Plunging Long’s Madame Butterfly and Watanna’s “Japanese Nightingale”

Long, John Luther, Maureen Honey, Jean Lee Cole, and Onoto Watanna. Madame Butterfly and A Japanese Nightingale. New Brunswick, N.J.: Rutgers University Press, 2002.

In the introduction written by Maureen Honey and Jean Lee Cole, they state that “Asian women in literature and film have most often been stereotyped as ‘dragon ladies’ or as ‘Butterflies’—they are either mysterious and malevolent seductress or silent, passive victims of the patriarchal demimonde, succumbing to disease, suicide, or homicide. Whether dragon lady or butterfly, biracial love affairs between Western men and Asian women in fiction almost always end unhappily, with violence, disease, and death befalling one or both main characters” (5).  Their immediate dismissal of these texts helps explain the subtitle to this collection as “Two Orientalist Texts.” For both of these texts, women are seen as epitomes of oriental culture, and their offspring reminiscent of the barbaric: “people of mixed race like Yuki at the turn of the century were considered aberrations” (7). While the relationship in Long’s short story may have been aberrant, for Eaton’s novel, the readers “did not appear to react negatively toward the marriage between Yuki and Bigelow, in part because Eaton so successfully created an identification between them and her white male character” (8).

Madame Butterfly

Sayre’s temptation of Pinkerton to take on an Asian wife is best summed up when he tells him that “There is no danger of you losing your head for…anyone. The danger would probably be entirely with—the other person” (30). When it comes to Japanese culture, Pinkterton does “not try to understand,” yet his wife, Madame Butterfly, not only understands American culture, but American law as well, as she proves when she states that for divorce, “he got take me at those large jails at that United States of America. Tha’ ‘s lot of trouble; hence he rather stay marry with me” (42). Her reliance on the American justice system and the courts is surprising to the Japanese, who see Americans as people who leave children “in a basket at some other person’s door…[and] then cared for by the municipality as waifs…They are an odious class by themselves, and can never rise above their first condition” (55). Her reliance on these American laws comes from her assumption that it “don’ madder where they live” (58). Butterfly is a social climber, an American, who relies on her husband not for love, but for the social contract of marriage. Pinkerton furthermore never promises her to bring her to America or take care of her, but her trust in the American justice system moves her to wait for him (67).

A Japanese Nightingale

Jack Bigelow, the protagonist of Otono Watanna’s novel, first meets his future lover as “a cheap girl of Tokyo, with the blue-grass eyes of the barbarian, the yellow skin of the lower Japanese, the hair of mixed color, black and red, the form of a Japanese courtesan, and the heart and nature of those honorably unreliable creatures, alien at this country, alien at your honorable country, augustly despicable—a half caste!” (89). Her mixed race is shared with her brother and Jack’s friend, Tao Burton, who “would not append his name to the long list of foreigners who for a short, happy, and convenient season cheerfully take unto themselves Japanese wives, and with the same cheerfulness desert them” (90). His mixed race as Japanese and white makes him unable to participate in the same exploitive structure that American whites have partaken in, yet he cannot belong with Japanese children, who “laughed at their hair and eyes, and called them ‘Kirishitans’” (142). .

Jack’s relationship with Yuki lacks the conscious exploitation of Pinkerton, and Jack instead carries a heavy anxiety for convincing Yuki to love him authentically, though he, “with masculine conceit, half believe[s] her” (94). He desires to believe fully in her consent to their love, asking time and again if she would “rather marry me than one of those other fellows” and Yuki hurts him “deeply by her reference to money” (105). Perhaps to elude disappointment, she mimics his American style, mimics “everything and everyone, from the warbling of the birds to the little man and maid who waited on them” (107). Her later insistence that “wife jus’ liddle bit different from servant” and his that she move closer to him—become intimate with him—leads him to complain that she’s “not living up to [her] end of the contract. You swore to honor and obey” (110). In an interesting reversal of Madame Butterfly, here it is the male, Jack, who invokes the power of the law in an attempt to control his lover, this time into a sexual act. It becomes obvious that, unlike Butterfly, she wants the marriage to be only temporary.

Yuki’s mixed race and her outlook on Americans is also stunningly reversed from Long’s piece, where Butterfly saw American culture as ideal, here Yuki calls Jack’s whiteness a sign that he is “jus’ barbarian” and adds “Barbarian mos’ nize of all. Also I am liddle bit barbarian. I god them same barbarous eyes an’ oogly hair—“ (123). Later she calls herself “the half-moon-half-sun offspring.” Jack, also, cannot see Japanese as barbarian or orientalized, especially when he witnesses the Japanese army parades, where he finds that “there was nothing Oriental in this brave display of the imperial army. There was nothing Oriental in this bustling, noisy crowd of foreigners, each trying to outdo the other in importance and precedence” (128). Near the end of the novel, Jack finally acknowledges her performance, that “she lies to pretend—that is all” and that “we’ve both been pretending and acting—I to myself, she to me; she trying to make me believe it was all read to her, at any rate these last two months; I trying to delude myself into believing in her, which was more than my conceit was good for, after all” (139). In the end, Watanna perhaps attempts to placate her audience, by putting the two characters back together, in a more authentic love setting.

Advertisements

Plunging Sumner’s Essays

Sumner, William Graham, and Robert C. Bannister. On Liberty, Society, and Politics: The Essential Essays of William Graham Sumner. Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, 1992.

Sumner’s reputation as an American “sociologist”—few sociologists would find him comparable—who triumphed Herbert Spencer’s philosophies and looked at social traditions as embedded within Darwinian theories, really only captures a brief moment of his scholarship, when he was at his most polemic. His early writings in no way seem to anticipate his turn to Spencer, nor do his later writings seem dependent upon Spencerian theory. When divided along the phases of his long life, indeed, his various ideas and insights seem to have few threads that can be pulled through all of them, and though Spencer certainly appears frequently in his polemics, Spencerianism is not one of these threads.

