922, addressed to Sherwood Anderson, in which Hemingway cites Joyce’s Ulysses as “a most god-damn wonderful book” and refers to Michaud’s, Joyce’s favorite restaurant at the corner of rue Jacob and rue des Saints-Pères, where Hemingway visited once a week. In the midst of the letter, Hemingway declares that he is teaching Ezra Pound how to box. He describes Pound as having “the general grace of the crayfish or crawfish,” which suggests clumsiness in movement. He mentions Pound’s habit of leading with his chin, which is a common mistake in boxing leaving him vulnerable to punches. Hemingway remarks that Pound is “willing” to learn boxing but he is “short-winded,” becoming soon out of breath, and also “sweats” a lot. Despite Pound's physical shortcomings in boxing, Hemingway acknowledges Pound's willingness to engage in an activity that he knows nothing about, even at the risk of losing his “dignity” and “critical reputation”. Hemingway concludes by expressing admiration for Pound as “a good guy” and praises the review he wrote on Joyce’s Ulysses, under the title of “Paris Letter” in the June 1922 issue of the Dial. Interestingly, boxing is also referenced in “Cyclops,” episode 12 of Ulysses, in which Joe Hynes, the unnamed narrator, the citizen, Alf Bergan, and Bloom meet at Barney Kiernan’s pub and engage in conversations on various topics including traditional Irish sports. Bloom reveals that the citizen had previously excelled as a shot-putter, being renowned as “the man … that made the Gaelic sports revival … [t]he champion of all Ireland at putting the sixteen pound shot”. The men's conversation abruptly transitions to boxing when Bergan brings up a recent match (Keogh-Bennett) promoted by Blazes Boylan. Despite Bloom's efforts to “cut[] in” and redirect the conversation towards lawn tennis, his interjections are disregarded. Subsequently, the novel breaks into a depiction of a boxing match:

“It was a historic and a hefty battle when Myler and Percy were scheduled to don the gloves for the purse of fifty sovereigns. Handicapped as he was by lack of poundage, Dublin’s pet lamb made up for it by superlative skill in ringcraft. The final bout of fireworks was a gruelling for both champions. The welterweight sergeantmajor had tapped some lively claret in the previous mixup during which Keogh had been receivergeneral of rights and lefts, the artilleryman putting in some neat work on the pet’s nose, and Myler came on looking groggy. The soldier got to business, leading off with a powerful left jab to which the Irish gladiator retaliated by shooting out a stiff one flush to the point of Bennett’s jaw. The redcoat ducked but the Dubliner lifted him with a left hook, the body punch being a fine one. The men came to handigrips. Myler quickly became busy and got his man under, the bout ending with the bulkier man on the ropes, Myler punishing him. The Englishman, whose right eye was nearly closed, took his corner where he was liberally drenched with water and when the bell went came on gamey and brimful of pluck, confident of knocking out the fistic Eblanite in jigtime. It was a fight to a finish and the best man for it. The two fought like tigers and excitement ran fever high. The referee twice cautioned Pucking Percy for holding but the pet was tricky and his footwork a treat to watch. After a brisk exchange of courtesies during which a smart upper cut of the military man brought blood freely from his opponent’s mouth the lamb suddenly waded in all over his man and landed a terrific left to Battling Bennett’s stomach, flooring him flat. It was a knockout clean and clever. Amid tense expectation the Portobello bruiser was being counted out when Bennett’s second Ole Pfotts Wettstein threw in the towel and the Santry boy was declared victor to the frenzied cheers of the public who broke through the ringropes and fairly mobbed him with delight”.