Cultural Institutions of the Novel

An unbelievably helpful statement from Homer Brown’s contribution to Cultural Institutions of the Novel:

“The danger of what too simply might be called anachronism . . . is also a danger of institution” (16).

I plan to take this quote, and this thought, and run with it because I so completely and utterly agree.  Although I’d add a small caveat: if the danger of anachronism is also a danger of institution, the promise of anachronism is also the promise of institution.

How does it feel to be an anachronism?

I just read the 2007 roundtable discussion, “Theorizing Queer Temporalities” from GLQ.  Featuring Carolyn Dinshaw, Lee Edelman, Roderick Ferguson, Carla Freccero, Elizabeth Freeman, Judith Halberstam, Annamarie Jagose, Christopher Nealon, and Nguyen Tan Hoang, it’s a really interesting discussion of ongoing and past work on time and history in the field of queer theory.

The conversation confirms my own argument that if labeling or identifying someone/some practice/some stance as anachronistic often attempts to serve the normative (i.e. the Irish were continually represented as backwards so that they were not seen as viable political agents or subjects within Britain), the act of doing so often disrupts such normativity by unleashing a different conception of politics and history as well as a different experience of time. Such politics and history can be both radical and reactionary–Dinshaw notes that evangelical Christian movement in the contemporary US “works off of people’s feeling out of step with contemporary mores” (190)–but it always works against the normative.

The challenge, of course, is how to draw attention to the ways in which we all feel like anachronisms at one time or another and to mobilize this feeling not as a way of imagining new futures or even new communities, but as locating politics in the experiences of rather than the manipulation of time.  For nations, institutions, narratives all self-consciously manipulate time for political ends.  But our uncanny experience of time is queer: creating distance from normative history and encouraging us to disidentify with normative structures. The difficulty is to allow such distance and disindentification to nevertheless encourage a productive politics of being (being in time, at odds with time, out of time, with the time) that values political and historical experience even as it relentlessly questions its ends.

Decolonization is not a Metaphor

What an essay! What an article! What a challenge!

I think that their analysis of settlers’ “moves to innocence” so right, so unsettling, so  true and so unbelievably difficult to change/confront at the same time. Because if as individuals we move to innocence, historically we create structures, institutions, forms of knowledge that protect, preserve, and reproduce these moves. So a reminder:

“The easy adoption of decolonization as a metaphor (and nothing else) is a form of this anxiety, because it is a premature attempt at reconciliation. The absorption of decolonization by settler social justice frameworks is one way the settler, disturbed by her own settler status, tries to escape or contain the unbearable searchlight of complicity, of having harmed others just by being one’s self (9).”

Decolonization is not a metaphor, individuals are not innocent, and knowledge/self-knowledge is so difficult to learn.  To acknowledge that there is no escape, no containment of complicity or guilt and yet to chug, chug along all the same on the path to seek knowledge is to acknowledge that humanities can never be “sweetness and light.” Humanities is what teaches us how to hurt despite the fact that we know that the things we learn won’t bring healing. Which is maybe why I like reading James Baldwin so much. He brings me close to pain, allows me to feel hurt, and yet warns me not to try to contain it or escape it.

 

Liberalism

Amanda Anderson gave a plenary talk at this year’s NAVSA conference in which she historicized liberalism in order to demonstrate its political possibilities (even after Foucault, Marx, etc). It was a suggestive talk that led to the kind of arguments, discussions, debates that liberalism suggests are healthy.

Elaine Hadley is another major player in the field of Victorian studies considering liberalism.  Her reading of Ian McEwan’s Saturday is pretty interesting, questioning what Matthew Arnold’s “Dover Beach” is doing at the end of the novel (as a solution to the novel?) I’ve been so frustrated with McEwan of late that I’m not surprised that this small Englander returns to Arnold (not that I’m against Arnold, but you know, how great would it be if James Baldwin were the end/the solution?)

Hadley has a pretty great response to Arnold’s presence, and the presence of the past in this novel:

“Let me be clear: I recognize my interpellation in this novel. I know I’m being hailed. Perowne’s anxieties are mine; his solace in his family’s company and the faux protection of their nuclearity are mine. His solipsistic interest in his particularity and the ego support derived from his profession are also mine. I’m by no means immune to these fantasies of liberal agency.  Having admitted this much, however, having acknowledge my professional and even personal inheritance of this brand of Victorian liberalism, I do not feel obliged to welcome it” (“On a Darkling Plain: Victorian Liberalism and the Fantasy of Agency, 97”)

I like this account because it acknowledges the ways that we continue to live liberalism, we continue to inhabit Victorian political positions, and yet, that these political positions are fantasies, and even more importantly, ALWAYS WERE FANTASIES.  Which isn’t to say that other political modes are “real” as opposed to this fantastical construction, but rather to say that the liberal subject is something that, even in the 21st century when we’ve absorbed the reality of the decentered subject, we invest energy in maintaining.  Which is to say that the liberal subject is not the political subject or agent of Victorian England, but one of many.