Khaled Instructor: Habib Benltaief Class: Cultural Studies 1/16/2012

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The topic chosen: Versions of self and other vary in Foe as Susan barton says :" . But the stories

he told me were so various, and so hard to reconcile one with another, that I was more and more driven to conclude age and isolation had taken their toll on his memory, and he no longer knew for sure what was truth, what fancy. (Coetzee 12) A text is made up of multiple writings, drawn from many cultures and entering into mutual relations of dialogue, parody, contestation..." Roland Barthes.

The French school and the American school have been wrestling over the veracity of their methodology in the academic field of comparative literature. The French scholars consider their method the ultimate one. Americans, from another angle rebuke the French school’s presumptions and have another opinion on the matter. Both schools’ theories on comparative literature are inadequate in comparing works of literature. The efficient approach in comparing works of literature would be to oscillate between the two theories, rejecting biased ideas such as eurocentrism and the non-reference to extra textual elements. For some scholars, mainly the French ones, comparative literature must follow three parameters. First, there must be at least two cultures, the European culture being the center. Second, French literary trends must be recognized as the canons that influenced the other works of literature. Third, there is the need for at least two different languages. For instance, if one had to attempt to compare Jean de la Fontaine’s Les fables de la Fontaine and Ibn al Muqaffa’s ‫ك ل ي لة ودم نة‬, the former must be referred to as the center and the source of influence, while the latter has to be the periphery that copied Jean la Fontaine’s style. Drama works in Arab literature is yet another argument with which French scholars support the dominance of the French canons over the others. Indeed, Drama is a recent

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Khaled Instructor: Habib Benltaief Class: Cultural Studies 1/16/2012

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discipline that came to existence after the French colonization of the Arab land. No one can deny that. However, this premise is not relevant for two reasons. On the one hand, the European culture is not homogeneous; it is inappropriate to consult it as a point of reference. For example, the French culture –even to a small extent– differs from the British culture; yet, both cultures are European. On the other hand, nothing comes out of nothing. The French literary schools did not, all of a sudden, start inventing literary trends. For instance, Jean de la Fontaine was himself influenced by Aesop’s fables centuries ago. It proves to be improper to take the French school’s literary trends as a source of reference, let alone the European culture. American scholars, namely New Critics, discredit the French school’s presumptions. There is no culture better than another. By analogy, the European culture can in no way be hegemonic, nor can it be centralized. New Critics also note that it possible to compare works of literature from the same culture and written in the same language. Both Robinson Crusoe and Foe are English novels, written in the same language and belong to the same culture. New critics are not wrong to point out to these errors. Nevertheless, one should note that even the New Critics’ approach is equally fallacious. New critics think that works of literature are self-sufficient. It is incorrect to say so. It is impossible, for example to fully understand Foe without having read the original book. One must read Robinson Crusoe before being able to detect criticism. In Foe there is a reference to numerous stories essential to the full understanding of the book, such as the Persian myth of The Old Man of the River. Even in Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe, there is intertextuality.

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There are passages taken from the bible. Consequently, it is a mistake to consider a text self-sufficient. In addition, new critics believe that there is no need to refer to the author’s intentions, historic facts and to the involvement of political matters. This is partially erroneous too. Both Michel Tournier and John Maxwell Coetzee had the intention of criticizing Daniel Defoe’s biased precepts that connote the supremacy of the English culture over the others. Moreover, in order to understand Foe, readers are required to know some historical facts about South Africa as well as the author’s intentions. To sum up neither the French, not the new critics’ approach seems to be perfect. The finest method to apply comparative literature would be to take the plausible criteria from both schools. One should acknowledge the influence of a work over another, and the possibility of comparing works belonging to the same culture and written in the same language. It is similarly logical to refer to extra textual elements notably the intention of the author, politics and historical fact. This paper will attempt to prove on the impossibility of writing history on the behalf of others by comparing the three works. Daniel Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe is told from a Eurocentric perspective. Crusoe is a man who brings civilization to the isle that he conquers. This assumption is criticized by Susan in Foe. According to her, Robinson is not civilized and has never been able to conquer the island. Susan does also criticize him for making of Friday his slave. Michel Tournier, on the other hand condemns racism and subverts the binary opposition between master and slave. Daniel Defoe’s Crusoe is an English man who was cast away on a desert Island, which by the way is not the first misfortune he goes through. The first time

