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Introduction and Keywords

  • Lauren M. E. Goodlad et
  • Julia M. Wright

…plus d’informations

  • Lauren M. E. Goodlad
    University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign

  • Julia M. Wright
    Dalhousie University

Corps de l’article

What might the exploration of Victorian internationalisms contribute to literary study in an era acutely focused on its own globalizing momentum? That question motivated a series of panels devoted to the topic at the fourth annual meeting of the North American Victorian Studies Association at Purdue University in September 2006.[1] The original idea was to extend and reflect on the turn in Victorian studies away from insular nationalist frameworks and toward the embrace of terms such as internationalism, transnationalism, cosmopolitanism and geopolitics. The impulse was not to query a presentist outlook in recent scholarship but, rather, to advance the work of developing historicist perspectives. For while it has become important to recognize the limitations of “Victorian” in designating a coherent field of inquiry, and to acknowledge the tendency of such rubrics to reproduce the ontology of the sovereign nation-state, it is also true that, for all its immediacy, the capitalist globalization that is ongoing today was visibly underway for Charles Baudelaire, Lady Augusta Gregory, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow and William Makepeace Thackeray—to name just a few of the writers whose works are discussed in the papers collected here.[2] To capture the global provenance of Victorian literature is, potentially, to advance historical understandings of globalization as well as transnationalized modes of literary study.

But is internationalism a felicitous term through which to prosecute such endeavours? The word “internationalism” was coined in the late eighteenth century by Jeremy Bentham to describe international jurisprudence, “the branch of law which goes commonly under the name of the law of nations” (296n). Since that time it has been used to characterize relations and processes that are “existing, constituted, or carried on between different nations” (OED).[3] As Perry Anderson writes, “internationalism” may describe “any outlook, or practice, that tends to transcend the nation towards a wider community, of which nations continue to form the principal units” (6).[4] “Internationalism” is, in this sense, clearly transnational for it has the potential to readjust critical perceptions of the nation-state. Whereas nation-centric theories may posit the state as sovereign monad and the nation as homogenous culture, an internationalist standpoint evokes contingent spaces of social, politico-economic, and cultural interaction—including the importance of non-state actors.[5] But while such an outlook decenters the nation, stressing movement across rather than consolidation within borders, it is not, as some theorists might prefer, either post-national or even anti-national. Although an “internationalist” outlook recognizes the nation-state as the product of transnational, translocal, regional, and postcolonial conditions of possibility, it does not further assume that such contingency either does, or should, obliterate the materiality of nation-states or obviate their potential efficacy as one political structure among many.[6]

To be sure, whereas “transnationalism” as defined by Inderpal Grewal and Caren Kaplan emphasizes “the asymmetries of the globalization process” (“Global” 664; cf. “Introduction”), internationalism of the kind celebrated by many Victorians takes British hegemony for its starting point. Thus, an 1862 article in Blackwood’s describes the International Exhibition of that year as a “congress of the nations” for a “world” depicted as simultaneously “a stage,” “a mart” and a “battle-field” (472-73)—even as such “friendly rivalry” is characterized as the setting for Britain’s continuing “supremacy” (472, 479). Clearly, the study of Victorian internationalisms entails rigorous denaturalization of the nineteenth century’s imperious (Eurocentric, Anglocentric, racist, Orientalist) discourses on the global. But in thus submitting what might be called the “actually existing” internationalisms of the Victorian era to critical scrutiny,[7] scholars need not conclude that concepts of internationalism offer no critical purchase for today’s postcolonial and transnational modes of literary criticism. Thus, Margaret Cohen and Carolyn Dever use “inter-national” to designate the novel’s origins in a “cross-Channel literary zone,” a space of transcultural exchange between Britain and France which “both vindicate[s] and challenge[s] the imagined contours of the nation-state” (2-3).[8] Outside of literary criticism per se, Timothy Brennan argues for “internationalism” in contradistinction to any global movement that ignores the importance of nations in securing “respect for weaker societies and peoples” (42). Likewise, Pierre Bourdieu calls on labor movements to create “the organizational bases for a genuine critical internationalism capable of really combating neo-liberalism” (42). Mrinalini Sinha, Donna Guy and Angela Woollacott use “internationalism” to capture the efforts of non-Western feminists to resist the “national domination” of Anglo-American feminism (7). In a less sociological vein, Bruce Robbins offers “internationalism” to articulate an alternative to the ethical ideal that cosmopolitanism aims to capture (Feeling)—a point to which we will return.

