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OCTAVE MIRBEAU’S LETTRES DE L’INDE : FICTIONAL HISTORIES AS COLONIAL DISCOURSE
Robert Young defines the imperialist and colonial projects as distinct practices of expansionism: “Colonialism functioned as an activity on the periphery…[I]mperialism on the other hand, operated from the center as a policy of state, driven by the grandiose projects of power” (16-17). Although Mirbeau’s Lettres de l’Inde, a series of 11 letters supposedly written in India but, in truth, composed in France and published in Le Gaulois and the Journal des Débats in 1885 are inspired by what Young calls “grandiose projects of power,” 1 they equally aspire to an analysis of colonial affairs as, supposedly, researched at the periphery. In other words, Mirbeau uses colonial discourse in the hopes of furthering a radically imperialist agenda. Instead of opting for a tract, he seemingly de-politicizes his text by restricting the level of its involvement to that of a sophisticated journal de bord, his political message veiled by the beauty of the landscape and the scandalous suffering of the British-ruled Hindus. Mirbeau’s conflation of the colonial and the imperial as defined by Young allows for the creation of a most powerful discourse, anchored in the authority of spectatorship and suffused by the didacticism of political theory. The two are by no means mutually exclusive; they are, in fact, mutually reinforcing. In Mirbeau’s case, however, it is crucial not to lose sight of the fact that the eyewitness/colonial portion of his project is in its intellectual intent entirely fictitious. Although it is based on a number of historically legitimate textual sources2 and corresponds to historical facts fairly accurately, it uses language not at the moment of its intersection with the material world but rather in view of the latter’s production. Mirbeau’s discourse is not an act of language as historical event, interacting and interrelating with material circumstance (Young 398); it is, on the contrary, what, according to Young, Foucault’s discourse never meant to signify : “Foucault’s very radical notion of discourse is primarily directed away from any form of textualism, textual idealism, texts as disembodied artefacts, or intertextuality, toward a concept of the materiality of language in every dimension” (398). The Lettres de l’Inde series, however, is not “disembodied.” Mirbeau’s text is hosted in a valid discursive body, namely that of newspaper journalism. It is thus reinserted into the larger frame of colonial discourse and as such becomes a locus for generating political power. In other words, a fictional text with a real agenda is manipulated by political power structures in place — Deloncle and his Jules Ferry connection in Mirbeau’s case — into discourse which by definition intersects with material reality generating what is now an excess of power, while the political program is to be cloaked by literature.

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Who, then, assumes the excess of power generated in the fault line of text and material reality ? Young describes imperialism as a dynamic system predicated on the model of capitalist rivalry : “Imperialism was a dynamic, never a static system, and reflected in its international basis the expansive process of production and consumption that mature capitalism had introduced into the world economic structure” (31). Although these capitalist processes of production and consumption are antagonistic in nature, they are all successfully inscribed within the frame of the dynamic system that is imperialism. Antagonism, in other words, does not consume existing power, it, in fact, increases it. Imperialist discourse is, to a certain extent, sustained by political, social, and economic clashes. Young’s discussion of British association as opposed to French assimilation (31-32) as political practice underlines the Foucauldian premise that discourses operate in “unstable environments of change and transformation” (Young 403). In fact, Foucault himself suggests that unstable discursive practices produce power : “ . . . il faut concevoir le discours comme une série de segments discontinus dont la fonction tactique n’est ni uniforme ni stable . . . Le discours véhicule et produit du pouvoir ; il le renforce, mais aussi le mine, l’expose, le rend fragile et permet de le barrer” (Histoire de la sexualité I : La volonté de savoir 133). This argument allows for the assertion that overt colonial antagonism, at times involving warfare, as practiced by colonizing states at the end of the nineteenth century in Africa as well as in the Indian subcontinent and the Far East, was, in fact, not an elimination game but rather an affirmation of imperialist projects. Foucault has argued that knowing and unveiling sexuality empowers societal structures meant to control and subject : “ . . . la sexualité s’est définie comme étant ‘par nature’ : un domaine pénétrable à des processus pathologiques, et appelant donc des interventions de thérapeutiques