Reading Group Notes The English Patient . Like the author himself, Hana, Kip and the patient are 'bastard children' of somewhere else, people without a home- What can you deduce from the novel about Hana's relationship with her father . In relations between countries of the West, and the Middle and Far East, . At one point, Hana, watching Kip sitting beside the English patient, thinks that the. “Their Continents Met in a Hill Town”- Kip and Hana. . the relationship between Kip and the English patient. As for the location of the colonial encounter .
While he becomes one of the best sappers of his time, he is not accepted easily by the other men.
People tend to ignore him, and he feels excluded because of his otherness: One could say that this dark-skinned man and the English patient are the heroes of the novel. After all, his image is the one chosen by the publisher to grace the cover of a book with a title that paradoxically seems to exclude a character like him.
Black and brown skins are images that recur in the novel and figure prominently in the film. All identification consumed in a fire.
Parts of his burned body and face had been sprayed with tannic acid, that hardened into a protective shell over his raw skin. It is thus quite an effort on the part of the audience to imagine the mummy on the sickbed as the sexy, handsome Count in the flashbacks.
In using such a figure, Ondaatje is creating a kind of a postcolonial hybrid or mutation. The patient is supposedly English, but appears like a mutation of an Englishman. Many descriptions of Kip are mediated through Hana, who observes him.
The English Patient - Wikipedia
Her fascination with and growing attraction for him become a point of contact for the reader, and we become as curious about her as we are about him.
This is expressed in the movie in one of the most sensuous scenes, in which Kip undoes his turban and washes his long hair. The director has Juliette Binoche offering him some olive oil, which functions to show her interest in him.
It reverses tradition because it is the man who bathes and the woman who gazes, turning her into an active participant.
The English Patient Reader’s Guide
He plays with cultural expectations, mostly Western ones, of beauty and ugliness, delight and horror, self and other. The triangular love affair of the flashbacks in Cairo is replicated in Italy in an ironic way. There are repetitions enacted with critical differences. With this observation, Ondaatje questions both racial and gendered otherness.
No figure, male or female, white or black, is established as the One. Structured as a series of short vignettes, the novel does not create an Other who would function as a mirror or a negative version of the Self or the One.
The white, male subjects are ambiguously depicted; they are either physically scarred or morally dubious, or both. In fact, the novel suggests that all characters are parts of one whole and that they are different versions of each other. This theme is one that Ondaatje has highlighted in a previous work featuring both Hana and Caravaggio as incidental characters. Similarly, such a vision of wholeness is articulated in The English Patient.
Describing a painting by Caravaggio called David with the Head of Goliath, the English patient remarks: Youth judging age at the end of its outstretched hand. But the analogy also refers to Caravaggio the thief. He, too, is an adventurer and a lover, though he is suspicious of those around him. In a rather elegiac passage after the death of Katherine, the English patient remarks: We are communal histories, communal books. We are not owned or monogamous in our taste or experience.
Many scenes in both the novel and the film enact this communal experience. A number of them have to do with the sharing of food, medicine, and other comforts. Similarly, the English patient remembers being fed by the Bedouin whom he recognizes only through the taste of saliva: These feedings are depicted as acts of love, as intimate as a kiss, as solemn as the passing of a communion cup. It is a sensual and a spiritual giving and receiving between two people who may or may not be on the same side of the war, who may or may not see each other after that time.
Significantly, both Hana and the Bedouin who rescue the patient are portrayed as angels. Even nature seems to cooperate in the healing process: Hana is likened to angels in the mind of Kip. While there are those who rescue people and act like angels, there are many others who destroy. The English Patient contains several incidents which remind us that, after all, the book is set during the Second World War.
At twenty years old, Hana has experienced enough of death and loss that, at one point, she feels virtually no desire for ordinary domestic ties, for romance, for passion, or for mothering. It was a rabbit warren, those narrow tilted streets.
