Fires and shadows

November 12 2011

The word “Natives” is like a piece of smoked glass which modern Western observers hold in front of their eyes when they look abroad upon the World, in order that the gratifying spectacle of a “Westernized” surface may not be disturbed by any perception of the native fires which are still blazing underneath.

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Savages are distressed at the waning of the moon and attempt to counteract it by magical remedies. They do not realise that the shadow which creeps forward till it blots out all but a fragment of the shining disc is cast by their world. In much the same way we civilised people of the West glance with pity or contempt at our non-Western contemporaries lying under the shadow of some stronger power, which seems to paralyse their energies by depriving them of light. Generally we are too deeply engrossed in our own business to look closer, and we pass by on the other side – conjecturing (if our curiosity is sufficiently aroused to demand an explanation) that the shadow which oppresses these sickly forms is the ghost of their own past. Yet if we paused to examine that dim gigantic overshadowing figure standing, apparently unconscious, with its back to its victims, we should be startled to find that its features are ours.

A Study of History, Vol I, OUP, 1934

The Western Question in Greece and Turkey, A Study in the Contact of Civilizations, Constable, 1922

One Response to “Fires and shadows”

  1. davidderrick Says:

    The opening sentence of the second extract owes a debt to James Frazer.


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