Clearly, “internationalism” is a valuable but also complicated concept for today’s scholarship: a term that may arguably transcend, but can never disavow, its historical connections to the long nineteenth century’s imperial world order. It is one thing to join Brennan in embracing a postcolonial internationalism that aspires to “establish global relations of respect and cooperation, based on acceptance of differences in polity as well of culture” (42). It is another to recognize the Victorian era’s internationalisms as constitutively incapable of such inclusive vision insofar as they were predicated on the belief that national sovereignty was the self-evident entitlement of cultural, economic and military strength.[9] And it is yet another project still to identify and explore the spaces of interaction in which such internationalisms were embedded along with the transcultural exchanges that shaped “international” genres such as the novel. Although “internationalism” as such is not always the explicit node of analysis (the term “transnationalism” would provide an equally apt title for this special issue), each of the papers below engages one or more of the above axes. Since these engagements also entail dialogue with still other critical vocabularies, we now turn to a series of brief discussions on cosmopolitanism, Orientalism, and geopolitics—terms that are indispensable to a globally situated critical practice, and which also provide a generative framework for the grouping of essays in this special issue.

I. Beyond Cosmopolitanism

Whereas internationalism typically describes interactions at the supraindividual level (for instance, organizations, states, and cultures), cosmopolitanism, by contrast, often denotes the character and perspectives of particular individuals. Thus, as a noun rather than an adjective, “cosmopolitan” may designate a single person in a way that “international” rarely does. To be sure, both terms may be used in a normative rather than neutral sense—as, for instance, when “internationalism” designates valorized practices of interaction which conduce toward cooperation, equality, and respect. Yet, of the two, cosmopolitanism is far more likely to describe not only an ethics of cross-border relations, but also an ethos borne by specific individuals and groups wherever they go, within or across national borders. Moreover, such an ethos may be cast pejoratively—as a bearing deemed to be insufficiently grounded in, and even resistant to, the customs and institutions of particular localities, traditions, or national cultures.

Unsurprisingly, the term “cosmopolitan” has a complex history, both as a term in English literature and as a concept in European thought from classical Greece forward. There are clear continuities within this history: Jacques Derrida’s cosmopolitanism, like Immanuel Kant’s, emphasizes hospitality, for instance, while a number of recent critics have stressed the disinterested curiosity of the cosmopolitan as the figure is defined in eighteenth- and nineteenth-century Europe. Karen O’Brien suggests that cosmopolitanism “simultaneously encapsulates an attitude of detachment towards national prejudice ... , and an intellectual investment in the idea of a common European civilization” (2). The latter part of O’Brien’s definition is worthy of further attention, particularly in the context of this special issue. While cosmopolitanism in its ideal form is defined by a respect for other peoples and cultures, it remains yoked to the same biases which shaped the Enlightenment as a whole–Eurocentric, phallocentric, and middle-class. In the eighteenth century, the term “cosmopolitan,” even as a reference to a certain “‘philosophical’ attitude” within “a common European civilization,” cannot embrace the migrant poor, the Romany, and, until much later, women.[10] For the term translates literally as “citizen of the world,” and these groups did not have access to citizenship.

Thomas Sheridan’s General Dictionary (1780), republished repeatedly in the 1780s and 1790s and used as the foundation for dictionaries in the early nineteenth century, offers this definition of the “cosmopolitan”: “A citizen of the world, one who is at home in every place” (n.p.). By contrast, the non-citizen is at home in no place. Before the emergence of populist nationalism at the end of the eighteenth century in which “natio” (birth) was sufficient to claim a stake in the fate of the nation, the citizen was a classed as well as gendered figure. In 1702, Daniel Defoe contends,

the Freeholders are the proper Owners of the Country: It is their own, and the other Inhabitants are but Sojourners, like Lodgers in a House, and ought to be subject to such Laws as the Freeholders impose upon them, or else they must remove; because the Freeholders having a Right to the Land, the other have no right to live there but upon sufferance.

18

Defoe’s qualification helps to explain the emphasis in eighteenth-century British uses of “cosmopolitan” on domestic politics: only the citizen, as a man of a certain economic rank, can speak to British politics, while the phrase “of the world” marks claims to the authority of objectivity and/or wide experience. The pseudonyms “cosmopolitan” and “citizen of the world” are consequently used in the eighteenth century to sign a number of political texts, including a poem on “The Character of the English,” a pamphlet on a government resignation, and a public letter to “the freeholders, burgesses, and other worthy electors,” Defoe’s privileged group.[11] Oliver Goldsmith’s Citizen of the World (1762) is a suggestive innovation in viewing English manners and society from the perspective of a Chinese traveler. Though still a man of rank and wealth,[12] Goldsmith’s cosmopolitan is necessarily and insistently foreign, trying to work through strangeness—and inhospitable English practices—rather than stressing disinterestedness and worldliness.