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he travels by sea, the ship sinks, yet he escapes. He later on, he serves as a slave for two years; then he escapes again. Though successful in the Brazil, Robison decides to travel by sea again. That is when another adventure begins. During his solitary reign, Robinson Crusoe endeavors to build himself a secure home that, he calls his “fortress,” with the wrecking of the ship. Though with difficulties, Crusoe manages to craft himself some tools like the pickax the shovel and the grinder. Thanks such tools, he furnishes his house with a table, a chair, and shelves to arrange his belongings. Crusoe has a sense of organization and anticipation. For example, his gun powder is not left in barrel as it is. It is divided in case a thunder strikes, and it has a secure spot. Crusoe remains on the island for about fifteen years before realizing that he is not the only man to have set foot there. After he sees a foot print near the beach, he becomes hysteric. Since the latter cares about his safety, the event pushed him to work harder in order to secure his “fortress” .Although he has been living in security for security; he decides to plant a row of trees in front of his house to cover it. Robinson Crusoe’s rule in the island was never questioned. In the beginning, Robinson leads a solitary life; there is no one to oppose him, and no one to share the island with. Then he saves Friday from cannibals, and becomes his servant. So is the case of Friday’s father. The Spaniards that he saves similarly become under his rule. All his subjects do as instructed and abide to his rules. Robinson Crusoe is not the story of a colonist from a random origin; it is the story of a British settler. In South Africa, British settlers’ are the ones who dominated the country. They overruled the Boers and the Portuguese and became

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the owner of the four parts of the country, in 1909. English settlers seem to rule in the real world as well as in the world of fiction. Robinson acclimated himself to life in the island, and was able to feed all his subjects. He claims that he was fortunate enough to have found seeds; it was the Providence of God that helped him. Robinson learned when to seed barley; he amassed enough food provisions for all people living under his authority. As a British settler, he succeeds in implanting civilization in the island. He builds a whole economic system, knowing how much has to be seeded to meet his consumption needs. He claims to have educated Friday by teaching him morality, according to the words of the Bible. He makes him understand that cannibalism is not descent and that he should follow God’s rules. In Defoe’s version, Crusoe’s story is told from one perspective; Foe’s story cannot be understood without the reading Daniel Defoe’s first. One needs to know the information presented above in order to notice the discrepancies between both writings. Susan criticizes Crusoe, satires him, and then becomes subjected to criticism. According to her, he is Portuguese. He never lived alone in the island; he was shipwrecked with Friday as a baby, fourteen years ago. Susan does not belief his story, for she claims that he told her various stories that were “hard to reconcile.”(Coetzee 5) Sometimes he thinks that he arrived to the island with Friday when he was a baby, and other times he insists that he saved him from cannibals. Susan doubts his stories and mocks him indirectly. It is necessary to look back in South African history and to recollect some facts essential to the analysis of Cruso’s portrait. Robinson is the first colonizer to conquer the island; so are the Portuguese who started invading the Cape of Good

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Hope during the 14th century. Cruso treats Friday as a slave and sees no harm in that. He ironically says “who would be left to pick the cotton and cut the sugarcane.” (Coetzee 14) The British were the last colonizers to settle in South Africa, they were stronger and -supposedly- had better ethics. Indeed, British politicians used moral arguments to expand. They presumed that the Portuguese and Dutch people treated slaves inhumanly. Susan looks down on Cruso because she is British, and British people treated black people in South Africa more humanly. Ironically, Susan who at the same time, wants to protect Friday and to give him freedom refuses to let him go on board of the ship going to Africa. Fearing that the sailors would take him to the Cape of Good Hope to work as a slave is but a pretext. Although she was against Crusoe’s ownership and against slavery, Susan is unwilling to give up her possession. She says “he is mine.” (Coetzee 75) In addition, Susan thinks that Friday would be “happier among other Negroes.”(Coetzee 86) This statement reminds the reader of the case of apartheid. It was thought that black people should be living together in order to fully enjoy freedom. They can have political freedom but within boundaries imposed by the ex-British colony. It is also applicable in the USA with the separate but equal system. Black people had the right to education; they had to go to schools for blacks only. They were forced to live in black neighborhoods and to go to black churches. Susan continues her story on Robinson and carries on abasing him. Cruso is not the sane and wise man portrayed by Defoe. According to Susan’s description, he is rather a fool who is unable to remember his own story, let alone being organized enough to write a journal. Crusoe is person able to utter ridiculous statements such as “nothing I have forgotten is worth remembering.” (Coetzee 10) Accordingly, sometimes Cruso talks irrationally about cannibals

