Editor's Introduction


Deborah Wyrick

North Carolina State University

Copyright (c) 1997 by Deborah Wyrick, all rights reserved. This text may be used and shared in accordance with the fair-use provisions of U.S. Copyright law, and it may be archived and redistributed in electronic form, provided that the editors are notified and no fee is charged for access. Archiving, redistribution, or republication of this text on other terms, in any medium, requires the notification of the journal and consent of the author.

  1. "It's just me and you, old girl," says George Brent. "You're the living reminder of the brave world before it went to seed." These lines are delivered to a soggy statue of Queen Victoria, to which Brent clings as flood waters rise in The Rains Came, the preposterous and weepy Hollywood fantasy of 'modern' empire. The film projects an India wading toward some sort of neo-colonial self-rule: an India populated by British aristocrats searching for the meaning of life, by naively benevolent Americans, by an enlightened native nobility trained in Western science and properly schooled in Western culture (roles played by the famous subcontinental actors Maria Ouspenskaya, Joseph Schildkraut, and a shoe-polished Tyrone Power), and by undifferentiated masses of indigenous people, whose job seems to be to get drowned or to contract cholera. Released in 1939, and apparently set in the late 1930s, The Rains Came dissolves anxieties about the war in Europe and Asia--and the unraveling of the multi-national colonial project--in torrents of generalized nostalgia and ideological bad faith. Queen Victoria reigns in death as the deity of imperial desire, whereas the film's living women perform her various functions: transmitting tradition (the maharani), embodying sacrificial service (the aristocratic Englishwoman), and enabling progress (the American secretary). Ultimately, all the women surrender themselves to death or to deathly mimesis so that patriarchal power can carry out the work of history.

  2. Watching this movie in mid-summer, 1997 . . . when Britain returned Hong Kong to China in a deluge as unrelenting as that depicted in the film, when India and Pakistan prepared to observe the fiftieth anniversary of independence . . . was an odd experience. It became odder still at the end of August, with the death of Diana Spencer. The post-mortem princess erected by the English-speaking media bears an uncanny resemblance to the British socialite-turned-doomed-humanitarian-through-love-of-a-wealthy-albeit-relatively-dark-Other played by Myrna Loy in The Rains Came. The moral of both representations seems to be that maintaining the world-position of Britain, as well as of its monarchy and aristocracy, requires the splitting, transformation, death, and fetishization of a beautiful woman.

  3. Salman Rushdie suggests that reaction to Diana Spencer's death involves a peculiarly post-modern erotics of sublimated sexuality. "The object of desire, in the moment of her death, sees the phallic lenses advancing upon her, snapping, snapping," Rushdie writes of Diana, and we are "lethal voyeurs" complicit through our "insatiable appetite" (68). In other words, the dead can be fetishized more conveniently than the living, who are able at times to evade the hungry and possessive gaze. But if the purpose of the fetish is to preserve that which is irrevocably lost, or that which should have been renounced, what is the absence for which the extravagantly fetishized body of Princess Diana subrogates? Considering Freud's claim that though fetishization "the horror of castration has set up a memorial to itself in the creation of this substitute" (154), we might suspect that the 'castration' feared, transformed, and memorialized by the British public has to do with the loss of geopolitical power and influence, and of the corollary authorizations of national identity. Especially in death, Diana is a serviceable fetish for the 1990s, for the post-cold-war, post-Thatcherite Britain seeking renewed clout in the European community and beyond--just as, arguably, the monarchy itself was a serviceable fetish for the post-World-War-II and post-empire years (and, perhaps, as Queen Victoria was for an earlier twentieth century beset by colonial discontent). The New Labourite People's Princess transforms into the Postcolonial Princess.

  4. Homi Bhabha, among others, has argued that the postcolonial nation-state exists in a condition of anxiety in response to its own doubleness, its own liminality (e.g. Bhabha 139-70, 212-35); from such a perspective, Diana is the ideal icon for the fearful process of splitting that fissures and forms national consciousness. Death allows Diana to embody two dreams of postcolonial power. On the one hand, we contemplate Diana with lepers, with land-mine victims, with cancer-ridden children, with AIDS patients, with the homeless; Diana in Africa and Asia and London slums; even Diana as scourge and minister of the anachronistic House of Windsor. As mater salvatoris of the wretched of the earth, this Diana represents a phantasm of politically unencumbered postcolonial influence, one not dissimilar to the Conradian 'idea' behind the colonial enterprise, and one equally marked by gender. On the other hand is the Diana de luxe, bejeweled, be-gowned, be-jetted, befriended by the rich and famous. This incarnation translates the globally based capital necessary for postcolonial power into personal glamour. And both Diana-icons are split internally, the loss of an imagined past haunting the fantasy of a desired future.

