In the first part of this series, “Glitched-Out Fiction Part I: Hermaphroditic Hackers in Alan of Lille’s The Plaint of Nature, I drew on Jack Halberstam’s theorization of “queer failure” to read the elisions and contradictions in Alan’s medieval poem through a gameplay glitch in merritt kopas’s queer digital game, Lim. Ultimately, I concluded that Plaint‘s inconsistencies reflect the poem’s glitched failure to uphold a convincing anti-queer polemic, with the result that the poem actually reinscribes queerness (i.e. through hermaphroditic figures like Nature and Venus) despite its purported intention to erase it.
In the second part of this series, I extend my discussion of the glitch in Lim to E. M. Forster’s Modernist novel, A Passage to India. I argue that the cross-cultural friendships that form the centerpiece of Passage function as glitches in the script, or code, of the novel’s colonial Indian setting. Because the friendships between the novel’s main British and Indian characters develop outside, or in spite of, colonial surveillance and policing, they represent alternative ways of being that exemplify the subversive potential of queer failure — that is, failing queerly the normative relations dictated by the colonial system.
This essay argues that cross-cultural friendship in E. M. Forster’s novel A Passage to India is a form of glitch or failure that permits relations beyond the logics (the “code” or “script”) of the colonial system.1 The novel’s friendships — namely, between Aziz, Mr. Fielding, Mrs. Moore, Adela Quested — develop as the product of accidental or unscripted encounters within the rigid stratifications of colonial Indian society: a chance meeting at a mosque between Aziz and Mrs. Moore or an intimate tea party hosted by Mr. Fielding. These encounters contrast with normative, scripted events such as the Turton’s “Bridge Party,” which reify the cultural, spatial, and temporal boundaries between colonizer and colonized. The way that Forster establishes the stakes of friendship as glitched failure within the colonial system in the “Mosque” section of Passage sets up the complete breakdown of communication and language in the climactic trip to the Marabar Caves. Adela’s collapse at the caves, I suggest, functions as a glitch in the novel that derails the reproduction of colonial dynamics of power (e.g. to “know” India ethnographically as Adela initially desires or to follow a colonial script altogether), emphasizing instead Mrs. Moore’s observation that “though people are important, the relations between them are not.”2
I draw heavily from queer and affect theory, especially Jack Halberstam’s conception of “queer failure,” in order to position friendship in Passage as a form of glitched failure to adhere to the kinds of relations sanctioned and dictated by colonialism (e.g. across race, gender, class). In The Queer Art of Failure, Halberstam writes that failure is “a way of refusing to acquiesce to dominant logics of power and discipline as a form of critique.”3 He posits queer failure as a challenge to the capitalist logics of heteronormativity, which “equates too easily to specific forms of reproductive maturity and wealth accumulation.”4 Queer failure — “failing, forgetting, unmaking, undoing, unbecoming, not knowing” — offers new ways of being in the world beyond the normative structures that manage human activities (e.g. enforcing a strictly binary relation between colonizer/colonized). It disrupts the boundaries that organize society and culture, and challenges the positivist conviction that the difference between the colonizer/colonized, normative subject/racialized other are easily marked. “Failure allows us to escape the punishing norms that discipline behavior,” Halberstam writes, “And while failure certainly comes accompanied by a host of negative affects, such as disappointment, disillusionment, and despair, it also provides the opportunity to use these negative affects to poke holes in the toxic positivity of contemporary life.”5 In other words, queer failure rejects the naturalization of heteronormativity or the notion that performing heteronormativity (“passing”) is the prime mover of all human decisions.
It is important to note that the friendships portrayed in Passage exist at all because they develop as “glitches” in liminal spaces and transpire in spite of the punishing, “codified” normativity of the colonial system. The relationship that develops between Aziz, Mrs. Moore, and Adela is an especially provocative example, given that the novel makes clear how interracial gender relations are viewed at the English club. “I really do know the truth about Indians,” says a lady at the club, “A most unsuitable position for any Englishwoman,” to which Mrs. Callendar adds: “Why, the kindest thing one can do to a native is to let him die.”6
Because the friendships in Passage develop as a result of chance meetings or serendipitous encounters — that is, they develop as glitched events that are not predicted or accounted for by the colonial script or code — they transgress the highly structured and policed spaces of colonial India and enact what Sara Ahmed calls “queer orientations.” For Ahmed, the “normative” is an effect of the repetition of bodily acts over time “which puts some objects and not other in reach.”7 By swerving away from the “straight lines” of codified or scripted normativity, queer orientations are “those that put within reach bodies that have been made unreachable by the lines of conventional genealogy.”8 The Bridge Party and Fielding’s tea party illuminate the differences between “straight” and “queer” orientations. Whereas the former scene ironically retrenches the divide between colonizer and colonized so that these two categories either don’t or only slightly (though ineffectually) overlap, the latter scene allows for a liminal, unscrutinized space of interaction (“intersection”) that defies the interracial gender anxieties expressed at the English club.
