The Containment and Re-Deployment of English India


Siraj Ahmed | L.M. Findlay | Daniel J. O'Quinn | Rita Raley | Susan B. Taylor | Kate Teltscher |

Siraj Ahmed, "'An Unlimited Intercourse': Historical Contradictions and Imperial Romance in the Early Nineteenth Century" go to the essay

With parliament's 1813 decision simultaneously to end the East India Company's monopoly by opening the colonies to British free merchants and to permit British evangelicals to establish missions there, the nature of the empire in India began to change: the British public now had an opportunity to play an economic and spiritual role in the empire. Now, the economic and moral aspects of the empire, superintended by the British nation, separated from the political aspect, which remained in the hands of the EIC. The former staked the claims of "modernity" and the civilizing mission; the latter rationalized its openly despotic politics by insisting that it was concerned to preserve native "traditions." Sydney Owenson's early-nineteenth-century historical novel The Missionary: an Indian Tale was the first novel to represent the problem of colonial India in terms of a conflict between modernity and tradition, rather than between the principles of the nation-state and the politics of empire. In order to produce this new vision of the colonial encounter, The Missionary needed to produce a new narrative form that effaced a fact eighteenth-century writers rarely could: in the colonies, Indian "traditions" were a mask constructed by the colonial regime to conceal its violations of the fundamental principles of civil society. -- SA go to the top of the page

L. M. Findlay, "'[T]hat liberty of writing': Incontinent Ordinance in 'Oriental' Jones" go to the essay

Sir William Jones (1746-1794) remains a key figure in the continuing history of romantic and other orientalisms. At the very mention of the idea of "Containing English India," he leaps to mind not only as part of the contents contained within any envelope or archive so designated, but also as part of the discontent and unruly dissemination of such contents. Jones is both of the Indian sub-continent and in various senses incontinent within it and when writing about it (just as he is both inside and outside the dominant versions of Englishness in the later eighteenth century). In this essay, I revisit this dialectic of positioning or location, containing and incontinence, and the related contradictions that constituted Jones's early libertarianisim in England and his later legal and philological activities in India. My emphasis at every stage is on the Anglo-Indian Jones. Moreover, the echo in my title of that Gulf War euphemism, incontinent ordinance, is a deliberate gest! ure towards two points I stress in my conclusion: namely, that imperialism did not end with the British in India, and that imperialism's instabilities and illusions are always evident, if we care to look, in the language it uses to describe itself. -- LMF go to the top of the page

Daniel J. O'Quinn, "Through Colonial Spectacles: The Irish Vizier and the Female Knight in James Cobb's Ramah Droog" go to the essay

James Cobb's popular comic opera Ramah Droog offers a useful site for examining the ways that representations of colonial space and of sexual deviance come together to generate a phantasm of a heteronormative imperial Britain. The set designs of Cobb's opera are explicitly linked to Thomas and William Daniells illustrations of Indian landscape and the essay demonstrates how key aspects of the visuality of the opera celebrate Cornwallis's victory over Tipu Sultan. This celebration is crucial for the play suggests a parallel between Cornwallis's defeat of Tipu and his later subjugation of Irish rebels in Wexford. These parallels are elaborated through the play's deployment of characters who are both ethnically and sexually cross-dressed. The presentation of a feminized Irish vizier and a masculinized Irish female knight constitutes a rupture in conventional theatrical representation and as such points toward the silent construction of heteronormative British imperial subjects at the opera's close. --DJO go to the top of the page

Rita Raley, "A Teleology of Letters; or, From a 'Common Source' to a Common Language" go to the essay