In the film, the arbitrariness and horror of war are illustrated when the nurse to whom Hana loans money is blown up in front of her in the convoy. Youth and energy are in a moment wasted for no reason. This incident of cruelty is particularly ironic in the film because it is a German nurse who becomes the unwilling instrument of sadistic torture.
The lighting which forms a halo around her head and her white uniform remind us of Hana, but instead of bringing comfort, she brings unimaginable blight. Caravaggio is permanently damaged by the event: On the whole, however, for a work set during the war, The English Patient portrays a remarkable number of scenes of bonding and communion.
Characters who are thrown together because of war salvage what pleasure they can find out of their makeshift existence. Families in the non-traditional sense are created. Lord Suffolk and Miss Morden treat him as their own: Arguably, however, the underlying problem with thematic criticism in the argument is not simply its failure to address diversity, but its failure to secure the authority of literary nation-building.
She legitimates nation-building in the authority of a critical attention to inclusion. Her recognition of difference addresses the blind spots of thematics but denies engagement with particular differences and the challenges they pose to the understanding of identity as unified. She argues that thematic criticism is based on the false assumption of a single unified identity. As well, she argues that it produces an anglocentric tradition based on the exclusion of ethnic writing.
The difference of ethnic writing that is a product of the circumstances and experiences of the Canadian context is the difference of language; in this way, the article links the national identity to the qualities of language itself: Further, this new national identity is secured in the authority of a theoretical examination of the nature of language and identity. Such a discipline appears to argue for unity as diversity.
In her argument, however, the precondition for ethnic writing to signify the difference of language is the experience of exclusion within the nation. As a result, the same writing that demonstrates the new national identity simultaneously signifies as difference within the nation, two significations that together amount to a second construction of the nation as constituted by difference.
The significance of ethnic writing is limited in the article to its ability to provide a generic quality of difference. The argument exploits the idea of difference to secure nation-building but does so at the expense of attention to particular differences that would threaten the viability of the coherent national identity.
Her critical attention to ethnicity works to secure the legitimacy of a distinct national identity: The nation is secured in the cultural capital of difference. Conway ultimately invokes a rhetoric of inclusion that is based on the naturalizing of exclusion, exposing the underlying anxiety of the argument.
The vitality of the regional and cultural groups is not, notably, in their multiple differences; the significance of ethnic writing is limited to the characteristic of its exclusion. Strength is not constituted by the particular differences but only by the potential to signify the quality of difference as the basic principle of language. She positions her revisioning of the national literature squarely within the imperative to recognize cultural diversity: She makes an appeal to changing immigration patterns as the direct source of a new understanding of Canadian literature, naturalizing both the national context itself and her own canonical revision, in the terms of cultural diversity.
From a Bourdieu-informed perspective, any construction of the national literature must, however, be considered a function of the interest of an agent occupying a position within the field, and not directly of changing social demographics.
The argument thus trades on the cultural capital of ethnic writing but rhetorically denies it any agency to transform the literary field, except inasmuch as it reinforces the legitimacy of nation-building. The volume embraces the multiple voices that have been neglected in Canadian society: Employing the two understandings of ethnicity, Hutcheon posits a coherent and shared national condition — of ethnicity constituted by difference — that is a product of a multicultural ideology.
Difference is understood as the distinctive feature of the national literature. The effect of such a connection, finally, is the production of a coherent national literature as a product of contemporary theory and its concern with difference.
The argument is originally legitimated by the experiences of ethnic exclusion within Canadian society, which are in turn generalized as a shared national experience of difference, and then shown to be consistent with the concerns of cosmopolitan theory. Ironically, in the process, employed in the interests of producing the national, particular cultural differences are rhetorically limited in their potential to initiate shifts in cultural thinking.
However, in the objectification of difference as a new shared national condition, her response rhetorically functions to reinforce the unifying impulses of literary nation-building. The argument does, however, position difference, limiting its significance to the production of a national tradition. Despite the rhetorical privileging of difference, the language of the passage suggests a coherent reading community and the assumption of a shared national condition manifest in the national literature.
