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Published: 02-10-2019

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Rosebuds and Sinuous Rills: The Romantic Fragment of Orientalism in Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s “Kubla Khan” and Citizen Kane by Orson Welles

The debate over the fragmentary nature of Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s poem “Kubla Khan” has continued from the time the poem was written in 1797 to the present day. Some critics believe “Kubla Khan” to be a complete work in its totality, whilst other folks argue that it is merely an unfinished fragment, a curiosity. The reductionist view of “Kubla Khan” as an incomplete novelty does Coleridge grave disservice. On the other hand, Coleridge’s own description of his poem as a fragment, as nicely as the chaotic disconnectedness of the poem itself, makes it difficult to call the work finished in any standard sense. Instead, “Kubla Khan” could represent the author’s personal understanding of the mysterious and fractional globe of the Orient. The Romantics have been deeply fascinated with the Orient, and constantly depicted it as a dense and elusive myth rather than an actual place. The Western Romantics depicted Orientals as primitive, morally undeveloped, and changeless, but they have been intensely drawn to the Orient precisely because it supplied an alternative to the West. In this ‘otherizing’ of the Orient, Romantics fashioned a view of Orientals that mirrored their own culture, rather than basing their perceptions on any reputable truth about the Orient. The Orient became the paradoxically attractive symbol of the darker, much more sinister components of Western society-a conflated fragment primarily based upon Western projection and wish. The Orientalism evident in “Kubla Khan” is nonetheless relevant right now as a lens via which to view Modern texts such as the film “Citizen Kane.” Contemporary interpretations of Orientalism have been expanded to include not just the racialized and various Other, but elements of the Self as properly.

The fragmentation of the Orient is twofold. 1st, filtered via the subjective lens of Orientalism, Occidental expertise of the Orient will always be incomplete. And secondly, even though the Orientalist attempts to write about the Orient, he deliberately and conscious separates himself from it as properly, so that he is inherently separated from the object of his text. Coleridge’s “Kubla Khan” is a poetic incarnation if the Romantic Fragment, what E. S. Shaffer calls an “epic fragment.” In his poem, Coleridge involves a Preface titled “Of the Fragment of Kubla Khan.” The word “fragment” refers to the poem itself, which he considers a “psychological curiosity” rather than a finished function, but it also refers to Coleridge’s own inability to capture the entirety of the photos which “rose up just before him as things…without any consciousness of effort.” While asleep in an opium trance, Coleridge’s mind, as if possessed, composes for him “two or 3 hundred lines,” so that when he awakes, the poem exists currently as a whole-“what had been originally, as it were, provided to him.” His duty as a poet, for that reason, is merely to recollect and record what was currently a total composition. Nonetheless, the best vision which appears to the poet even though he is unconscious mysteriously dissipates once he attempts to capture it, like the Fragment of which the Romantic Artist has a subconscious understanding but whose completion will invariably elude possibility.

Just as the poet decrees and then creates the verses in his poem, so “In Xanadu did Kubla Khan/ a stately pleasure-dome decree.” Fred L. Milne states, “If certainly ‘Kubla Khan’ became…a poem about the creative process set in the basic context of the thoughts and its activities, then where…is the inventive power to be discovered? In the poem, that function is greatest fulfilled by Kubla Khan himself, for it is he alone who creates in the mind-landscape.” The Orientalist research the Orient to distinguish himself from it, and his writings are the proof that he exists outside of his text. Coleridge enters the fantastical world of Xanadu but establishes within the poem’s initial line that it is Kubla Khan the Muslim leader of the Mongol Empire, not Coleridge the Occidental poet. Coleridge is merely a visitor of a planet currently decreed for him he consciously fragments himself from the subject of his work. The tone of the poem reflects its wonderstruck, disconcerted narrator, who finds himself in a bizarre and foreign land which fascinates him simply due to the fact he cannot totally comprehend it. The poem consists of pictures that emerge, and the reader is supposed to let the imagery to speak for itself. Attempting to analyze or explain the outlandish and mystifying Oriental globe would yield absolutely nothing in translation, for the rational Western observer can't, by merit of his rationalism, understand the emotive, occultish, and spiritualist Orient. The “caverns measureless to man” reflect the immeasurability of the Xanadu’s chimerical scenery, and the poet’s continued use of contradictory language, like “sunny…caves of ice” and “I would build that dome in air,” calls to thoughts the difficulty that rational, deductive Western language encounters when endeavoring to describe the alien East. Occidental language must resort to using logically incomprehensible paradoxes to evoke the logically incomprehensible Orient. Kubla Kahn says he “would create that dome in air” Coleridge the poet builds his own since he presupposes the symbolic which means of the Asiatic images he represents.

