Self-reconstruction of National Cultural Identity: EM Foster’s Oriental Cultural Identity
EM Forster (Edward Morgan Forster, 1879-1970) was a native British writer in the 20th century, but he was inextricably linked with the East. In 1924, his “A Passage to India” (A Passage to India) was published, which once again placed the East in the attention of Westerners. Although “A Passage to India” has always been an important reader of post-colonial literature, how to locate the relationship between Forster and Eastern culture has been a difficult problem for a long time. Said, a literary criticism theorist, pointed out that anyone who teaches, writes about, or studies the Orient can be called an “Orientalist”—in this sense, Forster is indeed an Orientalist. But Foster seems to be different from orientalists in the ordinary sense. Said believes that Orientalists often have a sense of racial superiority over the East, and they regard the East as an object for the West to “control, rebuild, and rule”. The arbitrary derogation and control of the East. But Foster is different. In “A Passage to India”, he broke the imperial cultural tradition formed with the expansion of the empire, and affirmatively expressed his “love” for India. The author believes that the main reason why Foster has deep feelings for India lies in his deep identification with oriental culture. This cultural identity shows his reflective attitude towards his own culture, and also shows his ideal of perfecting national culture, thus realizing the self-reconstruction of national cultural identity.
Travel Writing and Cultural Ideals
Forster’s oriental cultural identity stems from his travel writing. From the end of the 19th century, with the advent of tourism and the expansion of empires, travel became fashionable. By the beginning of the 20th century, travel had surpassed its original meaning and was used to refer to a specific social class, lifestyle or even cultural awareness, that is, “travel identity”. Travel not only adjusts the relationship between the individual and the world, but also promotes the self-improvement of travelers and the reflection on their own culture in the impact and convergence of different cultures. Traveling is often accompanied by criticism of one’s own culture, especially for European travelers. Their travels in the East, America, and Africa have made them compare their own culture with that of others, and thus have a deeper understanding of the current decline. The traveler sees his ancestors in the “savages,” thus forming an admiration for a fulfilled and harmonious past. In this travel cultural atmosphere, the literary style of travel writing came into being. Forster’s novels “Where Angels Fear to Tread” (Where Angels Fear to Tread, 1905) and “A Room with a View” (A Room with a View, 1908) are the crystallization of his travels in continental Europe in his youth , the novel outlines a vivid picture of life with exotic customs in a realistic brushstroke, which constitutes an important part of travel writing in the early 20th century. Forster’s journey to the Orient and his travel writing contributed to his identification with oriental culture. In 1906, Foster met Indian youth Masood. Masood is warm and handsome, his elegant aesthetic temperament and unique artistic taste deeply attracted Foster, and gave him a new understanding of Indian culture. Since then, Forster has visited India three times in his life, providing first-hand materials for his novel creation.
Foster’s identification with oriental culture is more due to his thinking on British nationality and the state of British culture at that time. At the end of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th century, there were debates about culture in Britain, and some people slandered the role of culture. Matthew Arnold criticized this, pointing out that culture has an important social function, it is “the pursuit of perfection”, the pursuit of “beauty and light”, and it plays an important role in the growth of human beings and the process of modern society. important role. Foster also has the same cultural ideals as Matthew Arnold, so he has always been dissatisfied with the state of British culture. He believes that the state of British culture that only pays attention to the external and ignores the internal pursuit has contributed to the abnormal development of the British, creating a modern British with a strong body and a well-developed mind but a “short-developed” heart. Foster believes that the reason why the British are snobbish and lacks sympathy is the lack of passion, and there should always be an unquenchable flame in the hearts of the British, but the problem now is that this flame has been covered, and what people see There is only indifference and dullness. So when Foster travels, it is not only an “escape” from the imperfect real life, but also a “search” for a perfect culture, that is, a search for the fire of life.