In contrasts to Spencer’s rigid individualism, Sumner’s early writings as a preacher are in fact critical of these ideas, as seen in a sermon called “Individualism” in which Sumner declares: “the most unfortunate effects of individualism, however, are those which are produced on social relations, for individualism is of course destructive to society” (8). To Sumner,

society is based on duty, that is upon the idea that each individual is under obligation to forgot something of his own rights, or interests, or pleasure for the common good. Individualism lays all the stress upon rights; it teaches each individual to claim all the rights which he possesses over against other men, and to demand that they be paid in full. (8)

Sumner not only sees individualism as immoral to the individual, but for a nation in general, when he criticizes China for having “severed themselves from the rest of the human race to the utmost of their ability, and they are still striving to ward off the influences from without while profiting to a certain extent by commercial relations. The unnatural struggle produces continual discord and confusion” (30). Indeed, Sumner proposes a solidarity of the human race, claiming that “each man serves himself best in serving the whole” (36).

Sumner’s phase of life after his life as a preacher is perhaps thought best as “Sumner the economist” rather than Sumner the politician, preacher or sociologist. In this phase he is utterly Spencerian, and translates many of his optimal ideas about human solidarity into one of a duty to the mechanics of capital, where in “The Philosophy of Strikes,” he debases the “existence of classes who are corrupted by these diseases of character” which he defines as diseases of “self-denial,” of “mere day-dreaming” and “an overheated imagination.” Indeed, in these lesser classes who are apt to strike, Sumner finds

classes of persons who are whining and fault-finding, and who use the organs of public discussion and deliberation in order to put forth childish complaints and impossible demands, while they philosophize about life…Of course, this whole tone of thought and mode of behavior is as far as possible from the study manliness which meets the problems of life and wins victories as much by what it endures as by what it conquers. (128)

If the men of labor are whiny and as far as possible away from “sturdy manliness,” then the men of capital, particularly of those “men of industry” who have proof of their victories by being at the top, are the pinnacles of manliness. Sumner then seems to find strikes evil in all their forms, as they are against the mechanics of society, and “for men to band together in order to carry on an industrial war…is only a way of courting new calamity” (132).

For Sumner, the logical conclusion of what the strikers, and particularly the Knights of Labor, had began, would end in what he calls a plutocracy: “a political for in which the real controlling force is wealth” (143). He uses Western Europe as his primary example, where “popular doctrines of the last hundred years have spread the notion that everybody ought to enjoy comfort and luxury—that luxury is a sort of right” (143). Again, the language or rights is antagonized here, but it does not seem to be in connection with the individualism he spoke of as a preacher, rather, the right to luxury for Sumner is a right that takes away from the hard working middle class. He finds this type of government perhaps in the progressive movement of his time and in the strikers, who he believed used capital “politically,” and that “instead of employing laborers, he enlists lobbyists. Instead of applying capital to land, he operates upon the market by legislation” (146). The strike is to Sumner a political gesture, one that threatens violence or disruption of the overall market, impinging upon the State’s ability to keep the peace. Capital, for Sumner, is to be used for the gain of more capital, as he claims that “speculation is a legitimate function in the organization, and not an abuse or a public wrong. Trusts…are evidently increasing” (147). The creation of trusts, of speculative capital, are simply ways of the strong displaying their dominance, while strikers and the Knights of labor seek to corrupt the political system. Indeed, Sumner sees nothing inherently wrong with inequality, and that claiming it as a right is in fact the real wrong being done. As he says, “what law of nature, religion, ethics or the state is violated by the inequalities of fortune?” (154), and seeks to overturn the idea that even though many of the millionaires seem to have amassed great wealth very quickly,

the millionaires are a product of natural selection, acting on the whole body of men to pick out those who can meet the requirement of certain work to be done…it is because they are thus selected that wealth—both their own and that entrusted to them—aggregates under their hands…they may fairly be regarded as the naturally selected agents of society for certain work. They get high wages and live in luxury, but the bargain is a good one for society…this will bring discipline and the correction of arrogance and masterfulness. (155)

Socialism, as a project that to Sumner claims a right to full equality, is an ideology that deliberate seeks to overturn the survival of the fittest, and therefore stagnate the development of the race. “competition,” sumner says, “is a law of nature. Nature is entirely neutral…she grants her rewards to the fittest, therefore, without regard to other considerations of any kind” (164). If the progressive agenda were to be established, Sumner fears that “we shall favor the survival of the unfittest, and we shall accomplish this by destroying liberty” (164-5), a destruction upon the basis of unfair tax laws, where “a law may be passed which shall force somebody to support the hopelessly degenerate members of society, but such a law can only perpetuate the evil and entail it on future generations with new accumulations of distress” (167). Though Sumner here may sound like the spokesman for a certain class, the law of primogeniture is one of his most consistent enemies, since leaving inheritance for the child would be against natural selection, and “he would do far better for his children to leave them poor” (176). In other words, under the Sumnerian utopia, everyone would begin at rock bottom, and those who rise to the top would be the “fittest.” This also means that the Philanthropist, naturally, is “only cultivating the distress which he pretends to cure” (182).

At a time when “social reform is the most barren and tiresome subject of discussion” (203), Sumner believes, it is “the weak who constantly arouse the pity of humanitarians and philanthropists…the shiftless, the imprudent, the negligent, the impractical, and the inefficient” (208). For Sumner, the efforts of humanitarians are being wasted “on a worthless member of society,” while the “Forgotten Man,” who “is the simple, honest laborer, ready to earn his living by productive work…[who]is independent, self-supporting, and asks no favors…[who] does not appeal to the emotions or excite the sentiments” and who “only wants to make a contract and fulfill it,” is, as the name suggests, forgotten. The main conceptual division here is between the obligation of the middle-class to support the poor, and the contractual agreement between two individuals to support one another. For Sumner the rule of obligation suggests a “sentimental relation” that attempts to “supersede(s) the free relation” (210). If, for the poor man, “a drunkard in the gutter is just where he ought to be” since “Nature is working away at him to get him out of the way” (212), by contrast, the “captain of industry,” is the ethical and efficient great leader who nature has set on a role of control over the masses, who Sumner, like Bellamy, defines as “the industrial army,” where the entrepreneur is the general.

