EN4223 Sem 6 – Kim
Rudyard Kipling born in India in 1865, but brought up in England from about age 6 onwards. Returned to India to work as a journalist, began writing poems and short stories, and (rather to his surprise) became a very popular writer, a kind of spokesperson for and commentator on the British empire. After a period of travel he settled down to the life of a writer in England. Part of the “jingoistic” nationalistic fervour around the turn of the century, his writings often expressed a patronizing attitude to native others, and saw them as depending on the civilizing controlling influence of the white man. Kipling was a supporter of the Boer War, a friend of the well-known imperial figure Cecil Rhodes, and often expressed colonial attitudes and sentiments.
Despite his jingoism, Kipling was also seen as the “revealor of the East,” someone who (because of his Anglo-Indian background and journalistic eye) was able to represent Asia and Asians with “accuracy” (see B. J. Moore-Gilbert, Kipling and “Orientalism.”). Indeed he is capable at times of a kind of brutal honesty about the imperial enterprise (stories about the waste of young English lives in military service, the hardships and dangers of colonial life), and capable of at least a grudging respect for certain native types (especially the hardy tribes and warrior castes) and a respectful reservation of judgement about the native supernatural (many of his stories take on a gothic air, the return of the colonial repressed in the form of uncanny native figures and practices).
One of the interesting things for us would be to look at the ways in which his narrative manages these apparently contradictory elements – i.e. a different kind of “colonial chronotope,” (late colonial chronotope?), where narrative indeed works to create a “mixed” space-time in which opposing elements (master-slave, European-native, material-spiritual) can co-exist – not an easy task (and one which you might feel doesn’t really work, in Kim), given the entrenched opposition of such terms.
Kim published 1901, and often thought to be Kipling’s best novel – certainly one of his most “serious” extended works (when compared to the occasional poems, short stories, children’s literature that made up a lot of his oeuvre). Kipling won the Nobel Literature prize in 1907, but in the decade or so after that saw his popularity wane.
I. Kipling’s India and India Stories: Ostensibly a movement away from the European centre, yet this could become a means of re-mapping the centre onto the margin (i.e. colonialism through re-writing the margins, rather than focusing on the centre as the novels set in England do). Kipling provides a clue in his trope of the re-mapping of the English county onto India: in a letter to his cousin Margaret Burne-Jones, he speaks of the “whole hosts of abuses, oppressions and unthinking wrong” which exist in India, and asks her to imagine “a district as big as Yorkshire near Delhi,” contrasting the orderliness of the England parrish system with the disorderliness of India. So just because his novel is set in India (in contrast to, say, Moonstone and S4), doesn’t preclude the possibility that “India” is seen through an English lens/overlay.
Genuine fondness for India (its exoticism, richness, complexity) does not quite conceal a number of strategies of re-writing India for colonial purposes – not merely in any crude orientalism (although there are such moments in his writing), but in a kind of wishfulness, a desire for a certain kind of unreal/symbolic India. So his writings a kind of cultural “channeling” of a desired India? A strategic depiction of weaknesses and strengths, that collectively create a space for British-Indian contact and collaboration.
a. Indian anxieties: in the first place, there is the usual orientalism/“white man’s burden” of Indian anxieties – its worst, most threatening aspects, the India that might be without European control and input:
i. Character flaws: Hurree, who may or may not be the “monstrous hybridism of East and West” which the Russian spy asserts (p. 239), but certainly does have odd mannerisms, including an almost pathological inability to drop his guise (if it is a guise) of cowardly/self-congratulating sycophant (see his private musings p. 249-250 – “’If I had done it myself,’” thought Hurree, ‘it would not have been better; and, by Jove, now I think of it, of course I arranged it myself. How quick I have been!....How I shall laugh with the Colonel!”
Hurree’s Anglophile servility is probably not all an act – his private ambition is to be a Fellow of the Royal Society, which is quietly mocked by Creighton (although the latter shares the same ambition).
“Babus” (educated Anglophone Bengalis, often occupying lower-level colonial appointments – Calcutta, in Bengal, was the colonial capital) come in for especial contempt in Kipling’s fiction – Gunga Dass, the hollow and treacherous Babu in Kipling’s story “The Strange Ride of Morrowbie Jukes,” is a more threatening version of Hurree.
Many other flawed native characters, although to varying degrees (and perhaps all less so than Hurree): Mahbub Ali with his vanity (dyed beard), appetites (smoking, eating, womanizing and drinking, the latter despite his religious prohibition), and careless violence (“when I was fifteen, I had shot my man and begot my man,” and he seeks to make Kim in his own image: “please God, thou shalt some day kill a man with [the gift pistol]” p. 173.
