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E 341 (23)


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E 341
Aparna Gollapudi

Take Away Concepts Post-Colonialism Though Japan or China were never formally American or European colonies, some of the paradigms of postcolonial interaction can be used to approach the East-West relations in the different versions of Butterfly. Devaluation of colonized cultures As Loomba notes, colonization devalued a nation’s past, culture, history, progress in favor of a preference for Eurocentric norms, customs, language, culture. This process might take various forms, infantilizing and barbarizing the colonized, rendering them ‘unstable’ or dangerous, condemning their religious beliefs etc. This dynamic is clear enough in Puccini’s opera – Pinkerton might be a cad but the cultural value system he is rooted in is in fact considered superior to Japanese superstition, greed, and naiveté. As an audience we empathize with him most when he is banishing the mysterious, cruel priest from his home. And Butterfly seems most endearing when she tries to face down Sharpless in her “American Wife” guise. Think of other such moments in the text which show such inequities. Also, we might think of Puccini’s opera as a ‘colonizing’ tactic, insofar, he ‘takes over’ an entire land and people and subjects them to his power of representation. In the movie, M. Butterfly, too such an interaction is frequent, with all the mocking references to Chinese culture as ‘old’ and Gallimard’s wife’s comments that Chinese opera is like cats screeching (the beauty of operatic music, on the other hand, is supposed to be ‘universal’.) Consider the various kinds of devaluation of colonized cultures and how it “naturalizes” the colonizer’s view which becomes the ‘norm’ or the ‘common sense’ way to think/be. Modes of coping with colonial trauma The colonizer’s devaluation of native culture and the attempt to erase native customs as ‘backward,’ ‘barbarous,’ or ‘superstitious’ leads to formation of specific subjectivities in the colonized peoples. They might be hybrid subjects alienated from their own past and identity or might respond by returning to orthodox modes of behavior with renewed and obsessed zeal in order to prevent colonial erasure of their culture. This is most obvious in Puccini’s Butterfly, in which we see both modes of behavior in Cio-Cio-San. Also, can Song – whose personal history suggests that he and his prostitute mother have experienced the economic and racial dominance of Western males first hand – be also read within this paradigm? Consider the symptoms of colonial trauma and the mechanisms of coping with it in the subjectivities of the various characters in the opera/play/movie The nexus between capitalism and colonial dominance Loomba complicates the notion of colonization as simply political conquest by bringing in the capitalist economic cycles that underlie 19 – 20 century colonization as well as neo-colonial enterprise. Such “global system of economic and cultural control” are visible in Butterfly as well. At the beginning of the opera, Pinkerton purchases two properties in a way – the house and the geisha. It is his economic control, his role as an important player in Goro’s ‘market’ for geisha brides, that initiate the cycle of cultural changes and implicit dominance that mimic colonial race relations. Similarly, in the play, Hwang makes it clear that the power of the dollar enslaves others – Gallimard notes that Butterfly’s price is ‘sixty-seven cents’. Also note other small instances of economic dominance as a fundamental attribute of neo-colonial interactions – in the movie, the comparative poverty of the masses invests Gallimard with special power and privilege as he strides down the narrow streets or interacts with the rickshaw puller after getting the dragonfly. Consider various instances of this imperialist nexus between capital and colonization in the different MB versions and reflect on their significance. Postcoloniality Loomba, after parsing out the subtleties of the label ‘postcolonial,’ concludes that postcoloniality can be seen as a “shorthand for conveying a structure of inequity, which is, in practice, highly variable because it always works alongside other social structures.” It “refers to a process of disengagement from the whole colonial syndr
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