Sumner meets the territorial expansion of the United States in the late 19th century with a retraction on his polemic position, and takes a stance more reminiscent of his preacher days, insisting that “so long as there is a government on the islands, native or other, which is competent to guarantee peace, order and security, no more is necessary, and for any outside power to seize the jurisdiction is an unjustifiable aggression” (267). Indeed, after the Spanish-American war, Sumner believed that Spain had actually won by dispelling the European injunction to accumulate colonies overtook the United States: “we are submitting to be conquered by [Spain] on the field of ideas an policies,” where “expansion and imperialism are nothing but old philosophies which have brought Spain to where she is now” (272). Sumner is prescient in this case, foreseeing that “they like their own ways, and if we appear amongst them as rulers, there will be social discord in all the great departments of social interest. The most important thing which we shall inherit from the Spaniards will be the task of suppressing rebellions” (277). Sumner posits that Spain itself was not made richer by its conquests, but that the Kingdom had been at fault by “confusing the public treasury with the national wealth,” and that if we were to set up markets in the Phillipines and force them to buy our products, we would be reenacting the same mistakes that led to the Cuban revolution against Spain. Expansion to Sumner also seems simply un-American, and that “we cannot get a penny of revenue from the dependencies…without burning up all our histories, revising all the great principles of our heroic period” (285) since it was taxation without representation that led to our own revolution. Though Sumner’s intentions here seem admirable from this historical distance, his fear of colonization of the Philippines is congruent to his fear of “bad stock” coming to the United States. As he says, “three years ago we were on the verge of a law to keep immigrants out who were not good enough to be in with us. Now we are going to take in eight million barbarians and semi-barbarians, and we are paying twenty million dollars to get them…we cannot treat [the negro] one way and the Malays, Tagals, and Kanakas another way” (293).

Perhaps the only time Sumner can actually be called a sociologist is in his last work Folkways, where he introduces the concepts of folkways and mores. The ancient folkways are often insisted upon by “the ghosts of ancestors” who “would be very angry if the living should change the ancient folkways” (358). These folkways were originally produced by the ancestors “for warding off pain and ill,” and Sumner defines them as acts of ritual shrouded in myth, which are with us today in the form of social “mores.” Sumner fuses these concepts with Veblen’s ideas of pecuniary emulation, namely that leisure classes “have led the way in luxury, frivolity, and vice, and also in refinement, culture, and the art of living” but that the masses “accept life as they find it, and live on by tradition and habit…the great mass of any society lives a purely instinctive life just like animals” (362). For Sumner this impulse to accept life as it has come is “due to inertia,” where “change would make new effort necessary to win routine and habit” and is “therefore irksome.” For the common man, as Sumner puts it, being born into a habit is simply taken as the best habit available, since it has stood the test of time, and that “for the people of a time and place, their own mores are always good, or rather that for them there can be no question of the goodness or badness of their norms” (364). Despite this insight, Sumner seems to believe that he can see past these mores, using—predictably—natural selection, which is itself a ideology embedded into his own time and place. “’Good’ mores” he says, “are those which are well adapted to the situation. ‘Bad’ mores are those which are not so adapted” (365). This way out of the mores is possible only though “conscious reflection,” which Sumner calls “the worst enemy of the mores, because mores begin unconsciously and pursue unconscious purposes…their expediency often depends on the assumption that they will have general acceptance and currency, uninterfered with by reflection” (366).

Plunging Darwin’s Descent of Man

Darwin, Charles. The Descent of Man, And Selection in Relation to Sex. New York: A.L. Burt, 1874.

If, in Origin of the Species, Darwin’s rhetorical analogies always begin with human selection to better understand natural selection, in Descent of man, this order is inversed, and begins with examples of attributes found in mankind that are similar with that of animals, as Darwin says, “the mode of origin and the early stages of the development of man are identical with those of the animals immediately below him in the scale” (17).

Right along with much enlightenment thinking, particularly Kant, Darwin notes that aesthetics too are not merely culturally valued, but lie along a hierarchy of aesthetic appreciation with the standard always at the European level: “judging from the hideous ornaments and the equally hideous music admired by most savages, it might be urged that their aesthetic faculty was not so highly developed as in certain animals, for instance, in birds” (62). It seems almost comic now, that Darwin was unable to see the arbitrary selection of the highest aesthetic standard as whatever he—or his culture—thought was beautiful, and thus found a correlation of development with aesthetic taste.

Like Herbert Spencer, Darwin too believes in a moral sense “derived from social instinct” where sympathy is not confined to a “tribe,” as is the morals of the “savage,” (93).  The savage is thus placed as immoral due to the confinement of sympathy, the “insufficient powers of reasoning,” and the “weak power of self-command” (93). If “confinement” of sympathy is taken to be a residue of a more savage age, then Darwin must also consider “nation” and state as similarly confining. To Darwin, nationhood however is perhaps the highest one can muster on this sympathetic group, and “this point being once reached, there is only an artificial barrier to prevent his sympathies extending to the men of all nations and races” (96). Indeed, Darwin here seems to match moral capability (as well as evolutionary development) with the democracy of sympathy, resulting finally in a global consciousness, yet always hoping for “sympathy beyond the confines of man, that is humanity to the lower animals” (96).