In the East, Foster found the real imagination and passion, and saw the powerful vitality contained in the East. Vitality is the motivation and source for an organism to maintain its own existence and development. It is a mechanism, a structure, a belief, and a spirit. It can be what Freud called “libido,” what Schopenhauer called “the will to be,” or what Nietzsche called “the will to power.” Bergson regards vitality as “life impulse”, and believes that every organism has this primitive life impulse, which motivates the organism to realize the leap from low level to high level. Forster regards imagination and passion as the source of human vitality, and this point of view just complements Bergson’s point of view. In the final analysis, Foster’s cultural identification with the East is the identification with the original vitality of the East, which is mainly manifested in the identification with the Eastern way of life, Orientals and Oriental reproductive imagination.
Authentic life and “perfect savages”: Foster’s identification with the Eastern way of existence and Orientals
In Foster’s view, the primordial vitality of the East presents various manifestations. It first resides in a simple and unadorned way of being. Western industrialization has deprived people of their natural state of existence and brought fear of alienation to people. In the far east, however, everything remained as it was, in an epic mode of “poetic dwelling”. In his article “Salute to the Orient”, Forster once excerpted the pictures of primitive life in the Orient written by the British novelist Murdoch Pickhall: In order to avoid their uneasy eyes, he
asked Looking out of the window, I saw that the suburbs of the city had slipped past, and the cultivated plain appeared, extending to a row of low hills the color of a lion’s back, where the desert bordered. The sakis, clumps of palm trees, and a cluster of mud-covered huts jutted out like islands. The fields are full of life: men and women plowing or harvesting green clover, children herding gray sheep, hulking buffalo, brown sheep, or grass-munching camels. Walking along the embankment was a group of peasants, camels, bulls, mules, but mostly donkeys, surrounded by dust warmed by the setting sun.
Foster believes that although this is not the most beautiful picture, it is the “truest” picture. Everything is in nature, everything seems so peaceful. In this serene tone, Foster felt the most primitive life passion and the harmony between man and man, man and nature constructed by the original way of existence. In “A Passage to India”, Foster himself created the same picture. The British woman Adela was on the way to visit the Malabar cave, and everything she saw exuded a primitive atmosphere: “The whole country is Countryside. Wilderness leads to wilderness, then hills, jungles, hills, and then wider hills, jungles, hills, and then wider wilderness….Ox carts often stagger along the side road. A Almost all the trails have been turned into cultivated land, lost in the nearby red mud trail.” Such images can be seen everywhere in the novel: the trash-strewn town of Chandrapur, the flood that washed away everything, the floating fish in the Ganges. Dead corpses, black-backed jackals and snakes that appear at any time, dark and dirty houses with flies flying, “naked and only a loincloth” Indian aborigines… These are all forms of primitive life, and they are all expressed in the most extreme form. The natural, unpolished way exists. However, in this natural state, life goes on and on and on, which arouses people’s infinite imagination and passion.
In addition to the way of life, Foster believes that the original vitality of the East also resides in the Orientals who are full of passion for life. Westerners always think that the natives of the East are vulgar, dirty, and not elegant, but they are the real people in Foster’s eyes, that is, what the French philosopher Todorov called “perfect savages”. In the West, nationalism once prevailed, and nationalists firmly believed that their country had the highest moral values, and the resulting arrogant attitude. At the same time, there are some people in the West who, contrary to the views held by nationalists, highly value exoticism. They believe that the highest moral values do not exist in their own countries, but in other countries. The “perfect savage” is what nostalgic exotics call the “savage” in whom they see the shadows of their ancestors, the fullness and harmony of a bygone age. The 16th-century travel explorer Amerigo Vespucci’s description of Indian customs summarized the basic characteristics of the “perfect savage”: one is “living in accordance with nature” and the other is having “extraordinary physical qualities” . The main reason why “perfect savages” are perfect and admired is that they conform to the nature of nature and live a free life. This kind of life is regarded as the most ideal state of human existence and constitutes the inner life impulse of human beings. In A Passage to India, Foster created the image of Aziz as a “perfect savage”. Aziz is healthy, athletic, passionate about life, and devoted to his wife and children; in addition, he has a rich imagination, a pursuit of inner life, and a love of poetry—in addition to composing poetry himself, he often falls into poetic situations. In the imagination; more importantly, he is hospitable and longs for an equal personal relationship. This coincides with Foster’s life pursuit.
