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EN 4223 – Fictions of Space and Culture: Geopolitics and Modernity
Seminar 1 handout – Introduction: The Geopolitical Consciousness
I.   “Geopolitical Consciousness”: summary of key points (background and explanations to come):
1.   At simplest level, it is public awareness in England of the rest of the world, especially the far-flung places like Afghanistan, India, China, Pacific Islands.
2.   A tenet of political geographical thinking around the turn of the century (associated with people like Ratzel and Mackinder) that saw the world as completely “filled in,” and henceforth could only be negotiated strategically (i.e. with socio-political implications for every move)
3.   A cultural problem: the need to deal with other races, languages, cultures and value-systems, all this bringing various ethical and moral burdens and problems to the Western European mind; from racism to desire for the other; change in what it means to be “white”; 
4.   Changing perceptions of the metropolitan centre as the result of these connections: “hub” thinking, spatial-cultural juxtapositions, “transplantations” 
5.   Journeys – distant and exotic, but also embodying ideologies of space/race; symbolic significance attached to certain kinds of spaces (the liminal, the penetration of the dark/isolated space, conflictual/contested spaces; journeys towards a new consciousness)
6.   Trade, exchange, negotiations of new relations (of race, class, nation) through the abstract medium of money/capital
7.   Colonial unease and self-consciousness, thus a kind of ideological precursor to postcolonialism (even as it retained colonial authority through negotiation and new cultural forms).
8.   Schizophrenia – a kind of dislocation of time-space consciousness, an inability to “orientate,” to narrate or move linearly, to order space and time, a corresponding “crisis of identity/consciousness” – this is possibly the consequence of losing older structures, going beyond “nation.”  (Basic clinical definition of schizophrenia is a “failure of logic, customary associations, intent and the organisation that usually accompanies human thought” (Tamminga and Medoff, “State of the Art,” in Dialogues in Clinical Neuroscience).
(Not an exhaustive list – other ways of characterizing this consciousness are possible).
 
In short, the geopolitical moment from the end of the 19th C was a significant socio-political and ideological stage in the movement towards contemporary global conditions – of cosmopolitan elites, racist stratifications/hierarchies, global capital, hubs, transnational cultures and consciousnesses, schizophrenia.
 
II.   Socio-Historical Background: from High Victorian to Fin de Siecle.
Some of the main concerns of Victorian fiction: 
Domesticity (including domestic space, marriage, the family structure/relations)
Women (gender, sexuality, social position/rights)
The child – bildungsroman, child’s perspective on society
Property – class (MC and WC) and class relations, the nature of property (insecurity, rapid change, women and property/marriage), the manor house/estate, nature of money, the factory
Crime – capitalist/market society, inequality, policing, the detective, decline of the family
Gothic – fantastical exploration of social unconscious (issues listed above) through symbols/devices (monsters, vampires, doubles, ghosts) that shock and alienate
 
“Inward-looking” nature of High Victorian (1850-1870) society – a period of rapid social change, infrastructural development, the rise of the MC and the structures of market society.  While it was also/still a period of colonial expansion, the space outside England – indeed any space outside of the main urban areas and the domain of the landed gentry – is largely ignored in the main literature of the period.  Generally a period of “social construction” – even though, as Byron Farwell (Queen Victoria’s Little Wars) points out, “there was not a single year in Queen Victoria’s long reign in which somewhere in the world her soldiers were not fighting for her and for her empire” (p. 1).
             Could be a matter of genre: “serious” fiction, as social realism, seemed to think its responsibility was the internal condition of English society, and saw little benefit (from the point of view of that responsibility) in more than brief mention of foreign spaces.
 