Darwin’s racial categories are difficult to parse out due to both the historical distance of his writing, and the definition of race which, even at the time, held no transparent meaning. Darwin does not know whether to use the term “race” or “species,” and bases his choice of “whichever term may be preferred” (104). His separation of racial types is done mainly by intelligence, something he believes can be derived “by the comparison of the skulls of savage and civilized races, of ancient and modern people, and by the analogy of the whole vertebrate series” (140). He sites one Dr. Davis, who claims that “the mean internal capacity of the skull in Europeans is 92.3 cubic inches; in Americans 87.5; in Asiatics 87.1; and in Australians only 81.9 inches.” Furthermore, one Professor Broca adds historical depth to this argument of recent racial development, by claiming that “skulls from graves in Paris of the nineteenth century, were larger than those from vaults of the twelfth century.” One can suppose then that if the skulls of Asiatics and Australians are the same size as that of twelfth century Europeans, then these “lesser races” are indeed stuck in a lower stage of development. So why did one race develop faster than others? Darwin’s answer is that “if they had inhabited some warm continent, or large island, such as Australia or New Guinea…they would not have been exposed to any special danger. In an area as large as one of these islands, the competition between tribe and tribe would have been sufficient, under favorable conditions, to have raised man, through the survival of the fittest, combined with the inherited effects of habit, to his present high position in the organic scale” (151). This argument that geographic placement is crucial to the development of a group is one of high popularity now, its leading intellectual presence in Jared Diamond.

Though linear historical progress is a narrative that is frequently attributed to Darwinian thinking, Darwin himself refutes the idea that progress is the “normal rule in human society,” since “many savages are in the same condition as when first discovered several centuries ago” (160). To Darwin part of this freeze in development is attributed to the weakest of the race surviving—in nature being far too kind. He declares that “the weak members of civilized society propagate their kind,” and that “the aid which we feel impelled to give to the helpless is mainly an incidental result of the instinct of sympathy, which was originally acquired as part of the social instincts but subsequently rendered, in the manner previously indicated, more tender and more widely diffused” (162).  As with Herbert Spencer, Darwin believes that the impulse to sympathize with the weak of a race is itself a weakness, for “if we were intentionally to neglect the weak and helpless, it could only be for a contingent benefit, with a certain and great present evil. Hence we must beart without complaining the undoubtedly bad effects of the weak surviving and propagating their kind.” His proposal then, is appropriately Malthusian, that “the weaker and inferior members of society not marrying so freely as the sound” (162). Though Darwin here is tracking progress with himself as the standard, it is evident that he is not simply advocating to exterminate “lesser races,” but to uplift those through imperial regimes by naming “proofs that savages are independently able to raise themselves a few steps in the scale of civilization, and have actually thus risen” (174), and that the inhabitants of Europe—particularly the Jews—“were once in a barbarous condition” (176).  The moral imperative, then, is a mission of civilization.

Darwin’s Descent of Man If, in Origin of the Species, Darwin’s rhetorical analogies always begin with human selection to better understand natural selection, in Descent of man, this order is inversed, and begins with examples of attributes found in mankind that are similar with that of animals, as Darwin says, “the mode of origin and the early stages of the development of man are identical with those of the animals immediately below him in the scale” (17). Right along with much enlightenment thinking, particularly Kant, Darwin notes that aesthetics too are not merely culturally valued, but lie along a hierarchy of aesthetic appreciation with the standard always at the European level: “judging from the hideous ornaments and the equally hideous music admired by most savages, it might be urged that their aesthetic faculty was not so highly developed as in certain animals, for instance, in birds” (62). It seems almost comic now, that Darwin was unable to see the arbitrary selection of the highest aesthetic standard as whatever he—or his culture—thought was beautiful, and thus found a correlation of development with aesthetic taste. Like Herbert Spencer, Darwin too believes in a moral sense “derived from social instinct” where sympathy is not confined to a “tribe,” as is the morals of the “savage,” (93). The savage is thus placed as immoral due to the confinement of sympathy, the “insufficient powers of reasoning,” and the “weak power of self-command” (93). If “confinement” of sympathy is taken to be a residue of a more savage age, then Darwin must also consider “nation” and state as similarly confining. To Darwin, nationhood however is perhaps the highest one can muster on this sympathetic group, and “this point being once reached, there is only an artificial barrier to prevent his sympathies extending to the men of all nations and races” (96). Indeed, Darwin here seems to match moral capability (as well as evolutionary development) with the democracy of sympathy, resulting finally in a global consciousness, yet always hoping for “sympathy beyond the confines of man, that is humanity to the lower animals” (96). Darwin’s racial categories are difficult to parse out due to both the historical distance of his writing, and the definition of race which, even at the time, held no transparent meaning. Darwin does not know whether to use the term “race” or “species,” and bases his choice of “whichever term may be preferred” (104). His separation of racial types is done mainly by intelligence, something he believes can be derived “by the comparison of the skulls of savage and civilized races, of ancient and modern people, and by the analogy of the whole vertebrate series” (140). He sites one Dr. Davis, who claims that “the mean internal capacity of the skull in Europeans is 92.3 cubic inches; in Americans 87.5; in Asiatics 87.1; and in Australians only 81.9 inches.” Furthermore, one Professor Broca adds historical depth to this argument of recent racial development, by claiming that “skulls from graves in Paris of the nineteenth century, were larger than those from vaults of the twelfth century.” One can suppose then that if the skulls of Asiatics and Australians are the same size as that of twelfth century Europeans, then these “lesser races” are indeed stuck in a lower stage of development. So why did one race develop faster than others? Darwin’s answer is that “if they had inhabited some warm continent, or large island, such as Australia or New Guinea…they would not have been exposed to any special danger. In an area as large as one of these islands, the competition between tribe and tribe would have been sufficient, under favorable conditions, to have raised man, through the survival of the fittest, combined with the inherited effects of habit, to his present high position in the organic scale” (151). This argument that geographic placement is crucial to the development of a group is one of high popularity now, its leading intellectual presence in Jared Diamond. Though linear historical progress is a narrative that is frequently attributed to Darwinian thinking, Darwin himself refutes the idea that progress is the “normal rule in human society,” since “many savages are in the same condition as when first discovered several centuries ago” (160). To Darwin part of this freeze in development is attributed to the weakest of the race surviving—in nature being far too kind. He declares that “the weak members of civilized society propagate their kind,” and that “the aid which we feel impelled to give to the helpless is mainly an incidental result of the instinct of sympathy, which was originally acquired as part of the social instincts but subsequently rendered, in the manner previously indicated, more tender and more widely diffused” (162). As with Herbert Spencer, Darwin believes that the impulse to sympathize with the weak of a race is itself a weakness, for “if we were intentionally to neglect the weak and helpless, it could only be for a contingent benefit, with a certain and great present evil. Hence we must beart without complaining the undoubtedly bad effects of the weak surviving and propagating their kind.” His proposal then, is appropriately Malthusian, that “the weaker and inferior members of society not marrying so freely as the sound” (162). Though Darwin here is tracking progress with himself as the standard, it is evident that he is not simply advocating to exterminate “lesser races,” but to uplift those through imperial regimes by naming “proofs that savages are independently able to raise themselves a few steps in the scale of civilization, and have actually thus risen” (174), and that the inhabitants of Europe—particularly the Jews—“were once in a barbarous condition” (176). The moral imperative, then, is a mission of civilization.

