Sonia Hofkosh and Alan Richardson, eds. Romanticism, Race and Imperial Culture, 1780-1834. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1996. ISBN: 1-0253332125 (hardback). Price: £33.50
University of Guelph
Sonia Hofkosh and Alan Richardson's important new collection Romanticism, Race and Imperial Culture, 1780-1834 offers a series of essays which aim to accelerate the consideration of racialization and coloniality in Romantic studies. Hofkosh and Richardson's "Introduction" succinctly and powerfully argues that
the discourses of race and colonialism were still in the process of formation in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, anxieties are often more overt, contradictions and gaps more visible, and distinct tendencies and competing ideologies have a rougher edge, not yet codified and smoothed over as they will be at the height of the British empire later in the century. (4)
Romanticists therefore are in an auspicious position to intervene in the ongoing examination of the world historical effects of British imperial culture. However, few Romanticists have acceded to this important task. With the exception of Marilyn Butler, Nigel Leask, Javed Majeed, John Barrell and a few others, Romantic studies has sectioned off a large part of the period's literary production from sustained critical debate. The vast array of canonical and non-canonical texts concerned with colonial and imperial topoi have only recently re-entered the circuit of academic consideration. For scholars already working with these matters this collection comes as not only an affirmation, but a thoroughly engaging intervention; for those who are opening their work to Romanticism's others it will come as a revelation.
Since British imperialism and its attendant representations unfolded according to different economic and social forces in each specific colonial venue, the sheer historical weight of imperial culture does not allow for any quick solution to years of scholarly neglect. Rather than offering compensatory gestures which will allow Romanticists to put the problem of colonial activity into further abeyance via some unified idea of imperial relations, the editors have demonstrated a commitment to the specificity of the long obscured interrelations of British Romanticism with British imperialism. Put simply, the collection aims to incite future work. As Sonia Hofkosh and Alan Richardson state in their introduction to Romanticism, Race and Imperial Culture, 1780-1834 the collection is arranged to foster dialogue and debate among the various formulations of imperialism and race proposed by the contributors to the volume (9). The strategy is to generate a collection which stages dissenting positions on material that has all too frequently been blessed with dubious silence.
However, the nature of the future work should give us pause because the game here is not simply one of recovery or even re-historicization. An adequate account of the relationship between Romantic literary practice and British imperial culture necessarily requires a reconsideration of the role played by Romantic studies not only in race-making, but also in the promulgation of hegemonic constructions of the British empire. Gauri Viswanathan, Homi Bhabha and Sara Suleri have persuasively demonstrated that the most important legacies of this period are institutional. Many of the key strategies for managing populations both at home and abroad—including monitorial education, sexual regulation, the technology of modern policing, the construction of biological racisms, and modern strategies of community consolidation under the aegis of the nation—were developed and refined in the colonies at this time. In my opinion, the significance of particular essays in the collection depends upon the degree to which they highlight the institutional ramifications of the field's new-found desire to explicate its colonial effects.
The superb essays by Deidre Lynch, Alison Hickey, Saree Makdisi and Sonia Hofkosh all emphasize the intimate relation between literary practice and the practice of governance in both the imperial metropolis and the colonial periphery. The ambitious essays by Joseph Lew, Laura Doyle and Alan Richardson point to a re-evaluation of key problems in the politics of reading which have the potential to significantly alter even recent considerations of the relationship between genre and aesthetic categories. On a less extensive scale Nancy Moore Goslee, Balachandra Rajan and Ashton Nichols present detailed readings of rarely read texts in which British subjects attempt to represent Native American, Indian and West African peoples. The remaining essays by Rajani Sudan, Moira Ferguson and Anne K. Mellor specifically address the role of women's writing on Britain's imperial legacy in ways that pose serious questions for feminist practice in Romantic studies.