My argument that queer failure and glitches can help us better understand and articulate the delineation of cross-cultural friendship in Passage is predicated by my previous comparative analysis of a gameplay glitch in merrit k.’s queer video game Lim and the contradictions and elisions in Alan of Lille’s medieval poem The Plaint of Nature. In the interest of space, I will not reproduce my work on Lim in this post; it can be accessed elsewhere on my blog in my post entitled, “Glitched-Out Fiction Part I: Hermaphroditic Hackers in Alan of Lille’s The Plaint of Nature“. However, suffice it to say that I read Lim as an allegory for various forms of passing in, out of, and through heteronormative systems. Lim‘s core mechanic involves navigating a pink maze while “passing” as a normal blue or orange cube. If the player fails to pass as a normal cube, other blue and orange cubes will attack the player on sight. The game portrays “passing” as always-already a failing activity, but does not deploy this failure as a foreclosure of possibility. Rather, failing to pass as a normal cube often results in a glitch where the player is “knocked out” of the maze’s corridors and into the nothingness beyond the maze.9 This nothingness is simultaneously a form of becoming (the player’s identity is no longer constrained by the potential violence of not passing) and unbecoming (the player is effectively prevented from “winning” the maze). The glitch in Lim recalls Halberstam’s understanding of the meaning of failure as both “a way of being in the world… [and] also unbeing… these modes of unbeing and unbecoming propose a different relation to knowledge,”10 and informs my discussion of friendship in Passage as a form of glitched failure in the code of the colonial system.
Cross-Cultural Friendship: A Glitch in the Colonial Code
Much of the scholarship on A Passage to India, queerness, and friendship has focused on the extent of E. M. Forster’s ambivalence about or conviction in the potential for authentic cross-cultural intimacies in colonial India. On the one hand, Forster, in his notorious essay, “What I Believe,” trumpets friendship over national loyalties when he declares: “I hate the idea of causes, and if I had to choose between betraying my country and betraying my friends I hope I should have the guts to betray my country.”11 But, as Sara Suleri points out, Forster also confessed to Syed Ross Masood: “When I began [Passage] I thought of it as a little bridge of sympathy between East and West, but this conception has had to go, my sense of the truth forbids anything so comfortable. I think that most Indians, like most English people, are shits, and I am not interested whether they sympathize with one another or not.”12 Suleri reads Passage as a translation of the question of the possibilities of cross-cultural friendship into a more “vertiginous” study of how cultures issue and misread invitations to one another. “If Passage attempts to engender an illusion of cross-cultural conversation, then it is a dialogue that is highly conscious of the limits rather than the expansiveness of cultural sympathy.” In other words, even though Passage presents and explores the formation of (homosocial) friendships within colonialism, it remains critical of an “only connect” rhetoric in relation to transcultural male bonding. While Suleri admits that Passage represents a “radical shift… in the Anglo-Indian ethos… The stale dichotomy between repulsion and attraction is precisely that which [Passage] seeks to dismantle, in order to vitalize a sense of geography that can circumnavigate traditional devices of colonial travel narrative,” she nonetheless reasserts that in the concluding scene of the novel: “Forster’s vision of the imperial erotic finally confines itself to the nationalism over which [Aziz and Fielding] cannot meet.”13
Other scholars have attempted to offer more recuperative readings of Passage and Forster’s purported liberal humanism.14 Stuart Christie, for example, recognizes Suleri’s suspicion of Passage’s fantasies of cross-cultural connection but is skeptical of some of Suleri’s premises, noting that her analysis is based “upon heterosexual reimaginings of representations the text nowhere undertakes, which imagined omissions are subsequently posited as verifiable proofs.”15 Christie primarily takes issue with Suleri’s leverage of Forster’s relationships with Masood and Mohammed el-Adl as “homosexual disappointments” in order to contrast Forster’s supposedly effete humanism with his sexual desire for Indian men. Christie points out that Suleri uses the discourse of homosociality to substantiate her claims about the text’s underlying homosexuality. “Yet because [Passage] refuses to conform to either preceding (or succeeding) notions of a recognizably homosexual (or homosocial) text,” Christie writes, “Suleri’s project necessarily entails circular logic.”16
