Academic journal article Text Matters

Here Be Monsters: Imperialism, Knowledge and the Limits of Empire

Academic journal article Text Matters

Here Be Monsters: Imperialism, Knowledge and the Limits of Empire

Article excerpt

Text Matters, Volume 6, Number 6, 2016 DOI: 10.1515/texmat-2016-0005

Karen E.Macfarlane

Mount Saint Vincent University

It has become atruism in discussions of Imperialist literature to state that the British empire was, in avery signicant way, atextual exercise. Empire was simultaneously created and perpetuated through a proliferation of texts (governmental, legal, educational, scientic, ctional) driven signicantly by adesire for what Thomas Richards describes as one great system of knowledge. The project of assembling this system assumed that all of the alien knowledges that it drew upon could be easily assimilated into existing, universal (that is, European) epistemological categories. This belief in one great system assumed that knowledges from far-ung outposts of empire could, through careful categorization and control, be made to reinforce, rather than threaten, the authority of imperial epistemic rule. But this movement into new epistemic as well as physical spaces opened up the disruptive possibility for and encounter with Foucaults insurrection of subjugated knowledges. In the Imperial Gothic stories discussed here, the space between knowing all there is to know and the inherent unknowability of the Other is played out through representations of failures of classication and anxieties about the limits of knowledge. These anxieties are articulated through what is arguably one of the most heavily regulated signiers of scientic progress at the turn of the century: the body. In an age that was preoccupied with bodies as spectacles that signied everything from criminal behaviour, psychological disorder, moral standing and racial categorization, the mutable, unclassiable body functions as asignier that mediates between imperial fantasies of control and denition and n-de-sicle anxieties of dissolution and degeneration. In Imperial Gothic ction these fears appear as aseries of complex explorations of the ways in which the gap between the known and the unknown can be charted on and through amonstrous body that moves outside of stable classication.

Here Be Monsters: Imperialism, Knowledge and the Limits of Empire

A B S T R A C T

Here Be Monsters: Imperialism, Knowledge and the Limits of Empire

It has become atruism in discussions of Imperialist literature to note that the British empire was, in avery signicant way, atextual exercise. Empire was made real for the bureaucrats who oversaw it, the British public who supported and celebrated it, and the varied people who were subject to it through aseemingly endless variety of texts: colonial reports, maps, travel narratives, political treatises, legal texts, museum exhibits, school books, newspapers and advertisements, and, of course, works of ction. The n de sicle was, in England, the high-water mark of British Imperialism but this ostensible success was burdened with an awareness of the contradictions at the core of its elaborate discursive constructions. As Alexandra Warwick notes, even as it celebrated Queen Victorias Diamond Jubilee in 1897, the empire was already feeling, in Arnolds words, its huge frame not constructed right, afact which was to become absolutely clear in the ensuing years of social tension, strikes and unemployment at home and uprisings in the colonies (203). The gap between the public performances of Imperial power and the contradictory, sometimes precariously structured discourses that shored it up, between certainties of a stable, identiable English charactermore often than not articulated in terms of race and racial purityand the inuence of and potentially contaminating contact with the subject races, between the belief that one could, in Kiplings terms, know all there is to know about colonial spaces and subjects and the awareness of the vast, unknowable, realities of subaltern epistemologies (Foucault, Two Lectures 81) was aspace that enacted the precarious nature of Empire as it was manifest in the texts upon which it was built. …

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