ou de normalisation ; . . . un foyer de relations causales indéfinies, une parole obscure qu’il faut à la fois débusquer et écouter” (92). The same can be said of knowing, describing and assuming the power of the colonized within the larger frame of colonial antagonism. Penetrability of the other’s space and normalization of his ontological and political status are at the core of colonial discourse. Although practices may differ greatly and at times clash, power is redistributed among the agents of colonization, in part because, as Foucault suggests, cause-effect relations are rationalized in ways that encourage a persistently horizontal expansion — a hierarchically vertical relationship to the racial other could open the door for what Bhabha has defined as colonial mimicry, in other words, “an immanent threat to both ‘normalized’ knowledges and disciplinary powers” (86). This active colonial negotiation then empowers the more abstract, more theoretical imperialist discourse inviting it in turn to inform its own discursive practices creating in truth a closed circuit of signification capable of producing the real : “Il faut cesser de toujours décrier les effets du pouvoir en termes négatifs : il ‘exclut’, il ‘réprime’, il ‘refoule’, il ‘censure’, il ‘abstrait’, il ‘masque’, il ‘cache’. En fait le pouvoir produit ; il produit du réel ; il produit des domaines d’objets et des rituels de vérité. L’individu et la

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connaissance qu’on peut en prendre relèvent de cette production” (Surveiller et punir 196). If oscillation-as-conflict and the ensuing gains and losses is what allows discourses to inhabit given societal and political structures without ever exhausting themselves, then the French distrust of and opposition to British colonial policies as “witnessed” by Mirbeau in India should be interpreted as yet another discourse aimed at solidifying colonial rule. As long as power is negotiated in discursive modes that exclude the racial other by revealing him, the discovery of the “pauvre petit hindou,” victim of the British, empowers both colonial rulers’ imperialist project by means of discursive and linguistic subjection. As Foucault suggests, there is nothing discursively negative about the victimization of the colonized. It is, in fact, a fairly productive practice insofar as it covertly advocates colonial confrontation which will subsequently yield power. In the subject’s discontent and resistance the Frenchman does not discern a desire to assume the excess of colonial power but rather a cry for help. Mirbeau’s letters fabricate a historical moment’s authenticity under the false pretence of knowledge proving that colonial discourses, although never “disembodied imaginative representation[s],” (Young 400) may develop languages capable of producing History. Once reinserted into the real by means of valid discursive media — serious journalism in Mirbeau’s case — they are as effective in their exercise of power as any other discursive manifestation of the material world. Mirbeau’s Lettres de l’Inde textually stage the dynamic oscillation Foucault and Young discuss by both opposing and praising the British colonial model. The first letter which is supposedly written on board the Saghalien as it approaches Egypt is a good example of what appears to be vehement anti-British criticism and naïve pro-French propaganda : “[l’Egypte] s’attriste par la dureté du spectacle d’une population affamée, rongée par la vermine anglaise, sans espoir et sans lendemain” (27). The author concludes : “Et nous nous disons que les Anglais ont beau occuper Port Saïd, Ismaïlia, Suez lui-même, depuis que nous avons Rass-Sejan, depuis qu’ils sont impuissants à tenir la mer Rouge, leur occupation du canal n’est qu’un leurre” (28). Although both quotes seem to detect and castigate British weaknesses in colonizing practices and accept a de facto superiority of the French, they, in fact, suggest a rift not between France and its rival, but rather between the two colonizers and the indigenous population. The sublime, symbolical Egypt rising over its own people and lamenting their fate is a very effective colonial discursive strategy insofar as it multiplies the distance between the colonized people and the French onlooker. We are left to assume that if the French were in charge of Egypt, that same disembodied entity, a relic of its past and a projection of exoticism at the same time, would have mediated the narrator’s discourse. In other words, the nationality of the colonizer is irrelevant to the subjection of the Egyptian people as colonial practice. This is further substantiated by the complete effacement of the land and the people in the narrator’s appraisal of power distribution in the area, a prediction that assumes two players and the impossibility of local involvement. The

