恭賀 英文系大學部學弟妹 奪得中央大學108學年全校系啦競賽第一名!!!
108 Curriculum- Current predicaments in English Learning
70 years. Yes, this is how long Taiwan has been committed to English education. For many adults, starting from junior high school, they have at least six years of learning English. As for children nowadays, most of them start their long path of English learning as early as elementary school. When one steps into society, the time span of English learning goes up to over ten years, with uncountable money and tremendous effort devoted. As most people would expect, Taiwanese English should be above the average of other countries of non-native speakers. Yet, things are just the reverse. According to global research done in 100 non-English speaking countries, the general English ability of Taiwan has gone down steadily to 38 in 2018 (EF EPI 2018), behind Mainland China and South Korea. Numerous private language institutions and cram schools have sprung up and students’ pressure has never seemed to be been abated, not to mention parents’ anxiety and the official’s burden. What in the world can one endeavor to learn for ten years but fail? What, in the end, is the real problem of Taiwanese English education? In this essay, I will point out the problems I see in 108 Curriculum English, based on my experience of tutoring and working in cram schools.
108 Curriculum of English education is a huge topic. To analyze, we can see from the pros and cons of this new policy, as well as the roles of parents, students, and the government. In that education has never been a unilateral problem but an imbroglio implicating outer influences, more aspects should be taken into consideration.
The advantage of the 108 Curriculum, compared with the former, is obvious. Students will no longer simply memorize vocabulary for tests and forget them once they leave schools, for which the old curriculum is mostly denounced. The planned progress, if students act accordingly, ought to cater to the future trend in modern days, thereby stimulating the general competitiveness of Taiwan.
The day when students painfully instilling thousands of words is over. In the future, English classes focus more on combinations of different subjects, such as history, mathematics, science, etc. The ability to solve problems is the upper hand which the students can acquire from schools, far from the inability of adapting to the social environment before. For instance, while most classes when I was in high school aimed at the use of words, phrases, and grammar, classes now link to cases in day-to-day life through English, such as news or personal hobbies, which students mostly find more intriguing. When ones’ passion is ignited, learning is no longer arcane vocabulary and intricate grammar; rather, it is the process of inquiring knowledge with learning happening synchronously.
Meanwhile, electives, optimally, are free space saved for students to delve into their interests, meaning that they learn with curiosity. In lieu of comparatively tedious materials beyond one’s interest, students go deeper into sport English, mythology, exotic cultures, and so on. Outside of classrooms, learning may still go on inside each passionate mind. This is the main goal of the new curriculum and the eventual aim of education. Only when one’s interest has been attached enough importance to can students’ individuality stand out. When a student graduate, their experience in schools become their lifelong ability the traditional education is unable to give.
Lastly, the diversity of learning is a huge advantage for students in the future. Learning not only English, which is more of a tool rather than a skill but also skills from various domains is essential in the future world.
On the other hand, the disparity between the plan and the reality is still left for improvement; namely, there are obstacles not supposed to be taken lightly. Although the new program focuses on the ability of application and flexibility, a few learning steps are omitted, such as background knowledge. In the following paragraph, I have enumerated the major problems of the new curriculum I have witnessed in the year of teaching.
What is expected is far cry from what is happening right now in classrooms- the gap between students’ English ability is too big. To exemplify, when I was part-timing in one mid-sized traditional cram school, there were junior high school students who even have a problem memorizing 26 English letters, and that is in a city. I can hardly imagine what it is like in distant areas of Taiwan. Meanwhile, pupils of wealthier backgrounds finish learning grammar and vocabulary of junior high school even before the entry of it. Seeing this, I doubt how the government can ensure the viability of the project, and how, after all, they can assure parents of the school education?
Also, creative thinking, spontaneous learning, and individuality are all just vague and beautiful letters, which both students and parents find hard to follow and assess. Interacting with senior high school students, I was not surprised to see lots of them, not the very few haranguing on the media about how positive the new classes are, appear to be lost. Of course, those sitting on the decision-making table who never walk into a real classroom wouldn’t know this but are satisfied with their so-called “educational reformation”, flawed obviously. Seeing changes made and the eulogies written on the media, it seems to me that some teachers and the government officials are bewitching themselves as if they had made changes and students were improving.
Electives are not serving their full function but oppositely undermining student’s general English ability. That is, the time for both English classes and outside materials is both far less than enough. The original purpose is fostering student’s ability to think and allow more time to explore, hoping that to adopt English speaking and willing to express their ideas, but there is no enough time. For instance, when I was in senior high school, we had five to six English classes, inclusive of supplementary classes; now, however, those of senior high school have been lessened to four English classes a week, with the extra time saved for elective classes. It turns out that time for both parts, basic learning and extra classes, is not enough. Some hold that the interest in different subjects will push students to learn themselves; however, that is the rarest quality only seen in very few but not the whole student body.