Goldsmith’s “cosmopolite” is a rare exception, and a satiric one as well—a vehicle for addressing English absurdities and shortcomings. The ethic of a tolerant and widely educated elite subject is much harder to find in eighteenth-century British depictions of the cosmopolitan per se. Thomas Schlereth asserts that such a figure appears in David Hume: “the eighteenth-century cosmopolite aspired to be, as Hume once put it, ‘a creature, whose thoughts are not limited by any narrow bounds, either of place or time; who carries his researches into the most distant regions of the globe ...’” (xiii). But Hume does not actually use the designation “cosmopolite” or its variants here, referring instead to what separates human beings from animals; the term is rather retrospectively applied by Schlereth to an Enlightenment philosophical ideal of transnational cultural exchange, somewhat obscuring the relationship between this ideal and the specifics of citizenship implied by the Greek origins of the term and claimed by eighteenth-century English writers who used it as a pseudonym.

The tide turns at the end of the eighteenth century as the figure becomes associated not with an objective citizen but with a refusal to remain a citizen of the home nation. In Britain, the association of the cosmopolitan with opposition to the nation or nation-state coincides roughly with the arrival of populist nationalism as well as the English translation of Kant in the late 1790s and the anti-Jacobin reaction of the same decade. The cosmopolitan’s elitist connotation is thus retained by separating the figure from the masses, such as the British populace and the French mob, but remains identified with radicalism in a global context. The Romantic cosmopolitan can reject nationalism as conservative, parochial, and debased, fostering instead an idealized position that transcends the regional squabbles and intolerance that define a Europe at war—while remaining nation-centered in concern. As Joanne Wilkes writes, the cosmopolitanism of Byron and Mme de Stael was complicated both by personal “ambition” and their interest in “the insights [other cultures] could offer into the current state and future prospects of the lands which held their primary loyalties” (17).[13] Jeffrey N. Cox and Jill Heydt-Stevenson suggest,

in England cosmopolitanism was always a contested term, suggesting now a worldly, urbane outlook, now a distinctly un-British, perhaps particularly French distortion of home truths. Diderot in his encyclopedia can praise cosmopolitans as “strangers nowhere in the world”; Byron invokes cosmopolitanism in his preface to Childe Harold less to find a place in the world than to separate himself from Britain.

130-31

While Cox and Heydt-Stevenson take the position that “cosmopolitan” is a term new in the nineteenth century and so view the term as “always” “contested” (130), their formulation of Romantic cosmopolitanism is a useful one for highlighting the shifting of the term at the turn of the century. No longer an Enlightenment citizen, claiming an informed perspective on domestic politics in which he claims a stake, the cosmopolitan becomes a willing exile, rejecting his/her nation-state as well as embracing other national cultures in an assertion less of openness than of individual will. Although developing what William D. Brewer positively terms “a cosmopolitan perspective on local customs and moral creeds,” for example, the father of Mary Shelley’s heroine in Mathilda is also represented as socially alienated and self-centered: “he was impatient of any censure except that of his own mind. He had seen so many customs and witnessed so great a variety of moral creeds that he had been obliged to form an independant one for himself which had no relation to the peculiar notions of any one country” (188).[14] Opposing Enlightenment ideas of national character, such as David Hume’s in which communal influence generates uniformity among the populace, the Romantic cosmopolitan transcends national culture through an estrangement that is less a decentering than an egocentric move. We might frame this “contest[ation],” then, in Romantic-era British usage, as one between the survival of Enlightenment ideals and the growing tension between competing claims to sovereignty—the sovereign individual, the sovereign nation, and even the sovereignty of empire.

The cosmopolitan is a particularly troubling figure in light of John Locke’s argument that nations rely upon individuals’ ceding their natural sovereignty to the nation of their choice (325). The cosmopolitan’s unrootedness, particularly in the refusal to claim actual citizenship at home or abroad, questions the very legitimacy of the modern nation-state. What is a nation without citizens? The answer, perhaps, is that a nation without citizens is a colonized one—empire asserts sovereignty over a people who do not, as Locke would have it, consent to give their sovereignty into the care of a nation-state. The cosmopolitan, conversely, rejects the modern nation in favor of an unimpeded personal sovereignty—complete autonomy, freedom of movement, and the transcendence of national limits. The Romantic-era association of the term with the French Revolution, however, both positively and negatively, shifted its usage to refer not only to this principle of personal liberty but also to international groups unbound by nationality and so beyond the legal frameworks that propelled Bentham to coin the term “international.”[15] The cosmopolitan, in other words, could operate aslant an emerging global order defined by nations through international treaties, imperial expansion, and trade agreements.

