Eastern Figures

Eastern Figures: Orient and Empire in British Writing

Douglas Kerr
Copyright Date: 2008
Pages: 264
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  • Book Info
    Eastern Figures
    Book Description:

    Eastern Figures is a literary history with a difference. It examines British writing about the East – centred on India but radiating as far as Egypt and the Pacific – in the colonial and postcolonial period. It takes as its subject "the East" that was real to the British imagination, largely the creation of writers who described and told stories about it, descriptions and stories coloured by the experience of empire and its aftermath. It is bold in its scope, with a centre of gravity in the work of writers like Stevenson, Kipling, Conrad, and Orwell, but also covering less well-known literary authors, and including Anglo-Indian romance writing, the reports and memoirs of administrators, and travel writing from Auden and Isherwood in China to Redmond O'Hanlon in Borneo. Eastern Figures produces a history of this writing by looking at a series of "figures" or tropes of representation through which successive writers sought to represent the East and the British experience of it – tropes such as exploring the hinterland, going native, and the figure of rule itself. Eastern Figures is accessible to anyone interested in the literary and cultural history of empire and its aftermath. It will be of especial interest to students and scholars of colonial and postcolonial writing, as it raises issues of identity and representation, power and knowledge, and centrally the question of how to represent other people. It has original ideas and approaches to offer specialists in literary history of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, cultural historians, and researchers in colonial discourse analysis, postcolonial studies, and Asian area studies and history. It is also aimed at students in courses in literature and empire, culture and imperialism, and cross-cultural studies.

    eISBN: 978-988-8052-23-3
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. 1 Introduction
    (pp. 1-8)

    This is a book of literary history which examines the relationship between British writing and Asian people and places in the colonial period and later, by considering a number of tropes in texts which form part of an attempt to represent and understand the East. The scope of my study embraces Lord Macaulay and Redmond O’Hanlon, but it draws its examples chiefly from work by British writers of the late nineteenth and the early decades of the twentieth century, a period when the British empire reached its fullest extent, and when writing about the East was extremely rich, varied, and...

  4. 2 Hinterland
    (pp. 9-22)

    How should we enter the Hinterland? Step by step, circumspectly, if at all.

    An unsigned story entitled ‘Bubbling Well Road’, just 1500 words long, appeared in the Civil and Military Gazette, an English-language newspaper published in Lahore in British India, on 18 January 1888. It begins with a geographical orientation. ‘Look out on a large scale map the place where the Chenab river falls into the Indus fifteen miles or so above the hamlet of Chachuran.’¹ The tale that follows is a first-personal narrative about an unpleasant experience that befalls an Englishman when he enters a patch of tall jungle-grass,...

  5. 3 Conversions and Reversions
    (pp. 23-52)

    A famous man responds to an invitation to send a message of support to a conference on foreign missions. The date is 16 October 1895.

    Dear Sir,

    I am in receipt of your very courteous favour of the 11th: inst:

    To tell the honest truth, no letter that I could write would in any way assist your cause for my views on foreign missions are not such as would be accepted by any conference.

    It is my fortune to have been born and to a large extent brought up among those whom white men call ‘heathen’; and while I recognize...

  6. 4 Crowds
    (pp. 53-78)

    One thing everyone knows about the East is that many people live in it. The Western imagination of the Orient has always been characterized, and tested, by large numbers — the fabulous treasures of the East, its vast distances, its epical disasters, above all its enormous populations. Many of the most vivid or mythic moments of modern Asian history conjure images of great numbers of people — Hiroshima, the partition of India, the Cultural Revolution. But this embodiment of Asia in formidable numbers is at least as old as the Persian expeditionary force under Xerxes which crossed the Hellespont into Europe in...

  7. 5 Nature and Some Naturalists
    (pp. 79-116)

    This chapter is about natural history, and figures of nature in Western writing about the East. In the first part I examine representations of the wilderness, how it is seen by those who enter it and how it returns their gaze, helping to constitute them as various kinds of subject — as explorers, writers, sportsmen, and naturalists, on missions of subjugation, or scientific expeditions, or in search of a paradise. The second part examines the single and instructive case of the uses of nature, and in particular the role of animals, in George Orwell’s representation and understanding of the Orient which...

  8. 6 Contacts and Transgressions
    (pp. 117-158)

    This chapter will consider some cases of the transformations that result from contact between Western people and Eastern places, and in particular the theme of transgression in the Orient, in the figure of stepping across from one world to another; cases of what seems to be a surrender, voluntary or not, to possession by the spirit of a foreign place. We shall see that tropes of contact, involving as they do a potentially perilous crossing from one world to another, seem often to involve a modal contention between realism and romance, and their respective regimes of representation.

    In February 1903...

  9. 7 Travellers to War
    (pp. 159-190)

    As he went through the passport check at Heathrow airport, in the summer of 1973, at the beginning of a journey that would take him to the war in Vietnam and Cambodia, James Fenton glanced at the Sunday newspapers and saw that the poet W.H. Auden had died.¹ The conjunction of the beginning of his journey, and the end of Auden’s, seemed significant in some obscure but important way. The young Fenton had recently dreamed of his own death. Auden was the poet he most admired. Fenton in the summer of 1973 was setting out on a journey to see...

  10. 8 Figures of Rule
    (pp. 191-222)

    The figure of rule is different in kind from figures like the jungle and the crowd, both more abstract and more polymorphous, for it is not so much a trope itself as the ability to trope, to bring alien material within the ambit of representation, comprehension, control and use. Hayden White has shown that narrative representation itself must be predicated on some system of rule. ‘But once we have been alerted to the intimate relationship that Hegel suggests exists between law, historicality and narrativity, we cannot but be struck by the frequency with which narrativity, whether of the fictional or...

  11. 9 Not Knowing the Oriental
    (pp. 223-240)

    Three decades have passed since the publication of Edward Said’s Orientalism (1978). In no trivial sense, we are all after Said. His work was never uncontested and continues to be controversial: Robert Irwin is only one of Said’s hostile critics, with his blistering attack on Orientalism’s representation of the scholarly work of Orientalists.¹ But Said’s work has also been enormously productive, in propagating an understanding of Western discourse about the East as a system of knowledge/power, whereby control over a part of the world is brought about, exemplified and stabilized by knowledge and its institutions. Through ‘Orientalism’, Said was the...

  12. Bibliography
    (pp. 241-252)
  13. Index
    (pp. 253-258)