Late Imperial Culture puts stress on the term “late” to pose questions of the time and space of the culture of European imperialism. To the extent that it attempts to bring periodization to the imperial imaginary and to determine the processes at work in colonialist discourse, the project of this book is ambitious. Ranging from theatre to body art, fiction to film, its essays define culture widely as political theory and discursivity both. Except for the final chapter, the essays are consistently thoughtful and erudite.
The sense of a unified but not cohesive or deterministic voice in this collection is provided by the writers’ joint commitment to radically alter the empire’s legacy and the oppression it vests upon its subjects. From this commitment, Aijaz Ahmad speaks eloquently to metropolitan criticism, Karen Caplan expresses reservations about travel discourse and literary sisterhood, and, still playing with the fact/fiction slide (in relation to sexual ethnology), David Glover analyzes Bram Stoker and Irish national identity. Roman de la Campa contributes a provocative reading of revolution through the modalities afforded by, among others, Argentina-born Jorge Luis Borges.
In what pertains to the given-to-be-seen, Steven Cagan’s essay on activist photography cautions that even if somewhat antithetical to postmodernism’s non-referential discursivity, all practice is subject to political contextualization. The debate and subsequent critiques are taken up in Ella Shohat’s deliberations on representation, appropriation and cinematic spectatorship. Together, these essays afford a necessary aesthetic, political and theoretical space from which to begin to undo and reformulate the intertwining of intention, identification and (dis)affiliation that mobilizes the imperial. S. D.