Richard Begam and Michael Valdez Moses
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introduction
It
has now been nearly twenty years since Fredric Jameson published
‘‘Modernism and Imperialism.’’ What was perhaps most striking about
the essay when it first appeared in 1988 was its title: with a modest but pro-
vocative copula, Jameson willed into syntactic unity two concepts that had
previously seemed alien, even antithetical.∞ What, after all, could modernism
—reputedly that most aestheticized and rarefied of literary movements—have
in common with the brute realities of conquest and empire? Where might
one discover a≈liations between the formal audacities of avant-gardism and
the historical atrocities of colonialism? In short, how might one connect the
culture of the cosmopolitan center with the politics of the imperial periph-
ery? If we do not always agree with the answers Jameson supplied to these
questions—indeed we often disagree with him—we nevertheless recognize
that he was among the first to think searchingly about the ways in which
modernist literary practice might be related, both formally and thematically,
to the experience of empire.
Today the idea of joining the terms ‘‘modernism’’ and ‘‘colonialism’’ in a
title provokes neither alarm nor surprise. Over the last two decades, nu-
merous articles and books have examined how individual authors responded
to empire (Conrad, Forster, Joyce), and a host of well-known critics have
produced influential works on the subject (Bhabha, Eagleton, Gikandi,
Parry, Said, and Suleri).≤ Yet, despite this scholarly activity, few studies have
provided a sustained and comprehensive account of the relation of modern-
ism to colonialism. The comparative absence of such scholarship is puzzling,
given the political and historical imperatives of the modernist period. For
while it is something of a commonplace to identify the nineteenth century
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