The Imperial Encounter
Nigel Leask British Romantic Writers and the East: Anxieties of Empire, Cambridge Studies in Romanticism, CUP, Published in India, Foundation Books, 1993, Indian ed.
After new criticism, phenomenology and the post-structural interlude, English Romantic studies discovered new bearings—sometime during the second half of the last decade—in new historicist and cultural materialist persuasions. The return of history through a theoretically sensitized view of (canonical and marginal) texts, contexts of production (and reception) and a proper regard for adjacent discourses augured well for Romantic studies which for long had sublimated if not altogether forgotten history. Thus grew a critical corpus whose tendency can be broadly described as a hermeneutic of sustained suspicion. For when (theoretical) anxiety and (historical) alertness inform an address, the result is nearly always suspicion. Needless to say, the addresses of such addresses—whether Wordsworth, Coleridge, De Quincey, Southey, Lamb, Landor, Byron and Burke, or, their epics, ballads, tragedies, lyrics, romances and sundry disquisitions on aesthetics, anthropology, politics and psychotropic pseudo-philosophy—acquiesced, quite meekly, to the onslaught of a critically suspicious auto da fe. Nor could they not acquiesce given the ambiguous location in a post-Enlightenment, post-French revolution scenario and the complicitous ambidexterity of their responses to issues of class, gender, empire and reform. New readings followed from these altered methodological emphases, then re-readings of these readings and re-readings of re-readings (witness the recent work of Alen Lin, Jonathan Arac, Clifford Siskin, Marilyn Butler and Don Biolostosky). Out of this ferment emerged hitherto unrecognized aporias that unmasked old literary history, sharpened our awareness of the contradictions (read anxieties) at the (now decentred) heart of the Romantic enterprise and with incontrovertible evidence established the Romantic artist as an anxiety-ridden neurotic in desperate need of a shrink.
Nigel Leask's study of British Romantic Writers and the East clearly proceeds from these critical interests and emphases. The 8nly manifest difference between this book and other new historicist and
Social Scientist, Vol. 21, No. 12, December, 1993