Out of Place: Englishness, Empire, and the Locations of Identity

Out of Place: Englishness, Empire, and the Locations of Identity

Out of Place: Englishness, Empire, and the Locations of Identity

Out of Place: Englishness, Empire, and the Locations of Identity

Synopsis

In a 1968 speech on British immigration policy, Enoch Powell insisted that although a black man may be a British citizen, he can never be an Englishman. This book explains why such a claim was possible to advance and impossible to defend. Ian Baucom reveals how "Englishness" emerged against the institutions and experiences of the British Empire, rendering English culture subject to local determinations and global negotiations. In his view, the Empire was less a place where England exerted control than where it lost command of its own identity.Analyzing imperial crisis zones--including the Indian Mutiny of 1857, the Morant Bay uprising of 1865, the Amritsar massacre of 1919, and the Brixton riots of 1981--Baucom asks if the building of the empire completely refashioned England's narratives of national identity. To answer this question, he draws on a surprising range of sources: Victorian and imperial architectural theory, colonial tourist manuals, lexicographic treatises, domestic and imperial cricket culture, country house fetishism, and the writings of Ruskin, Kipling, Ford Maddox Ford, Forster, Rhys, C.L.R. James, Naipaul, and Rushdie--and representations of urban riot on television, in novels, and in parliamentary sessions. Emphasizing the English preoccupation with place, he discusses some crucial locations of Englishness that replaced the rural sites of Wordsworthian tradition: the Morant Bay courthouse, Bombay's Gothic railway station, the battle grounds of the 1857 uprising in India, colonial cricket fields, and, last but not least, urban riot zones.

Excerpt

In January of 1858, John Ruskin delivered an address at the Kensington Museum in London. Though his topic was ostensibly aesthetic—he had come, he said, to discuss “the effect of art on the human mind”—he began by calling his audience's attention to the political events that had been taking place in India over the course of the previous year. Beginning in May of 1857, regiment after regiment of Indian soldiery had risen against their British officers. By the end of the year much of the subcontinent was in revolt. English troops sent out by Parliament to aid the India Company's forces were, at the time of Ruskin's speaking, still involved in quelling the insurrection and in exacting a gruesomely comprehensive revenge for this act of “mutiny.” For months the London papers, when not filled with accounts of English gallantry, had inked their pages with descriptions of native atrocity.

It was to the inspection of these Indian cruelties that Ruskin directed his audience's eye, not, however, before first requesting his fellows to gaze upon an apparently more pleasant manifestation of Indian “personality.” “Among the models set before you in this institution, and in the others established throughout the kingdom for the teaching of design,” Ruskin benevolently noted, “there are, I suppose, none in their kind more admirable than the decorated works of India. They are, indeed, in all materials capable of colour, wool, marble, or metal, almost inimitable in their delicate application of divided hue, and fine arrangement of fantastic line. Nor is this power of theirs exerted by the people rarely, or without enjoyment; the love of subtle design seems universal in the race” (Works, 16:261). With this nod in the direction of Indian “racial” capacity complete, Ruskin returned to the stated theme of his lecture and revealed to the curious patrons of the Kensington Museum . . .

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