Ideal may the new curriculum seems, I concur on the original motive too, what I witness is just the opposite. To illustrate, some public schools provide optional classes of other languages aside from English, such as Japanese or Korean, and give the young more time to “explore”. The real problem is, what can a fifty-minute Japanese class a week teaches students and will they learn spontaneously? Honestly speaking, they are not going to be Japanese experts just because of one class a week, nor will they become proficient in any subjects simply on their own. Instead, their English ability has gone down, and so are other major subjects. So far, students seem to have known everything- they have sundry electives to take-but actually know very little. With scarce dedication and little time investment in a single domain, it is of no use learning, let alone applying.
Core competencies, as highlighted in the 108 Curriculum, is more of an omission of the learning process. The idea of the new policy is to have students foster the ability to collect, differentiate, organize, analyze, and ideally apply the information in real life. Though it is positive, most students haven’t yet nurtured this sort of ability. I consider that the application of knowledge should be preceded by a few years of studying what is traditionally dubbed “fixed and dead knowledge” and later learn to capitalize on the is to solve problems at last. The education method the state is putting the cart before the horse. Emphasizing thinking and flexibility, they care less about the fundaments. learning is like building; those who neglect the foundation of a building would never be able to build a skyscraper but a bungalow, and even some are struggling with the basement. To be exact, what the government is doing is making chicks fly when their wings are still fragile, or asking toddlers, who cannot even stand, to run. In the end, once students fail, they are very likely to collapse and abandon themselves. In short, despite the positive idea of the application of knowledge, the fundamental part of learning cannot and should not be ignored.
Moreover, the college entrance exam still exists to burden students and open new gates for after-school programs. Under the stress of parents and tests, so-called electives have become self-learning or classes of quizzes, which, absurdly, may even be a positive situation. To extremes, a lot of students just dilly-dally in the extra time and give up their resting space to cram schools or after-school programs. At this, parents, obviously concerned with children’s education, are becoming tenser each year with the government’s ever-changing policy. The misgivings, in my opinion, is the reflection that people no longer trust the government. Schooling has lost a part of its function in Taiwan and if this goes on, parents trust private programs outside of school more but not the class of a school itself. Take my students as examples, half of them opt out of the eighth session of the school to come to private institutions, which costs far higher. As for those of better economic conditions, the easier way out is a private school, which runs at their own pace regardless of all education reformation. That’s the reason why the enrollment rate of leading private schools, in the teeth of low birth rate and high tuitions, remain incredibly high. At the end of the day, children of families unable to afford exorbitant tuitions generally perform behind others, deepening the gap of social classes consummated by the government. A failure to allay parents’ doubt is the failure of the teaching system. Should one day education become a prerogative of the well-off, education will no longer be education.
The reduction of standard vocabulary is another huge issue. Some may argue that the required English words of high school have been lightened from 7000 to 4500, whereby the college entrance test is made easier. However, it doesn’t mean the other 2500 words disappear. They may still be tested in the reading parts as additional information students are required to learn. So what is the meaning of the reduction of vocabulary? Furthermore, when stepping into colleges, young learners face original texts which contain not the gentle 4500 words but ferocious academic terminologies, which even students adapting to 7000 words find overwhelming. How can students continue learning when they even have a problem reading? Admittedly, 7000 words are demanding; nonetheless, so long as people can read and understand more than 5000 words, they are naturally more advantageous than students learning only 4500. Setting the bar high at the stage of high school for the sake of the college, to me, is a lot more important than highlighting spontaneous learning. What high school education is now disregarding is the significance of literacy, which, in colleges, cannot be emphasized enough.
In Taiwan, the idea of higher education is deeply entrenched in people’s opinions, which has always been a controversy. Parents usually want their kids to be either lawyers, teachers, or doctors. The government is now focusing on the agility of children’s mindset and personal characteristics, endeavoring to diminish student’s pressure. Nevertheless, this takes time the society needs to adjust and new teachers have to be trained. Applying what a person has learned, in reality, is an ideal goal and how to foster students’ ability in thinking is the biggest problem in the system. Lacking time in adjustment will at last lead to the loss of students, teachers, and the whole country. Jumping from the most traditional learning environment, focusing on vocabulary and grammar, to the new model, which focuses more on core competencies, is a huge stride and I think more time and flexibility are needed. I suppose the new curriculum should be more explained to the public, in the interim, more teachers should be more trained. This process may take years, but it is necessary. Unfortunately, the government has discounted the reality.
The long term goal of English education in Taiwan, together with 108 Curriculum, is developing Taiwan into a bilingual country by 2030. Frankly speaking, it is very unlikely that people can make it in the left ten years. The definition of a bilingual country is that everyone is able to speak English in everyday life, including little children and elders. Not to mention the younger generation, even the adults have problems with English. Of course, saying beautiful slogans and drawing promising vision simple, but ask yourself: Are you able to understand a whole English conversation? Can you interact and answer the questions of the foreigners? Are you, after all these years of learning English, confident in your English? If one of the answers to these questions is no, are we still living in the bubble of dreams and idealism? Are we still lying to ourselves that the new program can create a better future for the next generation?