Also, the child-like naivete of the Lama, his utter dependency on Kim; the treacherous jealousy of Lurgan’s Hindu child; the nervous instability of the infamous native spy E.23 (which requires Kim’s steadying genius to complete and stabilize); the petty or childish gullibility of the various characters (Jat famers, Jain priests, old native women, retired Sikh soldiers, etc).
“Infantalisation” of the native? Not a simple/overt racism, and not completely scathing, but intended to justify the role of the enlightened colonialist.
ii. Traditionalism as irrationality: part of this infantalisation is the way in which traditional beliefs are seen as restrictive – Kim’s role is in part to work ingeniously around those restrictions – e.g. his role as protector of the foodstall from the sacred cow; as shape-changing, quasi-supernatural overcomer of obstacles for the other-worldly lama (whose belief-system prevents him from being fully invested/involved in the material plane); as medic who has to disguise his nostrums to fit the beliefs of his patients (he gives a meat lozenge, probably beef, to the Hindu Jat’s sick son); as negotiator of a whole range of restrictive customs (caste, religious sects, dietary prohibitions, purdah/gender, etc). Note that these are not confined to the natives, but are shared by some white men, e.g. the Catholic priest who insists that Kim must be brought up Catholic.
(Note: Kipling’s negative views of Indian traditionalism, not to be confused with his treatment of native spirituality/supernaturalism, which he tended to see as something not fully understood by European rationality, capable of an overwhelming, new power).
Infantalisation/traditionalism a kind of regression/stagnation – coupled with the Lama’s talk of reincarnation, it is this novel’s version of the old Victorian/geopolitical bugbear of devolution/regression. This creates space for the white man to play the role of progressive/modernist agent of change.
“…there is not one rule of right living which these te-rains do not cause us to break. We sit, for example, side by side with all castes and peoples” (p. 30)
II. Bildungsroman – Kim might in some ways be compared to Great Expectations, Huckleberry Finn, other such bildungsromans. Novels of growth, journeys of development; intersects with the picaresque, in which an outside/trickster/unscrupulous figure observes and passes judgement/comments on society (Moll Flanders, Gulliver’s Travels). What is served by seeing India through Kim’s eyes? What is the chronotope of the geopolitical bildungsroman/picaresque?
a. Emphasises the infantalisation of the native (because it is infantile compared to the relative maturity of the child Kim).
b. Romance/idealist chronotope – India as child’s playground/wonderland (although this begins to fade by the last bit of the novel, after the Lama is injured and Kim, now much older, falls sick). Kim’s perspective, so different from those of Creighton, Lurgan and the other adults, allows the reader to see India as a meandering, playful journey, ostensibly without any particular goal, although with a considerable boyish speed.
Chronotope of geopolitical bildungsroman/picaresque disguises social transformation/colonialism/power/modernity as fun, trickery, social interaction? i.e. it preserves the colonial chronotope of increasingly rationalized, commercialized, transformed spaces (in the name of colonial control), but removes its offensiveness (remember that this novel is in the wake, albeit by several decades, of the Indian mutiny) by couching it in terms of the boy’s natural playful impatience/busy-ness/speed. An “irresponsibility” chronotope?
c. Problem of the bildungsroman: Kim has to be seen as growing/developing – the latter, more mature Kim is the payback for all the advantages of the younger, more irresponsible Kim. But with the older Kim comes, not only a slower and more serious chronotope and pace (marked by his dalliance with love with the Woman of Shamlegh, his sickness, his existential crisis – “I am Kim. I am Kim. And what is Kim?” p. 282).
This is also the problem of the geopolitical novel – “growing up” involves a kind of awakening of the geopolitical realities which can only temporarily be deferred (as a kind of boyish “great game”) – the realities always wait around the fringes of the narrative (no matter what kinds of deferral strategies – bildungsroman, romance, detective-chase, sexual desire, spiritualism, etc – are used temporarily). So, in Kim as in many of the other novels we have read, there is a kind of duality/ambivalence – here, it is boyish chronotope vs geopolitical realities.