The England in which Coleridge lived had designated meanings for pictures like the Oriental harem, rife with females who play dulcimers, odalisques who wail for their demon lovers, and Abyssian virgins who sing of Paradise. The poem which arose under Coleridge’s eyelids in slumber was built in the air of his imagination. In spite of its outlandish and extravagent photos, the Western reader legitimizes this groundless operate since he had currently dismissed the Oriental as inherently different – and inferior to – the rational, virtuous European. Since the Oriental lived in a planet totally of his own, and due to the fact such a world was by definition paradoxical to the principles of the West, Oriental images did not want to be understood or even tolerated by the West. Coleridge asks readers of “Kubla Khan” to act as spectators like himself rather than as participants. He invites readers into Xanadu by relying on the “air-built” clich?©s and conventions currently a part of the Occidental vocabulary utilised to denote and signify the Orient. The use of paradoxical but corresponding opposites in his poetry is what Richard Harter Fogle calls the Romantic ‘picturesque,’ a combination of paradoxical images which resolve themselves by way of a procedure of signification that relies upon the thoughts of the reader-the interpreter of symbols.

The paradoxical picturesque reappears in its modern day form in Orson Welles’ seminal film Citizen Kane, which shows visual fragments of Charles Foster Kane’s life-from childhood until death-with the objective of conveying a sense of his character to the audience. Of course, by the end of the film the moral of the story is that Kane’s life is still a mystery despite being played out in full on the silver screen, and that maybe it is not possible for any person’s life to be fully explained. Thompson, the journalist who embarks on the quest to uncover the which means of “Rosebud,” concedes by the film’s end that he has failed to unlock the mystery. “Charles Foster Kane was a man who got every thing he wanted, and then lost it. Possibly Rosebud was something he couldn’t get or something he lost, but it wouldn’t have explained anything. I do not feel any word explains a man’s life. No-I guess Rosebud is just a piece in a jigsaw puzzle-a missing piece.” Charles Kane is the American Kubla Khan, a man with the power to handle public opinion by means of his empire of newspapers, and just like the Khan in Coleridge’s poem, the Kane in Welles’ film is shrouded in mystery and contradiction. Kane is a bundle of binary oppositions: he is a capitalist tycoon who monopolizes the newspaper business while fighting to bust the monopolies of large companies, a steadfast champion of liberty and progressivism who feels it is his duty to manage the masses by means of propagandist journalism, a man who did not know the which means of enjoy but above all wanted to be loved by other folks. The movie conveys Kane’s persona by means of the juxtaposition of opposing pictures, comparable to the way Coleridge conveys Xanadu.

The Romantic Fragment also seems in Citizen Kane, in both senses as it appears in “Kubla Khan.” First, the film tends to make a point of displaying the impossibility of ever truly understanding Charles Kane due to the fact his life is shown to us through the fragmented pictures of others’ recollections. He is brought back to life via the memories and accounts of his contemporaries, but their reports are deeply influenced by their private experiences and the reliability of their narratives is questionable. Citizen Kane is also fragmented in the second sense, in its fragmentation and distinction among viewer and subject. Like the reader of “Kubla Khan,” the viewer of Citizen Kane is a spectator rather than a participant. Compounding this distinction is the fact that the character of Kane is meant to be distinguished by his difference from the viewer, rather than his similarity. Kane is an anomaly, a man who led an extraordinary life and who provided no explanation or justification for any of his actions. Viewers are not meant to relate to Kane rather, they are supposed to relate to those characters in the film who recall Kane with a sense of puzzled bewilderment. Like these characters, the viewer is meant to be left in the dark. Citizen Kane opens with the camera focusing in on dark, smoky, and shrouded shots of Xanadu, and the movie ends with the very same sequence of shots in reverse, as the camera pans out away from Xanadu. The film comes complete circle, and the viewer ends up in – actually – the same place.

It is not surprising that the exact same Oriental components that evoked Kubla Khan in Coleridge’s poem resurface in various guises in Modern functions such as Citizen Kane. Orientalism more accurately reflects the dominant culture’s personal psychology than it does any actual Oriental cultural or geopolitical awareness. Orientalism is a fragmented notion, a conflated grouping of otherized traits into an “ism” with its locus in the East, a spot that Ezra Pound called a vortex of epiphany and which T. S. Elliot connected with hope, peace, and sympathy. As long as it exists as a Romantic Fragment, a concept intended to assume the unknowability of all things, it will continue to be conventional ‘Orientalism’ as we know it. If the Orient remains a myth rather than a location, the West will continue to keep a sense of false supremacy via the subjugating attitude fortified by a view of the Other as a mirror of the undesirable, dark, or taboo elements of the Self. Orientalism is certainly an epic fragment-one particular that have to be repaired, bridged, and closed ahead of it can disappear.
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