So far, a few professionals have listed out a few points, some even say the new curriculum shouldn’t even be put into practice. They are all worth consideration. The most viable one, I believe, is to explain the new curriculum to the public especially worrying parents and students; while more teachers have to be trained simultaneously. Since the project has been put into practice, what matters is no longer debating over the rights and wrongs of the plan but how it can be improved and in what way students can be helped.
As all the above ideas mentioned, I feel concerned about the prospect of the new curriculum which no one can feel complacent about. Notwithstanding the advantages and positive changes of 108 Curriculum, many related issues are still left to be solved. There shouldn’t be more beautiful languages; rather, the key is admitting that virtual progress is not being made according to the plan. For the better future of the next generation, it is time that people came down to earth and thought with practicality.
(Im)possible Intimacy in “A Rose in June”
Taiwan’s strategic alignment with the United States paved the road to direct and indirect participation to the Vietnam War. As U.S. military involvement in the Vietnam War escalated into a full scale in the mid-1960s, the KMT-led government agreed with the Rest and Recuperation Leave Program in November 25, 1965 in response to America’s increasing pressure on the investment in the entertainment and leisure business sector. From then on, a number of the Rest and Relaxation Centers (R&R) were officially built to cater for U.S. military soldiers and personnel to be stationed on the island. By virtue of the geographical location, a large influx of war-weary American GIs flooded into the island for vacation after a particularly bitter fight in the jungle of Vietnam. Sexualized leisure/entertainment industry flourished under these circumstances. With the foreign soldiers streaming into Taiwan, a wide range of entertainment facilities and services sprawled, surrounding the locales of the R&R centers and military bases throughout Taiwan.
Chen Ying-zhen’s short story,“A Rose in June,” set in this specific historical background, vividly portrays the grand old times when a racialized and sexualized encounter between American GIs and Taiwanese bar girls/sex workers. Its story unravels how the American GIs’ R&R breaks in Taiwan had became a major source of revenue for the Taiwanese government and stimulated significant economic growth while simultaneously forming an intimate U.S.-ROC alliance bond, forged by global anti-Communism. My paper would like to focus on a racialized American GI Barney E. Williams’s military labor as a particular type of necropolitics in Chen’s “A Rose in June.” By probing into Barney’s military labor as another horrendous form of necropolitical labor, I suggest that injury and death at soldering are incurred by outright violence and official benevolence, which are the inherently paradoxical qualities of the national power and technologies of power central to soldiering for the United States. I argue that the benevolent gesture of the military indexes the expedient recruitment of the formerly colonized and racially marginalized Other in the army as “free” African Americans, whereas war-related mental injury closely tied to death as an embodiment of the violent nature of the military and sovereignty, which renders military laboring body a potentially disposable commodity. Barney’s participation in the Vietnam is a resurrection of the fading and yet lingering transpacific memory that Taiwan once indirectly participated in the Vietnam War and benefited from the unexpected bonanza.
“A Rose in June” centers on a short love story between a conscripted black American soldier named Barney E. Williams and a Taiwanese bar girl Emily. After a few rounds of harmless flirtation in a bar, the sparks begin to flash, igniting their sexual attraction. With Barney promoted to a sergeant by order in the bar, the fortuitous encounter turns into a torrid (though brief) inter-ethnic affair thereafter. The moving love affair ends in tragedy when Barney determines to return to the battlefield and tragically dies on the front lines.
In contrast to previous scholarship that has strongly emphasized the crucial role industrial/manufacturing labor played in promoting South Korea’s rapid economic growth, in “Introduction: Proletarianizing Sexuality and Race” Jin-kyung Lee argues that undervalued four working-class labors have occupied a significant part in South Korea’s climb from the margin of global ranking to the international preeminence. In invoking the memory of South Korea’s military participation in the Vietnam War that appears to have receded into the background, Lee reconsiders the unprecedented wealth creation under the dictatorship of Park Chung Hee in relation to U.S. neocolonial interest and military involvement in Asia. One of Lee’s analytic focuses is the historical trajectory of anti-communism in South Korea from 1945 onward. Viewing the political alliance forged between the Park regime of South Korea and the United States as a determinant of the initial state of industrialization of the country, Lee probes into several major events, including South Korea’s involvement in the Vietnam War in support of the American-led war against communist expansion into the Asian-Pacific region and the massive American military presence in South Korea. Lee illuminates that the extraction of maximum surplus value from four seemingly disparate types of “marginal transnational proletarian labors”—soldiering in the Vietnam War, sex work for the domestic clientele, military prostitution for the U.S. troops stationed in South Korea, and Southeast Asian migrant work in contemporary South Korea—have contributed to the society’s financial boom and industrial development (3). Lee identifies the very process of commodifying the working-class labor power at home and overseas as “the ‘proletarianization’ of sexuality and race,” that is, a process in which the categories of social class, gender, sexuality, and race in an unprecedented intersection with other dimensions, including Korean ethnonationality and transnational hierarchy, are constituted, articulated, and transformed in order that the military-authoritarian regime can mobilize and control over laboring bodies of the proletariat, effectively appropriating their (re)productive labor for profit (2).