In contrast to Suleri, Christie argues that Passage “disavows any notion of legible homosexual identity,” resulting in a pervasive queer illegibility predicated by a “queer prophecy” (a concept that Christie develops from Forster’s notion of “prophecy” in Aspects of the Novel) that “offers the promises of unspoken fulfillment in response to everyday apocalypse.”17 Christie acknowledges Passage’s shortcomings as an anti-colonial text, but she also locates prophetic possibility within the structures and discourses of colonialism that the novel presents. When critics dismiss works like Passage as “somehow not gay enough,” Christie observes, they refuse to “see the queer report ‘otherwise.’” Thus, Christie insists that “the denotative demands of the anti-colonial project (‘colonialism is unjust’) run afoul of the connotative desires of prophecy (‘colonialism is queer’) that reinscribe colonial possibilities as the precondition to transcending colonial problems.”18 Ultimately, then, Christie reads Passage, especially the relationship between Aziz and Fielding, as serving to contest essentialist readings of gay identity: “Forster’s text marshalls an array of illegible homotextualities to contest the persistent rebirth of homophobia in his own time.”19
Though I am less interested in “outing” Forster and Passage’s characters or specifying the extent of the sincerity of Forster’s humanism, my reading of the novel in terms of queer failure and glitches is aligned more closely with Christie’s reading than with Suleri’s. Rather than offer a definitive answer to the debate over Forster’s personal conviction in cross-cultural friendship, this essay attempts to demonstrate how the critical framework of queer failure and glitches can illuminate a reading of the text that “see[s] the queer report ‘otherwise.’” By reading the glitch as queer code in Lim onto Passage’s friendships — those that develop in liminal spaces within the binaries of colonialism — I seek to move critical discussions of both works past determinations of authorial intent and towards each work’s respective queer, glitched potential to imagine alternative forms of being and becoming, or unbeing and unbecoming. If glitches are accidental phenomena that transpire somewhere in coded normativity, then the glitches/failures in Lim and Passage present opportunities to deconstruct the binaries inherent to gameplay and modernist literature alike. Put another way, gameplay glitches and textual inconsistencies are the places in straight narratives that can be hacked and exploited in order to discover or create “not some fantasy of an elsewhere, but… existing alternatives to hegemonic systems.”20
Passage begins with a description of Chandrapore’s municipal and geographical layout that clearly establishes the normative script of colonial relations in British India. The colonized half of the colonial binary is described in the first paragraph as “filthy,” “mean,” and “ineffective:” “The very wood seems made of mud, the inhabitants of mud moving… the general outline of the town persists, swelling here, shrinking there, like some low but indestructible form of life.”21 The next paragraph evenly and categorically switches to a description of the colonizer half of the colonial binary, “where the prospect alters… viewed hence Chandrapore appears to be a totally different place.”22 This half of Chandrapore “stand[s] on high ground” and is “sensibly planned.” The two spheres of Chandrapore are separated by a screen of forest that “glorif[ies] the city to the English people who inhabit the rise, so that new-comers cannot believe it to be as meagre as it is described, and have to be driven down to acquire disillusionment.”23 Chandrapore is figured as a segregated municipal space with a dividing line that conceals each half from the other. Though the colonizer overlooks Chandrapore from an elevated position, the novel seems to suggest that activities of surveillance and policing are incapable of accounting for all of the city’s daily interactions. Indeed, the boundaries between lower and upper Chandrapore are presented as permeable, as in the maze-like space of Lim. Nonetheless, this opening scene suggests that the colonial script in Chandrapore dictates that neither side of the colonial binary acknowledge, or commit to acknowledging, the other.
This 1862 map depicts the British Empire at its peak in India. E. M. Forster based Chandrapore, the fictional setting in which the events of a Passage to India take place, on Bankipur, a suburb on the banks of the River Ganges in the state of Bihar, east of Patna (see red circle, center of map). In the upper left corner of this map is an illustration of the elaborate Government House and Treasury complex in Calcutta, a symbol of the British administration of India. Significantly, Forster’s novel is set in the 1920s against the backdrop of the Indian Independence movement and the decline of the British Raj.
