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  • Antipodean American Literature:Franklin, Twain, and the Sphere of Subalternity
  • Paul Giles (bio)

1. Franklin, Satire, and Triangulation

The question of interconnections between what is known conventionally as "early" American literature and postcolonialism has been fraught with controversy, not only because of the "doggedly antitheoretical" outlook of many cultural historians in this field, but also because of an uneasy awareness of the new nation's own strategies of "internal racial colonization" with respect to Native Americans and African Americans (Boydston 1223–24). Notwithstanding such incongruities, it would, as Peter Hulme has observed, "seem a strange definition of colonialism that would not include within its purview the European settlements in America that began in 1492" (118). It is of course true that a country such as the US can be, as Frederick Buell says, "simultaneously a neoimperial power and champion of anticolonial nationalism" (132), but to exclude the country on principle from any shadow of the postcolonial rubric seems no more than yet another version of American exceptionalism, one grounded upon the familiar premises of cultural amnesia and the kind of truncated historical perspective which tends to overlook the more contingent aspects of US political independence.1 To resituate American literature within a postcolonial matrix is not to confine it within a rigid theoretical model of coercion and resistance, but to suggest how various vectors of authority and authorization criss-crossed each other in complicated patterns over time and space. Stuart Hall has written how one of the tasks of postcolonial discourse is to [End Page 22] problematize clearly demarcated lines of what might be "inside" or "outside" any given colonial system and, instead, to reconstitute "epistemic and power/knowledge fields around the relations of globalisation" (250), thus producing "a decentred, diasporic or 'global' rewriting of earlier, nation-centered imperial grand narratives" (247). In this sense, the postcolonial method might be seen to operate as a form of intertextuality, forcing scholars of US culture to reconceive national narratives in the light of a wider global framework.

As Michael Warner has remarked, it is only the hidebound nation-centered emphasis of Americanists that has prevented them heretofore from bringing into their scholarly purview countries such as India: "Two world-historical ventures into colonialism: begun at the same time, by the same people, with the same infrastructures. . . in all these ways India and America were inescapably tied for merchants, generals, and statesmen" (61). Australia, when it first began to be populated by British emigrants at the turn of the nineteenth century, was thought of in economic terms as largely a satellite of India, a strategic outpost to protect imperial interests in the Far East, and the general point here is simply that all of these colonial enterprises overlapped and were intertwined with each other in significant ways.2 1787 saw both the adoption of the US Constitution in Philadelphia and the departure of the first convict ships to sail from London to Botany Bay, and Britain at the turn of the nineteenth century was at the apex of a triangle that held America and Australia, the old colony and the new colony, as its alternate points. In her influential account of trans-culturation, Mary Louise Pratt highlighted "contact zones"—"social spaces where disparate cultures meet, clash, and grapple with each other, often in highly asymmetrical relations of domination and subordination-like colonialism, slavery, or their aftermaths"—as sites for the production of a new, hybridized American identity (4). The conceptual difficulty with this, however, is that it relies heavily upon a myth of presence, a physical encounter between different peoples in highly particularized locations: the US-Mexican border, the Florida/Caribbean archipelago, and so on. Pratt's contact zone is thus linked inextricably with the history of immigration to the US, but it cannot so readily encompass colonial relations where there was no spatial or corporeal proximity but, rather, an unsettling interplay between near and far. In arguing against "the false geographical amnesia" of liberal American internationalism (460), which too readily erases spatial topography from its equations, Neil Smith has written of "the vital parallax that a geographical sensibility brings" (9), and it is an idea of parallax zones, rather than contact zones...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1468-4365
Print ISSN
0896-7148
Pages
pp. 22-50
Launched on MUSE
2008-03-13
Open Access
No
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