Lee contextualizes soldiering or military labor in the history of U.S.-South Korea alliance while simultaneously bringing an otherwise obscured connection between South Korea’s participation in the Vietnam War and the contemporary economic success into view. Lee not only characterizes both parties’ engagement in the Vietnam War as an act of collusion to profiteer from the catastrophic regional conflicts and turbulence but also sees the significant political and military interest involved. For the nascent South Korea government, in addition to maintaining homeland security and deterring potential threat from its northern archenemy, the military intervention in the Vietnam War is both a quest for establishing its political influence in the Asian-Pacific region and an unexpected opportunity for exploring an economic bonanza that the Park regime enjoyed for decades in the wake. On top of that, promoting American military and political interests in the Asian region is the key means for South Korea’s future transfiguration into a sub-imperial country. In collaborating with the U.S.-led anticommunist military-backed venture in the Vietnam War, the authoritarian government of Park Chung Hee dispatched over three hundred thousand troops and around ten thousand civilian service workers. South Korea exported military labor as human resources to serve U.S. imperialist expansionism. Focusing on South Korean soldiering in the Vietnam War, Lee explores military labor as a dimension of necropolitical labor within a larger necropolitical system where the military recruited male combatants who are regarded as replaceable and expendable subjects of national prosperity and are ready to die for the country. Lee indicates a paradoxical and contradictory nature of military servicemen who are “the agents of the state’s necropolitical power” and “the state’s very potential victims” (6). That is to say, military labor wipes out the enemy in accordance with the order of the sovereign state and yet ceaselessly confronted with severe physical injury and death.
Barney’s seemingly farfetched association of Taiwan’s rural scenery with Vietnam’s farming land points to a separate and yet overlapping history when in the mid-twentieth century Taiwan and South Korea among others Asian countries secured a financial foothold by directly and indirectly supporting the U.S. imperialist interest in Vietnam as they committed to making a military and political anti-communist alignment with the United States. It is in a casual chat with Emily about the striking resemblance between Taiwan and Vietnam’s idyllic landscapes that Barney recollects his traumatic experience on the battlefield. Having had recurring nightmares every night, Barney is sent to a mental hospital immediately. When asked by a young Chinese psychiatrist about the cause of his spiritual distress, he reluctantly admits that Emily’s reference to her growing up in “those small, dark huts” (221) in the countryside of Taiwan and a little Taiwanese village where he saw “[t]he sun there, the rice paddies under the sun, [and] even the lush bamboo thickets” during a brief excursion have “reminded me [Barney] of another village” in Vietnam (222). In Barney’s rendering, the geographical similarity of Vietnam and Taiwan invokes the historical trajectory of anti-communism that South Korea, Taiwan, and other parts of Asian countries share. The displacement of the black American body is predicated upon the history of the political and the military, a trans-Pacific history: the United States presence in Vietnam and in Taiwan, South Korea, and other Asian countries. Behind the path of the displaced black soldier’s trajectory—the dislocation of black body from their homeland and the displacement in war-torn Vietnam, the crossing of national border, the sail into the Pacific Ocean to Taiwan, and a tour in the local place, a village in Taiwan—are intersecting historical forces in the reference to the Cold War, the Vietnamese War and United States military presence in the Asia-Pacific region. The seemingly arbitrary overlapping of Vietnamese and Taiwanese rural scenery interpellates the entangled and complex history. It goes beyond the boundary set to distinguish the domestic and the foreign. Barney’s recollection in reference to three countries the U.S., Vietnam, and Taiwan invokes the collective trans-Pacific history many Asian countries have shared. For example, just like South Korean economic takeoff gained from the direct join in the Vietnam War, Taiwan aligned with the United States unexceptionally harvested a range of economic benefits by providing a confluence of labor to proliferate U.S. imperialist ambition. The seemingly arbitrary juxtaposition and the overlapping of the rural scenes of nature resurrects the fading and yet lingering transpacific memory that Taiwan once indirectly participated in the Vietnam War by establishing couples of operational and logistic support bases for the U.S. forces and taking responsibility for the timely provision of arms and supplies to the forces in South Vietnam. By giving a critical rendering of the geographical overlapping, Chen’s story encourages a reading based on an inter-referencing Asian language.