Deidre Lynch's "Domesticating Fictions and Nationalizing Women: Edmund Burke, Property, and the Reproduction of Englishness" is a significant intervention in how we read not only Burke's Anti-Jacobin deployments of sexuality, but also Jacobin feminists' response to his expropriation of maternity. The trajectory of Lynch's article is both complex and surprising in that she argues that Burke's contradictory construction of the nation as mother-land and motherhood is a threat to the continuity of property relations. Rather than ascribe this double sense of maternity to Burke's catastrophic rhetoric she uses the duplicity as a way to think through the problem of circulation as such. This generates extraordinary readings of Lady Morgan's Woman, or, Ida of Athens, Fanny Burney's The Wanderer and Mme. De Stael's Corinne all of which feature women in inter-national circulation. These novels are the ground for a critique of Burke's "immiphobia" and of literary histories which privilege the emergence of domestic fiction. At one level, the essay is a subtle counter to Nancy Armstrong's Desire and Domestic Fiction. The power of Lynch's argument derives from the astute involution of the history of property relations and the history of empire. This move allows Lynch to demonstrate how familial allegories for the state, such as those mobilized by Burke, are undercut by the excessive nature of material/maternal production and circulation.
Lynch's reconstitution of a politics of resistance based on extra-domestic movement of women and women's texts has significant implications for the analysis of sex and gender across the period. Joseph Lew's wide-ranging essay on Byron entitled "The Necessary Orientalist: "The Giaour" and Nineteenth-Century Imperialist Misogyny" engages with the problem of the "domestication of foreign females" that Lynch argues was crucial to the economic and cultural stabilization of British identity but from a different angle. Lew's essay draws together over fifteen years of scholarship on "The Giaour" in order to examine not the administration of child-bearing British women but rather the proliferation of dead female orientalized bodies. Lew argues that "beginning with "The Giaour", Byron helped to create an expectation based not on genre but on geography: that Oriental women in literature would die—most often by violent means" (174-5). No other essay in the volume tackles the problem of representational violence so directly and on so many levels. The essay slides from complex discussions of the coding of sexual violence into the fragment form to an analysis of Byron's relationships with feminine and racial others and concludes with important gestures towards the anxiety over miscegenation in early nineteenth century colonial discourse. Some readers may find the sheer breadth of the argument and its frequently polemical tone overwhelming. I doubt if anyone will read "The Giaour" in the same way after seriously engaging with this essay.
The other essay on Byron in the collection moves in an entirely different direction. Saree Makdisi's "Versions of the East: Byron, Shelley and the Orient" stages an implicit critique and modification of Said's Orientalism by carefully arguing for radically opposed representations of the Orient in Childe Harold and Alastor. Makdisi persuasively argues that Byron's treatment of space in Childe Harold II points toward the construction of Turkey outside the spatio-temporal grid of modernity. The turn to the question of modernity is extremely important because it allows Makdisi to track the emergence of a particular model of evolutionary temporality, "through which difference was understood as, or expressed in terms of temporal distance from a standard point of reference (modern Europe)" (206). As Makdisi states, "Childe Harold, in leaving Europe, leaves behind the slowly-universalizing temporality of modernity and enters a synchronous structure of time, space, and history; not a premodern but an antimodern Orient" (206). In contrast, Shelley's Alastor "re-orients the East in terms of this newly developed universal essence of time" in a fashion that radically de-populates the contemporary Orient and turns it into an amusement park of monumental ruins. As Makdisi unearth's the genocidal sub-text of Alastor the implication for Romantic studies and for the philosophical discourse of modernity becomes evident. The violence recorded here has specific functions in the actualization of wealth and the cancellation of colonized peoples. In my opinion the most valuable part of this essay is Makdisi's reading of Shelley's 1820 essay "A Philosophical View of Reform" in which Shelley's explicitly imperialist account of world history is connected to the expansive quest structure of Alastor.
It is unfortunate that a similar rigor with regard to the imperial effects of Reformist politics does not inform Moira Ferguson's "Hannah Kilham: Gender, the Gambia, and the Politics of Language". Ferguson presents a detailed historical account of Hannah Kilham's linguistic/missionary activities in West Africa which raises a range of questions regarding British women's role and the role of philology in colonial relations with Africa. The frustrating aspect of Ferguson's argument is her suggestion that Kilham's inculcation of an ideology of self-help "paves the way for African political autonomy" (142). This argument relies on a careful silence regarding the micrological power relations mobilized by the exported monitorial schools of Lancaster and Bell of which Kilham was an ardent supporter for the African context. To suggest that this kind of disciplinary regime "democratizes" education and aims at "mutual recognition" between peoples depends upon a non-engagement with how these schools produce docile bodies.