The sense of deliberate or performed blindness as an obstacle to cross-cultural friendship that is facilitated by Chandrapore’s segregated space is a theme that Passage develops in the two chapters that follow. Chapter two opens with a conversation between Aziz, Mahmoud Ali, and Hamidullah on “whether or not it is possible to be friends with an Englishman.”24 Mahmoud Ali argues that it is not possible while Hamidullah contends that “it is possible in England,” emphasizing the geographical dimension to the colonial script in India. As Shun Yi Kiang points out, “Hamidullah’s view that colonial friendships can happen in certain places (England) but not others (Chandrapore) suggests an irreducible situatedness that affects a relationship.”25 Hamidullah’s view on colonial friendship highlights how a specifically colonial script based on spatial and performed blindness forecloses the possibility of such relationships. Rather than accounting for differences among individuals, the script generates categories and generalizations. Hamidullah declares that “[The English] all become exactly the same… all are exactly alike,” and the narration explains that “[Aziz] too generalized from his disappointments — it is difficult for members of a subject race to do otherwise.”26 The stereotypes of English people that Aziz, Mahmoud Ali, and Hamidullah entertain are paired with those that the English hold of Indians in chapter three: “I really do know the truth about Indians,” says a lady at the English club, “A most unsuitable position for any English woman.” The lady goes on to caution Adela (who wants to “see the real India”) to “hold sternly aloof,” thus reiterating the type of performed blindness that the colonial script commands in interactions between colonizer and colonized.27
The colonial script that both the British and the Indians in Passage follow depends on its own repeated performance, which recalls Sara Ahmed’s observation that “The normative can be considered an effect of the repetition of bodily actions over time, which produces what we can call the bodily horizon, a space for action, which puts some objects and not others in reach.”28 This is evident when Ronny scolds Mrs. Moore for consorting with Aziz. “But whether the native swaggers or cringes, there’s always something behind every remark he makes, always something, and if nothing else he’s trying to increase his izzat,” says Ronny, to which Mrs. Moore responds (and indirectly supports Hamidullah’s belief that friendship with an Englishman is only possible in England): “You never used to judge people like this at home.” The narration then reveals that Ronny’s characterization of “the native” is built entirely on literal coded phrases derived from the colonial script:
“India isn’t home,” he retorted, rather rudely, but in order to silence her he had been using phrases and arguments that he had picked up from older officials, and he did not feel quite sure of himself. When he said ‘of course there are exceptions’ he was quoting Mr. Turton, while ‘increasing his izzat’ was Major Callendar’s own. The phrases worked and were in current use at the club…” (emphasis added).29
What “work” do the phrases that Ronny uses perform? Besides the obvious goal of silencing Mrs. Moore in the above passage, I suggest that, like the phrases of code that make up the game design of Lim and command the game’s normal cubes to attack the player, Ronny’s phrases are the code in the colonial script that “puts some objects [e.g. bodies] and not others in reach.” While Lim’s code dictates passing as the only (safe) form of interaction that the player can have with the game’s normal cubes, the colonial code in Chandrapore dictates that willed ignorance — whether “holding sternly aloof” or, as Aziz says, “Why talk about the English?… Let us shut them out and be jolly” — is the only (safe) form of interaction between the two sides of the colonial binary.
Though the Turton’s Bridge Party is intended to sidestep the limitations of the colonial script in order to foment genuine cross-cultural exchange, the party’s own scripted nature only reproduces and reifies the spatial and performed divide between the attendees. Writing on the failure of the Bridge Party to engender cross-cultural affinity, Kiang argues that “To the extent that both parties — the British and the Indians — are retreating to what they think they understand of the other, to a place of race-based and culturally-specific belonging to which the other has no access or recourse, both the colonizers and the colonized in Chandrapore are performing in front of Adela and Mrs. Moore.”30 Indeed, the party is predicated on suspicions by both sides of the other’s motives: “Turton would never do this unless compelled,” Mahmoud Ali remarks on receiving an invitation, while Turton says of the Indian attendees, “no one who’s here matters; those who matter don’t come,” and Ronny adds: “Most of the people you see are seditious at heart, and the rest ‘ld run squealing.”31 The tennis courts replicate the geographical segregation of Chandrapore so that “When tennis began, the barrier grew impenetrable. It had been hoped to have some sets between East and West, but this was forgotten, and the courts were monopolized by the usual club couples.”32 Any attempts to reach across the barrier are unsuccessful, as Adela discovers: “friendly Indians were before here, and she tried to make them talk, but she failed, she strove in vain against the echoing walls of their civility… She tried doing nothing, to see what that produced, and they too did nothing.”33
