O'Quinn, "Of Extension and Durability: Romanticism’s Imperial Re-Memberings"

William Hodges’s Travels in India During the Years 1780, 1781, 1782 and 1783 (1793) is a text literally structured by war. Hodges’s travels and his narrative are repeatedly interrupted by armed conflict between the forces of the East India Company and resistant native powers across the subcontinent. The particular conflicts in question did not go well for the British and the humiliating loss at Pollilur not only raised questions regarding Warren Hastings’s bellicosity, but also haunted representations of British rule in India until the final defeat of Tipu Sultan in 1799. In spite of the fact that the Travels appears to be a pro-Hastings document, published in London at the turning point in the impeachment proceedings against the former Governor-General of Bengal, the narrative disjunctions instantiated by these conflicts destabilize Hodges’s explicit argument that British governance in the region is not only benevolent, but also far superior to prior examples of Moslem rule. The aim of this paper is to demonstrate how the text’s figural economy–both textual and visual–attempts to ameliorate the narrative disjunctions which everywhere threaten to disclose the Company’s precarious claim to sovereignty. Through a close analysis of Hodges’s figuration of good and bad governance in the region, the argument will isolate precisely how his–and by extension, the Company’s--historical predicament erupts into the text and call in to question the very models of governmentality figured forth in his remarkable rendering of the banyan tree. Michel Foucault, in his essay “Governmentality”, defined “Government as the right disposition of things”. From the period immediately prior to the passing of the Regulating Act to the East India Company Charter Act, the hybridity of the East India Company generated significant controversy regarding the appropriate form and quality of colonial rule. Hodges’s text engages with this problematic by presenting figures of the right disposition of men and things. The most important of these, the banyan tree, is the subject of an extensive textual description and also one of the volumes most accomplished engravings. In the text, the tree offers shade and sustenance to all who come under its canopy and it is metaphorically linked to Hastings’s management of Indian affairs. Its vitality and above all its naturalness accrue to the governmentality of the Company and thus it ostensibly stands as a figure of prosperity, hope and stability in a time of war and economic uncertainty. It also stands in marked contrast to Hodges similarly iconic description of the ruins of Agra and especially of Acbar’s tomb later in the text. As ruins architectural traces of a similarly ruined Mughal empire, these descriptions ostensibly testify to the fundamental inability despotic powers to rule effectively. Akbar’s tomb is especially important in this regard because it is Akbar’s name itself, as rendered on the mausoleum that operates as the ultimate contrast to the banyan tree. In other words, a dead name, an almost Wordsworthian epitaph, figures forth the disappearance and obsolescence of entire period in Indian history and in its place, Hodges offers a living thing. What interests me about this contrast is that in both cases the historical obfuscations depend upon key slippages in the distinction between word and image, between living and dead, between name and metaphor. My essay’s concluding gesture demonstrates how the visual renderings of the banyan tree and of architectural ruins attempt to contain or regulate what amounts to a crisis in figuration. Of particular importance is the way Hodges’s image engages with prior images, most notably in Picart, which link the tree to suspect forms of sexuality. At the heart of Hodges engraving is a resonant act of visual surrogation which figures forth a remarkable fantasy of phallic Company rule well before the East India Company fully consolidated its power in the region. In other words, one can discern within the relationship between textual figuration and the visual strategies of the engravings the kind of “wishful thinking” or self-delusion that C. A. Bayly has identified as a crucial element of British governance prior to and during the imposition of the Permanent Settlement.
September 2011

Resource (Taxonomy): 

"The Ruins of Empire and the Contradictions of Restoration: Barbauld, Byron, Hemans"

This essay explores how Regency ruin culture developed at once as the apogee and the ambivalently repressive (and repressed) symptom of British imperialism, articulating the nuances of “Britain’s role in determining the trajectory of the Napoleonic imperial project at moments unstably situated between triumph and catastrophe, commercial and military pre-eminence and social crisis.” Working through Walter Benjamin's comments on ruination in The Arcades Project, Keach marks out how the difference between a “canonical” and “critical” ruin culture depends on gestures of delayed fascination tempered by an “awakening” that throws the ruin into sudden critical knowledge. For Keach, the ruin is indelibly coupled to restoration, thus producing a double movement of destruction and reconstruction that not only operates separately, but is intrinsic to the ideology of the ruin. As fragment, the ruin figures as a remainder of other cultures newly “acquired” and transmuted into the mournful excesses that haunt their reinstallment in pre- and post-Waterloo Britain. Even more, it either constitutes a celebratory surplus that hints at renovation or offers itself as unyielding matter—the debris of political and social violence.
January 2012

Resource (Taxonomy): 

Raley, "A Teleology of Letters; or, From a "Common Source" to a Common Language"

Like Sir William Jones, the Orientalist John Borthwick Gilchrist, one-time professor at the College of Fort William and seminary instructor, composed an orthoepigraphical system for the transcription of South Asian languages into the Roman alphabet. Gilchrist's project, though, was inherently instrumental, and it effected a partial shift in philological emphasis away from the decoding of the scholarly and classical languages to the demotic and vernacular; his campaign was to insure colloquial proficiency in Hindustani, generally considered the popular language of the East, so that those bound for India could have the proper foundation with which to converse with the natives, to acquire local knowledge, and to come to know Oriental literature. The connection between common languages and governmental control partly accounts for Gilchrist's extensive valorization of functional rationality, as does the idea that language ultimately cannot awe, mystify, enthrall, or govern if it is not common. Gilchrist, however, did not discount the value of the learned languages; rather he transported this value to the vernacular by articulating a teleological model of philological work that was to progress toward a suturing of the utile and the dulce within a particular 'common' language. English came to be situated in these terms at the intersection of these two paradigms of scholarly activity, at the divide between Jones and Gilchrist, liberal and useful knowledge, and universal and national literacy. In his search for a "remedy" for the Oriental languages and a "new universal grammaclature" to be spoken "by all nations in every age and clime," Gilchrist ultimately directed his efforts toward the introduction of what he called "sterling english" and prophetically calculated the imperial spread of a common, basic, or vernacular, English dialect. Coming at a historical juncture in which the claims for the practical, utilitarian, and scientific uses of language were on the rise, Gilchrist's alignment of scholastic philological work with the vernacular strengthened, by extension, the claims to legitimacy on the part of all vernaculars; and it most particularly paved the way for the legitimation of English. Gilchrist and the author of the coterminous philosophical text Enclytica (1814) contributed strongly to an emergent theory of the vernacular, particularly in their suggestions that vernaculars are tied to industrial and scientific development, that they function as the languages of contemporary record and of history, that they contribute to nation formation, and that the systemic code underlying all languages, the universal grammar, is marked by a profound simplicity.
November 2000


Resource (Taxonomy): 


Subscribe to RSS - Asia