Plunging Rowe’s Literary Culture and U.S. Imperialism

Rowe, John Carlos. Literary Culture and U.S. Imperialism: From the Revolution to World War II. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000.

Rowe begins this book with the idea that U.S. culture is shaped in part by a “powerful imperial desire” and a “profound anti-colonial temper,” and that these two seemingly contradictory forces are one way to not only read historical forces in U.S. history, but as ways of reading literature, usually as tending more to one side than to the other. Rowe traces back the “anti-colonial temper” to the imperialist injustices of Western Europe, which “justified the expansion of U.S. territory in North America” (5). In the beginning of the nation’s history, in other words, expansionist war “was rationalized in some quarters in the United States as an “anti-colonial” struggle, in keeping with our best revolutionary principles” (5). Other events that worked along both of these ideas, was in organizations such as the Anti-Imperialist league, which, “rather than defending the rights of foreigners against imperial aggression, most nineteenth century Americans upheld the ideals of “American” racial purity against the “inferiority” of such foreigners” (8).

The second and equally somewhat obvious claim that Rowe begins with is that neoimperialism, which “has been traditionally associated with later modernity and post-industrialism…is recognizable in U.S. culture of the late eighteenth and nineteenth century” (11). The idea of winning “the hearts and minds” of the people and colonizing in an informal, economic and cultural manner, is one that Rowe sees as a common theme throughout much of U.S. history.

So what of literary culture? For Rowe, it is often the promulgator of imperial and anti-imperial ideologies: “Literary culture legitimates the ideological aims of print-capitalism and its residual Protestantism by invading the mind and psyche and transforming the body into a representation of the former, often thereby legitimating prevailing hierarchies of race, class and gender” (12). If literary culture shapes the readers into representations—into simulated being of the representation—then imperialist literature shapes men into soldiers of empire. This claim seems the most problematic of them all, and is perhaps naïve in its view of culture a disseminating force of single ideologies, especially since Rowe’s tactic is to close-read texts—a way their contemporary audiences would not have read them—in order to show what kind of ideologies they are meant to expel, or subconsciously expel. For this, he selects “cultural works in which there is some explicit engagement of internal and extraterritorial forms of U.S. colonialism as they were understood in a particular historical moment” (14). His aim, as he states it, is to “shift our literary attention from literary texts, whose aesthetic values are often commodified, to discursive forces that contribute to larger social, political, economic, and psychological narratives. Having done that, we must then evaluate the consequences of those literary contributions or challenges to this cultural narrative” (17). By evaluate here in italics I take to mean a type of re-valueing of these texts based on their political messages, or as Rowe puts it, their “relative contributions to social consensus and social reform” (19). Does this then become a type of acidity test for the worth of literary texts? This seems to be his overall goal, his “curricular standard” as he calls it, a term he uses to “emphasize the importance of our pedagogical purposes in the selection and organization of cultural texts in scholarship” (23). Put in this way, his project seems less a historical exposition, and more a witch-hunt for texts that do not match our values and standards, in a sense, splitting texts into a rigorous moral order.

Plunging Jacob Riis’ How the Other Half Lives

Riis, Jacob A. How the Other Half Lives; Studies Among the Tenements of New York. New York: Dover, 1971.

Riis begins his photojournalist muckraking book admitting that upper-class interest in the poor and tenement driven classes has lately spurred only because “the discomfort and crowding below were so great, and the consequent upheavals so violent, that [ignoring them] was no longer an easy thing to do, and then the upper half fell to inquiring what was the matter” (1). The underclass ruptures towards the middle-class utopian dream, as the

hot-beds for epidemics that carry death to rich and poor alike; the nurses of pauperism and crime that fill our jails and police courts; that throw off scum of forty thousand human wrecks to the island asylums and workhouses year by year; that turned out in the last eight years a round half a million beggars to prey upon our charities…above all they touch the family life with deadly moral contagion. (2)

The theme of moral contagious will become especially vociferous throughout his book, but one can decipher that this scapegoating and unreal representations of the poor are persuasive tools to convince his audience—the white middle-class—that “the greed of capital that wrought the evil must itself undo it, as far as it can now be undone” (2). Indeed, Riis seeks to both increase stereotypes and racializations of “backwardsness” and savagery, while at the same time, placing these racial traits within a historical narrative of capital, greed and liberalism. As he says of the growth of the tenements: “As business increased, and the city grew with rapid strides, the necessities of the poor became the opportunity of the wealthier neighbors” (5).  The safety and the health of the tenants are de-prioritized, and with the appearance of the middle-man, yielded cholera epidemics and the “most densely populated district in all the world…packed at the rate of 290,000 to the square mile” (6). The rents are “twenty-five to thirty per cent higher” than uptown apartments, but the factories and ethnic enclaves are all located within the slums, where the inhabitants “look upon death in a different way from the rest of us—do not take it hard” (41).