III. Espionage, professionalism and the “Great Game” – a version/variation of the detective (and perhaps of romance as well) – play as a deferral of harsher (geopolitical) realities. Just as the detective’s pursuit of the villain offers MC society a reassuring fiction (in the infallible detective method, the superhuman qualities of the detective, the chase to eradicate crime), so too does Kim’s espionage activities translate the seriousness of geopolitical contest into boyish fun and games:
Even when I was with that white regiment I was very young and small and had no wisdom. But now I learn every day, and in three years the Colonel will take me out of the madrissah and let me go upon the Road with Mahbub hunting for horses’ pedigrees, or maybe I shall go by myself, or maybe I shall find the lama and go with him… (p. 138)
Professionalism: utter dedication to one’s craft that conceals larger (awkward) factors and reasoning, broader social issues. Cuff’s professionalism means that he can stop asking awkward questions when he is paid and dismissed by Lady V (i.e. he stops short of uncovering and diagnosing a MC disease/crisis); Holmes’ version of professionalism is an utter concentration on the case-as-challenge, pitting all his skills and abilities into the act of uncovering and discovering (so he chases down Small, but he completely avoids any questioning of the more complex ethics of Sholto’s treachery, Bartholomew’s selfishness and dishonesty, the fidelity of the Other, the problem of colonialism, etc). Kim’s version of professionalism consists not just in training and discipline – the kinds of things he learns from Lurgan, Mahbub and others, i.e. the memory game, surveying, disguise etc – but also in a particular attitude, a kind of deliberate playfulness which interprets facts/events to suit one’s own desires/plans; a convenience of ends-justifies-means, an exploitation which uses people around him (the Lama, charitable strangers) in order to further his own activities and agendas. He skirts around the truth with the Lama:
“Not as a warrior. That is well.”
But first I come to wander – with thee. Therefore I am here. Who begs for thee, these days?” he went on quickly. The ice was thin. (p. 192)
He actually uses the Lama as a cover for his surveying activities, with the result that the Lama is hurt and endangered in their encounter with the Russian spy. Kim’s professionalism is an intense focusing on how things are done, which supplants questions about why he is doing it (and what the cost is).
This is not confined to Kim, but of course all his superiors (Mahbub, Hurree, Creighton, Lurgan) also do it – they use Kim and the Lama for the empire’s purposes:
“There is a little business where he would be most useful – in the South,” said Lurgan, with peculiar suavity, dropping his heavy blued eyelids….
“Let him go out with his Red Lama,” said the horse-dealer with visible effort. “He is fond of the old man. He can learn his paces by the rosary at least.” (pp. 173-174).
In a way, even the Lama does the same thing, recasting the young boy Kim as a supernatural chela for his own desires (his love for the boy) and convenience (to be provided for).
Thus professionalism is depicted as ubiquitous and generally harmless, transforming callous exploitation into a dedication to one’s goals and objectives. It is also seen as a necessary thing – the redemption of individuals (from their otherwise flawed and weak condition) by giving them a purpose or aim. The best e.g. of this might be Hurree, whose whole being (corpulence, vanity, hesitancy) is transformed by his devotion to the colonial cause into a deceptive intelligence, competence and toughness.
The novel’s depiction of professionalism and the game is intended to rehearse in readers a view of the colonial enterprise as less sinister and more saving than it might otherwise be. Through professionalism and the game, Europeans and others get bound into relationships of similarity and dependency in which the problems of colonialism can become overlooked or displaced.
III. Hybridity/desire. Another way in which the colonial oppositions of master-slave, white-other can be assuaged, is in hybrid figures, and sites of desire between whites and others. Kim is the ultimate hybrid figure, white in race (and also with essential white attributes, e.g. when he resists Lurgan’s mind-control by repeating “the multiplication table in English” (p. 155), yet completely other in culture/language/manners. (Other attractively hybrid figures include the “dark, sallowish District Superintendent of Police” that Kim meets on the road (p. 77), who is born and bred in India “knows the land and the customs of the land” as the hillwoman compliments him. Lurgan sahib, who interacts comfortably with Bengalis and Rajahs, and speaks native languages, is another such.
Yet hybridity is also seen as threatening: in the figure of Hurree, who is redeemed and fulfilled only inasmuch as he apes English manners and serves the colonial cause (but still has odd mannerisms caused by his native aspects that don’t completely get subsumed within the British aspects), in the Woman of Shamlegh who adopts English customs (playing the piano, being a “ker-lis-ti-an” and speaking English, p. 263) but bitterly abandons these after her sahib lover abandons her.
