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The Lost Land of Lemuria

The Lost Land of Lemuria: Fabulous Geographies, Catastrophic Histories

Sumathi Ramaswamy
Copyright Date: 2004
Edition: 1
Pages: 351
https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.1525/j.ctt1pnqbz
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  • Book Info
    The Lost Land of Lemuria
    Book Description:

    During the nineteenth century, Lemuria was imagined as a land that once bridged India and Africa but disappeared into the ocean millennia ago, much like Atlantis. A sustained meditation on a lost place from a lost time, this elegantly written book is the first to explore Lemuria's incarnations across cultures, from Victorian-era science to Euro-American occultism to colonial and postcolonial India.The Lost Land of Lemuriawidens into a provocative exploration of the poetics and politics of loss to consider how this sentiment manifests itself in a fascination with vanished homelands, hidden civilizations, and forgotten peoples. More than a consideration of nostalgia, it shows how ideas once entertained but later discarded in the metropole can travel to the periphery-and can be appropriated by those seeking to construct a meaningful world within the disenchantment of modernity. Sumathi Ramaswamy ultimately reveals how loss itself has become a condition of modernity, compelling us to rethink the politics of imagination and creativity in our day.

    eISBN: 978-0-520-93185-5
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-viii)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. ix-x)
  3. LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS
    (pp. xi-xii)
  4. ACKNOWLEDGMENTS
    (pp. xiii-xvi)
  5. NOTE ON TRANSLITERATION
    (pp. xvii-xviii)
  6. Chapter 1 Placing Loss
    (pp. 1-18)

    This is a book about place-making and imagining. It is about a place that once (might have) existed, but no more. No one involved in its making has ever seen it, much less lived there, and likely they never will. Its primary identity in their place-making labors is that it once was, but has since long vanished into the deep mists of time. It is a lost place from a lost time.

    This is also, therefore, a book about loss. I am interested in the preoccupation with loss as this manifests itself in the fascination with vanished homelands, hidden civilizations,...

  7. Chapter 2 Science in the Service of Loss
    (pp. 19-52)

    Lemuria first surfaced to visibility in the by-lanes of Victorian science, but the foundations for the metropolitan fascination with Earth’s lost worlds and vanished pasts were laid in the closing decades of the eighteenth century with two important developments. The first of these was the discovery of “deep time” in the 1780s.² Up until then, most scientists and educated opinion considered the earth to be about 6,000 years old. Yet this reckoning, based on Biblical chronology, was soon at odds with the nascent science of geology, which was fast revealing that the earth’s surface had undergone vast transformations at a...

  8. Chapter 3 Occult Losses
    (pp. 53-96)

    From the late 1870s Sclater’s Lemuria embarks on its most enduring journey in the metropole as it is drafted into the proliferating labors of loss of Euro-American occult.² Consequently, it joins the ranks of other vanished, hidden, or secret lands—the ubiquitous Atlantis, of course, but also places with wondrous names such as Hyperborea, Mu, Pan, or Shamballa—that dot the modern occultscapes of Euro-America. Occultism’s place-making has scarcely been scrutinized by scholars, and yet this is enormously revealing of the labors of loss that distinguish its modernity.³ Thus, my primary goal here is to examine Lemuria’s place in occult...

  9. Chapter 4 Living Loss at Land’s End
    (pp. 97-136)

    By the opening years of the twentieth century, far away from the metropolitan sites where it had hitherto largely circulated, Sclater’s Lemuria found a new and enthusiastic following in the Tamil-speaking region of colonial India in the context of the upsurge of language consciousness and mobilization that I have characterized as “Tamil devotion.”² A complex network of praise, passion, and practice centered on the adoration of the Tamil language, Tamil devotion mobilizes metropolitan labors of loss over drowned continents and submerged landbridges toward a brand-new narrative of origins in which Lemuria is recast as the birthplace of the Tamil people,...

  10. Chapter 5 Flooding History Geographies of Loss
    (pp. 137-181)

    The many labors of loss around Lemuria are fundamentally place-making acts in which the ocean is accorded a creative and destructive role. The ocean is a source of both fantasy and fear to Lemuria’s place-makers, although the density of these varies across the different labors of loss I have been considering here. It is also the principal (and in some cases, the only) agent in their labors, and even if the potency of its agency varies, it is the ocean’s work that ultimately causes disappearance and loss.

    The centrality accorded to the ocean is perhaps not surprising when we recall...

  11. Chapter 6 Mapping Loss
    (pp. 182-222)

    In 1870, barely six years after it was born in the pages of theQuarterly Journal of Science, Sclater’s Lemuria found cartographic expression when a map featuring it appeared for the first time in German (Fig. 3).² Since then and up until today, when the internet and its world wide web have provided a new opportunity and a new context, maps of this vanished place-world have routinely put in an appearance in Europe, the United States, and India, giving Lemuria a cartographic identity that is as diverse as the discursive identity that I have documented here. Maps of Lemuria vary...

  12. Chapter 7 Laboring against Loss
    (pp. 223-234)

    All this is to not say that these labors of loss over a vanished Lemuria are celebrated by one and all, even in Tamil-speaking India, where so many have written so passionately about Sclater’s disappeared world in the many variegated ways that I have documented here, where it is taught in schools and colleges and invoked in public speeches in as lofty a place as the state’s legislature, where some folks have even named themselves after it, and where a documentary film financed by the government has been produced. As would be evident from scattered comments in the preceding pages,...

  13. NOTES
    (pp. 235-296)
  14. BIBLIOGRAPHY
    (pp. 297-324)
  15. INDEX
    (pp. 325-334)