Primitive vitality: Foster’s identification with the Eastern reproductive imagination
Forster also saw the most primitive vitality in the natural objects of the East, because these objects are related to reproduction. Fertility constitutes an important component of vitality. Reproductive worship runs through the entire development of human beings and constitutes the common way of thinking of human beings. In India, reproduction is an indispensable mythological theme. When discussing symbolic art, Hegel said: “One of the most ordinary things depicted by Indians is reproduction, just as the Greeks enshrined the god of love as the oldest god. The sacred activity of reproduction is represented in many depictions. The image is very sensual, and the male and female genitalia are regarded as the most sacred things.” According to Hegel’s theory, one of the main themes of Indian fantasy and art is the origin of gods and all things, that is, theogony and cosmology. “One of the basic concepts running through these origin histories is not the concept of spiritual creation, but the description of natural reproduction that often reappears.” Foster agrees very much with the reproductive imagination of the East. He created in “A Passage to India
” Many natural reproductive metaphors are used to show the original vitality of the East. One of the most vital reproductive metaphors is the sky. In “A Passage to India”, Forster made a poetic description of the sky in India at the beginning: “Clouds often paint the sky like a map, colorful, but the sky is usually like a big dome of mixed colors, its main Tune it to blue.” Foster emphasized that no matter how the color of the sky changes, the vitality of the Indian sky will never be exhausted. In Foster’s eyes, the sky is infinite, huge and boundless, and it is the master of all things. The reason why the sky is like this is because of the existence of the sun. “The sun is the source of power, and the power is released from the sun every day, and how much is released according to the needs of the prostrate earth.” Here, Foster regards the sun as a reproductive image directly related to the sky, which is in line with the ancient Indian religion. consistent with Buddhist culture. In ancient Indian religion and Buddhist culture, the sun and the light emitted by the sun have always been regarded as a symbol of fertility and a “direct release” of male fertility. Therefore, the sun and the light emitted by the sun are the symbols of vitality and the prerequisites for the earth to breed all things.
In “A Passage to India”, the earth echoing the sky is another reproductive metaphor with vitality. In the West, the earth has always been a symbol of women. When the ancient Greek poet Hesiod described the myth of the birth of the universe, he compared the earth to Gaia with a full breast. In the East, the earth has always been regarded as the embodiment of women. The myth in the Bible that God created man from the soil on the ground fully expresses the idea that the earth symbolizes women in Hebrew culture. In Foster’s eyes, compared with the western land, the eastern land itself has more primitive vitality, which is mainly related to the ancient characteristics and mythical color of the eastern land. In “A Passage to India”, Foster directly described the earth as a woman: “There are no mountains and mountains to break the curve of the land, and the land extends flatly league by league, with occasional small bumps, repeated Spread out flat.” The flat plains and fertile fields are a symbol of a woman’s flat belly, heralding the possibility of a fertile earth. This metaphor is consistent with ancient Indian ideas of reproduction. It is mentioned in the book “Manu Law”: “Women are passed down as fields, and men are passed down as seeds; all living creatures with bodies are born from the combination of fields and seeds.” Therefore, the earth is called “the origin of creatures.” Maternal Fetus”.
In addition to the land itself, Foster also created other reproductive imagery in “A Passage to India”, including the waters of the ancient Ganges, the dense palm trees, mango trees and linden trees in Indian towns, eagles and kingfishers, everywhere Visible elephants and snakes, these metaphors are placed on the earth, and they are the embodiment of male vitality, and together with the earth, they constitute the oriental aspect of life.
The mountains and rocks of India constitute the most striking reproductive metaphors of the land. Foster believes that under the ineffable appearance of the rocks, there is a huge vitality, which is a true portrayal of Indian and Eastern souls: open-mindedness, silence, stubbornness, tolerance, tolerance. “If you want anywhere to touch the flesh and blood separated from the flesh of the sun, it is only here, in these extremely ancient mountains.” In “A Passage to India”, Malabar of Chandrapur The mountain presents three forms related to reproduction: one is fist and finger-like peaks that are scattered and disorderly, the other is caves connected with tunnels, and the third is oval rocks.
