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university of toronto quarterly, volume 73, number 2, spring 2004 BALACHANDRA RAJAN Imperialism and the Other End of History It is twenty-five years since Edward Said=s Orientalism was published and we are all here talking as we do because of that book. Our tones and traversals of talk have changed but Orientalism has clearly been a >beginning = in the ways Said=s earlier book defined. It has instigated a narrative of understanding that has complicated, diversified, and undermined itself but that remains in being, seeking its prolongation. It is a narrative we may reproach but have no wish to repudiate. In its early years, postcolonialism lacked historical depth, assuming disarmingly that the world began with Kipling. Its scholarly reaching back has since been extended, through the Romantics, the long eighteenth century, and the early modern period, giving that period some of the qualities of the >beginning= it needs to be if the title bestowed on it is not to be merely polemical. The voyages of Columbus and Vasco da Gama, once considered the greatest events in history since the incarnation, are now joined in a dubious embrace of which we are the apprehensive inheritors. Postcolonial mappings of cultural history have yielded persuasive and sometimes compelling insights, but their effectiveness has been limited to territorial imperialisms, and even within this limit, their application to imperialisms not of Western origin has yet to be successfully demonstrated. The threat to postcolonial analysis comes less from the distant past than from the imminent future. It comes from non-territorial configurations (still stubbornly called empires) that, because they are non-territorial, are deemed incapable of becoming imperialist. The outside is abolished since globalism knows no boundaries. History ends, since a dialectic with no outside has nothing further to take into its inclusiveness. Otherness is no longer a construction imposed dismissively on those outside the pale, but an inhibitive fiction defensively maintained by those who refuse to enter an open door. Word games continue to be played with zest around empires and imperialisms. They merit sceptical attention. Much is made of the discovery that the word >imperialism= was coined only in the mid-nineteenth century (Koebner and Schmidt). We might ask why the word was so difficult to invent when the fact had existed and indeed existed painfully for something like twenty centuries. But the tardiness of language is not the main interest of those who point to this belated innovation. That main interest is to advise 708 balachandra rajan university of toronto quarterly, volume 73, number 2, spring 2004 us that empires are not inherently imperialist and that the word >empire= in earlier usages denoted a legal and administrative entity rather than one that was imperialistically managed.1 The restricted usage has slipped into the more compendious one because of a lack of fastidiousness that polemical scholarship has been only too ready to countenance. It is hard to find territorial coalescences sufficiently expansive to be called empires that have remained content with the modest agenda of administrative and legal unification. History has a habit of embarrassing the OED, which is after all the history of words not things. One makes this comment in passing. To press it further is to slight the agenda of those who would like to see words accurately used. Their reminder that empires are not necessarily imperialist is offered not simply as a rectification of language but as an augury of imminent events. The new imperium will demonstrate the benignity of empires and will felicitously return the new world to the old usage. This is an outcome we cannot predict with confidence . Lexical niceties have not protected subject peoples from exploitation in the past. We cannot assume that they will do so in the future. To become the word in this particular instance, the world needs a malleability it has not so far displayed. The new imperium is indeed unprecedented. We can map differences between previous imperialisms but no matter how extensive the differences we map, all imperialisms till now have had one major component in common: they have all been territorially based. The new imperialism does away with the territorial imperative and can therefore suggest that it is...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1712-5278
Print ISSN
0042-0247
Pages
pp. 707-724
Launched on MUSE
2014-07-02
Open Access
No
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