In fact, Hutcheon produces Canadian literature as the condition of radical difference implied by that opposition. Aponiuk does not take into account how the collection invests in the cultural capital of multicultural identities and experiences. Kamboureli, in this argument, does not so much rethink the problem of a singular national identity through a concern with questions of representation as she does refigure the nation as this concern.
The former, based in the questioning of the very legitimacy of a unifying national cultural identity, is paradoxically exploited to produce that identity. In some respects, one word too many. At the same time, multiculturalism stands as a preoccupation with questions of representation: The first use of the term invokes the critical notion that literature reflects the nation and, thus, implies the assumptions of coherence and unity, while the second use of the term is grounded in the questioning of those very assumptions.
Then, paradoxically, she asserts this very challenge as the basis of a coherent image of a newly constituted national literature. She raises the problem of a singularly defined national identity within the concern for a viable national cultural identity: I believe that within this complex web of historical changes, cultural differences, and politics there still remains the fundamental question of what constitutes Canadian identity. But in the s this question has been reconfigured, and, I think, irrevocably so.
For we can no longer afford to think of Canadian identity in singular terms. Its imaginary cohesiveness has already collapsed upon itself. Nor can we afford to cavalierly dismiss the current interest in cultural differences as a mere fad, or an obsession. She does not really posit a reconfigured form of this question of the national identity, exposing a reluctance to rethink assumptions about the nature of identity and its relationship to literature: The literature in Making a Difference offers different soundings of the social and cultural body of Canada.
Since its beginnings, the making of Canadian literature has coincided, in many respects, with the making of the Canadian state. Far from being a Canadian phenomenon alone, this overlap shows how literature, like other cultural expressions, measures the pulse of a nation.
What might be particularly Canadian, however, is the kind of anxiety that has continued to characterize both what Canadian literature is and what constitutes Canadian identity.
Kamboureli, in this passage, offers two familiar assertions. Literature is best interpreted as a measure of the national psyche; this assumption depends on the understanding of identity as unified and coherent — the nation as a closed and continuous body. As well, she invokes the tradition of a national anxiety as the basis of identification. The writers in this anthology make a difference because, when read together, they invite the reader to consider the social, political, and cultural contexts that have produced Canadian literature in general and their work in particular.
As a collage of voices, Making a Difference fashions an image of Canadian culture that reveals how we have come to our present moment in history. Functioning within the expectations of a coherent national image, the questioning of representation can never engage in a questioning of the very nature of identity as unified.
It is valued only for its ability to signify difference in the interests of the nation. By shifting the idea of the nation to the context of production, Davey moves it outside the opposition of social and formal designations and thus, arguably, away from the expectations of coherence and unity. Davey asserts the value of ongoing political process as an effective counter to the hegemony of global industry and mass culture.
Attempts to posit a coherent voice of resistance depend on assumptions of identity as unified and stable and arguably compromise the potential for open political contestation. The political task set by Davey illustrates the need to rethink the expectation that the production of a coherent national identity, even in all its diversity, can be an effective opposition to the hegemony of multinational culture and industry.
This expectation may in fact impede the opportunity for resistance in the interests of multiple and diverse constituencies. Further, he comes to implicate contemporary theory in perpetuating this ongoing reluctance. They exploit that opposition as the basis of competing theories, ultimately using an attention to ethnicity to invest the cultural capital of disunity and difference in the hidden interests of the former, coherence and unity, in order to bolster the legitimacy of the national identity as the basis of literary interpretation.
Loriggio addresses the limitations of both sides of the opposition. In introducing the possibility of alteration, Loriggio names the very threat that the arguments discussed above work to neutralize; they attempt to commodify the difference of ethnicity without granting agency to ethnic writers to challenge assumptions about a coherent cultural identity and the context for literary interpretation.