While Kiang attributes the impulse to perform the colonizer/colonized relation at the Bridge Party to the prescriptive and policed space of the Turton’s residence, I would also add that these performances derive from a colonial script that commands them to be executed in the first place. This script is reflected in the way that the English stage productions like Cousin Kate — “They had tried to reproduce their own attitude to life upon the stage, and to dress up as the middle-class English people they actually were” — or Mrs. Turton’s exhortation to Adela to remember that “You’re superior to [the Indians], anyway. Don’t forget that.”34 The script is also reflected in the way that Aziz, driving up to Major Callendar’s compound, “could with difficulty restrain himself from getting down from the tonga and approaching… on foot, and this not because his soul was servile but because his feelings… feared a gross snub… The young man shrank from a repetition of it” (emphasis added).35
If the colonizer/colonized relation is the normative script or code of British India — enacted by spatial and performed blindness — then the friendships that develop between Aziz, Mrs. Moore, Adela, and Fielding are queer codes or glitched failures that transpire as accidents in liminal spaces within the normative code. The clearest example of friendship as a glitch in the colonial script is the chance meeting that occurs between Aziz and Mrs. Moore at the mosque. The failure of the colonial script to preempt the glitched encounter between Aziz and Mrs. Moore in a liminal, unscripted space enables both characters to approach each other as individuals rather than generalizations — to talk about each other’s families and to vent about “inevitable snubs” — in contradistinction to the disingenuous, scripted interactions between “East” and “West” at the Turton’s Bridge Party. For instance, Mrs. Moore’s respect for the sanctity of the mosque — she takes off her shoes at the entrance — changes her status from that of an intruder to an “Oriental” in Aziz’s estimation: “You understand me, you know what others’ feel.”36 Moreover, the glitched encounter at the mosque emboldens both characters to adopt attitudes that, if not exactly unscripted, at least work against or stall the colonial system: Aziz walks away from the mosque feeling that “he seemed to own the land as much as anyone owned it. What did it matter if a few flabby Hindus had preceded him there, and a few chilly English succeeded?” and Mrs. Moore eventually elicits a promise from Ronny that he will keep Aziz’s voiced frustrations about Major Callendar a secret from his superiors.37 If these attitudes cannot quite be defined as resistance, they are certainly counterintuitive to the functions of colonial machinery.
It is significant that prior to the meeting, the narrative restresses the spatial dynamics of Chandrapore with a description of municipal space that reaffirms the divisions and boundaries mandated by the colonial script and heightens the import of Mrs. Moore’s glitched failure to abide by them. As Aziz traverses the streets of a British neighborhood on his bike, the narrative explains that, “The roads, named after victorious generals and intersecting at right angles, were symbolic of the net Great Britain had thrown over India. He felt caught in their meshes.”38 This description contrasts with Aziz’s more liberatory and secure feelings about the mosque, which, “let loose his imagination… Here was Islam, his own country, more than a faith, more than a battlecry, more, much more… Islam, an attitude towards life both exquisite and durable, where his body and his thoughts found a home.”39 Notably, Mrs. Moore’s glitched transit across the explicit boundaries that codify the colonial system begins when she leaves the production of Cousin Kate at the English club — a deliberate move away from the colonial script. As Kiang notes, “Mrs. Moore’s movement away from a familiar site of solidarity to a holy place for Muslims, a space in which she does not belong by virtue of her race and faith, is just the kind of spontaneity that colonial spatial regimes seek to prevent.”40 Thus, when Mrs. Moore and Aziz encounter each other in the mosque, Aziz feels that, “A fabric bigger than the mosque had fell to pieces, and he did not know whether he was glad or sorry.”41 Since Mrs. Moore and Aziz’s interaction in this scene is the product of an unscripted accident — a glitched failure in the colonial code, the result of one character’s deliberate turn away from the colonial script — I read the “fabric” that falls to pieces as the colonial script itself.
The kind of glitched encounter that occurs between Aziz and Mrs. Moore at the mosque reprises itself in the form of Fielding’s tea party, which brings together Aziz, Fielding, Mrs. Moore, Adela, and Professor Godbole in an intimate, liminal social space that again diverges from the colonial script. As Kiang explains, Fielding’s residence is within but not of the colony, so that it “develops a feel of place whose function and purpose is not tied to the reproduction of colonial power dynamics.”42 This makes sense in light of the description of Fielding as a “disruptive force… for ideas are fatal to caste, and he used ideas by that most potent method — interchange.”43 Fielding, like Mrs. Moore, does not adhere to the colonial script — does not realize, for example, that “‘white’ has no more to do with colour than ‘God save the King’ with a god.” His tea party, like Mrs. Moore’s visit to the mosque, turns away from the colonial script to convene Indian men and English women in an unscripted space without a presiding colonial authority.