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who never existed on the island. Susan pities him and tries to tell his story as the west did for their colonies, with an air of superiority. Cruso lives like a primitive man, and does have a will to improve his life. He sees no use in tools. He is stuck in the Stone Age era. He never cut his beard and lives in a hut that he calls a “fortress.” His home is poorly furnished. Contrarily to Daniel Defoe’s version, Robinson has neither a chair nor a table nor candles. All three of them sleep whit the sun set, like brutes. When Susan asks why he does not make himself candles he answers her with in a ridiculous question that can in no way be sarcastic. "Which is easier: to learn to see in the dark, or to kill a whale and seethe it down for the sake of a candle?"(Coetzee 16) The first settlers in South Africa, the Portuguese and Boers, were not technologically advanced compared to Britain. For this reason, it was easy for the British colonizers to overrule those who had settled before them. Susan is the only character to have defied Cruso’s authority. She bypasses Crusoe’s rules. She pays no heed to his warning and decides to go for a troll in the island. Cruso’s rules are proper to the island, what is outside the island has no importance. However, laws should be universal and based on international morality. After reading Foe, one might come to the conclusion that Cruso is whether exaggerating about his achievements or that he is not mentally stable enough to tell a story without flaws in it. Robinson never had a dog, nor did he have goats and there was no mentioning of any other creatures save apes. There has never been “a creature like a wild cat,” (Defoe 86) there were moneys which were between a cat and a fox, in size not in shape. He has no inclination to write a journal and cannot remember his past events exactly as they happened.

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Susan decides to write Robinson’s story according to her own perception and does not seem up the task. She is the only one telling the story and facts have been altered, whether by distorting or by selecting some them. She thinks that bloody events would make her story more interesting for readers. In Daniel Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe, there is action. After Robinson delivers Friday from death, he goes on a killing spree, and frees the Spaniards as well as Friday’s father. In the end of the novel, Robinson recounts his adventure with the wolf that almost killed their guide through mountains in France. Susan recognizes her inability to tell her story without slightly changing it. She rhetorically asks Friday: will the day ever arrive when we can make a story without strange circumstances?” (Coetzee 44) She acknowledges that no one is able to recount the stories of others. People should write their history themselves, or else, they would be “written by another and darker author.”(Coetzee 96) No one can deny that Robinson was described as a primitive human being unable to evolve. In her account, she underlies her superiority to Crusoe. Susan is not the only one to criticize the retelling of history; Foe explains to her that history is written from only one side. This is made clear thanks to the original writing or Robinson Crusoe. On one side, Robinson is the wise English adventure who could survive in Desert Island. In Foe, his glory falls apart and becomes a primitive person who does not want to evolve. History changes with time. It is the winner who writes history, and the winner is often the last settler and writer. Coetzee wants to prove that there is not one truth in stories. He chooses some characteristics in Susan that render her account unreliable. Susan is mentally impaired. In the beginning of the novel, she mocks Crusoe who tells her to accommodate herself to darkness. Then she says: “There is not a candle left in the

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house. But perhaps that is a blessing [...] we will grow used to living in gloom by day, in darkness by night.” (Coetzee 42) After having criticized Crusoe, she does the same as him. She is unable to distinguish between reality and fiction. She sometimes fails to distinguish between Crusoe and Foe. In addition, she fails to recognize her daughter. She refers to her as a ghost. Foe equally criticizes Susan; he explains to her that there is not a unique version of history. Truth can never be ultimate. She claims that Friday has grown into a burden and that she has become his prisoner. She refers to him as “the old man of the river.”(Coetzee 100) Foe intervenes eloquently. He says: “Though you say you are the ass and Friday the rider, you may be sure that if Friday had his tongue back he would claim the contrary,” (Coetzee 101) Friday would have developed a different point of view. Friday would have said something different. Foe insists on the part that precedes her story on the Island. Foe is eager to know about Susan’s life in Bahia. However, Susan focuses on the island. Robinson Crusoe’s story begins there. There is no importance to what happened before. She decides for the reader what is worth knowing and what is not. She discards all Robinson’s previous adventures because they are not congruent with her version. Not telling the story from the beginning proves that her story cannot be reliable. In his parody, John Maxwell Coetzee has been able to demonstrate that writing the history of other people can never be fair. In the original version, Robinson when he tells his story, he seems to be civilized wise and organized. When Susan tells his story, Robinson turns out to be the opposite. John Maxwell is not the only writer to have criticized eurocentrism in history, In Robinson ou les Limbes du Pacifique, Crusoé’s story is again criticized.

