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”.

Rebecca West's Magic Circle

In West’s Return of the Soldier, the experience of the war collapses the distinctions of temporality—that is, past, present, and future—into a single plan of experience for the characters of West’s novel. Chris’s shell-shock leaves him believing he is at least 15 years younger than he actually is, enamored with his childhood love Margaret rather than his wife Kitty. Jenny comes to recognize that this past Chris has entered is a protective “magic circle” made possible by Margaret, who had led “him into this quiet magic circle out of our life” that offered not only Chris protection from the recognition of what would have been his present unhappiness, but likewise serves as a salve for Jenny over her nightmares thinking about Chris in No Man’s Land. Jenny describes how Margaret’s protection of Chris via keeping him within this “magic circle” of the past has cured her own suffering related to the war: “My sleep, though short, was now dreamless. No more did I see his body rotting into union with the brown texture of corruption which is No Man’s Land, no more did I see him slipping softly down the parapet into the trench, no more did I hear voices talking in a void…” (71). Chris’s memory lapse becomes an escape and protection for them all from the present horrors of the war, and it also prevents the possibility of Chris from having to return to active duty as a soldier (71). But, paradoxically in doing so, it forecloses the possibility of their future by fragmenting their experiences into different, now conflicting, relations among each other.

The idea of the “magic circle” reminds me of Bakhtin’s idea of the Epic circle, a space and time closed off from experience and in a way thus protected from contemporary decay. The magic circle serves a similar closed-off function, becoming a space that Chris can exist within that protects him from his present and his future (and, as Jenny makes clear, also consequently protects herself by removing Chris from danger and into the safety of his illness). When the circle is broken at the conclusion of the story, Chris’s youth is once again lost as he returns to his present state of a soldier damaged by his war-time experience: “He walked not loose-limbed like a boy, as he had done that very afternoon, but with the soldier’s hard tread upon the heal” (90). The irony of the novel’s final line, “He’s cured!”, points out the state of a post Great War world. Chris’s illness was not the safety of the past that protected him within this “magic circle” from the horrors he face; the real illness Chris faces, as all the characters do, is the immense emotional, spiritual, and physical destruction that has permanently impacted the world with symptoms that would persist for decades.

The Return of the Soldier

Throughout this semester, we discussed how various authors and thoese that experienced the horrors on the front and the impacts felt at home were expressed. We've learned that many soldiers could not or would not communicate the horrors they experienced for a number of reasons. We saw this phenomenon in All Quiet on the Western Front when Paul returns home and doesn't speak to the horrors he experienced. In his chapter "Oh What Literary War" Paul Fussell wrote, "Whatever the cause, the presumed inadequacy of language itself to convey the facts about trench warfare is one of the motifs of all who wrote about the war." (pg 185) 

While reading Rebecca West's Return of the Soldier, West expresses this exact sentiment as Jenny considers Chris' lost memory as a result of shell shock. "His very loss of memory was a triumph over the limitations of language which prevent the mass of men from making explicit statements about their spiritual relationships (pg 65)." This quote succinctly sums up what so many were experiencing during World War I. 

Thinking about "The Waste Land"

As I get a better grasp on what is going on in “The Waste Land,” I find myself drawn to the lines: “You cannot say, or guess, for you know only

A heap of broken images, where the sun beats,

And the dead tree gives no shelter, the cricket no relief,

And the dry stone no sound of water” 

because I feel that the poem is a collage of broken images. It feels like a lot of fragmented pieces that are not exactly cohesive at first (to this reader), from the staggered references to different mythologies, language changes, and other details. I know there are other biblical references to draw from these particular lines, about the broken images, but I find myself reading it like a clue for reading the rest of the poem. I can also feel the desolation Eliot is writing into this poem. The imagery is somber and as a reader I get a sense of loneliness, or the feeling of being left behind. With the context of WWI and the existence of a lost generation, this poem fits right into my general understanding of a lot of the literature from this point in time. I begin to feel the decimation that many people in the West witnessed as a result of that war from a removed or distant perspective. I also feel that there is a sense of resentment, because the magnitude of this loss was also seen as a waste to many people who lived through it. The lines I mentioned speak directly to the title of the poem. The wasteland that is being described is a place without war, as it has already happened and is gone in a physical or tangible way, but the memory and the trauma is still very much present. The ghost of the war is still floating through these spaces and adding to this weird empty feeling I get from that set of lines. These lines are a good example of the stillness I get from the poem. The signs of life, like crickets, trees, and running water are gone from the place in the poem. The image of that is unsettling. 


