Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Chapter 53: Colonel Halfcourt I Presume?

Structurally, Chapter 53 is a departure from the rest of the novel, beginning as an epistolary, in the form of a letter from Yashmeen to her father, the British spy/diplomat Auberon Halfcourt. Yashmeen is, in many ways, the most interesting character in this novel, certainly the most interesting female character to emerge from Pynchon’s pen. If the novel is a genre-busting critique of the artistic prose form which emerged in parallel with Britain’s emergence as THE Colonial Empire, then Yashmeen—with her Electra complex, Hybrid ethnicity (at the level of Culture rather than Blood), and assertive ownership of her own (Bi) sexuality—is the Post-Colonial Counter-weight to her father’s representation of Empire.

Kit is the carrier of this letter, on a sort of Stanley and Livingtone quest (though also a quest for Shambala), and through this narrative we are finally introduced to Colonel Halfcourt.
Note here the interesting use of the term subaltern (761), which is, according to the AGD wiki, “A junior officer in the British army; now titled second lieutenant in most regiments.” My own familiarity with the term comes from my reading of the Post-Colonial theorist Gayatri Chakravorti Spivak, and her seminal (sic!!!!) text of Post-Colonial Studies “Can the Subaltern Speak?” Her thesis is that Western thought, from Hegel forward, effectively prevents non-Europeans from occupying positions as fully human subjects.

As Pynchon has taken some deserved criticism for his seeming inability to create complex female characters (though Oedipa Maas is a bit of a refutation of that criticism), his creation of the Sub-Altern Yashmeen Halfcourt, and her ability to speak deconstructs both the Father (Colonel Halfcourt) and the Paternal Empire he represents.

Speaking of deconstruction, Spivak is also the translator of Derrida’s Of Grammatology!
In her letter, Yashmeen expresses concern that “the T.W.I.T no longer act in my interest” (748). Of course, we wonder whether her adoptive father acts in her interest.
Does the Empire love his daughters (interesting—her seems like the correct pronoun here) or does the empire exploit its colonies?

As we shall see, “Love” carries a lot of weight meaning.


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