In the East, fists and finger-like peaks are symbols of male fertility. In Indian culture, hands have a strong reproductive connotation, and the thumb is mostly used to refer to men. Forster’s emphasis on fist and finger-shaped peaks and rocks in his description of the Malabar Hills in Chandrapur undoubtedly has cultural implications. Guarding the Malabar Cave, these fists and fingers constitute male fertility symbols.
And the circular cave on Mount Malabar, which echoes the fist and finger-like peaks, is undoubtedly a symbol of female fertility. In the East, the cave has the meaning of life and is likened to “the womb of the earth”, which is associated with the concept of fertility. In fact, the Malabar Caves do represent India, the embodiment of the Indian national character, and it represents the ancient, tough and imaginative side of the Indian nation. Here, Foster compares the cave to a female womb, residing deep in the body of Mother Earth. But in this dark cave, there is an eternal flame hidden in the smooth rock. As long as the outer flame has a chance to approach, the flame in the cave will quickly combine with the outer flame. Although the contact of the two flames was brief, it created a miracle of life. This ability to reproduce is eternal, and as long as time exists, as long as light exists, the cave will create infinite life.
In addition to the cave, the egg-shaped boulder is also an obvious reproductive metaphor. In the novel, there is a huge boulder on the top of Malabar Mountain, which can shake by itself, and inside is a “hole like a blister… reflecting black light in all directions.” As a created object, the Oval is a sign of a natural, palpable supernatural truth that holds a deep meaning of life. According to Hindu mythology, Brahma came out of a golden egg, and he “spent a year of gestation in the egg in stillness, and then the egg was split in two by the action of his thoughts alone”, so people often Think of the “egg” as the original body of life, with boundless characteristics. What Foster wants to convey through the description of the oval boulder is undoubtedly the vitality of India. This pebble is the origin of the vast world, from which the eternal world will be born and continue.
In Forster’s mind, the East full of primitive vitality is the ideal world that the British should pursue, because there burns with the eternal flame of life of imagination and passion; he wants to get the fire in the novel to realize the self Perfection and self-improvement of national culture. The creation of the novel “A Passage to India” has this cultural purpose. Adela is a British female intellectual who is rational but lacks emotion. To be more precise, she is a typical British person who has strong emotions in her heart but does not know how to express them. Adela’s trip to India is essentially a journey of exploration and experience in which she discovers her emotions and learns to express them. In the reproductive imagery of the Malabar Cave, she sees a mysterious flame on the wall of the cave, which wants to combine with the external flame, and Adela feels the original motherhood of Mother Earth being transmitted to her. The moment the two flames came into contact, the ancient and eternal life force was transmitted to her body, and thus, Adela’s internal sexual desire and female instinct were all released. The flame on the wall of the cave is the projection of the life force of Mother Earth. The flame is a mirror image, from which Adela sees her own life force and has the feeling of life force. When Adela came out of the cave, she was no longer the original rational woman, but a complete person with a powerful life instinct and the ability to express strong emotions.
Forster’s contact with the East gave him a profound understanding of the nature of both people and culture. In his mind, the East is a perfect world, where there is a way of existence on which personal relationships exist, where there are “perfect savages” with primitive vitality, and there are primitive vitality hidden in the sky and the earth, rocks and mountains. All that life and imagination lacking in the English can be found in the East. Foster’s oriental cultural identity provides an ideological bridge for the nation’s cultural self-reflection and self-improvement. In this sense, Foster’s travel writing is not admiring others, but criticizing himself, not describing reality, but sketching cultural ideals. When Foster described the East, he looked at the nationalities and cultural defects of his own country completely from the standpoint of culture. At the same time, he also hoped that the national culture could learn from the advantages of the Eastern culture, so as to realize the self-improvement and development of the national culture. Update and complete the reconstruction of cultural self-identity. In this sense, the East described by Forster is actually a mirror image that Westerners use to reflect on themselves, and it is “a substitute or even a potential self” of Western culture. To some extent, certain cultural characteristics of the East are exactly what British culture should have in Foster’s mind but actually does not. It is both the past and the future of British culture.