Expanding Paul Virilio’s concepts of industrial and military proletarianization in the modern European context to “the global colonial and (neo)colonial contexts” (3) and following Kathlee Barry’s discussion on “female sexual proletarianization” (4), Lee pays attention to the proletarianization of the four proletarian labors—soldering, sex work, military prostitution, and migrant work. The unrecognized and invisible work of soldiers, sex workers, and migrant workers, whose sexuality, race and ethnicity have been commodified as human resources and labor power, has undergirded South Korea’s economic advancement in relation to American militarism and capitalist interest in Asia. Building upon Michel Foucault’s concept of biopower, taken up by Giorgio Agamben and Achille Mbembe, Lee advances the idea of “necropolitical labor,” which means “the extraction of labor from those ‘condemned’ to death, whereby the ‘fostering’ of life, already premised on their death or the disposability of their lives, is limited to serving the labor demands of the state or empire” (5). That is to say, the (neo)colonial United States and the South Korean regime relegate four kinds of labors—soldiering, sex work, military sex work, and migrant work—to scape heap, or specifically speaking, unevenly distributes precarious existence to the proletarian population whose differential exposure to devaluation, brutality, and death renders the sub-human species expendable commodities and abject labors. Subjected to grinding precarity, the proletarianized people’s life is closely associated to death or possibilities of death. The crucial key to the sovereign state’s extraction surplus value from material labor of the disposable populations lies in the obscured designation of “the possibility death rather than the ultimate event of death itself” (6). Put another way, the necropolitical model of labor premises on the expropriation of material value from the labor of the dispossessed populations, whose life is marked by “a ‘living death,’” or slow death, inflicted by the nation-state or global capital (6). It highlights the making of disposable lives and the transforming of the labor of certain gendered, sexualized, and racialized populations into consumable commodities. Therefore, necropolitical labor, as the most disposable labor, undergirds the state’s exploitation of labor output and extraction of surplus value from the expendable lives (5). Paradoxically, it is the most marginalized groups’ daily experience of the exacerbation of death that enables the regime to keep exploiting their labor while providing them with a minimum of subsistence.
Situated in the history of South Korean servicemen’s labor for the U.S. hostile incursion into Vietnamese territory, Lee’s conceptualization of the condemned-to-death labor of military workers as a ruthless form of necropolitical labor illuminates that Barney’s soldiering which is closely tied to death for the U.S. imperialism and neocolonialism during the Cold War era points to the necropolitical nature of labor by military workers. Barney’s military labor for the evolving U.S. militarism and imperialism as another horrendous form of necropolitical labor first points to a paradoxical nature of the military power. The inherent quality of the national power and technological forces of the United States is violence and benevolence. The benevolent gesture of the military indexes the tactful recruitment of the formerly colonized and racially marginalized Other in the army as “free” African Americans. Barney’s family history— from his enslaved ancestors who “sang, prayed, wept, drank, labored, and then buried [their] bones” in the “old, old South” (215), his great-grandfather who was once “a slave” (214) but enlisted as “a soldier” and “joined General Lee to fight the Yankees” (216) in the Civil War to Barney’s involvement in the Vietnam War which eventually helps him climb up the racial ladder and guarantee individual upward mobility—epitomize the category of free black subjects. The “free” African Americans’ military labor in the army represented by model minority Barney and his ancestors not only proves the liberal narrative of America’s overcoming of slavery but also embodies the Americanization of democracy and justice that the South Vietnamese should emulate. Specifically speaking, the military labor of the normalized model minority—as combatants, servicemen, and medical staff—functions as a necessary intermediary underpins the U.S. imperialist interest and bolster the liberal narrative of the U.S. involvement in the Vietnam War as a heroic and benevolent act to contain communist expansion.
On the other hand, Barney’s war-related trauma closely tied to death embodies the violent nature of the military and the sovereign power. In a counsel session with a Chinese psychiatrist, Barney eventually acknowledges the deep fear of being killed when giving a detailed account of a life-and-death battle with the enemy: “At that time, the enemy, about four times as many as we, had encircled us from all directions. …We were slaughtered. …I was the only one left alive” (222). According to Lee, from the viewpoint of Foucault and Virilio, the military is the domain where the training embodies the control of the operations of male soldier’s body. The military training is “a system of disciplinary mechanism [which] produces differentiated, specified types of activities and behaviors as various ‘docility-utilities,’ regulating and modulating each movement for efficiency” (11). In other words, the military coercive mechanism focuses on the body as the site of subjugation, regulating it through self-surveillance and self- disciplinary practices, thereby ensuring the production of passive, docile, and yet productive bodies as an instrument available for use. Being a soldier, Barney carries out the will of the United States to halt the communist aggression and terminate the onrush of the enemy in South Vietnam. In this sense, he is the agent of the state necropolitics and yet a potential victim whose military labor runs a high risk “of being slaughtered” by the enemy as well (222). Being a soldier is to be subjected to the neocolonial regime’s absolute necropoltical authority that constantly produces submissive laboring bodies for use on the battlefield. Barney’s fear of death is an indication to the ultimate expression of the sovereign state’s exertion of authority that resides in the absolute control over an individual’s life and death; thus, Barney’s military labor renders him a potentially expendable or disposable commodity.
