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The South Atlantic Quarterly 102.1 (2003) 179-214

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The Colonial Logic of Late Romanticism

Srinivas Aravamudan

What are the conceptual stakes of examining and naming an Indian Romanticism? What is the significance of such a "late" repetition, taking place, as it does, through the late nineteenth and twentieth centuries? The colonial and postcolonial "time lag" poses for us several obvious questions concerning the legitimacy and relevance of a European intellectual-diffusionist hypothesis. When related to its European precursors, is this late Romantic strain in colonial India an echo? a copy? a supplement? a displacement? a fantasized influence? a catachresis? If the late eighteenth century in Europe has subsequently generated various long-lived species of Romanticism that have subsequently billowed outward into numerous afterlives, what are the others to this family of Romanticisms? Dead classicisms? Liberal individualisms of various sorts? Industrial capitalism anchored in a variety of alternative modernities? If an originary Romanticism's central theme began with the hoped immediacy of an auto-affection philosophically built up into a communitarian utopia in the case of Rousseau, the circuit of this itinerary gets lengthened enormously—through [End Page 179] its English and German inheritors—by the time we get to the story of Dasein in Heidegger and postponed indefinitely in the postcommunitarian thought of Derrida. But to call all three of these philosophers Romantic is to stretch the definition of the term to the breaking point. The notion of an afterlife—in Derrida even more so than in Heidegger—would have to be predicated on the ultimate breakdown of organic coherence as a constitutive condition, even as that breakdown repeats the previous Romantic philosophical life prosthetically through a family resemblance to a past incarnation. This anachronistic continuation of Romanticism beyond the so-called Romantic Age is matched by the anatopian spread of it outside the confines of a supposed western European origin into eastern European, and also tricontinental venues. 1

Romanticism in a late-capitalist age has also benefited from the retroactive effect of a Freudian Nachträglichkeit or "deferred action," appearing as the representative of many other forms of organicism, localism, and communitarianism. In this particular form of transcoding, Romanticism is the trademark name for any and all appeals to identity, community, and history. Romanticism's multiple progeny are then the result of a certain ex post facto positioning in cultural memory rather than products of a heroic narrative of documentable direct influence. Romanticism's reach as a universal lingua franca is therefore the outcome of a secret history of mergers and acquisitions—even if this is not quite the same as contemporary intellectual property ventures establishing a trademark. By way of an intercultural mimesis and a translational hybridity, various historicisms of uncertain local and foreign application resort to the modular and general theory of Romanticism as a universal solvent. There is an economic simplicity in grouping all these variants under the universalizing umbrella of Romanticism, a move that helps structure each of them as different contents, bodies of work, or subjects, competing for understanding by standing under a familiar material shape. In this regard, the resort to Romanticism as an explanation is as much a function of the vacuity and inexactness of the form as an open totality as it is evidence of the overweening intellectual or political potency of the presumed "contents." 2

Lacking a life of its own, Indian Romanticism was a prosthesis onto the hybrid trunk of British colonialism that was obstructed by some forces even as it was enabled by others. The triumph of the Anglicists and Utilitarians such as Thomas Babington Macaulay and John Stuart Mill over starry-eyed [End Page 180] first-generation Orientalists such as William Jones, Henry Colebrooke, Thomas Charles Wilkins, and Nathaniel Brassy Halhed was nonetheless countered by German Romantic representations of India that took over the task of representing India in a positive light that Ronald Inden has called "the loyal Opposition." 3 Johann Gottfried Herder, Friedrich Schlegel, Felix Emmanuel Schelling, Arthur Schopenhauer, and Friedrich Max Müller variously idealized what they recognized as the ancient fount of Indo-European...