We might speak of a motivated “contour” or pattern of hybridity: hybrid sahibs are better than naïve and racist ones (including the arrogant Russian spy); but native hybrid figures are not nearly as successful or stable as European hybrids. The obvious suggestion is that hybridity is a sahib’s talent or prerogative, which the native can only do imperfectly (hence signaling the cultural and personal superiority of the sahib); and the motive for the hybrid European is to be qualified to rule in a way that benefits India and Indians.
If hybridity is always a bit problematic (Kim, the most successfully hybrid figure, is also the one with the frequent identity crises), the novel offers us another image of rapprochement – white-native desire in the form of Kim and the Lama, a desire which is spiritualised and contained, although it still has elements of improper/fleshly attraction. That physical/illegitimate aspect (whether or not we want to go so far as to talk about the threat of homosexuality) is clearly hinted at near the end of the novel:
“Let me lay my head on thy lap, chela. I am an old man, but not free from passion…” (p. 245)
“Thou art too tender for me” (the Lama to Kim, p. 271)
“But I love thee…I was a child…Oh why was I not a man” (Kim to the Lama, just before he “broke down and sobbed at the lama’s feet,” p. 271)
“I pushed aside world upon world for thy sake” (the Lama, after returning from the Great Soul to be with Kim, p. 288).
Similarly, between Kim (who is part-sahib) and the Woman of Shamlegh: she tells Kim “There is nothing I would not do for thee” (p. 255), and “After service comes reward. I have said the village is thine” (to which Kim, obviously aware of the suggestion, says “It is my loss…even now I had planned desirable things in my heart which…” p. 262).
Hybrid desire that cannot be consummated, or else is displaced onto a spiritual sphere, seems to be the novel’s answer to the problem of the hybrid self: Kim becomes unique, because it is hard to imagine a similar set of circumstances that will reproduce another just like him, and sexual reproduction (in general – notice the general absence of fertile/nubile women, the homosocial world of soldiers, priests and spies – but also specifically of the sexual reproduction of hybrids) is curtailed. Kim’s own problematic identity (“who is Kim?”), plus these thwarted/displaced versions of hybrid desire, are the novel’s means of both asserting the possibilities of hybridity (as a means of reconciling geopolitical self-other) as well as curtailing or controlling its proliferation.
Geopolitics involves the failure or marginalization of usual, heterosexual, reproductive desire? (geopolitics interfere with the Rachel-Franklin romance for most of the novel; it produces the misogynistic Holmes, and although Watson marries Mary that marriage finally falls away from the underlying Holmes-Watson relationship). Suggestive, but wide-open: many possible ways we can read this, if we choose (e.g. geopolitics insists on the sterilization of heterosexual reproduction because it threatens geopolitical management in various way; or the anxieties of geopolitics, the dismal fin de siecle scenarios it involves, just kill off heterosexual desire/romance; etc).
IV. Spirituality: obviously plays a central role in this novel, due to the figure of the Lama and his relationship with Kim. Symbolic links between Buddhism and geopolitics, as the “middle way,” something which purports to overcome caste and other differences: thus when the Lama himself is baffled by Kim’s hybrid status (“And thou art a Sahib?”), Kim quotes the Lama back to himself as a means of (temporarily) resolving this geopolitical/cultural identity problem: “Thou has said there is neither black nor white” (p. 270).
But obviously this spirituality can play no larger role in a geopolitical novel/consciousness if it were confined to the Lama. Instead, it serves as the paradigm/model for other kinds of “transcendent” resolutions of geopolitical self-other conflicts: for example, in the tolerant eclecticism (“catholic,” in its etymological sense of “universal”) of others like the Lahore Museum Curator (who talks respectfully and knowledgeably to the Lama about his own religion and artifacts) and Lurgan (who “was always interested in religions” p. 159). Perhaps even in Hurree, whose ethnographic interests are rather self-serving and Anglophile, but he might be seen as an echo in comic key of this main theme of spiritual tolerance and eclecticism. Likewise the Catholic Priest Father Victor, who unlike the Anglican chaplain Bennett is less hasty to dismiss native religious sentiments as “gross blasphemy” (p. 90).
Not just “religions” per se (of which there are so many recorded and dwelt quite tolerantly with by the novel’s narrative – Buddhism, Hinduism, Islam, Jainism, Sikhism), but also occult spiritual practices, e.g. in Mahbub’s “dawut” or magical invocation for “full Protection” that he pays the woman Huneefa to conduct (p. 179-181). Mahbub and the narrative are both agnostically tolerant of the ritual: “I am a sufi (free-thinker), but when one can get blind-sides of a woman, a stallion, or a devil, why go round to invite a kick?” (p. 181) – seems to be Kipling’s own attitude to native supernaturalism, as we will see especially in “Mark of the Beast.”
