In Signal and Noise, Larkin begins with background on colonial rule in Nigeria. The focus here is the conflict between preservation and ‘progress.’ There is never a real balance between the two and the struggle is a continuous cycle. “This conflict between preservation and ‘progress’ was a structural tension at the heart of indirect rule and how this policy was enacted from governor to governor, resident to resident, and over the course of colonial rule.” With the ‘progress’ of indirect rule, Larkin discusses the use of the sublime as a means to understand the submission, incomprehension and wonder at the implementation of new technology.

What I found interesting from Larkin’s book is his comparison of the railway and cinema. Both offer this sense of ‘colonial sublime’ and in a strange way represent very similar structures. Both forms of ‘progress’ reshape the experience of distance, time, movement and speed.

Larkin writes, “Like the railroad, cinema transports people to places they have not experienced before. Like cinema, the railroad creates new perceptual experiences, the paradox of moving while remaining still. But this takes on a whole new dimension in the colonial context, where the link between cinema and railroad is mediated through the logic of rule.”

As two types of mobility — real and illusion—these new structures form wonder and yet fear in the sublime. While the railroad created newer, faster experiences through physical movement, the cinema moves people to the vision of newer, faster experiences. Information is made more available in both cases, but the notion of  ‘progress’ never ceases.

“Cinema is an important part of a massive transformation in the nature of the economy and society in twentieth-century modernity, where the creation of value has shifted from production and making of goods to consumption and the stimulation of desire.” Cinema’s role in modernity gives insight into technology and society through the visual of entertainment and politics. Like the Kano Water and Electric Light Works in the first chapter, “the lights and fountains were not just effects of colonial rule; they were a mode of it.” The cycle of ‘progress’ is a constant transformation of change.


About karadim

I am a first year graduate student at American University's MA Literature program.

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