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ELT 48 : 4 2005 Colonial Odysseys David Adams. Colonial Odysseys: Empire and Epic in the Modernist AfofeZ.Ithaca:ComellUniversityPress,2004. xi + 249pp. Cloth$45.00 Paper$19.95 IN THE RAPIDLY developing field of postcolonial studies, the investigation of modernist artistic production and its relation to the phenomenon of colonialism has contributed significantly to our understanding of the nature and significance of modernism as a social and cultural moment within the larger framework of modernity. David Adams's new book, Colonial Odysseys: Empire and Epic in the Modernist Novel, concentrates on Conrad, Forster and Woolf and thus works within a familiar critical tradition. Where Adams makes his most important contribution is in his attention to modernists' use of the colonial Odyssey form, which he describes as an ambivalent subgenre of the novel that reveals anxieties about home as well as about foreign cultures. In modernist colonial Odysseys, national discontent is projected onto foreign cultures, which means that they lack the assurance of the classical epic, which draws a clear distinction between the travails of what is foreign and the security of what is familiar. Home is the safe place to which the epic traveler longs to return. Modernist colonial Odysseys, however, reveal a deepseated anxiety about "imperial disintegration" and "an increasingly morbid reflection on national identity and the meaning of 'home.'" For Adams, the colonial Odyssey is a "complex response" to discontent, one that underscores the failure of modern artists to perform the redemptive mission that a secular society expects from them. At issue is the nature of the questions posed to such artists, and Adams believes, following Hans Blumenberg, that these questions, though posed within a secular framework, are in essence theological. Blumenberg refutes the thesis that modernity is a secularization of Christian traditions and thought. As Adams sums it up, modern thought is "the product of human self-assertion made necessary when the ambitious rational constructs of Christianity ... imploded under the weight of their own internal contradictions ." Such thought required new forms of discourse to respond to a "god-shaped vacuum" and to the persistence of theological questions relating to the possibility of redemption and "the ultimate shape of human history." Blumenberg's theory of "reoccupation" (Umbesetzung) is the lynchpin in Adam's reading of modernist colonial Odysseys: "positions (or questions) in the structure of human knowledge, once vacated, cannot simply be cast aside; they demand to be reoccupied by a new 500 Book reviews thought or myth." What he discovers in the work of Conrad, Forster and Woolf, is the difficulty of reoccupation at a time when the imperial center , the homeland, lacks the substance of a totalizing vision. However, the belief that such a vision might be found elsewhere founders on the uncanny reality of the colonial world, for that world is not the "total culture " that might have been expected, but a screen, as it were, upon which imperial discontent is reprojected. The troubles of home are found within the very colonial outposts that would seem to define the antithesis of home. It is in such frustrating and failed journeys that modernists confront the uncanny limits of modernity. The first two chapters set out this theoretical framework in far more detail than I can do justice to here. It is an ambitious framework that offers a novel approach to the problems, both philosophical and historical, posed by the secular projects of modernism. One suspects, however, that modernity retains quite significant links to Christianity precisely through the mechanism of absent causes and questions that perform theological functions. It may be asking too much for Adams to alleviate this suspicion through a more detailed analysis of Blumenberg's critique of the secularization thesis, whose advocates extend from Freud to Karl Löwth and Theodor Adorno. The debates with Lowth and Carl Schmitt (whose critique of Blumenberg inspired a new edition of the latter 's The Legitimacy of the Modern Age) are covered with some care, but they have the flavor of an esoteric theoretical conversation, which Adams himself implicitly acknowledges in a note in which he concedes that Blumenberg is far more widely read in Germany than in the U.S. None of this, of course, invalidates...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1559-2715
Print ISSN
0013-8339
Pages
pp. 500-503
Launched on MUSE
2010-05-21
Open Access
No
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