Spiritual tolerance closely tied to the success of the colonial project – the foreign spies’ undoing comes when they show disrespect to the Lama and his spiritual chart. The spiritual tolerance and eclecticism of the British colonial project, it is suggested, is the answer not only to the insensitive intolerance of other colonizers, but also to the endless religious differences and tensions of the Indian natives themselves. And of course, it is the Lama’s universalizing “middle way” which provides the model as well as the excuse for Kim’s espionage wanderings – he is accepted in the Lama’s train, who in turn is accepted because of his generalized and tolerant spiritual standing.
V. Commerce, the emporium, colonial employment:
India-as-emporium: the key scene is Lurgan’s shop:
…the shop fascinated Kim. The Lahore Museum was larger, but here were more wonders – ghost-daggers and prayer-wheels from Tibet; turquoise and raw amber necklaces; green jade bangles; curiously packed incense-sticks in jars crusted over with raw garnets; the devil-masks of overnight and a wall full of peacock-blue draperies; gilt figures of Buddha, and little portable lacquer altars; Russian samovars with turquoises on the lid; egg-shell china sets in quaint octagonal cane boxes; yellow ivory crucifixes – from Japan of all places in the world, so Lurgan Sahib said; carpets in dusty bales, smelling atrociously, pushed back behind torn and rotten screens of geometrical work; Persian water-jugs for the hands after meals; dull copper incense-burners neither Chinese nor Persian…were cased, or piled, or merely thrown into the room, leaving a clear space only rounds the rickety deal table, where Lurgan Sahib worked. (p. 153)
The room as geopolitical space: it puts the colonial authority in the centre, watching over all things; it is a geopolitical “filled room,” concretely representing the world-as-emporium (like the Great Exhibition); it certainly has thematic and plot links to other parts of the novel (compared with the Lahore Museum at the start of the novel and the whole project of colonial museums; has all kinds of religious artifacts which point to the Lama and the theme of religion in the novel; the turquoises make a link with the Woman of Shamlegh who wears turquoises; and of course Lurgan, as the healer of sick pearls and the jeweler who works to see/correct any flaws in Kim the “jewel” of the colonial project, is both paymaster/colonial merchant as well as spymaster/colonial authority).
Lurgan’s room, and the figure of Lurgan himself, thus figure the importance of a new form of colonialism which is as much about “soft” and subtle ways of inserting the colonial presence into India, as it is about the residual “hard” colonialism (killing enemies, punishing rebellious native kings in the north, etc). Commercial exchange as means/tool of colonialism is also seen in the figure of Mahbub Ali (spy and horse-trader). And of course the basic fact that “locals” like Mahbub, Hurree and E.23 are in the employ of the colonial project, and seem to derive their motivation and identity from that employment, also reminds us of the importance of such softer colonial aspects.
VI. Schizophrenia and the problem of narrative: the general link between speed, wide-open (but simultaneously already-filled and contesting) spaces, and schizophrenia, also holds true in this novel. Embodied in Kim, not only in his incessant and highly mobile boyish pranks and travels (which so impress the Lama he says that his chela is “not of this world,” quasi-supernatural), but also in the speed with which he is expected to switch between Sahib-world and native-world – interestingly, the narrative itself shows its gaps and break-downs at such points, e.g. p. 124 when it glosses over most of the details of Kim’s western education: “Therefore, you would scarcely be interested in Kim’s experiences as a St. Xavier’s boy…”
Not just the Lama’s bewilderment at Kim’s dual, rapidly-changing identities (the other adults in his life – Creighton, Lurgan, Mahbub, Hurree, Father Victor, even Woman of Shamlegh – all to varying degrees have the same kind of awkwardness about Kim), but Kim’s own bewilderment is schizophrenic-like: the “who is Kim?” episodes, as well as the dislocation-episode:
All that while he felt, though he could not put it into words, that his soul was out of gear with its surroundings – a cog-wheel unconnected with any machinery… (p. 281-282)
The Lama’s own out of body experience in the last 2 pages of the novel might similarly be seen as the spiritualised response to geopolitical pressures – either schizophrenic fear/anxiety, or else a mythical spiritualised transcendence, seem to be the only possibilities in a world already fully-filled, and with impossible competing cultural-political pulls.
Likewise abrupt ending of novel is narrative schizophrenia – its own inability to pull together and properly situate/relate the opposing pressures of its mythical India, mythical colony?