Fielding’s tea party fails the colonial system’s codified rules for social behavior and interaction, and therefore functions like the glitch in Lim: “It quietly loses, and in losing it imagines other goals for life, for love, for art, and for being.” Unlike the Turton’s Bridge Party, which ironically fails to accomplish its express goal of bridging Indian and English culture, Fielding’s tea party has no explicit goal or objective. The conversation between the tea party’s participants is meandering, low stakes, and pleasant. It moves from a brief discussion on post-impressionism to a digression on the Mogul Emperors to Hindu eating habits to meditations on happiness. None of the guests use the coded phrases spoken at the English club or don the impenetrable civility of the Bridge Party’s attendees. If, as Halberstam asserts, failing is also a form of forgetting, then that is exactly what the tea party-goers do: “How fortunate that it was an ‘unconventional’ party, where formalities are ruled out!” thinks Aziz.44 The codes of the colonial script are forgotten and an unscripted, “quietly losing” form of interaction appears in its stead that imagines failure as its own kind of success and pleasure. To defer once more to Ahmed, the tea party provides the space for its attendees to enact “Queer orientations… those that don’t line up, which by seeing the world ‘slantwise’ allow other objects to come into view… that [don’t] overcome what is ‘off line,’ and hence [act] out of line with others.”45
Significantly, the glitched potential of Fielding’s tea party is neutralized by the sudden appearance of Ronny, whose presence restores a sense of scripted “order” to the gathering. Aziz tries to speak directly and in an unscripted mode to Ronny, but Ronny “took no notice… the only link he could be conscious of with an Indian was the official, and neither [Aziz or Godbole] happened to be his subordinate. As private individuals he forgot them.”46 By placing Ronny’s overly scripted behavior — conditioned by the codes and phrases that he has absorbed at the English club — in an unscripted, liminal social space, the scene puts into relief the performed blindness that the colonial script commands. As Aziz becomes more “provocative,” Ronny mentally deflates Aziz by categorizing him: “he knew the type; he knew all the types, and this was the spoilt Westernized. But he was a servant of the Government… so he said nothing, and ignored the provocation that Aziz continued to offer.”47 In other words, Ronny cannot compute Aziz’s off-script actions; he can only contain his actions by compartmentalizing them according to the vocabulary of the colonial script. Ultimately, the glitched, unscripted encounter of Fielding’s tea party returns to scripted normalcy: “A scene from a play, thought Fielding, who saw [Aziz and Ronny] from the distance.”48
The Marabar Caves scene at the beginning of the second section of Passage (“Caves”) marks an abrupt shift in the novel from the potential of glitched friendships to a reassertion of the colonial script and the cultural gulf that divides Chandrapore. The caves make their first appearance at the very beginning of Passage, when the narration imparts that “Except for the Marabar Caves — and they are twenty miles off — the city of Chandrapore presents nothing extraordinary.”49 The caves stand apart from Chandrapore’s codified and, hence, knowable geography; they are “older than anything in the world” and represent “something unspeakable.”50 This unrepresentable quality is something that Adela does not grasp up until her collapse in the caves. Adela’s desire to know the “real India” drives her journey to the caves, but the caves fail to represent themselves to Adela in a comprehensible form since “nothing in India is identifiable, the mere asking of a question causes it to disappear or to merge in something else.”51 To be sure, Adela’s compulsion to know India runs counter to her own distaste for labels (e.g. being labeled as Ronny’s wife). As she explains to Aziz during a discussion on whether or not India should have a universal religion:
“I can’t avoid the label. What I do hope to avoid is the mentality…. Some women are so — well, ungenerous and snobby about Indians, and I should feel too ashamed for words if I turned like them but… there’s nothing special about me, nothing specially good or strong, which will help me to resist my environment and avoid becoming like them… That’s why I want Akbar’s ‘universal religion’ or the equivalent to keep me decent and sensible” (emphasis added).52
At the Marabar Caves, miles away from the spatial and performed blindness of Chandrapore’s colonial script, Adela is afforded the space to reflect on her own anxieties about following a script in marrying Ronny and becoming an “Anglo-Indian.” At this point, however, she seeks to replace one series of codes for another “universal” one.