  5. The role of the twice-split goddess in national identity can be illustrated by referring to Haiti, one of the Western world's first postcolonial states. For centuries the West African- derived female deity Ezili has been twinned with the Roman Catholic Virgin Mary, a marriage of convenience arranged by creative adaptation and cultural resistance. Images of Ezili (often in the form of Catholic chromolithographs) demand a split hermeneutics, African and European, that together authorize a syncretic, Haitian meaning. Postcolonial pressures--poverty, isolation, internal corruption, external oppression--compel Ezili to split again. She appears as Ezili Freda, the beautiful Creole reveling in luxury items and generous sexuality, and as Ezili Danto, the suffering peasant fiercely protective of children and the downtrodden: one goddess for fantasy, for the millennium; one goddess for necessity, for history. Together they constitute a serviceable figure of the motherland imagined as a bountiful, capable, and compassionate community.

  6. Certainly, radically different material circumstances direct ideological representations in 'Third-World' Haiti and in 'First-World' England. Thus it's easy to ascribe the doubled and split Diana Freda/Diana Danto to commodification-by-media, both before and after her death. Yet the remarkable manifestations of collective mourning--in the English-speaking world, at least--suggest another dimension to the fetishization phenomenon. Adam Gopnik acutely compares the acres of bouquets, bric-a-brac, and hand-written messages piled in her honor to Roman Catholic devotional aesthetics: "[f]or two weeks," he observes, "good gray London took on the look of Lourdes or Fatima" (36). Indeed, the candle- and trinket-studded flower banks are reminiscent of continental shrines and ex-voto chapels. They also suggest extra-European religious sites, especially those in Afro-Catholic areas of the Americas. The flower, image, and candle-bedecked Caribbean portal, for instance--the liminal space of gateway, the luminous space of shrine--predicts in miniature how the gates of Kensington Palace or the British Embassy looked in early September, 1997. More importantly, the portal's metaphoric function helps explain the serviceability of Diana to the anxious postcolonial state.

  7. Michael Taussig's entrancing new book, The Magic of the State, argues that Afro-Caribbean religion--specifically the Venezuelan cults of Maria Lionzo and Simon Bolivar--produce and perform 'the European Elsewhere.' Writing of the gateway shrines essential to these belief systems, he notes that the always open portal is a wound that leaks holiness and violence, enabling "the circulation of power between the dead and the living, the state and the people" (39); the drama it commemorates through artistic and ritual excess is the national myth-of-origin, "the founding violence enacted by the band of brothers creating Law in the shadow of the body of the mother" (127). He finds portals and other religio-state monuments to be infused with the dialectic of reduction and elevation, seepage and containment, the salient powers of the fetish and of royalty (94-95).

  8. Images from the week between Diana's death and burial, the week where the body occupies a space in between presence and absence, capture this dialectic. They show the portal metastasizing in front of official sites, threatening to dissolve their stately solidity in a flood of flowers . . . the Queen and the Princes 'coming down' from Balmoral, 'coming out' to the people's side of the gate . . . Diana's face, endlessly reproduced and displayed, alone or together with other white, brown, and black faces. The funeral itself, a hybrid of stately propriety and seemingly heartfelt kitsch, also negotiated control and desire, as tossed flowers penetrated the police-regulated boundary between official protocol and popular devotion, and the applause from outside leaked through the open door of Westminster Abbey. In these moments of circulation through and around the fetishized body, the power of the state was possessed by a people possessed by the spirit-princess.

  9. If for the last few centuries 'English' identity has been constructed by its overseas possessions, and if in the last few decades the 'Colonial Elsewhere' has moved in increasing numbers to the 'home nation'--and if, as Bill Schwarz claims, there is thus a pressing need for rethinking the practice and theory of history (1-7)--Diana's serviceability to postcolonial Britain demonstrates the process not only of fetishization but also of history-making. In a characteristically crabby editorial, George Will views the prolonged and florid public mourning for Diana as the hollow act of hollow people "clutching at the flying coattails of History" (84). Whatever individual motivations may have been, the phenomenon suggests the reverse: collectively performed grief becomes the storm from paradise anxiously interpellating an angel of postcolonial history, memory and desire (and flowers) piling skyward at her feet.

  10. The articles in this issue of Jouvert engage with history, representation, memory, and identity--individual and collective. Abdul R. JanMohamed, in his first major published interview, reevaluates his own work in the light both of his evolving interests and of changing political and institutional contexts. In candid, thoughtful conversation with S.X. Goudie, JanMohamed reflects on a range of issues, including the competing claims of local histories and theoretical generalizations, the privileging of certain 'universalist' assumptions over others, the 'identity politics' question, and what he discerns to be exhaustion on the part of 'left intellectuals.' In so doing, he articulates a history of postcolonial studies, an assessment of the present state of the field, and a prediction about possible--and needed--future directions.