Fin de siecle (= end of century, generally refers to the last decade of 19th C) period of pessimism: increasing awareness of the costs of Victorian social change at home (the rise of social welfare/improvement/Christian urban ministry movements in the latter half of 19th C – eg the YMCA, the District Visiting Society, the Glasgow City Mission (with later branches in Dublin, London), the Working Men’s College, Samuel Smile’s “Self Help” movement – all part of what Gertrude Himmelfarb calls the “Demoralization of Society” (also the title of her book).  Increasing awareness of a culture of greed, selfishness, criminal intent, the decline of Christian influence (J. Hillis Miller’s book, The Disappearance of God), increasing rich-poor divide (with the increasing brutalization of the poor and the callousness of the rich – as reflected in the writings of Victorian sages like Thomas Carlyle and Matthew Arnold), the increasing need for policing and state-enforced order (the creation of the uniformed metropolitan police force, i.e. “Peelers” or “Bobbies” by Prime Minister Robert Peel in the 1829 Metropolitan Police Act – reflected in the rise of crime and detective fiction).
But fin de siecle period was also a period of increasing public awareness of external space – of the fact that, in the latter part of the 19th C, a global system of sorts had been established, of which England (and especially London) was the “hub.”  Hence Oscar Wilde’s bit of repartee between characters in Picture of Dorian Gray (chp 15): “Fin de siecle…Fin du globe.”  
1.   Increase in travel and communications infrastructure: commercial telegraph system in England established 1839 by Charles Wheatstone and William Cooke (and in 1845 used to apprehend a criminal – the “Quake Murderer” case).  Railway lines laid extensively throughout Britain (and the rest of Europe), especially in the 1840s.  Victorian era was a period of rapid increase in shipping (Britain’s tonnage of shipping doubled between 1837 to 1865, its steam tonnage increasing 12 times in that period; Britain had the largest shipping fleet in the world) and shipbuilding (Britain dominated especially iron shipbuilding; Derek Beales, From Castlereagh to Gladstone, pp. 168-169).  Rapid increase in steam shipping also meant that sea travel was faster and more extensive than ever before.
2.   Consumption: changing notion of world-as-emporium.  Fostered by Great Exhibition in 1851 (a sort of mini-world of goods, arranged and displayed for the average individual to travel through and consume), and the rise of the department store (Paris’s Bon Marche, opened 1852, was the popular landmark).  No longer a bilateral or linear conception of space-time (as was true of the older relationship of ordering/shipping a single product from a single source), the emporium rehearsed an organization of the world as compacted, nodal, synecdochal, entirely accessible at a single instance (think of it as a primitive rehearsal for the WWW).  Victorian literature increasingly reflects the presence of exotic goods in the English homestead – starting with a spectacular and unique item like the Indian diamond in The Moonstone, to an increasingly normative and casual display of exotic items, e.g. in bachelor pads in Dorian Gray, Lost World.
3.   Empire – change in phase from optimistically expansive, to constrained and problematic.  Much of 18th and early 19th C colonial expansion took on the form of unproblematic unfolding of “manifest destiny,” the relatively easy annexation of territory occupied by “primitive” dark-skinned peoples (the “terra incognito”), with enough space for the major colonial powers (England, France, Spain, Portugal, Holland, later Germany and the U.S.) to avoid each other, or else make treaty.  But increasing contestations between the colonial powers (French and Indian War in 1756-1763), Amboyna Massacre and Anglo-Dutch treaty of 1824, the “Great Game” with Russia on India’s northern border, Boer War in South Africa), signaled an increasingly “filled” geopolitical world, leading up to the crisis of WW I in the early 20th C.
             Key literary representation of this geopolitical awareness is Conrad’s Heart of Darkness, where the narrator (a seaman called Marlow) comments on the change in the African map from his childhood to adulthood:
“True, by this time it was not a blank space any more.  It had got filled since my boyhood with rivers and lakes and names.  It had ceased to be a blank space of delightful mystery – a white patch for a boy to dream gloriously over”
“…on one end a large shining map, marked with all the colours of a rainbow.  There was a vast amount of red – good to see at any time, because one knows that some real work is done in there, a deuce of a lot of blue, a little green, smears of orange, and on the East Coast, a purple patch, to show where the jolly pioneers of progress drink the jolly lager-beer” (chp 1)
4.   Metropolitan changes – unavoidable imprint of global world/empire in especially London.  An increasingly cosmopolitan, multiracial and multicultural city.  Literature and culture begins to record anxieties of “foreign” presences in London: the Indians in Moonstone; the many exotic races in the East London docks in Dorian Gray; Italian secret society members in Conan Doyle, Wilkie Collins; even Andaman islanders in Sign of Four.
5.   Travel literature/culture – reading about travel and foreign lands also played a part in fostering the geopolitical consciousness of a “filled” world.  The accounts of famous Victorian travelers: missionaries like David Livingstone (who explored central Africa in the 1850s and 1860s, achieving considerable public attention for naming Victoria Falls and for the government-backed “Zambezi Expedition”) and H. M Stanley; scientific geographers like Charles Darwin (the Second Voyage of the Beagle, from 1831 to 1836, was meant in part to survey S. America for British Naval purposes; the ship then went to the Pacific Islands and Australia, circumnavigating the globe; Darwin published his journal as The Voyage of the Beagle, in 1839; On the Origin of Species published 1859).  By the last decades of the 19th C, popular literature had caught up with this consciousness: travel to far-off spaces had to a certain extent featured in earlier writings (the poetry of inveterate travelers like Byron, Shelley, and later Browning; gothic literature’s popularization of exotic distant settings, e.g. the North Pole in Frankenstein, the fantastical East in Vathek, etc), but by the last decades of the 19th C, far-off places featured as more realistic settings for both adventure and serious fiction: in the works of writers-cum-adventurers like Conan Doyle, Rider Haggard and R. L. Stevenson, colonial servants like Kipling, seamen like Conrad.  Science and technology also contributed to the geopolitical excitement, with writers like Jules Verne and H G Wells speculating on new travel technologies and the ways these would change human society and identity (Around the World in 80 Days; various Lunar journeys; 20, 000 Leagues Under the Sea; The Time Machine etc).
6.   Historical consciousness of the “rise and fall”: a growing awareness, over the course of the 19th C, that all great civilizations have a fall as well a rise.  Late 18th C writings like Edward Gibbon’s History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire (6 vols, appearing from 1776) and C F Volney’s The Ruins: Or, Meditations on the Revolutions of Empires (1791 – recommended reading for monsters – see Frankenstein chp 13), German historical theorizing (in Hegel, but more specifically Marx and Engels), the increasing popularity of historical novels (Walter Scott, James Fenimore Cooper) get a geopolitical impetus from late 19th C works like Alfred Thayer Mahan’s The Influence of Sea Power Upon History (1890), Ratzel, Mackinder.
 