A much more careful discussion of the imperialist potential of the monitorial system appears late in Alison Hickey's "Dark Characters, Native Grounds: Wordsworth's Imagination of Imperialism". In her discussion of Wordsworth's advocacy of Bell's system in Book 9 of The Excursion, Hickey states that "the machine of universal education, [is] the engine that provides the foundation for all other structures of dominance over plurality" (299). With implicit reference to Marx and Foucault, Hickey recognizes that the production of docile bodies is deeply bound up with producing interchangeable bodies, with an inherent loss of distinction. This loss of distinction becomes the nexus through which the entire argument operates for Wordsworth's relation to the distinction between self and other is ambivalent. His discussions of education seem to embrace dominance over plurality but his description of London in Book 7 of The Prelude is everywhere traversed by an anxiety over the mixture of the native and the foreign. Hickey's argument locates this anxiety in a representational problematic and brilliantly suggests that Wordsworth's famous difficulties with the problem of reflection are bound up with anxieties over empire. As she states, "the collective imposition of a mirroring role on the other is highly susceptible to figurative inversion, whereby the imperialist becomes the mirror of an object that makes him recoil....Facing the prospect of an erasure of otherness, the imperial subject continues to posit or construct it" (289-90). In other words, it is the figurative nature of otherness itself that generates the compulsion for xenophobic self-consolidation. The persuasive power of the essay is directly related to close readings of key passages from The Prelude and The Excursion. The highlight here is a tour de force discussion of the image of a ram in The Excursion which isolates the ambivalent nature of reflection, ties it to a crucial moment in The Aeneid, and thus generates an account of how Wordsworth moves from self-consolidation to the community consolidation demanded by Britain's imperial expansion. My only reservation here is that the material forces which are driving much of this representational economy remain partially obscured.
I have a similar concern with Laura Doyle's ambitious attempt to trace nativist constructions of race from the Anglo-Saxon revival of the 1760's through the aesthetics of the sublime in Burke, Kant and Wordsworth in her essay "The Racial Sublime". The essay's primary strength—and its fundamental weakness—is its attempt to draw together the construction of class, national character and some kind of blood based model of race which would later become a hegemonic feature of imperial culture. This is a crucial addition to the examination of race in the Romantic period in that it turns the focus from the racialization of others to the self-stylization of imperial selves. It is around this question of self-stylization that the essay is most provocative, for it argues that the construction of "nobility" in Burke's and Kant's definitions of the sublime is indebted to class based xenophobic constructions whose roots lie in the mid-seventeenth century. Within the logic of the essay 1762 becomes a key moment in the history of racialization in Britain, and the genealogical gestures yield powerful cultural narratives. The fetishization of Ossian and "barbarian verse" by Percy, MacPherson and most importantly Blair is persuasively tied to race making gestures in Burke, Kant and Wordsworth. My concern, however, is that the argument moves too swiftly in connecting national character, class and race. They are undoubtedly linked, but one is prompted to ask why one categorization is used at certain political junctures and not others. Doyle has powerfully drawn the historical threads together in a manner that demands a careful teasing out of each taxonomical thread in order that race, class and nation be considered as an articulated assemblage rather than a smoothly continuous amalgamation.
It is precisely this careful articulation that I find in Sonia Hofkosh's "Tradition and The Interesting Narrative: Capitalism, Abolition and the Romantic Individual". Hofkosh's brief essay on the power of emotion in Olaudah Equiano's Interesting Narrative is remarkable for at least two reasons. First, the essay demonstrates an extraordinary comprehension of the vast scholarship on the Atlantic slave trade. Even at those moments when Hofkosh is closest to Equiano's text one is as much conscious of the complex relationship between slavery and capitalist circulation as one is of Equiano's interventions in the rhetoric of sensibility. This integration of political economy and feminist scholarship on affect and the body is in my opinion exemplary. Second, Hofkosh's deployment of Equiano's text as a site from which we can perceive the mystifications of Romanticism itself is an elegant way of summarizing the cumulative effect of the entire collection. As she states,
If one of Romanticism's defining characteristics is the will toward "self-possession," then, Equiano's narrative should remind us to consider such a desire neither as a universal value nor as the exclusive territory of a few (white, male) writers undertaking the elaboration and consolidation of a national tradition. Rather, such a model of mastery is deployed within the history of individualism, itself embedded in an economic system that operates at the level of cognition, not just commerce, to produce "relations, proportions, values," not just commodities. Historicized through Equiano's diasporic imagination, the romantic tradition can in this sense hardly be called "anti-capitalist," for all its theoretical disdain of "getting and spending." It might instead be seen as complicitous in the development of capitalism even as its emancipatory rhetoric struggles toward reinvention.