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Robinson Crusoé who comes from England is depicted differently. He is still the castaway English settler. However, his dominance in the island is momentary. In the beginning Crusoé abides to the nature’s rules. He is equal to all the animals around him. He follows the natural law of “survival for the fittest,” and kills a he-goat. He eats what nature offers him: purslane leafs, shellfish, fern roots, and eggs and so on. During this phase, Robinson gives in his humanity. In the beginning of the novel, Robinson does not struggle against Speranza. Contrarily to Defoe’s version, Robinson lives like an animal among others. Nature dictates its rules and Crusoé performs. He sleeps naked in muck, like a filthy pig. Crusoé once was so careless about hygiene that a layer of dirt formed itself on his skin. He has no interest in keeping track of time; he is cut off from the external world. It takes him a while before he starts a calendar and escapes the domination of Speranza. He later on becomes the one dominating “her.” Unlike in Defoe’s book, Robinson creates a set of laws and formally proclaims himself governor of the island. The article III of his chart states that it is forbidden to relieve oneself outside the arranged spots. Polluting the island with excrement would be penalized. So are bathing in the muck and indecent assault. Robinson is the first one to obey the rules. None of these rules were mentioned in Daniel Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe. Some of these rules are extracted from the Bible. They take into account moral values that are found in the Bible. For instance, filth is one of the seven sins in Christianity. It is improper to run naked in the island. It is additionally improper to hide and sleep when there is work, sloth is another sin that Christianity forbids. One can note that it is difficult to impose laws on citizens who do not share the same religion.

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Robinson’s authority is challenged by Vendredi at various times. Robinson told Vendredi not to smoke his pipe, for tobacco is very scarce and it is the master’s property. However, Vendredi disobeys him, and accidently sets the temple on fire. Additionally, he commits adultery with Speranza. The black color on the mandragora leafs proves his guilt. After this event, Crusoe starts treating Vendredi as an equal. In Robinson ou les Limbes du Pacifique, Crusoé is no more Vendredi’s teacher, the roles are inversed. Vendredi seems to more civilized than him. Vendredi gives Robinson a lesson on how to communicate instead of resorting to violence. Instead of resorting to physical violence, notably slapping, Vendredi shows him how to express anger in an artistic way. He builds a body that resembles Crusoé’s, with a coconut and a mariner’s hat. Then he says to him; “I present you Robinson Crusoé, governor of the isle, Speranza.” (243 Tournier) Next, he yells and breaks the coconut. Finally he laughs and hugs Crusoe. The latter learns the lesson and uses the same way to express his anger toward Vendredi. After having seen Vendredi eating worms with ant eggs, that Crusoé finds disgusting, he applies the lesson like a student. He goes to beach builds a body with sand and tells Vendredi, “I present you Vendredi, the eater of worms and snakes” (Tournier 243:244) then begins to whip it. The story of Robinson Crusoé is no more about the master who stands aloof, giving instructions to his slave. Michel Tournier turns the relationship between them on its head, inferring that there is no such thing as the superiority of race over another. Crusoé literally asks God to make him resemble Vendredi; it is no more the opposite. From a postmodern point of view, the margin becomes the center. Thus, the superiority of the white man is subtly deconstructed.

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Michel Tournier’s version asserts the slogan of the Black American activist Steve Biko, “black is beautiful.” This politician’s ideas influenced numerous writers and political movements such as The Black Consciousness Movement in South Africa. This movement aimed to help black people regain their self-esteem because they internalized the white man’s constructed stereotypes that poorly portrayed them. Black people came to believe that they were inferior to white and that they had no culture. It is no more the blacks who long to become white, but rather the opposite. It is Crusoé who wants to become like Vendredi because the latter seems to be more civilized than him. From another perspective, Michel Tournier criticizes some missionaries for trying to impose religion and ethics that they see appropriate in others. Religion cannot be imposed by violence. It is more about self-conviction. When Crusoé was instructing Vendredi how to behave, he bursts in laughter. Undignified, Crusoé slaps him, an act that he later regrets. Ironically, Crusoé goes against his own convictions. According to the bible, wrath is a deadly sin. This proves that the game that Vendredi invented turns out to be more ethical and judicious. As it has been Shown, Roboinson Crusoe ou les Limbes du Pacifique and Foe are not mere copies of the original work. Their work is a critique of Daniel Defoe’s. While in the first book the story is presented from a eurocentic prism, the other versions deliberately follow the main synopsis in order to put bare the unsubstantiated arguments in colonization and slavery. Consequently they discredit the aloofness of the white race. They prove that the white man’s burden is but a myth. The analysis of both works depends on the knowing of the prototype writing and of other historical and political facts. Finally, one can

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conclude that neither the French nor New Critics’ method in comparative literature is adequate in analyzing different works of literature.

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Works Cited Coetzee, John Maxwell Foe Pinguin edition 1986 Tournier, Michel Vendredi ou les Limbes du Pacifique Gallimard 1996 Defoe, Daniel Robinson Crusoe Planet PDF

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