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phantom of Egypt is exactly that : a theoretical notion useful to the British and the French as discursively oscillating object and as the necessary Foucauldian anchor in reality. The narrator’s report from Ceylon further disconnects the colonized from his presence on the colonized land. In the fourth letter, the reader follows Mirbeau’s account of the Modeliar princes’ history since colonization which is, of course, suffused with British injustice and wrongdoing. This is a heavily annotated text meant to demystify and historicize a locus of exotic literature. What the letter in fact achieves is further mystification of the metropolitan reader who witnesses the past come to life through the narrator’s literal eyes: Je revoyais le dernier prince de Candy, assassiné sur cette marche devant la Dent auguste, par un soldat anglais ; puis je m’imaginais Ceylan revivant sa vie nationale, et ce temple où j’étais redevenant le centre politique de l’île, tandis que les Modéliars, s’en allant, un à un, venaient tous me serrer la main comme s’ils sentaient que quelque chose de leur rêve avait passé dans moi. (54) The choice of a Buddhist temple as setting, the explicit references to local mytho-theology as well as the quasi-mystical intellectual and emotional kinship between the narrator and the indigenous people assign divine attributes to him. Being different in both kind and degree from the Modeliars, the battle he will fight on their behalf will necessarily exclude them. The power generated by the clash between the Frenchman and the Englishman, a conflict which becomes possible thanks to what is posited as concrete knowledge of the other’s culture, will be redistributed along the horizontal axis of colonial expansionism. When the narrator says that there exists, “dans toutes ces villes de sages et doux hommes, la menace et l’effroi d’un canon anglais, toujours braqué,” he assumes inertia among the colonized, a deficiency of agency which renders his intervention inevitable. The difference in kind highlighted in the previously discussed passage is here reinforced by the emphasized incompatibility between the local people’s character and the colonizer’s technological superiority, a logically flawed argument, but one which furthers Mirbeau’s colonial discourse, this time by rationalizing French involvement: without the help of the French, the indigenous people will never be able to anchor themselves in the reality of colonial affairs. This, however, is not the only reason why the French should expand their colonies in the subcontinent. When the narrator arrives in Pondichéry he makes the following observation: “Oh ! qu’il fait doux retrouver la langue de France, le pavillon qui flotte sur le mât des signaux et domine bien haut cette terre française de l’Inde, cette patrie qui nous sourit comme une vieille amie ! Il semble que l’air est moins pesant, la terre plus libre, l’homme moins courbé . . .” (57). Appropriating the other’s land is only at the surface of the narrator’s project. The most narratively fascinating aspect of this passage is the insidious reconfiguration of the city’s human face : the language of the land is apparently French, its stylistic transformation into an old friend assumes

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the presence of familiar faces, and the feeling of freedom is much more reminiscent of a postrevolutionary French city than it is of a colonized Asian one. Once again, it is very hard if not impossible to discern the actual inhabitants of Pondichéry. And although this nationalistic outburst appears to target the English, it really only ensures the perpetuation of colonial rule in the area, since an obliterating colonizing force is always displacing and spatially deferring the colonized, be it the English canons or the sweet sound of the French language. The letter closes on an aural image, more powerful in its discursive effect than anything Mirbeau has previously described: “Et du côté de la caserne, où se tiennent les élégantes créoles de Pondichéry, la musique des cipayes joue le God save the Queen et la Marseillaise” (63). The following letter, entitled L’Hindou, suggests the possibility of a revolt. It is the first time that Indian inertia is mitigated by the potential of an uprising leading to a poorly defined independence from the British. Mirbeau foresees the following historical circumstance for such an event to take place: “ . . . si jamais, comme on l’écrit et comme on le dit dans ce pays, une guerre éclate entre l’Angleterre et la Russie pour la possession de l’Inde, on sera bien étonné en Europe, de l’attitude nouvelle des Hindous, et l’ébranlement qui s’ensuivra refera peut-être, dans l’histoire, la page immortelle de l’indépendance hellénique” (69). The French would not be involved in such conflict but they would be expected to take sides: “ . . . [les indigènes] n’en comptent pas moins sur notre intervention pacifique, quand l’heure sera venue” (70). This is, however, a very problematic emancipation narrative. The seeming reappearance of the indigenous people is radically undercut by the lack of agency. The role assigned to them is clearly defined by the colonizer’s political agenda. Rivalry between