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Response  4                                                                                                                        

                                                                                                                                     Ghazal  Asif   Professor  Iza  Hussin  

Colony  /  Empire  /  Nation:  Imagining  the  Subimperial  
“If   nationalisms   in   the   rest   of   the   world   have   to   choose   their   imagined   community   from   certain  modular  form  already  made  available  to  them  by  Europe  and  the  Americas,  what   do  they  have  left  to  imagine?  Europe  and  the  Americas,  the  only  true  subjects  of  history,   have   thought   out   on   our   behalf   not   only   the   script   of   colonial   enlightenment   and   exploitation,   but   also   that   of   our   anticolonial   resistance   and   postcolonial   misery,”   (Chatterjee   1993,   5).   In   the   introduction   to   his   landmark   book   The   Nation   and   Its   Fragments,   Partha   Chatterjee   captures   a   deep   sense   of   frustration   with   existing   understandings  of  nationalism  and  imagination  in  the  study  of  the  “rest  of  the  world”,  as   he   put   it.   This   paper   will   look   at   two   books   that   consider   questions   of   nationalist   imagination  in  the  era  before  the  rise  of  the  modern  nation-­‐state  in  the  mid-­‐twentieth   century—Benedict   Anderson’s   Imagined   Communities:   Reflections   on   the   Origin   and   Spread   of   Nationalism,  and  Thomas  R  Metcalf’s  Imperial   Connections:   India   in   the   Indian   Ocean  Arena  1860-­‐1920.   While   seemingly   about   fairly   different   subjects,   I   suggest   that   the   implications   of   both   books   for   understanding   not   only   questions   of   the   centre/periphery   in   the   modern   world,   but   also   nationalism   as   a   consequence   of   the   modern  world,  are  best  served  by  considering  both  works.   As   the   title   of   Benedict   Anderson’s   seminal   work   suggests,   Imagined   Communities   recognizes   the   ‘imagined   nature’   of   nationalism.   Imagined   Communities   broke   new   ground  in  that  he  conclusively  showed  how  nationalism  came  to  exist  in  the  manner  it   does   today   through   various   mechanisms,   especially   through   “print-­‐capitalism”.   Anderson  examines,  in  the  context  of  Europe,  how  this  nationalism  came  to  be  imagined   by   those   inhabiting   a   particular   space,   as   well   as   the   means   by   which   forms   of   an   identical   nationalist   imagination   came   to   be   spread   to   every   corner   of   a   particular   1  

Response  4                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              Ghazal  Asif   Professor  Iza  Hussin   nation  and  sovereign  entity.  For  Anderson,  the  nation  is  a  cohesive,  ‘imagined,  political   community—and   imagined   as   both   limited   and   sovereign,’   (Anderson   2006,   6).   With   this   sentence   he   points   to   one   of   the   most   enduring   critiques   of   his   work,   which   have   been  that  the  sovereignty  of  the  nation  as  state,  and  erstwhile  ‘national’  imaginary  can   be  mapped  onto  each  other  easily,  and  that  somehow  the  apparently  organic  spread  of   the   ‘imagined   community’   happened   to   coincide   exactly   with   state   boundaries   as   they   exist   today.   For   Anderson,   it   was   not   particularly   fruitful   to   disentangle   nationalism   from   the   various   nation-­‐states   in   the   world   today,   since   they   were   too   closely   bound   up   with   one   another.   Thomas   Metcalf’s   study   of   the   Raj   shows   demonstrates,   however,   the   problematic  assumptions  made  by  Anderson  herein.   Imperial   Connections   is   a   history   book   not   explicitly   concerned   with   the   rise   of   the   modern   nation-­‐states   that   make   up   the   shores   of   the   Indian   Ocean   today.   As   with   other   historians   and   anthropologists   of   the   Indian   Ocean’s   robust   past,   the   aim   of   scholarship   is   to   “recover   a   lost   world”,   a   world   which   ended   either   with   the   advent   of   European   colonial   adventures,   or   by   the   end   of   the   First   World   War   (as   is   the   case   here).   The   Indian  Ocean  was  a  center  of  much  trade,  interaction  and  activity,  he  suggests  up  until   1920  when  it  all  seemed  to  come  to  an  end.  As  British  imperial  control  was  consolidated   from  Malaya  to  East  Africa,  the  Indian  Ocean  became  a  “British  lake”,  but  still  very  much   the  site  of  much  cross-­‐pollination  of  ideas  and  influences,  as  well  as  commercial  trade   and   labour   activity   in   a   kind   of   “proto-­‐globalisation”.   Fundamentally,   Imperial   Connections   is   a   history   that   seeks   to   upset   conventional   understandings   of   center/periphery   wherein   all   roads   in   the   Empire   led,   separately,   to   London   isolated   from   each   other,   as   a   precursor   to   the   nation-­‐states   that   exist   there   today.   Rather,   Metcalf   demonstrates,   the   world   of   the   Raj   is   better   understood   as   a   ‘web’,   with   various  