From nothing to everything

When I read Ulysses, I thought I was an outsider and couldn't understand what James Joyce wanted to express in this work. But when I asked my classmates, I wasn't the only one.

Obviously, to understand the work, it is not only thanks to reading skills, I think we need to understand Joyce's methods of arranging and presenting information. Additionally, the story in Ulysses would not have made any sense if I did not have knowledge of the events of Dedalus and Bloom in The Odyssey. So it's clear that Ulysses itself is an Archive that readers don't just read one or two books to understand, but must read many works to understand what Ulysses is. Each of the 18 chapters corresponds to events occurring in the epic. Unique writing, such as allusions or references to another literary work, creates a father-son relationship between Bloom and Dedalus, similar to that of Odysseus and his son Telemachus in The Odysseus.

As a person who has studied literature for two semesters, I have figured it might take me another year or so to get a better understanding of the work. I really like this work, although it was difficult, I actually learned the characteristics and classics of modern period literature. I feel like this is one work but it contains hundreds of other works with diverse genres. Another problem is that when I tried to find an actual plot, it didn’t exist in this novel. Therefore, it must take time and effort to have better grasp of this materpiece. 

Mathematics and Confusion in Ulysses

For this post, I decided to focus on something I sometimes prefer to avoid thinking about: mathematics. While reading the first episode of Ulysses, I was drawn to the scene in which Stephen and Buck pay the milkwoman:

            —Have you your bill? We had better pay her, Mulligan, hadn’t we?

            Stephen filled the three cups.

            —Bill, sir? she said, halting. Well, it’s seven mornings a pint at twopence is seven twos is a             shilling and twopence over and these three mornings a quart at fourpence is three quarts is a             shilling and one and two is two and two, sir. (Joyce 15)

As Anthony Madrid notes in the amazingly titled article, “Joyce’s Unpunctuated Rigmarole of Numerical Spangablasm,” Stephen and Buck simply owe the milkwoman two shillings and twopence; clearly, however, her language is rather confusing, presumably even for those familiar with the British monetary system of the period.

I again noticed a scene involving mathematics in the next episode. When all the other children go to play hockey, Cyril Sargent stays behind to have Stephen look over his book of “Sums.” While Stephen helps him, he “proves by algebra that Shakespeare’s ghost is Hamlet’s grandfather” (Joyce 28). Then, Stephen imagines that “across the page the symbols moved in grave morrice, in the mummery of their letters, . . . a darkness shining in brightness which brightness could not comprehend” (28).

I find it fascinating that mathematics, usually praised by its devotees for leading to definitive answers and for its universality, leads to confusion in both of these scenes—the reader’s confusion in the former, and Sargent’s and Stephen’s confusion in the latter. Even the basic language of mathematics has been corrupted. Moreover, perhaps in an attempt to make sense of the math problems—or rather, to help Sargent make sense of them—Stephen acts as an archive by bringing up Shakespeare. Like T. S. Eliot in The Waste Land, Stephen turns to the past to aid understanding in the present.

"The Waste Land" and the Foucaldian Defintion of the Archive

In “The Historical a priori and the Archive,” Foucault defines the archive as a “system” that either preserves or obscures the distinctness of statements (events or objects), but not in an “amorphous” or random order (128-29). “The Waste Land” matches such definition of the archive, as multiple objects, characters, and events, from different literary, religious, and mythological contexts, are associated in an order that appears chaotic on the surface but purposeful in its deep layers of meanings. The poem starts with nature’s regeneration and the speaker’s childhood recollection, thereby juxtaposing past culture with present consciousness both in its form and content. The speaker's melancholic reflection on her childhood underscores the inaccessible and inescapable nature of the past. Indeed, the poem, on the whole, urges the reader to trace the historical contexts of each allusion to not only have a better grasp of the poem but also perpetuate the cultural memories that resonated with both sorrow and historical significance for the modernist writer.