Russia and Great Britain is what sustains French aspirations in the area. France’s hope is to appropriate the power generated by the AngloRussian conflict. Power will not be distributed to or shared with the emancipated people; British rule will be displaced by the “peaceful” presence of the French allowing once again for horizontal absorption of excess by the same agent that created it, namely colonial discourses. Mirbeau’s text plays an active role in the proliferation and affirmation of such discourses insofar as it stages potential conflicts the what-if analysis of which solidifies the working assumption of any discourse, the controlled and contained distribution of power. At the core of the uprising scenario is the assumption of knowledge: knowing and revealing the other relegates him/her to a de facto state of subjugation. Homi Bhabha has argued in The Location of Culture that stereotyping is a complex discursive practice : Stereotyping is not the setting up of a false image which becomes the scapegoat of discriminatory practices. It is a much more ambivalent text of projection and introjection, metaphoric and metonymic strategies, displacement, overdetermination, guilt, aggressivity; the masking and splitting of ‘official’ and

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phantasmatic knowledges to construct the positionalities and oppositionalities of racist discourse. (81-82) Mirbeau’s phantasmatic yet official knowledge of the Hindu, the Veddah and the Afghan is at the core of a discourse meant to solidify, to use Bhabha’s words, colonial positionalities within a radically racial frame of oppositionality. His description of the Veddah is predicated on the myth of the bon sauvage. In the fourth letter, the Veddah is a lyrical poet who lives “dans les antres de cette nature inculte et magnifique” (51). The Afghan, on the other hand, is scientifically known: “Vous me pardonnerez de vous fournir quelques données scientifiques sur cette nation très peu connue” (74). The facts that follow are either elements of Afghan foundational mythologies or a blend of racially tinted behavioral characteristics and political and social shortcomings (75-76). Contrary to the Veddahs, however, the Afghans have a political role to play in colonial affairs, hence the lengthy diatribe on their potential revolt against the British, which would primarily result from the colonizer’s inability to understand them. The British see nothing human in them: “Pour [l’Anglais], ce ne sont pas des hommes, mais des troupeaux qui rapportent tant par tête et doivent deumerer dans l’abjection, comme de vulgaires parias du sud” (77). The Afghan, however, lives for vengeance (76) and is very likely to side with Russia in order to avenge national humiliation (78). In other words, whether politically useful or simply strange, the other is positioned at a considerable distance from the narrative — and imperialist — center. He is geographically removed, but also culturally distinct. As Bhabha has argued, however, stereotyping the other is not a monolithic practice. It presupposes a parallel repositioning of the center. In Mirbeau’s case, that center is not unique. It is occupied by multiple and numerically unstable sub-centers apparently antagonistic but, in truth, mutually strengthening. The loss of British influence in the area is a case of metonymic power transference justified by the radical racist oppositionality between the Afghan or Veddah and the colonizer. Whether it is British ignorance of local character or carefully calculated orchestration of national conflicts by the French that motivate unrest in the Afghan country, power generated by warfare will be redistributed within the center, repositioning discursive elements, renaming and reconfiguring oppositionalities, without, however, exhausting the discourse. According to Mirbeau, the Afghan language has codified colonial discursive practices : “Je connais un proverbe afghan qui dit: ‘Mieux vaut deux poux russes qu’une puce anglaise” (76). The use of racial otherness as part of complex subjugation practices is amplified in Mirbeau’s presentation of the Hindu : “L’Hindou n’est pas comme le Français ou l’Anglais, un homme d’une seule origine. L’Inde comprend d’innombrables races, différentes entre elles du tout au tout” (65). Although it appears that this passage unproblematically separates the discursive object from the analyzing subject, rendering, thus, the hitherto covert, mostly symbolic, obliteration of the local people more concrete, it shifts the discursive frame of the sub-