He argues that this condition is marked by Canadian literature: Understanding ethnicity as a new kind of knowledge, Loriggio posits the particular historical and temporal circumstances of ethnic writing as its constituting features. Up to now, literary criticism has carried out its role — intellectual, institutional — on the largely unexamined premise that literature, culture, territory and language coincide.
The literature emerging in Africa, in Asia, or being written by ethnic authors in Canada and elsewhere, is a literature of non-coincidence. A discrepancy, large or small but there somehow, keeps linguistic enunciation, literature, culture territory, always out of synchrony. The new subjectivity and the new knowledge it represents, also a particular historical construction, thus challenges, as I have been arguing, the cultural capital of the national identity as the basis of literary consecration.
Critical approaches that either exclude ethnic writing in the desire for coherence or, as discussed above, include it as an objectified mark of incoherence, foreclose on its challenge to older understandings of identity based in unity and coherence. By exploiting the theoretical opposition between coherence and incoherence, agents are able to manage the critical engagement of ethnicity in the interests of literary nation-building, upholding the romantic assumptions of the coincidence of land, language, and culture.
It traces his effort to decode experiences of cultural diversity and to achieve an understanding of identity that is responsive to those experiences. His search for self-consciousness contains a hidden trick, and Kip makes an error, consuming without suspicion the products of Western culture. Unsuspicious consumption implies an acceptance of the illusion that cultural consumption grants the agency to participate in the processes of cultural change.
In general, Kip consumes almost nothing without suspicion. As Kip follows the lines of war through Europe, he seeks solace in art: In the chaos of war, Kip turns to the universal stability of art.
He embraces culture with a faith in its ability to provide recognition and sense of belonging. Culture becomes the ultimate distraction, culminating in his reliance on the short-wave radio and popular music to block out thought as he works as a sapper: Later he would need distractions. Later, when there was a whole personal history of events and moments in his mind, he would need something equivalent to white sound to burn or bury everything while he thought of the problems in front of him.
The radio or crystal set and its loud band music would come later, a tarpaulin to hold the rain of real life away from him. His actions coincide with the movement of music, suggesting that his professional skills are enabled by his embrace of Western culture. If he were a hero in a painting, he could claim a just sleep.
But as even she [Hana] had said, he was the brownness of a rock. The successful defusing of a bomb ended novels. Wise white fatherly men shook hands, were acknowledged, and limped away, having been coaxed out of solitude for this special occasion. But he was a professional. And he remained the foreigner, the Sikh. His only human and personal contact was this enemy who had made the bomb and departed brushing his tracks with a branch behind him.
He provides stability and reaffirms order only in as much as he signifies difference. His success as a professional sapper, protector of Western culture, is inseparable from this identity. In contrast to the traditional heroes — the wise white fatherly men — Kip, burdened with the imperative to supply the desired quality of difference, is denied the complexity of self-determination; he is granted recognition without agency.
While positioned within the tableau of Western culture, Kip is denied the agency to participate in its construction. He is a hundred yards away from her in the lower field when she hears a scream emerge from his body which had never raised its voice among them. He sinks to his knees, as if unbuckled. When I was a kid I did that, the same thing. I believed I could fill myself up with what older people taught me. His consumption of Western culture has been predicated on his inherent difference, exposing the illusion of belonging.
His identity, however, takes shape through his exclusion from that very economy. He consumes knowledge but is unable to transform or circulate it. Kip retreats from his error, retracing, in his journey back through Europe, the process of his engagement with Western culture: A statue was there, bandaged in scaffold. Figured as a bomb, the novel demands suspicious consumption to find its trick: That there exists a North American cultural reluctance to step outside the safety of this distraction, evidenced in the reluctance to rethink an understanding of identity as unified and coherent, is reflected in the explosion of commercial success surrounding the movie.
Cameron, Barry, and Michael Dixon. Studies in Canadian Literature 2. The Writer As Critic Series 4.