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Huh, our last book proper for Arts One. I’m glad it was such a short and easy read.

Still, if I could describe my experience reading this book in one word it would be: underwhelmed.

I was expecting a lot more from Achebe, especially given his scathing criticism of Conrad. The book itself just felt like a commercial novel. Very middlebrow entertainment . The novel taken in tandem with Heart of Darkness and other works feels a bit more worthwhile, but then there are other works that are primarily canonical endeavours (contingent upon a canon or asking questions of said canon) that managed to be more promising stand-alone works. It was a good story, a good portrait of another society, a nice subtle critique against colonialism, a humanist vindication, but until the very last part it doesn’t feel thematically cogent.

A dilemma I have been grappling with: Is moral imposition imperialism? I believe certain cultural practices can be immoral; examples within this book being the status of women and children in Ibo society, ritual sacrifices, the abandonment of twins, etc. But post-colonial scholars are apt to attack this as moral imposition of one society’s values onto another, a sort of attempt at imperialistic homogenisation? The debate first came to my attention when I was reading about Female Circumcision/Female Genital Mutilation (depending what side of the debate you’re on). This argument bothers me on several levels, but then, I can’t help but think of the Prime Directive. Thoughts?

3 Comments

  1. That last question is heavy. For me, the first objection I would have against “moral imposition” would be the way that it ignores our own culture’s moral failings: it’s rather absurd to condemn torture in another part of the world when your own country is employing “creative interrogation techniques” (http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/national/canadian-torture-policy-irks-european-security-alliance-records-reveal/article15714816/)

    I think we get into some murky territory when we renounce absolute morality altogether – I in no way support female genital mutiliation – but I’m not so sure that imposing “our values” upon others is a productive solution.

  2. I think there’s a marked difference between “creative interrogation techniques” and harmful practices imposed on all individuals from birth.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Female_genital_mutilation#Support_from_women

    “Women in Sudan discussing circumcision with Janice Boddy in 1984 depicted Type I by opening their mouths and Type III by closing them tight, asking her: “Which is better, an ugly opening or a dignified closure?” Boddy wrote that the women avoided being photographed laughing or smiling for the same reason, preferring human orifices to be kept closed or minimized, particularly female ones.”

  3. The more salient moral failing that’s comparable would be genital alteration of intersex children: http://www.law.harvard.edu/students/orgs/crcl/vol40_1/ehrenreich.pdf

    Both are alterations of biological form to fit a presupposed societal norm.


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