Does his ultimate purpose of reforming the tenement housing make-up for the ethnic slurs, superficial racializations and voyeuristic descriptions of the slum-dwellers? “The Italian,” Riis says, “is a born gambler. His soul is in the game from the moment the cards are on the table, and very frequently his knife is in it too before the game is ended” (44). In the stale-beer dives, Riis opines that “Tramps and toughs profess the same doctrine, that the world owes them a living, but from stand-points that tend in different directions. The tough does not become a tramp, save in rare instances, when old and broken down. Even the usually he is otherwise disposed of. The devil has various ways of taking care of his own” (66). Whether these are descriptions merely of Riis or of a populous against the lower class, the moral argument is clear: their moral contagion puts our families in harm’s way. One explanation for these matter-of-fact descriptions may be that Riis is himself an immigrant, but is also a policeman. Stereotypes might make sense in a position of police power, where one must rely on snap-judgments of some kind in order to keep the peace, and himself as an immigrant who has climbed the social ladder may explain his belief in the immorality of beer dwellings and tramps. Yet Riis also masks the poor and especially the immigrant poor as bad in an ideal sense, as those who are naturally undemocratic: “Honors are easy, where two “machines,” entrenched in their strongholds, outbid each other across the Bowery in open rivalry as to who shall commit the most flagrant frauds at the polls” (75).

As Riis descends into the ethnic enclaves, such as Chinatown, his moral urgency against the poor turns into a contagion of race, drugs and backwardsness along with immorality. In Chinatown, Riis is convinced that “There is nothing strong about him [the Chinaman], except his passions when aroused. I am convinced that he adopts Christianity, when he adopts it at all…as he puts on American clothes, with what the politicians would call an ulterior motive” (79). Riis first describes the problem of young girls being taken into Chinatown, made addicted to opium in the dens, and then made again into a “wife”—always in quotes. Riis’ most affecting story is of a girl who claims to be sixteen but is really thirteen who “floated about until she landed in a Chinese laundry” (80). Riis further says of the Chinaman who has addicted her to the pipe: “Her tyrant knows well that she will come, and patiently bides his time. When her struggles in the web have ceased at last, he rules not longer with gloved hand” (80). His prescription for what to do about the China, one unexpected given the tone of his slum-touring, is to “have the door opened wider—for his wife; make it a condition of his coming or staying that he bring his wife with him. Then, at least, he might not be what he now is and remains, a homeless stranger among us” (83). In other words, though Riis sees these faults of the Chinese as particular to “Chinese” people, he certainly does not see them as traits that cannot be surpassed, but as symptoms of the lack of a moral center, and in the cult of domesticity, this could only mean bringing in an “angel of the house.”

Riis’ book is full of other prescriptions, ones that on the face of it, are practical applications of state funding, and become in fact the goals of many progressive candidates. The first it to tackle “the ignorance of the immigrants”: “they must be taught the language of the country they have chosen as their home, as the first and most necessary step. Whatever may follow, that is essential absolutely vital. That done, it may well be that the case in its new aspect will not be nearly so hard to deal with” (106-7). On Natural selection, Riis also seems able to look at human beings—always in groups defined by the pronoun “he”—as caught in a prescient scientific racism:

Natural selection will have more or less to do beyond a doubt in every age with dividing the races…but with the despotism that deliberately assigns to the defenseless Black the lowest level for the purpose of robbing him there that has nothing to do. Of such slavery, different only in degree from the other kind that held him as a chattel, to be sold or bartered at the will of his master, this century, if signs fail not, will see the end of New York. (115)

Indeed, Riis’ capacity to see through much of scientific racism, and more towards the interests of their espousers in marking blacks as racially inferior, is an admirable jewel to find in an otherwise questionable text. And that Riis wrote this in 1880 is perhaps the most unexpected thing. The idea that all the races and ethnicities whose character traits and racializations are set upon them by those holding more power is one that harks back to his claim that capital, which began much of the distress, can also solve it. Thus he takes time to praise philanthropists who begin “trade schools” and begin the practical program of “Philanthropy and five per cent” (209). This Riis calls “the gospel of justice,” which is similar to a movement around Christian economic/socialist thinking that he is credited for helping to bring into amore mainstream idea of justice.

For the women in the tenements, Riis sees hard workers and virtuous women who, when forced into slavery, do such suicidal acts as one women who “threw herself from her attic window, preferring death to dishonor” (183). And yet, as Riis later says, “who is to blame if their feet find the paths of shame that are “always open to them?…let the moralist answer. Let the wise economist apply his rule of supply and demand, and let the answer be heard in this city of a thousand charities where justice goes begging” (189). Indeed, the tenements to Riis have turned the angel of the house into a worker who, unlike most of the males that Riis has spoken of, cannot be blamed for their actions.

Riis’ final suggestions are reminiscent of the progressive movement which credits Riis as one of the founders, where government public service plans and institutions are created to relieve much of the poverty-stricken, less capable classes. The first is the “rapid transit” would solve the problem of people needing to be near the factories they work, and thus let them commute from the cheaper and healthier uptown apartments. Remodeled homes and public schooling are also expected suggestions, and “the State may have to bring down the rents that cause the crowding by assuming the right to regulate them as it regulates the fares on the elevated roads” (224). Yet Riis does not also forget private enterprise, which he says, “must do the lion’s share,” and shows that it is also “a matter of profit” that the tenements be remodeled and made to fit less people.

Plunging Darwin’s the Origin of Species.