While I support Kiang’s reading of Adela’s collapse in the caves as “a bodily sign of letting go, a shift in register from the epistemological to the experiential,” I would add that Adela’s collapse also signals her surrender of the notion of following a script altogether.53 The foundational underpinning of the colonial script in Chandrapore is language — specifically “codes,” “labels,” “types,” “phrases.” The caves completely undermine the power of language to signify — “sounds did not echo or thoughts develop. Everything seemed cut off at its root, and therefore infected with illusion” – and thus render the colonial script meaningless.54 What occurs in the caves is a glitched failure of language that transpires despite or because of the fact that, unlike the mosque or Fielding’s residence, the caves are neither within nor of the colony. Prior to entering the caves, Adela seems reconciled to her inability to escape labels; upon entering the caves, Adela is confronted with a different possibility akin to Mrs. Moore’s realization “that, though people are important, the relations between them are not, and that in particular too much fuss has been made over marriage; centuries of carnal embracement, yet man is no nearer to understanding man.”55 Like the glitched encounters at the mosque or at the tea party, the one that occurs in the caves is temporary and colonial authority eventually reasserts itself. However, the effect of the glitch on Adela influences her later questioning of European womanhood and the control that the Anglo-Indian community impresses on her body.
My reading of Adela’s collapse in particular and of cross-cultural friendship in general as glitched failure in Passage is less concerned with specifying an exact degree of authorial intentionality or self-reflexivity and more interested in considering glitched failure’s effect as an accidental event. Like the accidental glitch in Lim that opens up new goals and possibilities of play beyond those offered by the game’s normative code, I read glitched failure in Passage as an opportunity to “hack” into the text’s “straight” narrative in order to “read the queer report ‘otherwise.’” While I acknowledge and affirm Suleri’s critique of the ways in which Passage falls short of being characterized as an anti-colonial project, I am inclined to respond to these disappointments with glitches and queer failure as a kind of oppositional pedagogy that leads to different forms of knowledge practices. Halberstam deploys the model of oppositional pedagogy as an “investment in counterintuitive modes of knowing such as failure and stupidity” where failure might be understood as “a refusal of mastery, a critique of the intuitive connections within capitalism between success and profit, and as a counterhegemonic discourse of losing.”56 He elaborates that “When we are taught that we cannot know things unless we are taught by great minds, we submit to a whole suite of unfree practices that take on the form of a colonial relation,” to which we may have several responses.57 The responses that Halberstam advocates are the violent response and the negative response, “in which the subject refuses the knowledge offered and refuses to be a knowing subject in the form mandated by Enlightenment philosophies of self and other.” If we are disappointed in the ways that Passage fails to live up to its purported anti-colonial aspirations, then I suggest that we refuse its conclusions on the (im)possibilities of cross-cultural intimacies and search for alternative possibilities within the text’s failures and inconsistencies. I suggest, in short, that we read Passage from the reparative position to “entertain such profoundly painful, profoundly relieving, ethically crucial possibilities as that the past, in turn, could have happened differently from the way it actually did.”58
Ahmed, Sara. Queer Phenomenology: Orientations, Objects, Others. Durham: Duke University Press, 2006.
Bateman, Benjamin. “The Invitation’s Success.” In The Modernist Art of Queer Survival. New York: Oxford University Press, 2018.
Christie, Stuart. Worlding Forster: The Passage from Pastoral. New York: Routledge, 2005.
Clark, Naomi. “What Is Queerness in Games, Anyway?” In Queer Game Studies, edited by Bonnie Ruberg and Adrienne Shaw. Minnesota: University of Minnesota Press, 2017. 24-38.
Forster, E. M. A Passage to India. Harcourt: New York, 1952.
Forster, E. M. “What I Believe.” In A Bloomsbury Group Reader, edited by S. P. Rosenbaum. Cambridge: Blackwell Publishing 1993. 165-172.
Freedgood, Elaine. “E. M. Forster’s Queer Nation: Taking the Closet to the Colony in A Passage to India.” Genders 23 (June 1996): 123+.
Goodlad, Lauren M. E. “Where Liberals Fear to Tread: E. M. Forster’s Queer Internationalism and the Ethics of Care.” NOVEL: A Forum on Fiction 39.3 (Summer 2006): 307-336.
Halberstam, Jack. “Queer Gaming: Gaming, Hacking, and Going Turbo.” In Queer Game Studies, edited by Bonnie Ruberg and Adrienne Shaw. Minnesota: University of Minnesota Press, 2017. 220-235.
Halberstam, Jack. The Queer Art of Failure. Durham and London: Duke University Press, 2011.
k, merritt. Lim. August 29, 2012.
Kiang, Shun Yin. “Failures that Connect: or, Colonial Friendships in E. M. Forster’s A Passage to India.” ariel: a review of international english literature, 46.3 (2016): 123-148.
Keegan, Cáel M. “Revisitation: A Trans Phenomenology of the Media Image.” MedieKultur: Journal of Media and Communication Research 61 (2016): 26-41.
“Lim.” The Aesthetics of Gameplay. gameartshow.siggraph.org. March 14, 2019.