In fact, the notion of “cosmopolitan” as a condition of deracinated, transnational flow is suggested by the Oxford English Dictionary’s entry for the word, in which the first citation for the condition of “belonging to all parts of the world” takes capital, rather than human personality, for its object. The reference is to The Principles of Political Economy (1848), in which John Stuart Mill averred that “capital is becoming more and more cosmopolitan.” Mill’s point was that traditional obstacles to migration such as cultural and climatological difference were becoming ever less likely to hinder the removal “of persons ... or their capitals to a distant place” (Principles 2: 588). This picture of an increasingly homogenous global modernity is even more vividly articulated in a second 1848 usage of “cosmopolitan” (not cited by the OED). For Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, capitalism’s need to “nestle everywhere, settle everywhere” has “given a cosmopolitan character to production and consumption” the world over, displacing “old-established” cultures and social relations in favor of “new industries,” “new wants” and the “universal inter-dependence of nations” (476).[16] It is no wonder, then, that as the mid-century capitalist globalization Mill and Marx described proceeded apace—advancing, for instance, economic domination in South America and East Asia, colonial settlement in South Africa and Australia, the consolidation of territorial empire in India, and increasing urbanization in the metropole—the fault-lines between competing sovereignties (individual, national, and imperial) were expressed in part through pejoration of those very “cosmopolitan” processes which threatened the integrity of every one of them. Although recent historians such as Peter Mandler have emphasized the nineteenth-century British embrace of the “cosmopolitan science of political economy” (225), in Victorian parlance “cosmopolitan” seems often to have denoted the deracinating and destructive effects of capitalist modernity at their most ominous.

When the word appears in Anthony Trollope’s 1876 novel, The Prime Minister, it is used by an English landowner to describe the dubious rootlessness of a man who “isn’t of [his] sort”—one Ferdinand Lopez (141) (see Goodlad). This pejorative meaning, in which “cosmopolitan” stands not only for the social impact of capitalism, but also, by extension, for the attributes of Jews and other perceived arrivistes, is even more pronounced in J. A. Hobson’s high-minded 1902 critique of imperialism, in which the “growing cosmopolitanism of capital” is directly tied to a “peculiar race” of manipulative Jewish financiers (51, 57 and passim).[17] Exemplifying a conservative twist on this derogatory usage, Benjamin Disraeli—himself the object of anti-Semitic slurs—decried the “cosmopolitan principles” of the Liberal party, thus aligning cosmopolitanism in 1872 with Continental influence and anti-colonialism as against the “Imperial” greatness sought by patriotic Tories (534).

These pejorative nineteenth-century associations stand in obvious contrast to the new and valorized cosmopolitanisms that scholars across the disciplines have enthusiastically explored since the 1990s, an era marked by the Cold War’s close and the increasing prominence of globalization.[18] In a recent review of the topic, Craig Calhoun argues that what is especially notable in such work is the effort to reconcile the diversity of pre-modern cosmopolitan spaces (empires, trading cities) with modern ideals of democratic self-rule. Thus, David Held envisions a world-wide community predicated on “multiple citizenships” and a concept of fungible sovereignty—one that can be “stripped away from the idea of fixed borders” and rethought in terms of “malleable time-space clusters” that might be “drawn upon in diverse self-regulating self-associations” (Held 234; qtd. in Calhoun 101). Clearly, Held seeks to overcome precisely the antinomies we have so far identified: the contingent sovereignties of capitalist modernity and the tensions between competing claims at the level of the individual, the national and the supranational. As Calhoun notes, the problem with such theories is their insufficient account of political and sociological prerequisites. Cosmopolitan democracy is put forward as an “ethical obligation” or desideratum without adequate attention to the systemic inequalities which immobilize it (100). Hence, to articulate an effective theory of global democracy, cosmopolitanism must be more fully disintricated from the processes of capitalist expansion which have enabled it since the eighteenth century. In Calhoun’s words, cosmopolitanism “needs to approach both cross-cultural relations and the construction of social solidarities with a deeper recognition of the significance of diverse starting points and potential outcomes” and to articulate greater “commitment to the reduction of material inequality, and more openness to radical change” (108).[19]

