Tropicopolitans: Colonialism and Agency, 1688–1804 (Post-Contemporary Interventions)

In Tropicopolitans Srinivas Aravamudan reconstructs the colonial imagination of the eighteenth century. By exploring representations of peoples and cultures subjected to colonial discourse, he makes a case for the agency—or the capacity to resist domination—of those oppressed. Aravamudan’s analysis of texts that accompanied European commercial and imperial expansion from the Glorious Revolution through the French Revolution reveals the development of anticolonial consciousness prior to the nineteenth century.
“Tropicalization” is the central metaphor of this analysis, a term that incorporates both the construction of various dynamic tropes by which the colonized are viewed and the site of the study, primarily the tropics. Tropicopolitans, then, are those people who bear and resist the representations of colonialist discourse. In readings that expose new relationships between literary representation and colonialism in the eighteenth century, Aravamudan considers such texts as Behn’s Oroonoko, Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe and Captain Singleton, Addison’s Cato, and Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels and The Drapier’s Letters. He extends his argument to include analyses of Johnson’s Rasselas, Beckford’s Vathek, Montagu’s travel letters, Equiano’s autobiography, Burke’s political and aesthetic writings, and Abbé de Raynal’s Histoire des deux Indes. Offering a radical approach to literary history, this study provides new mechanisms for understanding the development of anticolonial agency.

Introducing eighteenth-century studies to a postcolonial hermeneutics, Tropicopolitans will interest scholars engaged in postcolonial studies, eighteenth-century literature, and literary theory.

Awards

2000 MLA Prize for a First Book: Won

Reviews

Donna Landry, UK (University of Kent)
Tropicopolitans might initiate a school of “tropicalization” studies. In the emerging field of what we have learned to name Black Atlantic writing, Aravamudan has made substantial contributions in his chapters on Equiano and Toussaint Louverture, in which each figure is richly, contextually read. The wrenching from a Euro-Christian framework into a tropicalizing one opens up these figures to new critical investigations instead of merely freezing their heroic status for all time. Aravamudan’s book should go some way toward helping us maintain our vigil against premature orthodoxies.”