Another way to read Barney’s mental distress caused by the irrepressible fear of bodily harm and death is to pay attention to the productive dimension of biopower, protecting and enhancing the life quality of a certain population, operated by condemning another to death. As I have discussed the military worker Barney’s commodified laboring body as another type of necropolitical labor, Lee’s characterization of soldiering as a particular kind of proletarian sheds light on military work as an extreme type of service work, since the laborer is frequently required to sacrifice the life if necessary. Lee indicates that workplace violence or emotional trauma incurred at work is central to “a disciplinary mechanism, productive force: the process of getting used to the continuing violence, and yet not getting quite used to it, is the very experience of such traumatic work” (8). To put it otherwise, physical violence and psychological harm that the subject tolerates are self-disciplinary practices undergirding the self-governance mechanism and biopower of the state. While irreversible damage imposed on the body and psychological injury diminish the individual’s well-being over time, in return the military laborer receives sustenance, salary, and honor. On the first night when Barney visited a cellar-like bar, he is promoted by order to sergeant because of “his courage in annihilating the enemy who had long been hiding in a village” in Vietnam (214). Soon Barney is sent to the hospital by the military due to his recurring nightmares every night. His mental illness indicates a paradoxical aspect of soldiering: trauma as a particular form of slow death suggests soldering is a form of labor that brings a severe harm to the body and the psyche; yet, injury as effective bargaining chip provides rewards for the service, procuring the minimum sustenance of life for Barney.
Barney’s bitter recall of his family’s slavery past, the remnants of racism prevailing in the army even after the de jure abolition of racial segregation, and his suffering from mental illness caused by the dreadful guilt over killing people in the Vietnam War manifest Chen’s critique of black slavery, the dehumanization of the racial minorities and reflection upon the nominal multiculturalism and racial pluralism in building up national unity and the American paradigm of racial liberalism, which masks the U.S. imperial ambition, undergirds militaristic expansion, and ideologically justifies the war against the communism. When proposed by Barney, the bar girl Emily refuses euphemistically by revealing her lowly identity: “‘I’m just a bar girl. I can’t be Mrs. Colonel….Even if I wasn’t a bar girl, I’m a bartered bondmaid’” (217). According to Huang, the history of bartered bondmaid, or foster daughter (yangnu), is closely linked to patriarchal custom originated in Chicness agricultural society and adopted in Taiwan during the first half of twentieth century. The custom is to give away or sell young daughters to other families as future “‘small-daughters-in-law’ (simpua) in the guise of adoption” or as “bondmaids (zabogan) or prostitutes” (125). To improve family poverty, one of the variety of strategies for survival and economic gains for impoverished female fosterlings in rural areas was to engage in sexualized leisure/entertainment industry in urban cities.
Lee’s conceptualization of sex work for the domestic clientele and military prostitution for the U.S. troops stationed in South Korea as another kind of necropolitical labor, on a par with a consumable, expendable commodity, can be read with along with Emily’s sex work for U.S. clienteles. As Lee demonstrates that prostitution involves long-term exposure to physical and psychological violence and even great risks of death, Neferti Tadiar’s conceptualization of “labor time” helps illuminate sex work’s the emotional/immaterial labor, as an invisibilizing labor, how the gender, racial and sexual categories help naturalize and produce social identity and subjectivity for free exploitation in the capitalist system (8). According to Tadiar, labor time is not restricted to the conventional definition that the worker’s time spent on the production of commodities is appropriated by the capitalist and transformed into surplus value. Rather, “it is her whole bodily being, as a being-for-others, that is appropriated to maintain and enhance the lives of others” (8). Namely, sex worker’s “whole bodily being, as a being-for-others” is usurped to sustain others’ life, transformed into a disposable and expendable commodity. Emily’s gendered body and emotional labor help improve the well-beings of Barney among other American GIs, comforting severe psychological harms as a consequence of participating in the war. The reproductive work that her whole emotional labor embodies is a bright beam of light driving away the thick mass of dark clouds swirling in his mind: “ When I [Barney] was in the hospital, I told my self: for the first time in my life, there is a person who makes me fell important. That person is you, my little sparrow” (224-5). I reject to read Emily and Barney as a passive object of exploitation, since the diagnostics of feminization of labor tend to subscribe the formula of “universalization female victimization” while representing an aggressive heterosexuality and militarized manhood. Yoneyama informs us of the danger of mobilizing “the seemingly universal affective power of condemnation” to the extent that only a perfectly innocent twelve-year-old girl in Okinawa perpetrated by a American soldier can emerge and serves as a severe critique of violent against women (172). Paradoxically, attention to Barmey and Emily’s short love offers a chance to understand the life-time of the racialized military workers and the gendered, sex worker. Tadiar’s “concept of ‘life-time’” building upon the concept of labor time points to where the political agency resides in: “the productivity of social practices of life and experience which appear to lie outside of the formal sites of labor exploitation” (10). Barney and Emily’s brief romantic relationship is not merely an inevitable consequence of the consumption of devalued feminine labor; instead, the feminized labor reproduces itself and creates an unexpected romantic relation with Barney. Their outing to a small Taiwanese village and the joyful time they spend with each other are not within the working space of the cellar-like bar. The special moments of tenderness and closeness created by the short love is a waste of time, for the time spent with each other has no use value for the regime and their relationship is destined to be a devastating tragedy. However, the impossible intimacy indicates not only a critique of the U.S.-led emancipatory movement in the disguise of racialized oppression, military domination, and the Cold War hierarchy of nations based on their economic, scientific, military development, but also a disclosure of Taiwan’s indirect engagement in the Vietnam War in support of the U.S. militarism.