In the field of Victorian studies, interest in cosmopolitanism has inspired new projects of literary history such as Amanda Anderson’s seminal reconstruction of “a tradition of cosmopolitan critique in Victorian culture” (Powers 63). As described by Christopher M. Keirstead, in dialogue with Robert Browning’s poetry, the cosmopolitan ideal is a lived “capacity for sorting out competing ideas and offering in return a tolerant, humane understanding” (423). Victorianist criticism of this stripe shares with scholarship in other disciplines an interest in describing “socio-cultural processes or individual behaviours, values or dispositions” that manifest “a capacity to engage cultural multiplicity” (Vertovec and Cohen 1). Significantly, neither Anderson nor Keirstead misses what Calhoun calls the “imminent contradictions of the social order” (100). To the contrary, both explore the tensions between Victorian literature’s ethically and aesthetically rich engagements with multiplicity, and its comparatively inert challenge to—often embrace of—hierarchies of nationality, race, class, and gender.[20] Literary histories of cosmopolitanism may thus offer a somewhat finite critical project, one compelled to predict the foundering of the ethical aspirations it describes. Indeed, from the vantage of Marx and Engels, Victorian literature’s “cosmopolitanism” is the determined effect of capitalist globalization: the same material processes that render “national one-sidedness and narrow-mindedness ... more and more impossible” underlie a literature shot through with tortured reflection on the limits of individual tolerance (Marx and Engels 477).[21]

That said, the answer is not to set aside literature’s ethical dimensions, which, among other things, may illuminate the transnational social solidarities of which Calhoun speaks. As Bruce Robbins writes with literary works partly in mind, “the moral and sentimental domain is a constituent and precondition” of collective action; without “an internationalist ethic or culture,” transnational politics either fail to emerge or develop as the pursuit of national or other partial interests (Feeling 17).[22] The tendency of cosmopolitanism to evoke individual ethos rather than cultural, social or political process may thus suggest the merits of exploring complementary terms. Although “cosmopolitanism” will doubtless continue to enrich Victorianist criticism, it is possible that “internationalism” may be a useful concept in situating literature’s variously aesthetic, ethical, political—even geopolitical—insights in productive ways.

In the first essay in the special issue, “National Histories, International Genre: Thackeray, Balzac, and the Franco-British Bildungsroman,” Sarah Rose Cole extends Cohen and Dever’s focus on a “cross-Channel literary zone.” Reading Thackeray’s History of Pendennis in light of Honoré de Balzac’s Lost Illusions, Cole finds a productive international exchange in which French revolutionary history inflects British genre and politics. The complicated “negotiation, tribute and disavowal” that mark Thackeray’s engagement with France show how the events of 1848—so far from confirming the myth of Britain’s temperate insularity—in fact “connected Britain and France more powerfully ... than at any other time in the Victorian era” (par. 7). Shifting from revolutionary politics to aesthetics, Julia Kent’s essay, “Oscar Wilde’s ‘False Notes’: Dorian Gray and English Realism,” reads Wilde’s novel as yet another product of the Channel zone—albeit one triangulated through Wilde’s Irish perspective on French and English culture. Although Wilde was an enthusiast of French Decadence, his novel deliberately “limits the degree to which characters can become excessively attached to any single cultural form” (par. 10). Wilde’s aesthetic experimentation, including the famous chapter on the “yellow book,” thus privileges internationality over either side of the Channel. In the final contribution to “Beyond Cosmopolitanism,” Alison’s Booth’s paper takes up a different zone of transnationality--the Atlantic--as well as a different mode of cultural practice: the longstanding quasi-literary, quasi-touristic custom of the literary pilgrimage. In “Author Country: Longfellow, the Brontës, and Anglophone Homes and Haunts,” Booth explores the pilgrimage as a transatlantic phenomenon, offering comparisons not only of place and time but also of gender, genre, and literary reception. National literary icons, Booth demonstrates, are constructed both intra-nationally (via the regionalisms particular to specific literary legacies) and internationally (via the transatlantic fandoms that participate in translating past artifacts into an ongoing “heritage”). Both Longfellow and Brontë countries add local flavor to “a national menu” even as they constitute sites for a “cosmopolitan” tourism (par. 6).

II. At the Limits of Orientalism

The tourism described by Booth offers a domesticated exotic, relatively free of the problems of Orientalist desire which can reveal the Eurocentrism that complicates the purportedly cosmopolitan or internationalist stance of many Victorian writers. It has been nearly thirty years since Edward Said’s Orientalism first appeared in print. In that period, there have been many scholarly investigations of the degree to which, following Said, Orientalism follows hegemonic political interests,[23] as well as myriad critiques of Said’s study. But Said’s definition of Orientalism remains important not only for marking a significant category of cultural othering but also for Said’s key contribution to a Gramscian rethinking of the relationship between culture and politics that was effected in literary studies in the 1980s—broadly, that knowledge is an instrument of power. Theorists of power, especially those who respond at least in part to Marxist thought (including such diverse thinkers as Louis Althusser, Frantz Fanon, Michel Foucault, and Antonio Gramsci), have taught us to grasp culture not as the historically related companion of politics but as its servant. It is this paradigmatic shift that distinguishes earlier uses of “Orientalism”—perhaps most notably in Raymond Schwab’s influential The Oriental Renaissance (1950)—from Said’s reconceptualization of both the term and the discipline of “Oriental studies” in 1978.[24] Countering the traditional definition in which “A nineteenth-century Orientalist was ... either a scholar ... or a gifted enthusiast” (Said 51), Said places the Occidental study of the Orient within a history of empire and anxiety in which neither knowledge nor epistemological desire could be politically innocent. Thus, while books and scholars circulated across the transatlantic sphere bearing ideas of “the East,” Said argues that Orientalism is shaped by imperial concern in a way that decisively distinguishes the US from Europe:

