The Crisis of British Imperialism in Southeast Asia: The (Mis)Representation of the Indigenous in Clifford and Conrad

The Crisis of British Imperialism in Southeast Asia: The (Mis)Representation of the Indigenous in Clifford and Conrad
anthropology; British Malaya; colonial discourse; cultural contact; denationalization; Hugh Clifford; imperialism; Joseph Conrad; misrepresentation
Issue Date
영어영문학, v.58, no.6, pp.1041 - 1061
In the late nineteenth century, British colonial activities became aggressive and annexationist in the tropics, including the Southeast Asian Archipelago, which reflected the historical circumstances of both increasing resistance from the indigenous and severe competition among European powers. Interestingly, the change in English colonial policy toward an annexationist or imperialist vision adopted the motto of a civilizing mission, which was founded on the anthropological assumption that the white English were civilized, while the non-white indigenous were savage. The assumption developed into colonial discourse through systematic gathering of anthropological knowledge about the peripheries of the Empire. The knowledge system was flawed, which stressed the differences of the peripheral populations from the English and served as an inverted discourse on the Imperial Self rather than the description of the Other. Furthermore, the natives were heterogeneous, which rendered indistinct the racial and cultural differences between the English and the natives. Still, the aboriginals called Malays, who were comprised of many ethnic subgroups, needed to be deemed savage or inferior by the English in order to justify the English civilizing work or imperial ambition. Put differently,the representation of the English as civilized necessitated the (mis)representation of the natives as savage. In this context, Clifford’s works contribute to systematic misrepresentation of the Malays, on which colonial discourse is founded, though not without self-contradiction. On the other hand, Conrad’s novels that are set in the Malay Archipelago resort to a strategic misrepresentation that reveals the relativity of the discourse. Exploring the dilemma of denationalization to various degrees, Conrad’s Malay texts problematize the (mis)representation of the indigenous as inferior, which is the basis of English claim to superiority.
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