James Thompson, USA (University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill)
Tropicopolitans is the most theoretically sophisticated study yet of colonialist texts in the eighteenth century.”
T. Ware (Choice)
“Aravamudan displays astonishing erudition on subjects from slavery and literacy to smallpox inoculation and sailors’ customs. This book is an important synthesis of 18th-century and postcolonial studies.”
Kate Teltscher, UK (University of Roehampton; Times Literary Supplement)
“[Aravamudan is] an agile and theoretically sophisticated critic. . . . This book takes many gambles and is likely to excite and provoke those involved in postcolonial and eighteenth-century studies in equal measure. With the publication of Tropicopolitans, it is clear that the stakes have been raised.”
Studies in English Literature, 1500–1900
“[T]his book marks a significant fruition of nearly twenty years of colonial and ‘post-colonial’ study of the eighteenth century. . . . Aravamudan’s analysis of all that qualifies and vitiates Romantic narratives of resistance is both subtle and shrewd. . . . [His] ability to keep . . . many different possibilities in balance suggests the urbanity and sophistication of this study, its refusal of both a facile moralism and political neutrality. . . . Aravamudan always manages to offer a fresh view of familiar (and sometimes surprising) texts.”
Jennifer Thorn, USA (Saint Anselm; ASECS Book Reviews Online)
“This often brilliant book deserves a wide readership, both by those who know already that they share its ethical aims, and those who value rigor and insight wherever they are found.”
Balachandra Rajan, Canada (University of Western Ontario; Modern Language Quarterly)
“Srinivas Aravamudan’s important book opens up possibilities and is notable both for its archival strength and for the skill and sophistication with which it brings postcolonial thinking into the landscape of eighteenth-century scholarship.”
Elizabeth A. Bohls, USA (University of Oregon; Journal of English and Germanic Philology)
“The strengths of this sprawling study emerge both from its sophisticated theoretical approach to anti-colonial critique and from individual insights into ‘tropicalizing’ movements. . . . Aravamudan has made a worthwhile contribution to a field in manifest need of more such sophisticated work.” 
Deepika Bahri, USA (Emory; College English)
“Aravamudan’s subtle readings of a range of eighteenth-century texts . . . proceed through a prismatic complex of historical, theoretical, and interpretive positions. . . . Aravamudan’s bold foray into incipient specular positions yields a powerful example to a cultural analysis aiming to keep history, materiality, theory, and institutional discourses in productive tension.”
Marie-Paule Ha, Hong Kong (University of Hong Kong; Research in African Literatures)
“Through its tropicalizing of a number of eighteenth-century European texts that are richly contextualized within colonial history, Tropicopolitans is indeed a valuable contribution to the re-mapping of the relationships between literary representations and colonialism.”
Suvir Kaul, USA (University of Pennsylvania; Diaspora)
Tropicopolitans is a challenging and ambitious intellectual achievement, one that demands philosophical and conceptual engagement from its readers even as it offers a rich series of readings of texts and historical events. Indeed, it is fair to say that each one of the ‘acts of reading’ Aravamudan performs here is informed by, and exemplary of, some larger theoretical or intellectual problem highlighted in contemporary critical-theoretical inquiry more generally. Reading Tropicopolitans is thus also a high-level introduction to definitive problems in postcolonial studies—its enduring achievement will be its illumination of eighteenth-century British and French colonial cultures via the conceptual lenses provided by debates within postcolonial theory and criticism.”
Michael J. Franklin, UK (Swansea University; English)
[A] path-breaking study. . . .
Stephanie M. Hilger, USA (University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign; Bryn Mawr Review of Comparative Literature)
“In a superbly argued book, the author casts a refreshing new look at eighteenth-century literature through a postcolonial lens. . . .”
Alan Richardson, USA (Boston College; B.A.R.S. Bulletin and Review)
“[An] often brilliant . . . study of colonialism and agency. . . .”
Michael H. Fisher, USA (Oberlin College; International Journal of Hindu Studies)
Tropicopolitans presents a sophisticated discussion of English and French literary works and of the theories of literary critics, which scholars of literature about South Asia may find suggestive. . . . Displaying masterful control over literary-critical, and especially postcolonial, theory, Aravamudan demonstrates how complex were European uses of the changing concept of the Orient.”
Mary Kelly Persyn, USA (European Romantic Review)
“[A]n invaluable historical archive and a richly complex theoretical apparatus for understanding colonialist rhetoric and anticolonial agency . . . . We are in need of a pragmatic tropicopolitan who could raise a mirror to our collective consciousness and remind us constantly to avoid premature orthodoxies. Aravamudan’s book may well offer one such reflection.”
Roxann Wheeler, USA (Ohio State University; NOVEL)
“Committed to a plural view of agency and agents, Aravamudan’s study encompasses writers’ sometimes unconscious responses to larger cultural, political, and economic factors that underwrote colonial ideology. Confronting the relationship between colonialism and anticolonialism in a selection of eighteenth-century texts, Aravamudan discovers resistance to dominant eighteenth-century modes of thinking and power relations more easily in the present with the critic than in the past with the colonized.”
Diana Brydon, Canada (University of Manitoba; Canadian Literature)
“[A] densely argued, richly suggestive text that amply demonstrates its multi-pronged thesis. . . . [C]hart[s] fresh routes for postcolonial engagements with the challenges of the present.” 
Louise Yelin, US (Studies in the Novel)
“If Aravamudan amply demonstrates how literary criticism offers postcolonial studies its quality of attention to linguistic nuance, ambiguity, and contradiction, he also shows convincingly what postcolonial studies can give to literary criticism.”
Kate Lilley, Australia  (University of Sydney; Australian Humanities Review)
Tropicopolitansis an important book in the making of the postcolonial eighteenth-century. Never less than suggestive, often brilliant, its three parts, ‘Virtualizations’, ‘Levantinizations’ and ‘Nationalizations’, uncover ‘different kinds of anti-colonial agency’.”
Florence D’Souza, France (Université Charles de Gaulle – Lille III; Bulletin de la société d’études anglo-américaines des XVIIe et XVIIIe siècles)
“[L]’étude d’Aravamudan réussit à . . . dégager de nouvelles résonances et à mettre en avant le rôle prépondérant joué par le colonialisme dans les représentations littéraires du XVIIIe siècle. Son ouvrage témoigne d’une vaste érudition et d’une approche théorique sophistiquée qui rendent sa démarche originale et solide.”

 

Permanent link to this article: https://sites.duke.edu/srinivasaravamudan/2013/02/27/tropicopolitans/