Americans will not feel quite the same way about the Orient, which for them is much more likely to be associated very differently with the Far East (China and Japan, mainly). Unlike the Americans, the French and the British ... have had a long tradition of what I shall be terming Orientalism, a way of coming to terms with the Orient that is based on the Orient’s special place in European Western experience. The Orient is not only adjacent to Europe; it is also the place of Europe’s greatest and richest and oldest colonies, the source of its civilizations and languages, its cultural contestant, and one of its deepest and most recurring images of the Other.

1

The final sentences above are a succinct basis for “Orientalism” as it is now used, but the remark about the US—and Said’s subsequent framing of US Orientalism as a post-WWII phenomenon—is worthy of further attention.[25] For it suggests that politics is a pre-condition for cultural expression. Said writes later in the Introduction,

For if it is true that no production of knowledge in the human sciences can ever ignore or disclaim its author’s involvement as a human subject in his own circumstances, then it must also be true that for a European or American studying the Orient there can be no disclaiming the main circumstances of his actuality: that he comes up against the Orient as a European or American first, as an individual second.

11

This is a noteworthy passage, reinstating notions of “national character” in making authors first and foremost defined by their nation (rather than, even in a similarly determinist vein, their gender, class, or religion).[26] Writers in this view are instruments of the dominant national ideology, here posited as coherent as well as ostensibly compelling—the very national bind which cosmopolitanism in the nineteenth century sought to escape. Orientalism has thus come to be defined as secondary to the imperial enterprise, as a cultural extension and buttress of political will. However, Said also supports, albeit with some qualification, earlier notions of Orientalism in which culture operates beyond and even against hegemonic politics.[27]

For instance, addressing Romantic ideas of “the regeneration of Europe by Asia” (Said 115), the cultural history that is invoked in Schwab’s phrase “Oriental Renaissance,” Said notes that this “Romantic Orientalist project was not merely a specific instance of a general tendency; it was a powerful shaper of the tendency itself, as Raymond Schwab has so convincingly argued” (115).[28] Balachandra Rajan also singles out this aspect of Schwab’s work: “Raymond Schwab writes with deep scholarship and persuasiveness of the discovery of India as a shaping force in the Romantic project” (86). While, with Said, we must recognize that (to a significant degree) “what mattered was not Asia so much as Asia’s use to Europe” (115), the survival of Schwab’s interest in the ways in which “Orientalist” ideas not only functioned “as a shaping force in the Romantic project” but also served a critique of European culture needs further attention. That is, if Europe is in decline and Asia can “regenerat[e]” it, then Europe must be failing where Asia succeeds. The point, then, is not just that Asia can be exploited (through “Asia’s use to Europe”)—as it so very clearly was commercially and politically—but also that Asia has cultural value, even cultural capital, in relation to a morally impoverished West. Global circulation of cultural materials here serves to reorient the West, with the East as a means by which to frame dissent from, rather than the support of, the status quo.[29] In this idealized form, “Orientalism” becomes a potential vehicle for open-minded cultural encounter and even a re-thinking of Eurocentrism and imperialism. The papers gathered here under the heading of “At the Limits of Orientalism” are concerned with this countervailing component of Orientalist discourse—one in which authors may be located in more complicated subject positions than “European or American first,” or use Orientalism to serve other ends than conventional European hegemony.

