- Post-Empire Imaginaries? Anglophone Literature, History, and the Demise of Empires eds. by Barbara Buchenau, Virginia Richter, and Marijke Denger
In their introduction to the collection Post-Empire Imaginaries? Anglophone Literature, History, and the Demise of Empires, Barbara Buchenau and Virginia Richter assert that empire poses a paradox: despite the unanimous announcement of Empire's death as a formal political structure, empire proliferates in the present. Emerging from the Association for the Study of the New Literatures in English's 2012 conference, the diverse essays in this volume of Cross/Cultures: Readings in Post/Colonial Literatures and Cultures in English offer a glimpse into the archives of empire.
Examinations of empire's significance are nothing new. The footnotes in the introduction are overwhelmingly extensive, gesturing to the immense volume of scholarship on the topic of empire and revealing the editors' careful consideration of ongoing debates across disciplines. Despite the magnitude of scholarship on the topic, Buchenau and Richter establish a gap in the research that Post-Empire Imaginaries? occupies by foregrounding the "imaginary" as the premise of the collection.
Initially drawing on Lacan's conceptions of the imaginary as "an image of totality which is placed in an irrecoverable position of alterity" (Buchenau and Richter xix), the introduction lays out the ways in which empire thrives in the imaginary, serving as a source of creativity and social cohesion. Pointing to Wolfgang Iser's work on the imaginary as a generative and playful space and referencing recent literary scholarship on the imaginary's community-forming power (Laura Bieger, Ramón Saldívar, and Johannes Voelz), the editors ask what can be done with empire. This engagement with the productive potential of the post-empire imaginary opens the possibility for the concept of empire to be an active and continuously changing repertoire, no longer paralyzed by the formal death of Empires. Through the continued preoccupation with the histories, legacies, and practices of empires, the post-empire imaginary keeps the concept of empire alive.
Buchenau and Richter argue that the post-empire imaginary constructs itself from the repertoires and archives of empires. The repertoires of historical Empires, composed of flexible "rules, gestures, and styles" (xxiii), are established through social processes, which are then transmitted through [End Page 249] archival practices. Buchenau and Richter emphasize that the multi-pronged approach of repertoire and archive resituates the concept of empire as generative, affective, and open. In this way, despite the temporal limits of Empires, empire is always future-oriented and "cannot truly end" (xxxi).
The theoretical framework of the introduction solidifies the purpose of the collection: to collate an archive of the post-empire imaginary. Under the heading of "Conceptualizing Empires, Mapping Empires," the first section of essays addresses how the theoretics of empires are put to work for temporal and spatial organization, education, and ideological development. Shifting away from narrow conceptions of empire as restricted to British Empire, the second section, titled "Different Imaginaries: Comparing Empires," offers perspectives on the Roman and Ottoman Empires. These essays focus on the legacies of diversity, tolerance, and learning as a way to broaden debates that focus on the negative effects and affects of empire. The third section, "(Post) Empire Imaginaries in Historical Media," attends to the connections between the post-empire and the post-modern, pointing to the ways in which both of these concepts defy fixity and are underpinned by paradox and provisionality. Titled "Contested Imaginaries, Perilous Belonging," the final section explores the sociality of the post-empire imaginary. Through a study of twenty-first century literature, the essays in this section analyze how the concept of empire simultaneously produces social cohesion and exclusion. The essays divided between these sections form a testing ground for Buchenau and Richter's provisional claims about the post-empire imaginary.
As Buchenau and Richter suggest in their introduction, spatial and temporal modalities support the post-empire imaginary, which resonates with Alfred Hiatt's opening essay on cartographic investigations of empires, titled "Maps of Empires Past." Examining three...