Zach Fruit Responds
Nasser Mufti’s reading of Forms of Empire emphasizes Hensley’s two major methodological interventions (whereas I only emphasized one, and a different one). First, Hensley conceptualizes sovereignty as a poetics that is active across the “thresholds” of genre. Partially because sovereignty is framed in this way, Hensley can read texts and events on a “split screen” of curated proximity. In my own reading, I noticed how Hensley augmented Williams’ concept of “mediation” in order to modify Jameson’s formulation of the relationship between literature and social contradiction. As Mufti notes, Said’s contrapuntal reading is another precedent that is being played with here–a method more explicitly concerned with the dynamic between Imperial violence and cultural production.
While Said’s contrapuntal reading frames a more explicit relationship between culture and imperialism, Hensley makes it “possible to see how texts articulate the framing contradictions of the society they come from,” as Mufti puts it. I am curious about the layers of mediation here. Hensley is making something visible about how cultural objects also make visible the connections between logics of liberal thought and the social conditions that make those types of thought possible. What he does not make visible, according to Mufti, is the “vast archive” that might be “lost altogether” or only relegated to the “negative space of the imperial text.” What is the difference between trying to make an archive that has been put under erasure by the poetics of Victorian sovereignty visible, and trying to make the mechanics of that poetics visible?
I am thinking of Mary Ellis Gibson’s paired 2011 projects, Indian Angles: English Verse in Colonial India from Jones to Tagore and Anglophone Poetry in Colonial India: 1780-1912: A Critical Anthology. Gibson theorizes and historicizes in the first, and anthologizes in the second. In doing so, she attempts to fill in that void that Mufti refers to: the “vast archive” that is “visible in the negative space of the Imperial text.” What would be the anthology to pair with Forms of Empire? Where is the violence of Pax Victoriana registered and where is it written away?