The Importance of Feeling English: American Literature and the British Diaspora, 1750-1850

By Leonard Tennenhouse | Go to book overview

Afterword
FROM COSMOPOLITANISM TO HEGEMONY

IN OPENING this book, I raised two questions that I shall now briefly address by way of a conclusion: How did English culture achieve hegemony over other diasporic cultures, including the Spanish, French, Dutch, and German, as well as over Africans, Jews, and the many different indigenous peoples who were forced to relocate from their traditional lands? Can we classify the literature of a group as “diasporic” if that group eventually becomes an imperial power and its literature that of the nation? Written in 1854-55, Melville's Benito Cereno raises these very questions and fails to answer them, at least in so many words. Instead of a resolution within the narrative proper, Melville appends his own redaction of the account of the legal proceedings contained in his source, A Narrative of Voyages and Travels in the Northern and Southern Hemispheres by Amasa Delano, first published in Boston in 1817. As I see it, the interpolated summary of legal proceedings effectively transforms what might be called “national differences” into “cultural differences” that can be contained and adjudicated within the nation space.

If there's any truth to what I have been saying here and throughout this book, a novella that anticipates this transformation could only have been imagined in the mid-nineteenth century and from an American perspective. Both its narrative structure and literary texture come to us as the product of triangulated relations among three diasporic types— an African slave, a Spanish mercantile captain described as “a sort of Castilian Rothschild, with a noble brother or cousin in every great trading town of South America” (64), and an American sealer from Duxbury, Massachusetts, a town whose name testifies to the English origins of its founders.1 This encounter takes place in a contact zone where none of the principals can remotely claim indigenous status. If its passengers may accurately be described as displaced persons, then the ship that brings them together is itself “in the condition of a transatlantic emigrant ship” (54) that carries slaves “from one colonial port to another” (48). As this description suggests, each of the three major players in the story to follow can be read as the protagonist of a different narrative tradition that has come from elsewhere to combine and interact in the ongoing circuit of goods,

-118-

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The Importance of Feeling English: American Literature and the British Diaspora, 1750-1850
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • The Importance of Feeling English iii
  • For Nancy v
  • Contents vii
  • Acknowledgments ix
  • 1: Diaspora and Empire 1
  • 2: Writing English in America 19
  • 3: The Sentimental Libertine 43
  • 4: The Heart of Masculinity 73
  • 5: The Gothic in Diaspora 94
  • Afterword from Cosmopolitanism to Hegemony 118
  • Notes 129
  • Index 153
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