Mary Mullen, Anachronisms Against Antiquarianism
Reflecting on Victorian studies in 2005, Matthew Rowlinson argues that the field needs to develop a theory of anachronism. In his words, it “would enable Victorian scholars to explain their investments in their object without proposing to find in that object the truth of the historical present.” According to Rowlinson, Victorian Studies scholars tend to confuse the Victorian period with the institutionalization of Victorian Studies. By studying the Victorian period, we study ourselves. Rowlinson’s essay articulates contradictions at the heart of the field: although Victorian studies is committed to historicism (a theory of anachronism, after all, will allow scholars to be more historical), its particular forms of historicism produce anachronism.
In 2015, the problem and potential of anachronism looks different in part because the institutional landscape of Victorian studies is different (Lauren Goodlad’s recent post highlights some of these institutional developments). Victorian Studies, the journal that Rowlinson so productively reads as producing the field as we know it, both does and does not remain “the material basis of its members’ collective identity.” On the one hand, we still look to Victorian Studies for field-defining conversations, provocative articles, and important book reviews; but on the other hand, the journal with its distinctly Victorian characteristics (print, seriality, professionalism, interdisciplinarity) is not the only venue through which we shape our sense of collective identity (hence, the Facebook threads about V21).
For many, these multiple venues for publication, conversation, and definitions of the field suggest that Victorian Studies has only become more open to methodological innovation over time, and because of this fact, there is no need for the V21 manifesto. In this landscape, the anachronism central to the field no longer unites it (we are no longer a print community in the era of listservs), but raise questions about uncanny returns of methodological questions, relationships between past and present, and the kinds of “collective identity” we want to have (and are able to have in the 21st-century university). I’d argue that Victorian Studies can become a field defined through multiple anachronisms rather than united by a central anachronism. In fact, as Kent Puckett’s response suggests, we can read the the V21 manifesto as one such anachronism—Victorian(ist) manifestos are untimely entities. Such untimely forms and the discordant relationships they produce are exciting to me precisely because they destabilize consensus, asking us to rethink what we do and what we want to do, what we know and what we want to know, and what kinds of institutional/extra-institutional forms we want to share. Just as importantly, they undermine the historical periods and historical distance which we often take for granted.
Recently, scholars in the fields of postcolonial and queer theory have celebrated anachronisms and the relationality they cultivate, implicitly questioning the historical distance that seems to define periodized scholarly pursuits. Dipesh Chakrabarty contends that even antiquarianism depends upon anachronism as he argues that history, as it is institutionalized in the university, converts “objects, institutions, and practices with which we have lived relationships into relics of other times.” The creation of a ‘historical’ object of study becomes a way to exclude particular people, practices, and methodologies from the present tense by relegating them to the past. Cultivating lived relationships with the past, by contrast, thwarts the linear temporality of imperial history by insisting that historical time is “irreducibly not-one.” In turn, queer theorists like Carolyn Dinshaw push against sequential history and its empty time to show the plurality of the present and encourage “queer historical touches” that legitimate our desire for the past.
Many of these accounts of anachronism stabilize the Victorians through the image of the “imperial prude”—suggesting that by pushing against the linear historical time of both empire and heteronormativity, they’re resisting the Victorians’ contribution to historicism. Victorians, it seems, regulated anachronisms, rooting out chronological mistakes and historical errors to shore up their imperial ideologies and repressive social politics. But, as Victorianists, we know better: the standardization of time and institutionalization of history in the Victorian period was accompanied by a proliferation of both anachronisms and theories of anachronisms. From stories of time travel like the 1838 short story, “An Anachronism; or, Missing One’s Coach” to utopian fiction of the late nineteenth century to realism, itself; Victorians cultivated affective relationships with the past that questioned rather than confirmed the dominant historicism of the time.
Victorianists committed to anachronisms can cultivate new relationships with Victorian pasts and create opportunities for “queer historical touches.” Through these touches, we demonstrate how Victorian Studies generates theory rather than simply illustrating it, and challenge the assumption that the Victorian period is a period of the “imperial prude.” For, when we simply apply the lessons of postcolonial and queer theory to the Victorian period, we further confirm the assumption that Victorian Britain provides “reassuring ‘islands of whiteness’” for students and scholars alike. But if we foster lived relationships between past and present, postcolonial theory and Victorian empire, queer theory and Victorian sexuality, we can disrupt both Victorian Studies’ island mentality and its whiteness. A form of Victorian Studies grounded in multiple anachronisms interrogates our claims to distance, acknowledges our affective attachments (and their limits), and opens up new political horizons.
 Matthew Charles Rowlinson, “Theory of Victorian Studies: Anachronism and Self-Reflexivity” Victorian Studies 47:2 (Winter 2005): 251.
 Ibid., 241.
 Provincializing Europe: Postcolonial Thought and Historical Difference (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2000), 243.
 Chakrabarty, 249.
 Carolyn Dinshaw, “Theorizing Queer Temporalities: A Roundtable Discussion” GLQ: A Journal of Lesbian and Gay Studies 13:2-3 (2007): 178. Carolyn Dinshaw is one of many queer theorists interested in queer time and relationality. Other theorists of note: José Esteban Muñoz, Elizabeth Freeman, and Valerie Rohy.
 Michel Foucault’s The History of Sexuality, Vol. 1 Trans. Robert Hurley (New York: Pantheon Books, 1978). Foucault, 3.
 Elaine Freedgood, quoting Antoinette Burton, in “Islands of Whiteness” Victorian Studies 54:2 (Winter 2012): 299.