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  • Disclosing Enclosure1
  • William V. Spanos (bio)

The land is your enemy.

—Tim O’Brien (1978)

Edward W. Said’s Orientalism, first published in 1978, radically changed the terrain of literary scholarship and criticism. Whereas earlier scholarship and criticism (including an innovative deconstructionist perspective) focused on the textuality of the literary text, that inaugurated by Said’s seminal study came to focus on its “worldliness.” To put this change more specifically, Said decisively disclosed the “Orientalism”of the Western literature, especially the canonical novel, and literary scholarship and criticism, which is to say, their “productive” complicity with Western imperialism: the political domination of the land of the “Orient.” In so doing, Said inaugurated the field, now global in scope, that has come to be called postcolonial studies: a comparativist philological/critical perspective that is committed not only to the historical task of exposing the Eurocentrism of the Western canonical tradition that justified the global colonial project, but also the present, postcolonial, task of resisting neocolonial—transnational capitalist—versions of domination. This development in literary critical studies has on the whole been culturally and sociopolitically productive, as the massive public campaign of the right to obliterate Said’s legacy testifies. Given the preeminent role that the theme of geography—specifically, conquered and dominated land (Greek Ge)—plays in it, however, it is ironic that this postcolonial discourse has so overdetermined the (disciplinary) site of the politics of imperial or colonial conquest and domination that it has marginalized, if not entirely, obliterated both the ontological origins of Western imperialism and the effect of [End Page 307] this imperialist mode of perception on humanity’s comportment towards the land—the ecos. I mean specifically Western imperialism’s provenance in a metaphysical interpretation of being (the perception of physis, including the earth, from above) and its hierarchical binarist logic (Identity vs. difference), on the one hand, and its consequent reification or spatialization (territorialization) of the temporal dynamic of the land, on the other. Robert P. Marzec’s book An Ecological and Postcolonial Study of Literature: From Daniel Defoe to Salman Rushdie is an important contribution to postcolonial studies precisely because he attends to both these neglected realities of the Western imperial project by way of an analysis of the enormously consequential history of the enclosure movement in England. I am referring to that onto-eco-politico-logical momentum, simultaneous with and analogous to the emergence of the classificatory system of knowledge production, inaugurated by the enclosing and regulation of the “open” Commons, that enabled the formation of the British national identity (empirical individuality), the British nation (a bourgeois, property-rights oriented people) and, by extension, the British empire (the administered “underdeveloped” foreign world). In what follows, I will focus on the importance of Marzec’s scholarship on land, inhabitancy, and empire not only as it pertains to the complicity between this domestic British enclosure movement vis a vis the ecos, cultural production (particularly the novel) and the British imperial project, but also to the effort, based on this critical analysis, to think the positive possibilities of the prior “open” and “nomadic” inhabitancy, which it was the purpose of the enclosure acts and imperialism to demonize and repress or accommodate by way of the enclosure of “the Commons” and in the name of freedom.

Marzec’s book, the first of a projected two volume treatise on inhabitancy, constitutes an intervention in the debates over the question of postcolonialism as it pertains to the history of the British novel. Claiming that postcolonial critiques of empire lack a sustained thematization of what he takes to be the nexus of culture and colonization—the comportment of human beings to the land they inhabit—this book traces the transformative effects of the long history of the Enclosure Movement on the British subject, the British national identity (culture), and the British imperial project. Indeed, one of the book’s distinctive features is its reliance on the historical records of the Enclosure Movement as well as on the enormous archive on British agricultural history inaugurated by Daniel Defoe’s A Tour Through the Whole Island of Great Britain (1724–1726), institutionalized by Arthur Young in the next century, and brought to...


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pp. 307-315
Launched on MUSE
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