In “From Egypt to Ireland: Lady Augusta Gregory and Cross-Cultural Nationalisms in Victorian Ireland,” Andrea Bobotis explores the ways in which Lady Gregory’s identification with Irish—and not British—nationalism required an adjustment of both “Orientalist” and gendered categories in her strategic depiction of the Egyptian nationalist, Ahmed Arabi. In Gregory’s article for the London Times on Arabi, Europeanness is simultaneously fragmented, in the Irish writer’s resistance to British Orientalist portrayals of Arabi in a British metropolitan publication, and reinstated, in Gregory’s racialization of the women in Arabi’s family on terms that empower Gregory’s political voice as a European (white) woman. Gregory (to echo Said) appears to be Irish first and a European woman second. In “Victorian Nights’ Entertainments: Elizabeth Gaskell and Wilkie Collins Develop the British Story Sequence,” Audrey Murfin argues for Orientalism as a foundational intervention in the development of short fiction in English. The 1001 Nights, she suggests, is not only a direct literary influence on a host of British authors, but is also a structural model for the short story sequence as a genre that develops through Gaskell and Collins forward to Robert Louis Stevenson. In their formalist concerns, these innovations in short fiction approach an apolitical, even purely aesthetic, Orientalism in which genre rather than ideology is the foundational concern. Joseph McLaughlin continues this challenge to the subordination of aesthetics to politics in his essay, “‘The Japanese Village’ and the Metropolitan Construction of Modernity.” Focusing on an exhibition of Japanese artisans in late Victorian London, McLaughlin explores the ways in which the exhibition exceeds, rather than serves as a material cause of, late-Victorian Orientalist discourse, arguing compellingly that the exhibition’s influence on Gilbert and Sullivan’s Mikado is merely the stuff of theatrical legend. Instead, the exhibition reflexively puts the modern metropolis on display, particularly as that metropolis is defined by its contrast with the “traditional village” and by its ability to incorporate and regulate (through concerns about fire codes, for instance) such exhibitions of non-modernity.

III. Politics and Geopolitics

At the heart of the various tensions to which this discussion of terms has so far led is the crucial status of the political. On the one hand, a postcolonial theory that subordinates culture to politics obscures the interactional dimensions of imperial encounter as well as multiple lines of acculturation and agency, diminishing politics as well as culture. On the other hand, a theory of cosmopolitanism that privileges ethos at the expense of material change ignores the neo-imperial effects of globalization. “Internationalism” has the potential to offset both conceptual difficulties, but only if it recognizes culture as a constitutive feature of transnational political solidarities, and only if its goal is to empower the non-Western and non-state actors that were first marginalized in the eras of “Pax Britannica” and the “American Century.”

Geopolitics might seem to offer an unlikely supplement to such revisionist aims, for the term is often associated with the naked pursuit of national interest and the foreign policy outlook of the “realist” school of international relations. The latter’s Hobbesean vision of monadic states vying for power in an anarchic field is precisely what a postcolonial internationalism aims to refute. Nonetheless, it is worth noting the various ways in which the Victorian era anticipated the geopolitical culture of today.[30] As Muriel Chamberlain notes, the Victorian public tended, on the whole, to “believe that Britain held a unique position in the world” and “liked to believe both in British benevolence and British power” (6, 7). Rather more privately, Lord Palmerston, Foreign Secretary for most of the period between 1830 and 1851, urged an aggressive economic nationalism. Writing to the Governor General of India in 1841, this outspoken enthusiast of free trade insisted that it “is the business of the Government to open and to secure the roads for the merchant.” Palmerston’s concern was that the “rivalship of European manufactures” was “fast excluding” British products from continental markets. “We must unremittingly endeavour to find in other parts of the world new vents for the produce of our industry,” he urged (qtd. in Davison 28).[31] No wonder that Karl Marx, who described Palmerston as “responsible for the whole foreign policy England has pursued,” rebuked him for his duplicity. “He knows,” wrote Marx, “how to conciliate a democratic phraseology with oligarchic views, how to cover the peace-mongering policy of the middle classes with the haughty language of England’s aristocratic past—how to appear as the aggressor where he connives, and as the defender where he betrays ... how to utter brave words in the act of running away” (Marx 3, 2).

Yet, if Palmerston thus evoked realpolitik more than 50 years before that word entered the English language (OED), and if the early twentieth-century coinage of “geopolitics” postdated the aggressive “foreign policy” that Marx described in 1853, it must also be noted that the association between geopolitics and “power politics” is itself of recent vintage. Indeed, as late as 1994, the historian Michael Howard chided Henry Kissinger for his “bewildering” use of “geopolitics” as “simply a euphemism for power relationships.” The actual meaning of geopolitics, Howard noted, emphasizes the impacts of geography: not an abstract struggle for power, but “the influence of spatial environment on political imperatives.” [32]

