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Imperial Masochism

Imperial Masochism: British Fiction, Fantasy, and Social Class

John Kucich
Copyright Date: 2007
Pages: 270
https://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt7s9jz
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  • Book Info
    Imperial Masochism
    Book Description:

    British imperialism's favorite literary narrative might seem to be conquest. But real British conquests also generated a surprising cultural obsession with suffering, sacrifice, defeat, and melancholia. "There was," writes John Kucich, "seemingly a different crucifixion scene marking the historical gateway to each colonial theater." InImperial Masochism, Kucich reveals the central role masochistic forms of voluntary suffering played in late-nineteenth-century British thinking about imperial politics and class identity. Placing the colonial writers Robert Louis Stevenson, Olive Schreiner, Rudyard Kipling, and Joseph Conrad in their cultural context, Kucich shows how the ideological and psychological dynamics of empire, particularly its reorganization of class identities at the colonial periphery, depended on figurations of masochism.

    Drawing on recent psychoanalytic theory to define masochism in terms of narcissistic fantasies of omnipotence rather than sexual perversion, the book illuminates how masochism mediates political thought of many different kinds, not simply those that represent the social order as an opposition of mastery and submission, or an eroticized drama of power differentials. Masochism was a powerful psychosocial language that enabled colonial writers to articulate judgments about imperialism and class.

    The first full-length study of masochism in British colonial fiction,Imperial Masochismputs forth new readings of this literature and shows the continued relevance of psychoanalysis to historicist studies of literature and culture.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-2740-4
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. ACKNOWLEDGMENTS
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. A NOTE ON TEXTS
    (pp. xi-xiv)
  5. Introduction FANTASY AND IDEOLOGY
    (pp. 1-30)

    Masochism is often regarded as a site of social and cultural intersections. But in late-nineteenth-century British colonial fiction, it focused one particular conjunction more than any other: the relationship between imperial politics and social class. This relationship has lately been an unfashionable topic for scholarly analysis, despite the intense scrutiny being applied to nearly every other aspect of British colonialism and some noteworthy protests about the imbalance. David Cannadine, for example, recently claimed that the “British Empire has been extensively studied as a complexracialhierarchy (and also as a less complexgenderhierarchy); but it has received far less...

  6. Chapter One MELANCHOLY MAGIC: Robert Louis Stevenson’s Evangelical Anti-Imperialism
    (pp. 31-85)

    Robert Louis Stevenson is an exemplary figure with which to begin a cultural analysis of masochism. Masochistic plots and themes abound in his fiction, whether in the stylized, fin-de-siècle mode of “The Suicide Club” (1878) andThe Dynamiter(1885), in popular works, such asThe Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde(1886), or in stories drawing on Scottish folklore, such as “Thrawn Janet” (1881) and “The Body Snatcher” (1881). Masochistic impulses also played a legendary role in his life. There was the self-imposed exile in the wilderness of 1878—his whimsically morbid response when Fanny Osbourne returned to...

  7. Chapter Two OLIVE SCHREINER’S PREOEDIPAL DREAMS: Feminism, Class, and the South African War
    (pp. 86-135)

    Olive Schreiner’s masochistic disposition has been obvious to anyone familiar with her self-defeating protagonists or the pathos of her own biography: the head banging; the infatuations with powerful, bullying men; the family persecutions from which, at the very least, she did little to shield herself.¹ But what makes Schreiner’s masochism particularly useful to cultural analysis is the wide range of social boundaries it crossed. A native-born South African with British citizenship; a preeminent feminist who wrote instrumentally about race and empire; an obscure, bankrupt missionary’s daughter who became the darling of London intellectual circles; a novelist whose tracts and speeches...

  8. Chapter Three SADOMASOCHISM AND THE MAGICAL GROUP: Kipling’s Middle-Class Imperialism
    (pp. 136-195)

    Recent Kipling criticism always begins by addressing his political multivalence. The most redemptive leftist readings have tried to valorize this multivalence as an instance of Kipling’s “hybridity,” casting him as an avatar of Homi Bhabha.¹ Sympathetic readings of another kind see Kipling as self-divided by his alienation from both metropolitan and colonial society.² More commonly, though, readers inscribe his apparent ambivalence about the politics of empire within the inevitable contradictions of colonial experience, weighing his competing loyalties to British authority and to resisting colonial subjects in a great variety of ways.³ The most critical of these readers have insisted that...

  9. Chapter Four THE MASOCHISM OF THE CRAFT: Conrad’s Imperial Professionalism
    (pp. 196-246)

    Spectacles of self-destruction dominate Joseph Conrad’s novels. The psychic wounds Kaspar Almayer, Peter Willems, Tom Lingard, Lord Jim, and other early protagonists inflict on themselves anticipate dramatic self-immolations such as Martin Decoud’s suicide inNostromo(1904), the implosion of the Verloc family inThe Secret Agent(1907), and Kirylo Razumov’s fatal surrender to his persecutors inUnder Western Eyes(1910). InHeart of Darkness(1899), the pattern is upheld by the unlikely Kurtz—that icon of imperial brutality—who embraces death by refusing to leave his outpost despite his failing health (after laying waste to his career, his moral character,...

  10. CONCLUSION
    (pp. 247-252)

    Imperial Masochismemerged out of a nested set of ambitions: to demonstrate the continued relevance of psychoanalysis to historicism; to elucidate the role masochistic fantasy plays in identity formation well beyond the field of sexuality; to illuminate the social function of such fantasy in British culture, especially its organization of imperial and class ideology; and to provide an accurate understanding of the relationship between the psyche and the social in several influential writers of colonial fiction.

    Crucial to these ambitions has been a conception of masochism derived from relational psychoanalysis, which emphasizes the role—both as origin and goal—of...

  11. INDEX
    (pp. 253-258)