- Empire and After: Englishness in Postcolonial Perspective
Empire and After: Englishness in Postcolonial Perspective is a valuable addition to what, since the early 1990s, has been "a sustained renewal of interest in British national identity" across diverse disciplines and inter-disciplines, including history, literature, politics, and cultural studies (1). Revisionary in scope, and robustly critical in its emphases, an important strand in this academic renewal—to which the essays in this collection belong—is a focus on this identity's contradictory, ambivalent, and mutually contaminating relationship with ideologies of empire building, such that presumed opposites like national and supranational, local and global, and "English" and "British" can be seen as interpenetrating each other.
This collection is comprised of nine essays, with the first five appearing under the rubric of "Nation and Empire" and the next four under "Postcolonial Legacies." The former group addresses the experience (and consequences) of an internal, presumably demarcated (national) English identity that is, however, informed by, and itself informs, an external, (imperial) British one "at various locations and at different moments" during the period of formal colonialism (18). The latter focuses on a "postcolonial and postimperial world" (19), with all but one essay concerned with the conflation of the national with the supranational within the territorial boundaries of England/Britain itself.
The coherence of the volume derives from—and it is, in some respects, a remarkably coherent volume—an introduction that anticipates, indeed, provides the theoretical coordinates through which the individual essays frame their analyses. In this introduction, the editors survey some of the recent scholarship on English/British national identity, specifying a significant emphasis of the volume by engaging more substantively with three texts: Krishan Kumar's The Making of English National Identity (2003), Ian Baucom's Out of Place: Englishness, Empire, and the Locations of Identity (1999), and Simon Gikandi's Maps of Englishness: Writing Identity in the Culture of Colonialism (1996). Whereas Kumar, they suggest, argues for "a strict and absolute terminological distinction between 'English' and 'British' [and thus [End Page 219] between nation and empire] and a strongly linear and unidirectional chronological scheme" (6), Baucom and Gikandi argue that "empire and nation both conflict with one another and mutually inform, reinforce, and shape one another" (8). This latter assessment is privileged in the introduction, and is also more frequently invoked by the essays in the volume. The introduction's distinctive contribution to an analysis of the complex imbrication of British colonialism with nationalism emerges from the editors' extended critical engagement with Hannah Arendt's evaluation in The Origins of Totalitarianism of "the development of the nation-state in which imperialism is not an external factor or an afterthought, but an integral and internally constitutive moment" (9), a comment anticipated in the epigraph to the introduction, also from The Origins of Totalitarianism: "In theory, there is an abyss between nationalism and imperialism; in practice, it can and has been bridged" (1). This engagement yields a thoughtful and acute analysis of the continuing interaction of the national and the imperial in the current historical moment as evidenced by the "war on terror."
The coherence of the volume also derives from overlaps—the deployment of certain recurrent objects of analysis and theoretical/thematic concerns and motifs—between essays collected within, but also across, the two rubrics. Thus, for example, the British passport as a marker of national identity that is rendered problematic because of, and by, Britain's colonial adventures appears in both Prem Poddar's essay on asylum policy during the Indian Rebellion of 1857-8, "Passports, Empire, Subjecthood", and Sheila Ghose's essay on the figure of the "Muslim fundamentalist" in Hanif Kureishi's recent fiction, "Brit Bomber: The Fundamenalist Trope in Hanif Kureishi's The Black Album and 'My Son the Fanatic'".
In terms of thematic congruence, Enda Duffy's essay—"'As White as Ours': Africa, Ireland, Imperial Panic, and the Effects of British Race Discourse"—addresses "the many ways in which British discourse on Ireland and . . . the Irish discourse of self-creation...