Forever England: Reflections on Race, Masculinity and Empire

Forever England: Reflections on Race, Masculinity and Empire

Forever England: Reflections on Race, Masculinity and Empire

Forever England: Reflections on Race, Masculinity and Empire

Synopsis

An accessible series of reflections about the effects on British white masculinity of Britain's history of empire- from Victorian times to the present day- this volume presents a unique dichotomy of psychoanalytic insight and social history. Stemming from the pathological middle-class family of Victorian times, generations of dysfunctional men were produced, suffering from mother fixation, narcissism, and many other varieties of sexual deviation. This book documents the lives of some of Britain's heroes and mother's boys, including T. E. Lawrence and Rupert Brooke. Turning to contemporary culture, it argues that the popularity of stars such as Hugh Grant is evidence of the lingering attachment to the archetype of the perpetually adolescent, incoherent- yet attractive to some- upper middle-class man.

Excerpt

I have been dogged for years, from as far back as I can remember,
by the impulse to return to a place where I have never been - an
imaginary and actual island … sometimes the shore shines and is
bright with miraculous possibilities, sometimes it is the manifesta
tion of my most secret fears … the chance has come to return to
this island and I will take it only because it is no longer my story.

(Iain Sinclair, Down River)

We are living in an age of migration, change and uncertainty. Our unease about the places and spaces we inhabit has been reinforced by the contemporary shifting of racial, class and sexual boundaries. I have never migrated, I am not a traveller, I have always stayed close to home, but I share this preoccupation with displacement. It is to do with a dislocated sense of class belonging and the ambivalences that are a part of my masculine identity. It is also to do with the historical uncertainties of my white, English ethnicity. I was prompted to start thinking about my own ethnic identity by the contemporary generation of black and Asian English intellectuals - Paul Gilroy, Stuart Hall, Kobena Mercer, Isaac Julien, Lola Young, Pratibha Parmar - who were thinking reflexively and historically about race, gender and ethnicity. My involvement in radical politics on the left had taught me to disavow the racial exclusivity of white ethnicity, but never to analyse or try and understand it. Being white was a vague, amorphous concept to get hold off; it wasn’t a colour, it was invisible. And who wanted the risible, sometimes ugly, baggage of Englishness? Everything which signified Englishness - the embarrassing legacy of racial supremacy and empire, the union jack waving crowds, the royalty, the rhetoric about Britain’s standing in the world - suggested a conservative deference to nostalgia. The problem with intellectually disowning white English ethnicity was that the left never got around to working out what it was, and what our own emotional connections to it were. We left that door wide open . . .

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