Significantly, Hofkosh's essay points toward a solution to the question Anne K. Mellor poses in the final sentence of her contribution to the collection: "how can we develop a discourse of racial—and sexual—difference that values difference for its own sake without granting political, legal, or cultural priority to one of these differences?" (326). The question here is precisely one of value yet it is the process of valorization in the Marxist sense that remains outside the purview of Mellor's argument. Mellor's reading of a range of abolitionist and pro-slavery texts isolates an important gender difference in abolitionist discourse. Men, according to Mellor, tend to argue against slavery because it is a violation of natural law whereas women argue against slavery because it violates the domestic affections. This distinction is registered in Carol Gilligan's terms as a contrast between an ethic of justice and an ethic of care. The combination of a fairly static construction of gender identity with an analysis of slavery as a largely ethical problematic structures the readings such that the closing rhetorical question is inevitable. In the context of contributions by Lynch, Hickey and Hofkosh one gets the sense that the project itself needs to be redefined such that the macropolitical forces of sexual deployment, capitalist circulation and ethnic consolidation enter the argument at its inception.
Rajani Sudan's makes a related point late in her "Mothering and National Identity in the Works of Mary Wollstonecraft" when she calls for a critical re-consideration of Wollstonecraft's construction of political resistance in Mary and The Wrongs of Woman, or Maria. Sudan effectively demonstrates that claims for Wollstonecraft's subversive treatment of motherhood tend to avoid her less-than-thrilling participation in hegemonic discourses of colonial domination. At one level this amounts to a salutary re-iteration of the fundamental relationship between the deployment of sexuality in the bourgeois feminism of 1790's and the racialization of class. As Ann Laura Stoler has recently argued in Race and the Education of Desire this problem remains underdeveloped in research on coloniality. Sudan's essay emphasizes that a similar problem haunts the canonical texts of Romantic feminism and the largely liberal scholarship which has dominated studies of the 1790's. Sudan's recognition that "one has to think through the issues of women's oppression as an articulation of various interlocking discourses, particularly of maternity and nationalism" is I believe incontestable.
The limited sense of gender identity that Sudan is critiquing traverses Balachandra Rajan's otherwise illuminating account of "the feminine view of India's femininity" in his essay "Feminizing the Feminine: Early Women Writers on India" (153). Rajan's essay is one of the first extensive treatments of a series of novels by women written between 1785 and 1810 which include the anonymous Hartly House Calcutta, Elizabeth Hamilton's Translation of the Letters of a Hindu Rajah, and Lady Morgan's (Sydney Owenson's) The Missionary. Rajan focuses on the latter two texts and contrasts the enduring radicality of Hamilton's feminization of India with the ideological capture of Owenson's equation of femininity and passivity. Rajan's elegant essay should be read in tandem with Felicity Nussbaum's detailed reading of Hartly House Calcutta in her recent book Torrid Zones. Nussbaum's essay is an outgrowth of materialist feminist scholarship of the eighteenth century that has led the way in unwinding the complex relationship between mercantile capitalism, imperial trade, national identification and the construction of the British sex/gender system. Rajan's essay comes at these texts from the space of post-coloniality. As he states, "It is Elizabeth Hamilton's novel which, despite its irritating unrealities, sees India as possessing a capacity for self-government which her own history has enduringly demonstrated. A century and a half was to pass after the publication of her novel before that capacity could be reluctantly recognized" (167). The contrast between Nussbaum and Rajan's essay is illuminating for it marks a critical disjunction between what I see as the two major forces driving the emergent critique of Romantic imperialism. The political objectives of the scholars of the "Other Eighteenth Century", to borrow Laura Brown and Felicity Nussbaum's formulation, and post-colonial critics remain related but distinct enterprises. It remains to be seen whether the scholarship Richardson and Hofkosh's collection hopes to incite will meet the challenge of further bridging these areas of enquiry.
