Friday, February 13, 2004

there's nothing like a little harsh critique to spice up your evening

It started out innocently enough. I got an email from my friend Jang-woong's sister (a different sister, not Mrs. Oh) asking for help with proofreading a paper she has to present. Half of it arrived this evening. I started reading... and was simultaneously fascinated and flabbergasted at what I was being asked to proof.

Here's part of what I received, still in Konglish, but perfectly understandable. Obviously, postmodernism has thoroughly soaked into Korean humanities academe.

The Duplicity of Traditional American Values:
Edgar Allan Poe's The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket

Americaness or traditional American values like individualism, independent spirit, liberalism, or protestantism are nationalistic rhetorics that would integrate America as a unity through its mythical traits rather than concepts standing for America or American itself. Actually the United States has grown a great nationalistic nation from the beginning of history of many kinds of immigrants and many trials has been made to analyze the national identity of America from the memorial of the mass since a historian, George Bancraft wrote the book "American History" on 1834. In the course of time, American history that has been formed through the American immigration that got back to primitive nature for freedom in the 17C and American Revolution that declared the independence from the England in the 18C and development of Democracy has agitated for the Edenic America.

However, the above viewpoint is contradictory to the reality of American society whose history is not of the creative myth but of alienation for human beings. The fact that America has formed the unitary nation and national values is not based on consensus but on conflicts of different races and opinions. And this kind of deconstructive standpoint has been supported by many left historians and postmodernist as well as multiculturalist in recent years. So, this thesis, upholding the opinions, aims at showing the doublefaced Americaness or American values through The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket (hereinafter referred to The Narrative) by Edgar Allan Poe.

The Narrative written at the renaissance of American literature with the rise of nationalism infusing patriotism into the American people after Revolution. Thus, it shows a pattern of typical American literature which shows unreality, Adamic character, pursuit of identity and etc. However, the national consciousness promoted at this period has some limitations in terms of white man's society alienating natives, slaves and women. Accordingly, the truth that are shown by white boy, Pym, with vested rights, who are equipped with traditional American values reveals duplicity of America and its future. And, the sufferings and nightmare that Pym went through stand for the collapse of American dream and optimistic view that cover up the conflict and alienation of American society.

The contradiction of American society is caused by not only the facts that immigrants from England can not be inseparable with the tradition but also that their liberal democracy and calvinism are incompatible with the sacrifice of natives and slaves. To be like, the Americaness and its limitation in the The Narrative is American self-consciousness to be free from the Europe tradition shown with the America's trial to avail itself of the tradition in other side and its liberal democracy that runs parallel with the ideology of racial discrimination. Finally, The Narrative ends with Pym's hideous and dismay nightmare that stands for the American future alike because the breaking of the American values that integrate American people means negation of American optimistic future.

American values such as individualism or independent spirit that have originated from American history with Democracy and Calvinism can be found in the characters of the fictions like The Narrative, Moby Dick, Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, etc. Pym's journey as the main theme of The Narrative is also clothed with American literature typicality that seek escape from real world leading to quest for future as in the case of Ishmael or Huckleberry Finn. Americans, due to their historical features, aspirate for the break off with old-world and distinctive Americaness, and this yearning leads to the expression such as 'American Dream' or American Adam'. As it were, it means a construction of new society that can serve for the great cause of human emancipation as for a life worthy of man clearing off old-world evil.

The characteristics of Americaness can be found in that of Pym's journey. He begins his travelogue by saying that "My name is Arthur Gordon Pym(7)" and evokes the extraordinarity of his travel with words "I will relate one of these adventures by way of introduction to a longer and more momentous narrative(8)". His way of talking shows American self-consciousness due to a lack of tradition, having taken it into consideration that America itself didn't have any national sentiment.

Pym severed relations with his family to make a trip. Heading for a wharf, Pym who is disguised with seaman cloak said to his own grandfather who called his name, "sir!, you are a sum'mat mistaken. My name, in the first place, bee'nt nothing at all like Goddin(21)". Having considered Pym's words "My grandfather was more attached to myself, I believe, than to any other person in the world, and I expected to inherit the most of his property at his death(7)" his behavior stands for American independent spirit that is one of distinctive American values.

However, the attitude as above is not consistent. None the less Americans try to their own individuality distinct from European's on the one hand, they, on the other hand, try to identify themselves with European and follow their successive history. First of all, Pym begins his story by mentioning urge of several gentlemen to share his story with American public. They insist on it that to give Pym's story to American public is his duty as a American. But Pym would refuse to publish his story because he fears lest that public should think the story is "a merely an impudent and ingenious fiction(3)" except his family and friends. But, mentioning the public convinced of the plausibility of the story, Pym tries to persuade the readers to believe his fictitious story as true. About the affair, Nelson claims that Pym's join hands with the gentlemen who urged to publish his story means that he participates in the imperialistic history of Europe imposing the white's superiority(94).

Perhaps most important is that when Pym making voyage from curiosity was shipwrecked he was saved by the ship, Jane Guy, that was of England and by which the purpose of his journey has changed. Pym participated in her future in body and mind planning to discover new islands around India for a trade. Having pursuing the market values from the marine products and natural resources in the Tsalal island Pym and his company discovered on the voyage, they are the very image of European imperialists. That is to say, Pym claims to stand for strategy of colonialism to make a profit with white's intelligence and power.

The shores of these islands abound, in the proper season, with sea lions, sea elephants, the hair and fur seal, together with a great variety of oceanic birds. Whales are also plenty in their vicinity. Owing to the ease with which these various animals were here formerly taken, the group has been much visited since its discovery.(145)

Much excited in the values of the islands, Pym and his company plan to make a great profit by trading with their needless things like beads, nails, saws and other similar articles. This pattern of trade, so to speak, is also a pattern of imperialism which not only European historians and American call as informal imperialism or free trade imperialism.

Moreover, exposing the history of the Tsalal, Pym put American imperialism on the same line of European one by saying that it was first discovered by the Portuguese, and was visited afterward by the Dutch, the French and America finally. Despite holding up a would-be slogan, "Manifest Destiny", American Expansionism premising superiority of the Anglo-saxons leads to the contradiction America identify itself with dignity and power of many European empires including England.


1) A myth, the dictionary tells us, is a notion based more on tradition or convenience than on facts; it is a received idea. Myth is not just fantasy and not just fact but exists in a limbo, in the world of the Will to Believe, which William James has written about so eloquently and so perceptively.

2) A phrase used by leaders and politicians in the 1840s to explain continental expansion by the United States revitalized a sense of "mission" or national destiny for many Americans.

3) The view that Anglo-saxons inherit their language and dispositions such as courage and independence spirit from the German has been dominant over England since 17C. The Anglo-saxons believe their past is same as the German's. Similarly, American people who take themselves as descendants of England tend to believe their dominant culture derived from the country.


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