Darwin, Charles. The Origin of Species. New York: P.F. Collier & son, 1909.

Darwin’s immediate conclusions from his first chapter, that each species [has] not been independently created, but [has] descended, like varieties, from other species” (60), belies the “Special Introduction” of this 150th Anniversary version, written by Ray Comfort, where he asks the reader to “confess your sins to God, put your trust in Jesus to save you, and you will pass from death to life” (49). It seems Darwin’s been hijacked completely by Christian proselytizers in disguise.

Darwin’s ability to persuade his audience of a very contentious origins explanation are partially due to the way he eases his reader into the concept of Natural Selection, beginning with Human selection in breeding domestic animals: “it must be assumed not only that half-civilized man succeeded in thoroughly domesticating several species, but that he intentionally or by chance picked out extraordinary abnormal species; and further, that these very species have since all become extinct or unknown” (70). Albiet these selected traits are superficial and more beneficial to mankind than to the species being bred, selection by man is a means of putting some varieties into dominance over others, resulting in desired traits. With this in mind, it is an easy transition from human selection to natural selection, which Darwin, still perhaps uncertain of the reader’s feelings at this point, begins by observing the varieties of nature, point especially towards dominance, that “the species which are already dominant will be the most likely to yield offspring which, though in some slight degree modified, will still inherit those advantages that enables their parents to become dominant over their compatriots” (85). Here then is the process of natural selection, which is not only “a power incessantly ready for action,” but is also “superior to man’s feeble efforts, as the works of Nature are to those of art” (89).

By setting up his audience from human selection to natural selection, Darwin is suggesting that mankind has intervened in nature’s job of selecting progressing species, to the fault of the natural order. “Under domestication,” Darwin insists, “the whole organization becomes in some degree plastic” while nature allows a “preservation of favorable variations and the rejection of injurious variations”(98). Where mankind was mostly concerned with the appearances of a breed, nature “cares nothing for appearances, except in so far as they may be made useful to any being” (99). Mankind thus injures the species with decoration and ornament, while nature improves utility, fitness and survival skills. A third selective type to all this is sexual selection, which Darwin calls “not a struggle for existence, but…a struggle between the males for possession of the females; the result is not death to the unsuccessful competitor, but few offspring. Sexual selection is, therefore, less rigorous than natural selection” (101). The “vigorous” males in this case win over the females, by virtue of “special weapons” or plumage.

Under all these regimes of selection, it is by “great diversification of structure”  that “the greatest amount of life can be supported” (114). Because natural selection works best on improving some varieties over others, the more diversity of types to withstand population “checks” the better. Modification of species, he adds, “will add to the beautiful and harmonious diversity of nature” (142). This value of diversity is beneficial to the individual, for it “gives rise to all the more important modifications of structure” (142).

Plunging Spencer’s Social Statics

Spencer, Herbert. Social Statics: The Conditions Essential to Human Happiness Specified, and the First of Them Developed. New York: Robert Schalkenbach Foundation, 1954.

Spencer begins his polemic on the attack, identifying utilitarianism as one which cannot rationally be taken up in a realm of scientific inquiry, where “agreement as to the meaning of ‘greatest happiness’ [is] theoretically impossible” (10).  Instead of the utilitarian method he points to the “method of nature,” where “we find in ourselves some prompter called desire; and the more essential the action, the more powerful is the impulse to its performance, and the more intense the gratification derived therefrom” (16). Desire for Spencer is the natural drive behind forces human and animal, and if left on its own, will grow to fit “essential action.” Social ways of acting, Spencer shows, are just as natural to our desires as “appetite and parental,” and that a “moral-sense” prompting right actions exists in every human being: “every feeling is accompanied by a sense of the rightness of those actions which give it gratification—tends to generate convictions that things are good or bad, according as they bring to it pleasure or pain” (20). Since this sense is innate and moved by desire, the utilitarian rationalizations need not stuff men into artificial regulations.

It is important to note that Spencer is deriving his social evolutionary philosophy in this book not from Darwin himself (Social Statics was published in 1850, Origin of the Species in 1859) but from Darwin’s predecessor, (xx). Signs of Spencer’s later evolutionary reliance is found most abhorrently in his 1892 footnotes, where he attempts to summarize what appears to be superfluous information:

the fact that some races of men appear to have no consciences at all and that in other races of men conscience gives verdicts quite unlike, and sometimes opposite to, verdicts it gives among ourselves, are not even hinted. The evidence of this were not at that time before me. To prevent misapprehension it may be well here to say that the foregoing views concerning moral sense are applicable only to races which have been long subject to certain kinds of discipline (23-4).

The connections to Darwin naturally do not cease in the footnotes, but are fundamental to Spencer’s overall moral project, where good comes innate to human desires, and “all evil results from the non-adaptation of constitution to conditions” (28). For Spencer the natural desires of mankind creates a “good” harmony, one that can quickly turn to an “evil” when “its organization and its circumstances has been destroyed”—by the very same organism whose desires were good. Spencer utilizes concepts we would now call Darwinian, “fitness for surrounding circumstances,” “law of adaptation,” to show how men who are suffering evils in a state of existence are simply “not completely adapted to such a state” because he “partially retains the characteristics appropriate to an antecedent state” (31). The social state, of course, is reified into a single noun, “state” that “the human faculties [must] be mould into complete fitness for” so that “man [must] become perfect” (32). Which social state is Spencer referring to? “The social state” he seems to say.  His 1892 footnotes are of course revealing about this state: “Various races of mankind, inhabiting bad habits, and obliged to lead miserable lives, cannot by any amount of adaptation be moulded into satisfactory types” (32). Indeed, it was his own social state all along!

