Will Glovinsky Responds to Anjuli Fatima Raza Kolb

In her reflection Anjuli Raza Kolb notes how Civilizing War’s “geographical and temporal sweep” powerfully demonstrates postcolonialism’s continued ability to “turn nineteenth century texts into stunning prisms of political and historical legacies yet to come.” I just wanted to amplify on this wonderfully incisive line, which highlighted for me something that Civilizing War does so expertly: finding scenes or passages in authors like Carlyle and Gaskell that become seemingly unlikely touchstones in a multi-step, diachronic analysis of tropes and discourses across metropole and colony. So when Mufti discusses Gaskell’s North and South, where the mill owner Thornton has brought in Irish labourers to break a strike, the absence of the Irish from the climactic rock-throwing scene (they ride it out “huddled” on the upper floors of the mill) takes on new and special gravity. “Narratives of fratricide are paradoxically constitutive of nationhood,” Mufti writes – and in Gaskell’s scene, the Irish come off as politically unready, even physically unfit to play a role on that violent historical stage (62). But Civilizing War also allows you to notice how this familiar scene in the industrial novel gets revised in an early moment in Conrad’s Nostromo: during a period of civil conflict, the old Republican Giorgio remains holed up in his house, scorning the “outbreak of scoundrels and léperos, who did not know the meaning of the word ‘liberty.’” Where Gaskell’s Margaret Hale steps out to defend Thornton, symbolically fusing genteel and bourgeois national interests while shaming the workers, Giorgio refuses to leave his house: and the historical plot stalls. Raza Kolb’s illuminating reflection reminds me how, in prismatic moments like these, Mufti shows how civil war’s equivocal meaning remains a crucially narrative problem.

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