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[*] This is the paper for the English Writing Contest in Literary Criticism, Alumni Association of English Department, National Central University
[†] Student no. 107122001, Dept. of English, National Central University.
Ideal and Reality in Matthew Arnold’s “Dover Beach”
The poet and critic Matthew Arnold is an influential author in Victorian England. Born in the Victorian age, Arnold adjusts himself to the transition of England from an age of faith to an age of science and technology. Known as “Physician of the Victorian age”, he concerns himself about the contemporary era and expresses his ideal in “Dover Beach,” one of his best-known poems. William D. Anderson says, “For a great many modern readers Matthew Arnold’s reputation rests chiefly on this poem.” “Dover Beach” was written in June 1851 after Arnold visited Dover Beach with his wife during their honeymoon. In this poem, disillusionment plays an important role in Arnold’s sense of loss, and also reflects hardships of the Victorian society.
Arnold blends appearance and sentiment in his poems, and he wishes to write for conveying truth. “The dominant note of Arnold’s best poetry is reflection on loss, frustration, and sadness. It is important from the start to draw attention to ‘reflection,’ because his poems nearly are, even if not explicitly, second-order reflections on the nature or meaning of certain kinds of experience, rather than expressions or records of that experience itself” (Collini 27). Besides simply describing the picturesque landscapes, Arnold draws his own bond with those associated with his experiences. Moreover, not only does Arnold tell his own experiences, but also he provides ideals which he manages to help his contemporaries achieve a richer existence in both sense and sensibility in response to rapidly and potentially dislocating social changes (Greenblatt 1369).
The meditative poem, “Dover Beach,” begins with a tranquil scene. The first stanza can be divided into two parts on the basis of Arnold’s different frames of mind. First, Arnold describes the superficial appearance.
The sea is calm to-night.
The tide is full, the moon lies fair
Upon the straits; on the French coast the light
Gleams and is gone; the cliffs of England stand,
Glimmering and vast, out in tranquil bay.
Come to the window, sweet is the night air! (1-6)
“Calm,” “full,” and “fair,” are images of simplicity and peace. At night, when the tide is full, the moonlight shines upon Dover Straits. The “vast” cliffs of Dover are glimmering, and the scenery shows sublimity. Arnold approaches the window and feels the sweetness of the night air. Until now, Arnold first depicts a peaceful world; however, he leads the reader back to reality in the following lines:
Only, from the long line of spray
Where the see meets the moon-blanched land,
Listen! you hear the grating roar of pebbles which the waves draw back, and fling,
At their return, up and high strand,
Begin, and cease, and then again begin,
With tremulous cadence slow, and bring
The eternal note of sadness in. (7-14)
Moonlight is first portrayed as “fair” in line 2; yet, in line 8, it becomes ghastly in the “moon-blanched” land. In the place of the “tranquil” bay and the “calm” sea, “the grating roar of pebbles” appears, and the waves draw back and fling the pebbles. The first stanza ends with “tremulous cadence” and “the eternal note of sadness.” Tremulous cadence refers to the regular rise and fall of a voice that is trembling. Arnold emphasizes eternal note of the sadness to tell the reader that the sadness is not just a temporary phenomenon, and it may go on and on. The joyful and peaceful atmosphere he creates in the beginning is somehow insecure. Enchantments and illusions of Dover Beach collapse. “Strand” in line 10 suggests that symbolizes the challenges and difficulties that Arnold faces are continuous. As Anderson indicates, “abandoning his usual concern with rivers or the open sea, the poet walks by the wave’s edge where Homer first hear ‘the eternal note of sadness’” (Anderson 71). In “Dover Beach,” disillusions begin with “the eternal note of sadness.” The phrase opens up the poet’s sadness after the description of appearance.
Arnold strengthens his idea of time and change through opening up the second stanza with Greek playwright Sophocles. Known as one of the three ancient Greek tragedians, Sophocles is associated with sorrow, misery, and tragic thoughts. With the illusion to Sophocles, Arnold laments the transhistorical “eternal note of sadness.” Arnold ties himself with Sophocles to remind his contemporaries of “the ebb and flow of human misery” (Gilead 277-278). Even though time keeps on moving, the sadness and misery of mankind are still existing in the\world. As Schneider points out, Arnold invented Sophocles’ poetic character to accord with his own preconceived ideas of poet. Arnold works on the relations between history and poetry and applies Sophocles to his poem because Sophocles spoke to the Athens about democracy (Schneider 77-78). Similarly, Arnold also intends to talk to people in the Victorian age about the darkness of their era which involves the loss of religious faith.
