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Racial Tension and Cultural Encounter - Book Report/Review Example

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In hindsight, Samuel Huntington's now prophetic invocation of the "Clash of Civilizations," to explain the current global sociopolitical dynamic in contemporary society, can be seen to have a common intellectual experience with the narratives of cultural encounter by such authors as Graham Greene and Paul Bowles…
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Racial Tension and Cultural Encounter
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Download file to see previous pages In this brief investigation of these works, two specific categories of analysis will be utilized to reveal the nature of this truth, the depictions of cultural encounter and the issues of race. Both Greene and Bowles have a rather dour picture about the possibilities for reconciliation in a global ethical sense, and while we are not required to believe the conclusions they draw; it would behoove us to acknowledge the significant evidence they rally in their favor to support their outlook.
In the opening scene of The Quiet American, Thomas Fowler, the cynical and at times arrogantly self-assured British journalist, is waiting for Alden Pyle to return along with Phuong, a beautiful Vietnamese girl and one-time lover of Fowler. While being followed upstairs by Phuong, Fowler muses about the cleverly irksome things he could say to her but reconsiders and concludes, "Neither her English nor my French, would have been good enough to understand the irony."1 One of the most if not the most fundamental aspect of cultural encounter is the deep barrier of language. Language in so many ways structures our reality, some philosophers such Martin Heidegger and Hans Gadamer offer that Language is the fundamental structure of reality. The failure to understand one another linguistically, often leads to the genuine failure of understanding one another in any capacity. Greene's novel constantly makes references to the difficulties of communication in foreign cultures. In another scene at the beginning of Chapter 3, Fowler is heading up the stairs to his flat after returning from the hospital and passes by the seemingly always present group of women gossiping about the neighborhood and wonders "what they might have told me if I had known their language."2 Reaching the door of his flat, he hopes Phuong has received a message, if she was still there. His uncertainty is such because, "she wrote French with difficulty, and I couldn't read Vietnamese."3 Greene is obviously committed to illustrating Fowler's lack of understanding and the problems, uncertainties and confusions that arise as a result.
Greene's repeated characterization of Fowler's ignorance reveals a second point about the nature of language in cultural encounter. As an experienced journalist in Indochina, Fowler by the start of the novel has been there approximately two years; one would think that he would have tried to learn some Annamese.4 It would obviously be an advantage as a reporter to be able to interview people in their native tongue, and of course to converse with the beautiful Phuong. Linguistic imperialism is often seen as a byproduct of the colonial situation. Fowler's ambivalence towards learning the Vietnamese language is a further bloc to cultural understanding and can be a source of cultural and racial tension. However, Fowler is not totally oblivious to the damage that such a willful ignorance creates, after realizing that Phuong would not understand the irony of his jests- he notes, "I had no desire to hurt her or even myself."5 The romantic nature of those comments aside, there is something pointed about Fowler's aversion that suggests that acting in this way not only hurts another person or another culture, but also hurts oneself in the end.
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