Thus by the last two decades or so of the 19th C, it becomes possible to speak of a “geopolitical fiction” – a (admittedly loose and ill-defined) set of texts which not only explicitly foreground as realistic setting distant locales, but whose narratives (in structure, symbolism, character, plot etc) share a set of structural features which seem to play an ideological function in their historical moment – i.e. as a kind of induction/rehearsal/popularization of a “geopolitical culture” (negotiating space and identity in a filled earth).
             This fiction is admittedly prefigured by all kinds of writing which makes mention of travel and distant places/cultures, but it is really in the last 2 decades or so of the 19th C that a flurry of such writing comes to the fore, and plays a significant part in shaping a social consciousness of “global” space and culture.
III.   Geopolitical  Fiction: Characteristics, Function, Ideology.
Narrative features/tropes
1.   Of course, travel, movement, geographical description play a significant role.  Part of the larger genre of travel literature, whose subgenres include the picaresque (e.g. Gulliver’s Travels, Adventures of Huckleberry Finn), the epic journey (The Odyssey), the journey of self-discovery/repentance/spiritual growth (Rime of the Ancient Mariner), the Bildungsroman journey (The Prelude, Jane Eyre), the romance/youth/marriage journey (Midsummer Night’s Dream), the “Descent into Hell” (Inferno, Book of Jonah, Heart of Darkness) – all of which have overlapping elements.
             Geopolitical travel literature uses movement from one place to another/others for political-ideological purposes, for (broadly speaking) inter-national/trans-cultural relations.  One aspect that is quite characteristic of 19th C geopolitical fiction, is the staging of a journey that is an “invasion” of the centre by the marginal figure: e.g. the foreigners in Sign of Four and Dracula.  Other travel lit elements (romance, psychological discovery, spiritual growth etc) are incorporated into a primary emphasis on trans-national concerns.
2.   “Modern temper” of narrative: pessimism, uncertainty, gloom, foregrounded subjectivity, unreliable narrators.  Travel used, not to moralise or teach (as it was used by the 18th C picaresque writers like Samuel Johnson and Jonathan Swift, or romantics like Wordsworth and Coleridge), but to “deconstruct” and interrogate, especially the facile assumption of European superiority.  
3.   Cultural encounters: a key moment is the revelation of deep shared affinities, desire, sympathies, moral approbation, for the racial/cultural “other.”  This often provokes a crisis of identity, which needs to be assuaged (if only partially or symbolically) by some ritual of abjection/purification – most dramatic e.g. would be the mutilation of Dracula as an abjection of white male sexual anxieties.
4.   Increasingly important and varied symbolic burden of the landscape: not merely as objective correlative of inward state, but as reflections of a wide range of anxieties to do with European man in a moment of historical crisis (i.e. decline and fall, miscegenation and desire, moral crisis, epistemological uncertainty, alienation, abstraction and isolation, conflicts and contestations).  Not surprisingly, the main landscapes are isolated islands, liminal spaces like the marsh or atoll (or the life of the ship “at sea”), all kinds of hidden/remote dark places (in caverns, beyond deserts/jungles, protected by reefs/cliffs etc). 
5.   “Bodies in Motion”: Speed and unsettled movement become key elements in the narrative pattern.  Writing is “on the go,” rather than based in 1 or 2 fixed locations (contrast much of MC novel, which is about fixed places as loci of identity: Mansfield Park, Middlemarch, many of the London novels eg in Dickens, even Wuthering Heights).  Motion, rather than place, becomes the defining mode – the means (costs, modes, speeds) of travel, the effect of multiple locations on identity/narrative, a society of/in motion.
6.   A myth/ideology of capitalism and capitalist relations: market society, exchange value, money, shops, consumption.  Reflection of an increasingly commercialized world order.  Unlike earlier capitalist fictions (which were largely concerned with the MC, domestic market society), geopolitical fiction is concerned with the increasing influence/penetration of commerce and capital in political/international/global sphere.
 
Ideological function of geopolitical fiction: 
i.   to record and represent the increasing awareness of space/geography and the “filled earth,” 
ii.  to register the costs of imperialism and geographical expansion, in the form of a colonial anxiety
iii. ultimately, to find (varied and complex) ways of reconciling geopolitical problems, assuaging/abjecting anxieties, negotiating clashes/contestations, and rehearsing (in readers) new attitudes/responses to geopolitical world order.