Like Sir William Jones, the Orientalist John Borthwick Gilchrist, one-time professor at the College of Fort William and seminary instructor, composed an orthoepigraphical system for the transcription of South Asian languages into the Roman alphabet. Gilchrist's project, though, was inherently instrumental, and it effected a partial shift in philological emphasis away from the decoding of the scholarly and classical languages to the demotic and vernacular; his campaign was to insure colloquial proficiency in Hindustani, generally considered the popular language of the East, so that those bound for India could have the proper foundation with which to converse with the natives, to acquire local knowledge, and to come to know Oriental literature. The connection between common languages and governmental control partly accounts for Gilchrist's extensive valorization of functional rationality, as does the idea that language ultimately cannot awe, mystify, enthrall, or govern if it is not common. Gilchrist, however, did not discount the value of the learned languages; rather he transported this value to the vernacular by articulating a teleological model of philological work that was to progress toward a suturing of the utile and the dulce within a particular 'common' language. English came to be situated in these terms at the intersection of these two paradigms of scholarly activity, at the divide between Jones and Gilchrist, liberal and useful knowledge, and universal and national literacy. In his search for a "remedy" for the Oriental languages and a "new universal grammaclature" to be spoken "by all nations in every age and clime," Gilchrist ultimately directed his efforts toward the introduction of what he called "sterling english" and prophetically calculated the imperial spread of a common, basic, or vernacular, English dialect. Coming at a historical juncture in which the claims for the practical, utilitarian, and scientific uses of language were on the rise, Gilchrist's alignment of scholastic philological work with the vernacular strengthened, by extension, the claims to legitimacy on the part of all vernaculars; and it most particularly paved the way for the legitimation of English. Gilchrist and the author of the coterminous philosophical text Enclytica (1814) contributed strongly to an emergent theory of the vernacular, particularly in their suggestions that vernaculars are tied to industrial and scientific development, that they function as the languages of contemporary record and of history, that they contribute to nation formation, and that the systemic code underlying all languages, the universal grammar, is marked by a profound simplicity. -- RR go to the top of the page

Susan B. Taylor, "Irish Odalisques and Other Seductive Figures: Thomas Moore's Lalla Rookh." go to the essay

Susan B. Taylor examines two distinct but related scenes of British colonization in the early nineteenth century: one of Ireland as a woman and one of the East as a woman. These metaphors coincide in Irish writer Thomas Moore's 1817 narrative poem, Lalla Rookh, An Oriental Romance. The Indian setting and orientalist rhetoric that Moore employs in Lalla Rookh form a sort of literary mantle that allows him to articulate concerns about Irish liberation in the guise of an Eastern tale. Yet as the author this Eastern tale, Moore is in an almost paradoxical position as a citizen of Ireland, a British colony which is geographically Western but culturally viewed as "other" in prejudicial fears and fantasies. Ironically enough, Moore presents similar fantasies and anxieties about Arab and Indian culture as he uses Lalla Rookh's allegorical Eastern tales to depict Ireland's subjection to British rule. Moore's text speaks to the politics of metaphor with its implications that there is some term in common between the Irish experience and the cultures of the East. -- SBT go to the top of the page

Kate Teltscher, "Colonial Correspondence: The Letters of George Bogle from Bengal, Bhutan and Tibet, 1770-81" go to the essay

George Bogle was the first British envoy (and first British traveller) from India to Bhutan and Tibet in 1774-5. His letters home provide an exceptional account of British life in Calcutta of the 1770s and a fascinating record of the first mission to Bhutan and Tibet. He is best known for the narrative of his friendship with the third Panchen Lama of Tibet, apparently a relationship of mutual respect and affection which developed during Bogle's five-month stay. This essay explores the multiple, often incompatible, personae which Bogle adopts in his letters home. Writing to his father and brothers, Bogle represents himself as an ambitious, politically astute careerist; to his sisters, as a charming, self-denigrating dilettante. His letters to his sisters are filled with nostalgic invocations of childhood, but this domestic space must also accommodate unfamiliar cultures. In what guise is the Orient admitted to the home? By asking such questions, by tracing Bogle's various epistolary identities, we may catch the process of textual, social and colonial self-fashioning at work. -- KT