Maps of Englishness: Writing Identity in the Culture of Colonialism

Maps of Englishness: Writing Identity in the Culture of Colonialism

Maps of Englishness: Writing Identity in the Culture of Colonialism

Maps of Englishness: Writing Identity in the Culture of Colonialism

Synopsis

Gikandi explores the politics of identity to analyze how the colonial experience inspired narrative forms that changed the nature of the English identity by surveying the British imperial tradition since the nineteenth century. He provides detailed readings of the works of Trollope, Carlyle, and others; through the narratives of imperial women travelers such as Mary Kingsley and Mary Seacole; and through Africanist texts by Joseph Conrad, Graham Greene and postcolonialists such as Salman Rushdie and Joan Riley.

Excerpt

I began this book as an attempt to answer some questions that had been troubling me since my student days at the University of Edinburgh in the early 1980s: Why did formerly colonized people, many of whom had spent generations fighting against colonial domination, seem to invest so much in cultural institutions--such as the school, Shakespeare, and cricket--that were closely associated with imperial conquest and rule? And why was it that here in Great Britain, in the heart of civilization itself, the nature and destiny of the country were being discussed in terms previously reserved for the former colonies? Why was it that here in Edinburgh, in the center of the imperial religion that had controlled and shaped my family's destiny for three generations, I found myself attending forums on the crisis of Scottish identity, the problems of underdevelopment on the Celtic periphery, and the nature of usable pasts in the context of contested histories? And why was it that here, in the place where--as far as my families and neighbors back in East Africa were concerned--civilization began, the most popular book at that time was titled The Break-Up of Britain: Crisis and Neo-Nationalism? For someone like myself, who had come of age in the shadow of colonialism, the notion of a British state in twilight, or even of English nationalism in crisis, was hard to countenance.

Since this was before the advent of postcolonial theory and cultural studies, attempts to understand this crisis in British culture were hampered by the absence of a grammar that could conceptualize the metropolis in terms of crisis, decline, or disintegration. The discourse of nationalism in Africa, Asia, and the Caribbean had given me paradigms for understand-

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