It is up to each man then to “fulfil his own nature” (34), but as not to “irritate the abnormal feelings of his neighbors,” though in some cases “it is not his behavior that is wrong, but their characters that are so” (37). This devision between who is right and wrong in these “irritating” circumstances is answered quickly by those more “unfit” for the social state, in this case the offended, because “they ought not to have so tyrannical an intolerance of other opinions than their own” (37). Therefore, to Spencer, the “liberty of each, limited by the like liberties of all, is the rule in conformity with which society must be organized” (45). It takes him many pages to lead up to this point, and even more derivations to repeat this principle with the authority of stating a moral law, one that follows in tandem with “an instinct of personal rights” that “leads him to claim as great a share of natural privilege as is claimed by others” (48). This instinct however is not to be confused with that of “sympathy” outlined by Adam Smith, but is only an instinct of personal rights, and the notion of sympathy as a right to Spencer is “nothing but a sympathetic affection of the instinct of personal rights—a sort of reflect function of it” (50). Spencer’s one and only discovered moral instinct is that of a moral law: “Every man has freedom to do all that he wills, provided he infringes not the equal freedom of any other man” (55).

As fundamental as this law is to human nature, Spencer seems to assume that only certain races of men are capable of doing it well and within a civilized social state, and for the “uncivilized man, even under the most hypothetical conditions—cannot be made even to recognize those actions [of pure morality] so as to pass any definite sentence upon them” (62). Nature wields a double-standard, or is simply a trickster cartoon character, promising innate sentiment but then taking it back when it comes time to use it, trading it for the lit stick of dynamite, or in the case of European cultural dominance that this book reinforces—cannon balls. Here also one can find the influence of Malthus, when Spencer rages against socialism, positing that the ideas are “correct in theory” but “impracticable,” for “if an equal portion of the earth’s produce is awarded to every man…a breach of equality is committed” (65). If violates the first principle. On the full equality of women, Spencer is much more aligned with today’s standards, that when women have “clear perception of what is due to them, and men to a nobility of feeling which shall make them concede to women the freedom which they themselves claim—humanity will have undergone such a modification as to render the equality of rights possible” (78). Spencer’s liberalism here is accounted for in the hidden complexity of his well-stated principle, and women’s equality is one branch leading from it.                 The inequality of women and slavery of others denotes to Spencer a “low social life,” one that perhaps belongs to the realm of the uncivilized.

The fear of “low social life,” the uncivilized, the barbarians, and the very idea of sympathy, becomes ever more contagious as Spencer finds that assimilation into a social state always works both ways, and that “whoso is placed among the savage will in process of time grow savage too; let his companions be treacherous and he will become treacherous in self-defense” (100). Spencer goes on to say:

Among a people not yet fitted for [a representative form of government], citizens, lacking the impulse to claim equal powers, become careless in the exercise of their franchise, and even pride themselves on not interfering in public affairs…they will watch the passing of the most insidious measures with vacant unconcern. (107)

And yet, “on the other hand, among a people sufficiently endowed with the faculty responding to the  law of equal freedom, no such retrograde process is possible” (107). If “the man of genuinely democratic feeling loves liberty as a miser loves gold,” then the miser, or anyone not of genuine democratic feeling, certainly cannot love liberty, but must, as a type, love something completely different, and therefore cannot assimilate well into a democratic society.

If one is looking through this books for how and why it became such a strong influence in American thought, Spencer’s staunch individualism surely molded well into American ideals, especially I the post-civil war era when reparations to African Americans, as well as total enfranchisement, was stymied by the insistence that they be treated by individual merit, not by social responsibility to the group. Valuing always the individual rather than the group, Spencer opines that “of the many political superstitions, none is so widely diffused as the notion that majorities are omnipotent” (93). The best government for Spencer is that which “places less restraint upon the individual” (106). When the state creates new taxes, they act not the “part of the protector” but that “of an aggressor,” and worse, “retards adaptation instead of hastening it” which we will remember Spencer considers as “all evil” (127).

Perhaps the most shocking result of Spencer’s individualism mixed with evolutionary thought, is his ideas on the reformation of poor-laws, simply that “a poor-law tries to make men pitiful by force,” for it counteracts nature in its competitive form, which provides “merciful provision” and “universal welfare” by ending one’s existence “before it becomes burdensome” and making room “for a younger generation capable of the fullest enjoyment” (149). This type of welfare of course is immediate and pathetic death, one meant to “weed out the sickly, the malformed, and the least fleet or powerful,” making room for what Spencer calls “the ideal man” (149). Realizing this may sound harsh, Spencer doesn’t retract, but softens the blow, promising that “widows” and “orphans”—whom he takes for granted are already the weakest of the social state—would struggle and die “in connection with the interests of universal humanity” (150). For those who disagree, they are merely “disabled” “by their sympathies with present suffering [and]…pursue a course which is injudicious, and in the end even cruel” and that the “spurious philanthropists” “to prevent misery, would entail greater misery on future generations” (151). Spencer continues advising would-be philanthropists and do-gooders:

Blind to the fact that under the natural order of things society is constantly excreting its unhealthy, imbecile, slow, vacillitating, faithless members, these unthinking, though well-meaning, men advocate an interference which not only stops the purifying process, but even increases the vitiation—absolutely encourages the multiplication of the reckless and incompetent. (151)

To end, Spencer’s moralism and its impulses are made either more complex or simply jarring when he theorizes that one cannot do evil if one is ignorant that what they are doing is evil—i.e. slave owners had no obligation to feel guilt over owning slaves until it was put into public thought (by natural progression) that their practice was abominable. Since amoral action retards growth, those doing altogether disturbing deeds need not be slowed down, for many “have not yet reached a development great enough to be offended by such doings” (240). Spencer explains: “while the injustice of conquests and enslaving is not perceived, they are on the whole beneficial; but as soon as they are felt to be at variance with the moral law, the continuance of them retards adaptation in one direction more than it advances in another” (241). By now it is all too obvious why this text was so appealing not only to Darwin, but to the British empire and to ex-slave owners of the American south.