Nancy Moore Goslee's "Hemans's "Red Indian": Reading Stereotypes" like Rajan's essay is fruitfully considered in relation to work outside the conventional realm of Romantic studies. Aside from the essay's fine account of Heman's representations of Native Americans, Goslee's contribution draws attention to an important institutional linkage between some of the recent scholarship on Romanticism and coloniality and crucial developments in American studies. Goslee's essay, like Julie Ellison's contribution to Cathy N. Davidson and Michael Moon's collection on race and sexuality in early America entitled Subjects and Citizens demonstrates the artificiality of separating national literatures when discussing the history of coloniality. This conjunction serves to remind us of the importance of texts like Wernor Sollors's Beyond Ethnicity to the project outlined by this collection.
"Mumbo Jumbo: Mungo Park and the Rhetoric of Romantic Africa" by Ashton Nichols is an informative treatment of Mungo Park's African exploration narratives. Nichol's discussion is indebted to Mary Louise Pratt's analysis of the Travels in the Interior Districts of Africa as an anti-conquest narrative but diverges from Pratt on the question of visuality. Nichols is far more attentive to Park's language and isolates the double rhetoric which figures Africans as simultaneously peace-loving and threatening. Nichol's most important gesture, however, is his resolution to read Park as an embodiment of Romantic ideology. For the reader looking for an introduction to Romantic exploration narratives, this is an excellent starting point not least of all because Nichols points to almost twenty lesser known African exploration texts which call for the kind of analysis here accorded to Park's narratives.
A similar call for future scholarship implicitly animates Alan Richardson's admirable discussion of genre in "Epic Ambivalence: Imperial Politics and Romantic Deflection in Williams's Peru and Landor's Gebir". Richardson stages the problem of Romanticism's relation to imperial culture in terms of the gendered conflict between epic and romance. The enthusiasm with which Richardson addresses these texts is in itself important for aside from Peru and Gebir there are a wealth of long poems including Moore's Lalla Rookh, Southey's Thalaba and The Curse of Kehama desperately in need of the kind of careful reading demonstrated here. For me the most important gesture in the essay is Richardson's assertion of the importance of Clara Reeve's The Progress of Romance and of romance's generic feminization to the various strands of Orientalist discourse in the period. Having taught some of these texts in a seminar on British orientalism, I was pleased to see Richardson grappling with the often simultaneous appearance of anti-imperial and colonialist rhetoric in these poems. As he states, "Fully assimilable neither to imperial nor anti-imperial ideologies, Peru and Gebir prove most compelling in their discursive incoherence, and their formal interest resides in their generic hybridity, their disruptive temporality, and their studied failure as imperial epics" (279).
The spirit of this concluding sentence to Richardson's essay summarizes the overall effect of the collection for there is an insistent desire for a complication of all received notions and critical practices in order to meet the challenge of comprehending Romantic studies' role in British imperial activity. As the editors emphasize in their introduction:
The contributors to this volume similarly register the colonial or racial encounter as a two-way exchange marked not only by domination but also by subaltern resistance and mutual vulnerability, and they understand the cultural identity of the colonizer as no more unitary, stable, or immune to the effects of the encounter than that of the colonized. (6)
We have reason to be thankful to one and all for such a complex, responsible and future-looking collection.
|Auteur :||Daniel O'Quinn|
|Ouvrage recensé :||Sonia Hofkosh and Alan Richardson, eds. Romanticism, Race and Imperial Culture, 1780-1834. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1996. ISBN: 1-0253332125 (hardback). Price: £33.50|
|Revue :||Romanticism on the Net, Numéro 11, août 1998|
Copyright © Michael Eberle-Sinatra 1996-2002 — All rights reserved