Rape, the Body, and the Sacrifices of Desire
BRITISH ROMANTIC POETRY AND REPRESENTATIONS OF THE COLONIAL HAREM
Arrayed in the brilliant colors of exoticism and exuding a full- blown yet uncertain sensuality, the Orient, where unfathomable mysteries dwell and cruel barbaric scenes are staged, has fascinated and disturbed Europe for a long time. It has been its glittering imaginary but also its mirage. . . . There is no phantasm, though, without sex, and in this Orientalism, a confection of the best and of the worst--a central figure emerges, the very embodiment of the obsession: the harem.
Malek Alloula, The Colonial Harem1
There are many reasons why Edmund Burke's magnificent perorations about the rape of India by Warren Hasting and his men became one of the most important articulations of the "Indian Sublime" for nineteenth-century British writers, as Sara Sulieri and others have argued. 2 The context of Burke's speeches should remind us, however, that his identification of India as the new locus of the Oriental sublime was much more contested than many recent postcolonial critics have acknowledged. Moreover, Burke's representation of the Indian sublime was profoundly shaped by his anticolonial sentiments, and though this critique is consonant with current postmodern orthodoxies, his perspective was certainly a minority opinion at the time. While Burke's rhetoric impressed his audiences, then and now, he failed to convince his listeners about Hastings's guilt or to initiate a wider interrogatation of the basic economic assumptions that provided the foundation for the British imperial project in India.
Burke's speeches about India gained much of their power to shock not only because they reversed more familiar eighteenth-century conventions