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MFS Modern Fiction Studies 48.1 (2002) 216-226



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Literary Criticism Goes Global:
Postcolonial Approaches to English Modernism and English Travel Writing

Jeanne Dubino


Howard J. Booth and Nigel Rigby, eds. Modernism and Empire. Manchester, UK: Manchester UP, 2000. xiii + 338 pp.

Barbara Korte. English Travel Writing from Pilgrimages to Postcolonial Explorations. Trans. Catherine Matthias. New York: St. Martin's, 2000. vii + 218 pp.

British literary studies are becoming internationalized. It would be more accurate to say that English literary studies are becoming internationalized. 1 To emphasize the language over the nation is to indicate that English literary studies now encompass not just literature written in Britain, but all literatures written in English, from the former colonies of the British Empire to the current countries in the Commonwealth to all manner of cosmopolitan diasporas. The wealth of non-British literatures [End Page 216] written in English has given rise to new critical approaches, broadly categorized under the rubric of postcolonial theory.

Postcolonial theory, in turn, has inflected our understanding of literary studies in general, from Beowulf to Virginia Woolf. In its broader application, then, postcolonial theory becomes global theory. 2 Rather than treating literature as the aesthetic product of a nation-state, literary critics, increasingly, are examining it as the cultural product of a wide array of discursive practices and global phenomena. 3 In addition, they are interested in the flow of cultural influences and in the multi-directionality 4 of these transmissions, and argue for the necessity of attending to concentrations of power. 5 With this emphasis on fluidity, greater consideration is also given to mobility, travel, and nomadism. At the same time, there is a counter concern with place. 6 "Globalization," writes Livingston, "makes the fate of place, the contingencies of location, into the occasion for anxious experiments in cognitive mapping" (148).

Both Howard J. Booth and Nigel Rigby's anthology Modernism and Empire and Barbara Korte's book English Travel Writing are examples of the way literary studies have become internationalized. The contributors to Modernism and Empire explicitly seek to complicate the notion of nationalism as they address the way the very concept of Britishness is based on the existence of its colonies. 7 Whereas Modernism and Empire addresses the back-and-forth movement between metropole and margin, English Travel Writing focuses on voyages out and, in the final chapter, voyages in. Center and periphery, and the beginning and destination points of journeys, are physical places; as such, Livingston reminds us, "physical location remains an unavoidable component of any social process and thus a crucial site for grasping the workings of globalization" (148). The contributors to Modernism and Empire and Korte recognize this unavoidable component.

That both books are informed by postcolonial (or global) criticism is clear. From that broad approach, they diverge in two major ways. Modernism and Empire is highly theoretical and is intended for an informed audience. As a historical introduction, English Travel Writing, on the other hand, is directed to an academic readership unacquainted with travel writing. While both texts emphasize heterogeneity, what constitutes the heterogeneous differs. As the title alone indicates, English Travel Writing foregrounds the genre of travel writing and traces the shifts it has undergone [End Page 217] over the centuries. The essays in Modernism and Empire define a multiplicity of modernisms that developed within a short span of time and explain the ways these modernisms connect to the question of empire.

Indeed, as Booth and Rigby write in their introduction, it is the variety of responses to colonialism that has led to "multiple modernisms" (10). Just to note the multiple positions of the modernists included in this collection is to suggest the wealth of responses to empire. Of the six writers typically regarded as canonical--Conrad, Pound, Yeats, Joyce, Lawrence, and Katherine Mansfield--two are expatriates (Pound and Mansfield), with one from a settler colony; two from a colony (Yeats and Joyce); one from an underdeveloped Eastern European country (Conrad); and one from the provinces (Lawrence). The other six--Leonard Woolf, Kipling, Elspeth Huxley...

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