- Out of Bounds: Anglo-Indian literature and the geography of displacement
Part of a book series published by the Institute of Postcolonial Studies, Alan Johnson's Out of Bounds: Anglo-Indian literature and the geography of displacement sets out to demonstrate, as he puts it, "how various writers expressed their conflicted Anglo-Indian sensibilities by describing equally incompatible colonial spaces" (282). To this end, Johnson proposes to read a series of literarily constructed spaces—including the road in Kipling's Kim, the bridge in Kipling's "The Bridge-Builders," and the bazaar in Flora Annie Steel's mutiny novel On the Face of the Waters (1896)—as indices of an ineradicably "hyphenated" (25) identity.
The topic is a timely one, with increasing critical attention being devoted in recent years to issues of colonial space and spatiality, including studies of the relationships between and among "Objects, Space and Identity" in Anglo-Indian contexts specifically (to quote the subtitle of Robin D. Jones' Interiors of Empire).1 Indeed, Out of Bounds would benefit from a fuller attempt to frame its own distinctive contributions in relation to such work. (John Plotz's work on the importance of cultural portability to Anglo-Indian communities, for instance, would also seem acutely relevant to Johnson's project.2) That said, many of the readings contained in Out of Bounds are perceptive and interesting: in general, the book is at its most compelling when performing close readings of particular texts. Johnson's exploration of the relationship between emergent regimes of "medical topography" (163) and the advent of the mutiny novel, for instance, constitutes a valuable contribution to the study of the genre. Also of interest is the chapter devoted to tiger-hunter Jim Corbett (Chapter 7), in whose "hugely popular accounts" of his own exploits Johnson discerns the invention of "a new sense of what home might be" for a Western readership (237-38).
A few difficulties do arise from what may strike the reader as an imperfectly resolved tension between the (relative) universality of the book's claims about Anglo-Indian (and, it is further suggested, Indian) experience and the (relative) paucity, not of sources per se (a wide range of figures make appearances in the text, from philologist William Jones to Salman Rushdie), but of its core authors and texts, the touchstones to which it returns again and again in support of its central claims. Of the book's 7 chapters, 5 are based wholly or in part on readings of particular texts by Rudyard Kipling. Indeed, one might add to this tally the book's introduction, which is organized loosely around a discussion of an episode from Kipling's Letters of Marque (1899). The other 2 chapters focus on Flora Annie Steel's On the Face of the Waters and Jim Corbett's Man-Eaters of Kumaon (1944), respectively. And so when, for instance, Johnson suggests not only that the corpus of texts he focuses on is representative of "the Anglo-Indian sensibility" (65) but also that its exegesis is greatly useful for a fuller understanding of postcolonial/postimperial writers like Nirad Chaudhuri, Arundhati Roy, and Raja Rao (10), the reader cannot help wishing for some discussion of these figures, even at the expense of some material on the triumvirate of Kipling, Steel, and Corbett. Similarly tantalizing is the passing remark that examination of the "in-between existence" documented by Kipling et al. "has a lot to tell us about not only colonial but, by implication, also postcolonial spatiality" (25).
Like Gaston Bachelard's The Poetics of Space,3 which it invokes, Out of Bounds suggests it will pursue an organizational plan eschewing "strict chronology" (35), focusing rather on a series of discrete spaces: "hill stations, cantonments, city streets and bazaars, engineered structures, and the jungle hunt" (32). This is, of course, a perfectly valid, and potentially valuable, approach. But in fact the book's basic structure suggests, again, a fundamentally author-centered approach. At bottom, one feels, Out of Bounds remains a series of studies of texts by...