- Our Conrad: Constituting American Modernity
Conrad's influence on American writers is well known, as is the popular reception of Chance in the US followed by his much heralded trip there. But it might come as some surprise that the country so denigrated in Conrad's fiction and even referred to in one infamous instance as a last resort—"I vill an Amerigan citizen begome," protests the despicable Patna captain—supported a veritable Conrad industry in the early twentieth century. Former studies of transatlantic connections have been concerned with influence and consumption. The present study distinguishes itself by focusing on production—the ways "Conrad" was constructed in the US especially during the years of the Great War and its aftermath, his fictions serving as grist to disparate domestic social-political mills. While both Robert Weisbuch in The Atlantic Double-Cross (1986) and Mallios complain of the paucity of work in Anglo-American comparative study, Mallios's claim goes much further. In a more focused manner and for a more distinct purpose than "influence" and its anxieties, Mallios employs "a critical approach predicated on the minute investigation of the constitution and contestation of 'domestic' spaces by 'foreign' signs" (ix). This study of "the modern American invention of Joseph Conrad as a 'master' literary figure between 1914 and 1939" constitutes an effort, Mallios argues, to "transnationize the terms of global literary and cultural studies" (ix), and to better understand the arbitrariness of literary national borders.
That Conrad's fictions could be so variously construed (and misconstrued) in these various American "productions" was a function particularly, Mallios claims, of a certain heterotopic quality intrinsic to Conrad's writings. Here he recuperates [End Page 254] Foucault's ideas about "other spaces," to focus on the heterotopic textual spaces in Conrad's fiction in order to help explain the multiplicity of their often contradictory receptions," those spaces "always unsettling and refusing confinement within any authorized, legalized, moralized, or ideological plane of discourse" (62). That Conrad's fictions were so commodious, so comprehensive, so capable of disparate readings, from diverse, even, contradictory points of view, was "a general property of Conrad's fiction," Mallios argues (31), that also served his various American "producers" well.
His study examines the ways in which Conrad's American reviewers and critics constructed "Conrad" so that readers were made to see the many points of congruence between his fictions and America's distinctive sense of itself in the early twentieth century. Those "many points of resonance" included "a slippery discourse of Englishness, capable of both suturing and subverting U.S. 'Anglo-Saxon' articulations of world relation and domestic boundary and hierarchy," "the idea of revolutionary/Bolshevik Russia," "global practices of imperialism and the race ideologies subtending them," and "the idea of the nation itself" (34). The focus on these constructions is undertaken in this study within specific historical contexts and particular institutional constraints: the journals, newspapers, magazines of the day and the domestic narratives—often changing—each sought to advance.
The book is divided into three parts. The first, which comprises almost half of the book and is entitled"The Nation in the World, the World in the Nation," examines the work of three "contra Anglo-Saxon" constructions of Conrad, all, in their rather different ways, engaging his "foreignness," enlisting him heterotopically for their particular purposes. Here Mallios provides a detailed study of H.L. Mencken's creation of "Conrad" in his many reviews, books, and articles as a counter-argument to the then raging pressures against immigration and for isolationism and nativist Anglo-Saxonism. The German-American, whose writings were marked by his own sense of alienation and homelessness, was especially keen on celebrating Conrad as "an unmelted British immigrant" (54) and a cosmopolitan figure of a profoundly comprehensive point of view. If we might wonder, as Conrad did and vehemently protested, why Mencken insisted on Conrad as "Slav," Mallios provides an answer. As a Slav, Conrad figured for Mencken as foreign, not Anglo-Saxon and as "a template for the un-national, "anti-national," and "true cosmopolitan,"(79) and in...