- Can the Antipodean Speak?A Response to Paul Giles
In his rich articulation of an "Antipodean American Literature," Paul Giles moves beyond the transatlantic framework of his own seminal scholarship. With the turn toward Australia and New Zealand, he adds another dimension of geopolitical specificity to the work of a transnational literary criticism. Although his antipodean configuration is triangular in connecting the Anglo-American nexus to Australasia, his conceptual aims are not. Giles wants to place US history in "a postcolonial matrix," to outline a "spherical trajectory" that began in the late eighteenth century when Britain, having lost its empire in the northern hemisphere, began expanding its settlements in the South. Postcoloniality on this view is spatially as well as temporally complex. As against the dyadic "contact zone," with its tendency to essentialize physical encounter, Giles posits the "parallax zone," a term he adopts from the geographer Neil Smith to describe "colonial relations where there was no spatial or corporeal proximity, but, rather, an unsettling interplay between near and far."
The first reward of Giles's approach is a fresh way of looking at Benjamin Franklin. Neither the Enlightenment cosmopolitan of Thomas Schlereth's reading nor an icon of American identity, the Franklin whom Giles describes is a subaltern satirist who inverts colonial power from the vantage of the antipodean triangle. Franklin's mocking of the ex-mother country's efforts to tighten its grip over Australia thus exemplifies America's "fraught post-colonial condition, the extent to which its belligerent cultural [End Page 51] emergence involved, formally as well as politically, turning a world upside down." As this antipodean configuration develops into the nineteenth century, imperial Britain is the subject of its unsettling interplay. Whereas the British seek to "exorcise the ghosts of American insubordination," as when Victorian writers such as J. A. Froude portray Australia as England's natural progeny, the US "intervenes as a shadowy presence in Australian culture," challenging the bond between parent and colony. For example, in Marcus Clarke's harrowing narrative of transportation to a penal colony, For the Term of His Natural Life (1874), a convict escape takes place on 4 July, the US Independence Day. This formulation works in reverse when American writers like Mark Twain are haunted by Australia, the living emblem of a colonial past that the US cultural mythology has actively suppressed.
In what is, perhaps, the most dramatic effect of the parallax zone, the antipodean configuration extends to Irish nationalism. Giles likens the involvement of US whaling ships in aiding the escape of British political prisoners, such as the Fenian John Boyle O'Reilly, to a "kind of miniature version of the Underground Railroad operating on a complex transpacific axis." Whereas Charles Dickens and Anthony Trollope propagate the cliché of an emigrant paradise in the antipodes, Herman Melville's "textual poetics of inversion" bespeaks the more complicated position of the liminal subaltern. For Giles, Moby-Dick (1851) instances a pattern in which America and Australia "exchange places." While Australia, "the geographical antipodes to Britain, is enfolded imperially as an extension of the mother country," "the US increasingly becomes, in a political sense, Britain's antipodean antithesis." If the high point of this formulation is a compelling micropolitics, as in the solidarity between Fenian convicts and US whalers, its more slow-burning discursive payoff is the cosmopolitan self-parody that Giles finds in Twain's travel writings.
I would like to extend Giles's antipodean configuration in part by furthering his discussion of Trollope. Although Trollope is best known for novels of English provincial life—autoethnographic fictions of an imaginary county called Barsetshire—he was simultaneously the author of travel writings such as The West Indies and the Spanish Main (1859), North America (1862), Australia and New Zealand (1873), and South Africa (1878).1 Trollope's works thus remind us that the word imperialism in this context is, in fact, shorthand for a heterogeneous English expansion that began with Ireland in the sixteenth century and, by the 1850s, had come to include settlement colonies such as Canada and Australia, West Indian colonies for the production of commodities, and a presence on the Indian subcontinent...