Response  4                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              Ghazal  Asif   Professor  Iza  Hussin   nodes—India,  however,  occupying  a  “subimperial”  position  on  that  web  (Metcalf  2007,   8).     India   thus   became   not   only   a   central   reference   point   with   which   to   govern   the   (other)  colonies,  but  also  actively  helped  in  gaining  those  colonies,  as  illustrated  in  the   accounts   of   the   Indian   Army   and   the   recruitment   of   Sikh   soldiers.   Further,   it   was   through   these   other   colonies—notably   East   and   South   Africa—wherein   the   notion   of   ‘India’   as   place   of   belonging   began   to   take   hold,   transcending   the   many   divisions   within   India  itself.  The  notion  of  nationalism  as  inextricably  connected  to  the  condition  of  exile   is  not  only  a  particularly  Saidian  notion  of  belonging,1  but  also  complicates  Andersonian   notions  of  nationalism  spreading  through  the  ‘community’  in  an  organic  form  through   technologies   such   as   print   capitalism.   In   other   ways,   however,   it   also   dovetails   with   the   suggestion   of   ‘top-­‐down’   nationalism   Anderson   put   forward   for   the   postcolony.   Although  Metcalf  complicates  the  ruler/subject  binary  of  Cambridge  School  history,  his   chapter   on   “Constructing   Identities”   makes   it   appear   as   if   post/colonial   community   could   not   have   existed   without   the   interjection   of   colonialism,   going   so   far   as   to   suggest   that  “nationalism  could  grow  only  at  the  expense  of  empire,”  (Metcalf  2007,  210).   Partha   Chatterjee   has   discussed   nationalism   in   detail   in   The  Nation  and  Its  Fragments   with   regard   to   not   only   the   postcolony,   but   especially   “the   evidence   on   anticolonial   nationalism”,   which   are   not   based   on   the   kind   of   growth   of   identification   that   Anderson   argues   for   but   on   the   basis   of   “a   difference   with   the   modular   forms   of   the   national   society  propagated  by  the  modern  West”  (Chatterjee  1993,  5).  In  laying  out  the  aims  of   his   book,   Chatterjee   has   suggested   “the   task   is   to   trace   in   their   mutually   conditioned   historicities   the   specific   forms   that   have   appeared…in   the   domain   defined   by   the   hegemonic   project   of   nationalist   modernity,   and   on   the   other,   in   the   numerous   fragmented   resistances   to   that   normalizing   project,”   (Chatterjee   1993,   13).   One                                                                                                                  
1  Edward  Said’s  concept  of  the  intellectual  in  exile,  and  his  relationship  to  the  place  of  belonging,  are  relevant  here.  


Response  4                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              Ghazal  Asif   Professor  Iza  Hussin   imagines  that  Chatterjee  would  perhaps  object  to  Metcalf’s  connections  of  nationalism   through   exile   and   conditioned   through   the   colonial   experience.   In   Chatterjee’s   framework,   the   importance   of   the   fragment   is   that   it   cannot   be   shaped   through   the   colonial   episteme;   that   it   resisted   the   totalizing   nature   of   the   colonial   imagination.   Metcalf’s   history,   on   the   other   hand,   doubly   implicates   India   within   the   colonial   episteme  as  ‘subimperial’,  as  both  coloniser  and  colonized,  and  as  understanding  itself   as  ‘India’  through  the  colonial  experience.     In   two   appendices   to   the   revised   edition   of   Imagined   Communities,   Anderson   does   address   the   question   of   postcolonial   nationalism.   Rather,   than   assuming   they   simply   followed   the   European   model,   he   now   adds   that   the   postcolonial   states   derived   the   “grammar”   of   their   “official”   nationalism   from   the   preceding   colonial   states,   which   in   turn   impacted   the   difference   between   these   national   communities   and   the   European   ‘models’   (Anderson   2006,   163).   He   then   goes   on   to   discuss   the   forms   that   this   official   nationalism   takes,   considering   in   turn   maps,   the   census,   and   the   museum   as   repositories  of  a  particular  imagination  that  is  derived  from  the  preceding  colonial  state.   Similar   trends   can   be   seen   in   Metcalf’s   analysis   of   Malay   Muslim   as   being   constructed   rather  than  negotiated,  with  the  colonial  regime  by  way  of  India.  Nationalism,  and  sense   of   community,   as   being   produced   only   in   relation   to   the   colonial   power,   thus   come   across  in  both  Metcalf’s  and  Anderson’s  accounts  of  belonging  in  the  colonies,  albeit  in   very   different   ways.   Chatterjee’s   call   for   a   framework   of   mutually   conditioned   and   mutually   complicit   history,   mentioned   above,   is   thus   precisely   what   Anderson’s   understanding   of   the   history   of   the   nation   lacks,   and   what   Metcalf’s   Imperial   Connections  brings  out  so  forcefully  through  the  notion  of  the  ‘subimperial’.