The origins of “geopolitics” in early-twentieth-century pseudo-science have been taken up in Christopher GoGwilt’s literary study, The Fiction of Geopolitics: Afterimages of Culture from Wilkie Collins to Alfred Hitchcock. As GoGwilt helpfully explains, early geopolitical theorists such as the British geographer Halford J. Mackinder failed to achieve their goal of scientifically determining the “relations between geography and politics”; thus, in part, the “fiction” of geopolitics (2). But GoGwilt also insists that geopolitics’ positivistic fantasy originated in a turn-of-the-century paradigm shift, from a “singular idea of human culture to a relativist idea of separate cultures” (2-3). For GoGwilt, it is the loss of a universalistic cultural metanarrative which summons the fiction of geopolitics, constituting it as “the riddling afterimage of all those attempts to systematize and explain human history” which had “characterized nineteenth-century humanism,” “most notably, in ... the concept of culture” (40). The problem with this formulation is not so much that GoGwilt generalizes to posit the “concept of culture” as paradigmatic—a definitive nineteenth-century “cosmopolitan” ideal of Bildung in which “the individual’s story” is seen “to unfold…in harmony with the development of human history as a whole” (5). It is, rather, that what follows from this reduction to a single humanistic narrative is a view of nineteenth-century literature as lacking the fractures that GoGwilt reads in light of fictive geopolitics. Yet, as the work of Anderson and Keirstead demonstrates, Victorian cosmopolitanism was anything but a coherent universalistic paradigm like the serene Arnoldo-Hegelianism that GoGwilt prescribes for the nineteenth century. A Victorianist theory of internationalism, by contrast, recognizes nineteenth-century culture as neither limpidly humanistic nor materially pre-geopolitical. [33]

Victorian “geopolitics” can thus be captured retrospectively as the means through which capitalism extended privileged forms of sovereignty over space, both inside the West and beyond it. Geopolitics as such relied on a nation-centric vision of the global which could simultaneously celebrate “free” trade or promote more explicitly imperial “civilizing missions.” One finds inspiration for a critical theory of Victorian geopolitics in Fredric Jameson’s idea of a geopolitical aesthetic, defined as the expression of “an unconscious, collective effort” to “figure out” the “the landscapes and forces” embedded in a global situation which are at once lived and beyond individual experience (Geopolitical 3). A Victorianist notion of the “geopolitical unconscious” (3) is as potentially illuminating of nineteenth-century spaces of internationality as of the postmodern condition it was crafted to describe.[34]

In “‘The Policy of Geography’: Cavour’s Considerations, European Geopolitics, and Ireland in the 1840s,” Julia M. Wright locates a distinctive early-Victorian discourse of the “geopolitical” in which geography is invoked to underwrite Irish political autonomy. Ironically, the Italian nationalist Count Cavour rejected Ireland’s claims to nationhood, affirming British union as a progressive instrument of universal history. Wright demonstrates the importance of an historically specific approach to geopolitics in its various guises. The idea of a nexus between geography and politics should not be postdated (as in GoGwilt’s study) not least because, in its actually existing nineteenth-century forms, it could entail mobilizing local spatial imaginaries against an imperial universalism. Where Wright thus provides an unconventional view of the “geopolitical” as anti-imperial, Stoyan Tchaprazov reexamines a locus classicus of Victorian foreign policy—the Eastern Question—from a subaltern perspective. In “The British Empire Revisited Through the Lens of the Eastern Question,” Tchaprazov reads Bulgarian news media published during the period of the Liberal Party’s “agitation” on behalf of the Bulgarian victims of Ottoman repression. Conventional analyses have stressed how the humanitarian and pro-Christian sentiments of Liberal and other Bulgarian sympathizers trumped their allegiance to Britain’s imperial interest in a strong Ottoman empire. Yet, as Tchaprazov shows, the self-styled agitators for Bulgarians were as conscious of geopolitics as the Conservative administration since they were heedless of Bulgarian calls for independence. In the final paper in this grouping, “The Decadent Counterpublic,” Matthew Potolsky draws on the work of Michael Warner in order to illuminate the political as well as transnational dimensions of late-nineteenth-century decadent aestheticism. Comparing the cosmopolitan anti-nationalism of decadent writers such as Charles Baudelaire, Aubrey Beardsley and Friedrich Nietzsche to more formal organizations such as the Communist International, Potolsky notes the heterogeneity of radical positions as well as the desire to transcend nationalism and, arguably, internationalism by constituting “a republic of nothing but letters” (par. 5). In this utopian desire for a multicultural politics without borders one finds a late-Victorian instance of the geopolitical aesthetic.

This special issue as a whole, then, offers myriad reflections on the shape of Victorian “internationalisms,” explicit as well as implied. At issue here, in part, is the ongoing tension between globalization’s material history and the ideals and practices that have sought to democratize social relations within and across borders. The concern of this special issue with the materials of journalism, political commentary, literature, illustrations, and travel guides exemplifies the various ways in which Victorian-era writing enacted politically, ethically, and aesthetically rich zones of contact. The stance of such writings is no more purely Anglocentric, Eurocentric, or narrowly imperial than it is abstractly cosmopolitan. In suggesting its ambit as “international,” the special issue ranges from the cross-Channel exchanges of novelists and aesthetes, the transatlantic hauntings of literary pilgrims, the interactional encounters of Europe and Asia, to the multi-faceted geopolitics and geocultures of a fast-globalizing world.

Parties annexes