People used to have strong faith in religion. “The Sea of Faith” represents religious faith. People’s religious faith “was once, too, at the full.” In contrast with the faithful image before,
But now I only hear
Its melancholy, long, withdrawing roar,
Retreating, to the breath
Of the night-wind, down the vast edges drear
And naked shingles of the world. (24-28)
The change of belief in the era brings Arnold back to reality and makes him feel “melancholy.” “The feeling of isolation and loneliness, so characteristic of modern man, first appeared in the nineteenth century. With the breakup of a long-established order and the resulting fragmentation of both society and thought, the old ties were snapped, and men became acutely conscious of separation” (Housghton 77). As the Victorian period is a highly competitive age, people seek for Utilitarianism in order to fit themselves into an age of science and technology. They regard religion as an outmoded superstition, and ignore people’s spiritual needs (Greenblatt 1026).
In the last stanza, Arnold’s desolate feeling is uplifted by his ideal of love. In “Dover Beach,” the love mentioned is not individual love, but universal love. He sees love as a redeeming power in the society.
Ah, love, let us be true
To one another! for the world, which seems
To lie before us like a land of dreams,
So various, so beautiful, so new, (29-32)
What lies before Arnold is “a land of dreams,” which is filled with illusions. Similarly, “various” and “new” imply the world is so changeable and unfamiliar to him. His use of such words gives the reader a notion that the ideal of love might collapse. Disillusionment thus shows in the following lines: “Hath really neither joy, nor love, nor light, / Nor certitude, nor peace, nor help for pain” (33-34). It is an isolated world of indifference: “The moonlit scene is a deceptive enchantment if it leads us to suppose that the universe is anything but indifferent to man” (Allott 256). The more we expect, the more desperate we feel when we cannot achieve our goal. Arnold proposes ideal universal love as a cure for his age; however, does universal love really exist? Is it always reliable? Can people really love each other? We cannot neglect the fact that there is distance between ideal and reality, and we may not be too optimistic that love can be a real cure for the society.
In “Dover Beach,” Arnold conveys his high expectation to the Victorian society; however, it brings him sorrow eventually: “And we are here as on a darkling plain/ Swept with confused alarms of struggle and flight, / Where ignorant armies clash by night” (29-37). “Keats listened ‘darkling’ in “Ode to a Nightingale” (I. 51), Arnold uses the word to depict a cultural and personal landscape of struggle and confusion” (O’Neill 120). Unlike Keats’s falling half in love with easeful death when he listens to the nightingale’s singing in darkness, the darkling plain here is swept with struggle and fight. The last two lines in “Dover Beach” reveal the internal worries and external troubles in the Victorian period. Arnold alludes to Greek historian Thucydides’ description of the battle of Epipolae in History of the Peloponnesian War. “Ignorant armies” refer to the Athenians who slaughter each other because they were confused by the darkness (Allot 257). Arnold strongly suggests the Victorians also live in a darkling world; they do not even know for what they are fighting.
In “Dover Beach,” the reason why Arnold’s ideal of love cannot be fulfilled is maybe due to the hardships in the Victorian age. It was a time that the British Empire created money and technology. On the one hand, industry and technology made people’s life more convenient and comfortable. Cities were highly urbanized, and people lived their lives on an economic and manufacturing basis. On the other hand, it is also an extremely tough time. People faced severe social and economic problems. The poor and unskilled workers were confined to terrible living conditions. Faith cannot solve the problems of poverty. As a result, Utilitarianism rather than religious faith become prevalent in the era. In a sense, “although many Victorians shared a sense of satisfaction in the industrial and political preeminence of England during the time, they also suffered from anxious sense of something lost, a sense too of being displaced persons in a world made alien by technological changes that had been exploited too quickly for the adaptive powers of human psyche” (Greenblatt 1018). The invention of time-saving machines increased efficiency; however, it cut off people’s affection towards each other. Hearing “the eternal not of sadness,” the Victorians suffered from sharp and lasting pain; yet it is not all their responsibility. Partly it is because of the hardships of society in that age.
Adaptability is essential in the Victorian age. Matthew Arnold not only expresses his feeling toward the age, he actually takes action to help the society “Arnold, of course, looked to education and the positive role it could play in the pursuit of excellence as an antidote to these social stresses” (Schiralli 53). Different from Romantic poets, Arnold writes for both emotional expressions and educating people through his works. In “Dover Beach,” disillusionment helps the Victorians see their problems and challenges. “Far beyond textual or metrical factors, however, the essential wonder of the poem is that it moves us with a sense of meeting our trouble image” (Anderson 204). People often get stuck in their ideals and illusions; Arnold meets his and his contemporaries’ underneath the sublime scenery.
Perhaps it is infeasibility of Arnold’s lofty ideal of universal love that leads him to a great sense of loss in “Dover Beach.” Although Arnold has high expectations for his era and does try to do something to change the society, it somehow turns out to be impractical. The poem is pervaded with sadness, melancholy, loneliness, and isolation, which suggest that besides the bright part of life, we should look into the dark side of it. The discrepancy between ideal and reality in “Dover Beach” reflects a doubt: Is it possible to reach the universal love?
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