Sedgwick, Eve Kosofsky. “Paranoid Reading and Reparative Reading, or, You’re so Paranoid,
You Probably Think This Essay Is About You.” In Touching Feeling: Affect, Pedagogy, Performativity. Durham: Duke University Press, 2003. 123-52.
Suleri, Sara. The Rhetoric of English India. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1992.
Tudor, Alyosxa. “Dimensions of Transnationalism.” Feminist Review 117 (2017): 20-40.
- My analysis of friendship in Passage as a form of glitched failure in the colonial script is indebted to Shun Yin Kiang’s argument that friendship in the novel “downplay[s] the dialectical tension between the colonizer and the colonized in order to recuperate the possibility of achieving cross-cultural affinity and intimacy as a thinkable past.” See Shun Yin Kiang, “Failures that Connect: or, Colonial Friendships in E. M. Forster’s A Passage to India,” ariel: a review of international english literature 46.3 (2016): 123-148.
- E. M. Forster, A Passage to India, (Harcourt: New York, 1952), 149.
- Jack Halberstam, The Queer Art of Failure, (Durham and London: Duke University Press, 2011), 88.
- Ibid., 2.
- Ibid., 3.
- Forster, Passage, 25.
- Sara Ahmed, Queer Phenomenology: Orientations, Objects, Others, (Durham: Duke University Press, 2006), 66.
- Ibid., 107.
- merritt k has refused to clarify whether the glitch in Lim was part of her intention as the creator, or an accident that arose from the code of the game — “an unintentional ‘flaw’ that happens to harmonize with the rest of the game to create a possibility of utter refusal emerging from trauma and movement beyond the confines of a harsh system,” as Naomi Clark observes. “By keeping this possibility ambiguous, kopas leaves open the possibility that this is a discovery of players, not a top-down artifact of authorial intent.” See Naomi Clark, “What Is Queerness in Games, Anyway?” in Queer Game Studies, edited by Bonnie Ruberg and Adrienne Shaw (Minnesota: University of Minnesota Press, 2017), 30.
- Halberstam, Queer Art of Failure, 23.
- E. M. Forster, “What I Believe,” in A Bloomsbury Group Reader, edited by S. P. Rosenbaum (Cambridge: Blackwell Publishing 1993), 167.
- Quoted in Sara Suleri, The Rhetoric of English India (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1992), 132.
- Ibid., 146, 148.
- See Elaine Freedgood, “E. M. Forster’s Queer Nation: Taking the Closet to the Colony in A Passage to India,” Genders 23 (June 1996): 123+; Lauren M. E. Goodlad, “Where Liberals Fear to Tread: E. M. Forster’s Queer Internationalism and the Ethics of Care,” NOVEL: A Forum on Fiction 39.3 (Summer 2006): 307-336; Kiang, “Failures that Connect,” 123-148. Benjamin Bateman, “The Invitation’s Success,” in The Modernist Art of Queer Survival (New York: Oxford University Press, 2018).
- Stuart Christie, Worlding Forster: The Passage from Pastoral (New York: Routledge, 2005), 160.
- Ibid., 157.
- Ibid., 157-158.
- Ibid., 174.
- Halberstam, Queer Art of Failure, 89.
- Forster, Passage, 3-4.
- Ibid., 4.
- Ibid., 4-5.
- Ibid., 7.
- Kiang, “Failures that Connect,” 130.
- Forster, Passage, 7, 9.
- Ibid., 25.
- Ahmed, Queer Phenomenology, 66.
- Forster, Passage, 33.
- Kiang, “Failures that Connect,” 136.
- Forster, Passage, 35, 39.
- Ibid., 47.
- Ibid., 43.
- Ibid., 42.
- Ibid., 13-14.
- Ibid., 21.
- Ibid., 22.
- Ibid., 13.
- Ibid., 16.
- Kiang, “Failures that Connect,” 132.
- Forster, Passage, 18.
- Kiang, “Failures that Connect,” 138.
- Forster, Passage, 65.
- Ibid., 71.
- Ahmed, Queer Phenomenology, 107.
- Forster, Passage, 81.
- Ibid., 82.
- Ibid., 3.
- Ibid., 135-36.
- Ibid., 91.
- Ibid., 161.
- Kiang, “Failures that Connect,” 141.
- Forster, Passage, 155.
- Ibid., 149.
- Halberstam, Queer Art of Failure, 11-12.
- Ibid., 14.
- Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick, “Paranoid Reading and Reparative Reading, or, You’re So Paranoid, You Probably Think This Essay Is About You,” in Touching Feeling: Affect, Pedagogy, Performativity (Durham: Duke University Press, 2003), 146.