- A Companion to the Global Renaissance: English Literature and Culture in the Era of Expansion
This collection of twenty-one essays is an ambitious attempt to bring together examples of what editor Jyotsna G. Singh terms a new "perspective" in Renaissance studies, one creating "a more expansive, shifting Renaissance world-picture . . . more multidimensional and culturally fluid" (5). Taken together, the essays fulfill this mandate (inevitably, some more successfully than others) and its elaboration: to emphasize "the historical transition of an era of European expansion in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, recognizing the paradigm shifts in the production of knowledge and belief about various aspects of human experience" (5). The anthology essentially reflects on early modern England's construction of the world and on England's actual interaction with that world. In some chapters, there is an interest in how ideological formations—and the material events from which they arose and to which they responded—laid the groundwork for a later colonialism, in part through the development of a capitalist economic system and its ideological counterpart. There is some, although not enough, concern to theorize the global and globalization, and many of the writers insist on globalization's discursive, as well as economic, forms.
The anthology certainly succeeds in the presentation of a multifaceted Renaissance, both through its various approaches and in the range of texts it presents for analysis. Its greatest strength is in consolidating a new archive for Renaissance studies. Other histories are rendered central to a new conceptualization of the Renaissance, [End Page 600] instead of occupying the by-now-traditional position of the minor character on the English stage, the changeling boy to Britain's emerging national fantasy. The enormous scope of this new methodological and discursive archive is summed up by contributor Gerald MacLean: "The complex circuitry that we are exploring in this volume as a 'Global Renaissance' involves movements across national, linguistic, religious, and cultural borders of capital, trade goods, people, diplomatic exchange and alliances, ideas, knowledge, skills, attitudes, and values" (170). To help contain this vast proliferation, the anthology is divided into four interrelated sections: "Mapping the Global," which should do more than it does to offer a coherent and properly elucidated theoretical "map"; "Contact Zones," which focuses on places and the ideas of places; "Networks of Exchange: Traveling Objects"; and for me the least interesting because most conventional of the four, "The Globe Staged."
Texts and events under discussion include travel writing, dramatic and poetic representations of foreigners and foreign places, and the English relationship to the imagined, and the actual, Muslim. Newer applications of these ideas emerge, like the influence of Arabic mathematics on the idea of the infidel (Patricia Parker), the circulation of foreign coinage and its relation to class and national politics (Stephen Deng), and an examination of "Foreign Labor in the London East India Company" (Richmond Barbour). There is a new look at almanacs as a form of life-writing (Adam Smyth), art books (Ann Rosalind Jones), and some interesting readings of official letters and other documents of state (Nandini Das, Catherine Ryu). Economic pressures and objects seen in terms of local and international economies become central cultural texts. In itself, a focus on the relations between the economic, the national, the discursive, and state and imperial power is not revolutionary. But the effects of postcolonialism and cosmopolitanism on this emerging body of work have meant that the current focus is not so much on history as its own text or on material relations of power embedded in and through texts and their circulation, but on a synthesis of these approaches. History becomes interesting for what it reveals about the connections between textuality and materiality within a broad framework recognizing the connections between models of self and Other, nascent nationalism and nascent capitalism, and the exploitation of class and what would become race. Gender, it seems, once again slips off the agenda.
True to its intentions to extend the concept...