  11. His ideal of the committed public and academic intellectual is in one way exemplified by the life and work of Frantz Fanon, one of JanMohamed's significant influences. Anthony Alessandrini's review-essay on recent Fanon scholarship demonstrates Fanon's continuing relevance to postcolonial theory and practice; Alessandrini also suggests that locating Fanon within a specific time in Algerian history can avoid reproducing a falsely dichotomized Fanon or reading Fanonian violence as a mere discursive effect or as a blanket authorization. Fanon--and violence, and its aftermaths--also figure in Nicholas Dawes's article on South Africa's Interim Constitution and its Truth and Reconciliation Commission. Particularly concerned with the work of memory and mourning, Dawes examines current political discourse produced by a country moving through the 'gift of the law' to a new national identity. A different sort of South African identity is explored by Alexander Moore, although it too operates in part via violence, in his study of the 18th-century ornithologist and travel writer, Francois le Vaillant. The complicated optics of literariness and geographical perspective focus le Vaillant's reading of South Africa and of himself . . . and Moore's reading of Le Vaillant's textual subject formation. Such problematics of reading are also taken up in Liza Ann Acosta's review of Neil Larsen's new book, Reading North by South: on Latin American Culture and Politics.

  12. One of the many ways Dawes reads South African history and national memory is through the limit-text of Holocaust. Although his pairing of apartheid and Hitlerian regimes suggests a destabilization of Horkheimer and Adorno's claims, the horrors of the Nazi Holocaust remain both unspeakable and compellingly spoken about. In this issue of Jouvert, Delroy Constantine-Simms discusses a new documentary concerning the targeting and treatment of Hitler's Black victims, and Christopher Hanlon reviews the reprinted edition of Joan Copjek's important collection, Radical Evil, a large part of which interrogates Kantian and post-Kantian notions of evil (and ethics) in relation to the Holocaust.

  13. Whatever position one takes on the exclusivity of the Holocaust, twentieth-century history includes political terrors outside as well as inside Europe. Jill Didur's article, "Fragments of Imagination," explores narratives of India's Partition, in especially those concerning women 'abducted' during the massive enforced migrations that marked modern Indian and Pakistani independence. Didur reconsiders state and community nationalist self-imaginings, the profoundly gendered notions of citizenship that result, and the way that recovery operations (of marginalized voices, of memory, of abducted women themselves) can put pressure on totalizing historico-political narratives. Further, she maps the contested border territory between literary texts and historiography through a feminist reading of Rajinder Singh Bedi's short story, "Lajwanti."

  14. The debate between the 'literary' and the 'historical' has parallels to other debates, such as whether literary texts are agents as well as subjects of postcolonial theory. Julian Samuel's memoire, "Grandfather's House at Noon: Lahore, 1957," is certainly a literary text, yet it can be read for its implied theoretical claims about national history, diaspora, identity formation, and the constitutive powers of memory and desire. Looked at this way, Partition is the palimpsest upon which Samuel writes fragments of imagination, fragments of family and class history, fragments of loss, dispersal, and recovery. Jouvert is committed to publishing creative as well as scholarly work, in the belief that both modes are crucial to a vital theoretics of the postcolonial.

  15. I'd like to express my thanks to all the contributors for their professionalism and their patience, and to the many people who have supported Jouvert during the past months. I'm particularly grateful to our new Assistant Editor, Steve Luyendyk, for his quick mastery of the HTML learning curve, his zeal for organization, and his unfailing good humor. S. X. Goudie has given counsel and support far beyond his considerable duties as Interviews Editor, and Chris Perrius has been a life-saver as Managing Editor. My thanks also go to other Jouvert board members (local and global) for their advice, peer reviewing skills, and generosity of spirit . . . and to Tom Lisk, the head of North Carolina State University's English Department, who has provided resources and encouragement for this project from its inception.

  16. I'm very pleased to announce two guest-edited special issues of Jouvert--additional examples of the collegial cooperation demonstrated by the postcolonial studies community. Ken Reinhard (UCLA) and Julia Reinhard Lupton (U Cal-Irvine) are guest editing "Religion Between Culture and Theory," scheduled for publication in Spring, 1998; Lahoucine Ouzgane and Daniel Coleman (U of Alberta) will guest edit "Postcolonial Masculinities," scheduled for publication later that year.

Works Cited

Bhabha, Homi K. The Location of Culture. London: Routledge, 1994.

Freud, Sigmund. "Fetishism" (1927). The Standard Edition of the Collected Works. Vol. 21, London: Hogarth, 1938-, pp. 149-57.

Gopnik, Adam. "Crazy Piety." The New Yorker. Sept. 29, 1997: 34-37.

Rushdie, Salman. "Crash." The New Yorker. Sept. 15, 1997: 68-69.

Taussig, Michael. The Magic of the State. New York: Routledge, 1997.

Schwarz, Bill. "Introduction: The Expansion and Contraction of England." The Expansion of England: race, ethnicity and cultural history. Ed. Bill Schwarz. London: Routledge, 1996.

Will, George. "A Week of Sheer Fakery." Newsweek. Sept. 15, 1997: 84.

Zanuck, Darryl F., producer. The Rains Came. RKO, 1939.

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