Bruce Robbins Responds to Will Glovinsky

If I understand correctly, “The fact of fratricide institutes English unity” is the moral of Disraeli’s Sybil, but it is not the moral of nineteenth century literature as a whole.  Carlyle, for example, is not proud to live in a country where the cash-nexus is a form of fratricide. To most Victorians, the prospect of civil war in their time and place, like the memory of civil wars past, was at best a source of anxiety and embarrassment. I think Will Glovinsky is generalizing a bit too freely, therefore, when he suggests that the capacity to have a civil war counted as proof of civilization.

Nasser’s somewhat uncritical deployment of Foucault lends itself to this familiar kind of excess– an excess in the assumed condemnation of the West, or of modernity, or of Western modernity (the terms slide too easily into and through each other), as if under inspection Victorian culture could only reflect Victorian power and, in our case, imperial power.  Luckily, that is not in fact the burden of Nasser’s original and quite valuable assemblage of evidence.  I hope the book’s many subsequent readers will realize that they have something much more interesting in their hands.

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