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centers’ interdependency from politics to race. It suggests that colonial endeavors are at least partially justified by the superiority of racial purity which, although a widespread propaganda argument, has not been Mirbeau’s obvious theoretical reference. It also implies emulation of the British imperialist model insofar as it promotes the white man’s burden agenda. How are we to reconcile Mirbeau’s fervent anti-British rhetoric with a shift in tone that appears to accommodate the rival ? Addressing this question invites the use of Bhabha’s concept of phantasmatic knowledges as an operational model. Mirbeau is basing his social theory of India on Gobineau’s Essai sur l’inégalité des races.3 He echoes Gobineau when he suggests that India’s power resides in its cast system : “Rien, rien d’humain ne détruira cette immobilité sublime, qui fait sa force et son salut, ni les armées et leurs canons, ni les banques et leurs caisses. Ils sont venus les Anglais ; ils peuvent venir les Moscovites : l’Hindou se courbera et laissera passer l’effroyable tempête” (68). Not only is knowledge of the Hindu masked by its textual source but it is also split by the antagonistic intentionality of the colonial discourse. The British appears to be centrally positioned by means of his racial similarity to the French only to be relegated to an unsuccessfully conflicted periphery where a fundamentally racial oppositionality between the European and the local is operative. As it has already been shown, such oppositionalities reposition the colonizer in the center and power generated in the process alternatively benefits the sub-centers. In other words, a seemingly radical shift in language is no more than an amplified metonymic strategy of displacement. Rhetorical clashes between the British and the French, such as their diverging philosophical interpretations of cast (71), aim at the same official knowledge of the other, a phantasmatic creation which introduced in political practice acquires the legitimacy of power. Emulating the antagonist, either indirectly or as obviously as Mirbeau’s suggestion in the eleventh letter that the French follow the sunnud model (94) of government, is part of Bhabha’s ambivalent text of projection and introjection, a discourse of expansion and retraction meant to manage and absorb excesses of power at the periphery. This pulsating motion of expansion and retraction is metaphorically embodied by one of the most important peripheral players in late nineteenth-century colonial matters, namely China. Mirbeau’s discussion of the political importance of the Tchambi valley is revealing: On peut dire que c’est un coin que la Chine a enfoncé entre le Sikkim et le Boutan, dans l’Inde anglaise, presque jusqu’aux limites du Bengale. Jalousement gardée, âprement défendue, reculant insensiblement, et jour par jour, les bornes de son territoire, elle constitue un des phénomènes les plus curieux de cette politique chinoise, qui s’étend partout comme une lèpre, et qui sait, même quand elle perd des empires, se ménager une entrée dérobée, un accès qu’on ne peut lui ravir, au centre même des territoires perdus. (92)

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Chinese colonial practices, although presented as radically other, are eerily reminiscent of French and British politics — the leper metaphor is a metonymic stand-in for the British elsewhere metaphorically associated to vermin in particular and disease in general (letters I and IV). Although in China’s case it would be impossible to tell where the center ends and the periphery begins, the same power generating oscillation that defines European colonial politics is at the core of its expansion. Acknowledging the Chinese threat and describing it in rhetorical and imagistic terms paralleling those used to illustrate colonial antagonism between France and Great Britain, implicitly signifies acceptance of the two competitors’ interdependence and mutual reliance for the advancement of their national colonial projects. If China, as other, embodies one type of colonial discourse, no matter how similar to the one developed by the British and the French, the clash of the two colonial models not only justifies European expansion but it equally allows for power generation by multiplying conflicts and thus creating new loci of distribution. What makes these practices discursively effective is their anchoring in material reality. According to both Young and Foucault, colonial discourse is textually fabricated at the center as imperialist ideology but practically implemented at the periphery by legitimate military, governmental, commercial, and economic structures. Why, then, would a series of fictional letters warrant analysis as discourse ? They are fundamentally textual in both nature and inspiration, there is an obvious stylistic attempt at the a-political, and, most importantly, they were not written at the periphery, they were, in fact, composed at the center. However immaterial Mirbeau’s letters appear to be, their publication in newspapers as a reporter’s account of historical events allows for the participation of a fictional text in shaping colonial policy. Mirbeau may have never set foot in India, but it is difficult to deny the literal materiality of his letters as well as their discursive effect in solidifying expansionism. In other words, Mirbeau’s letters could have potentially contributed to the advent of observable and recordable historical events. Whether they did or not is beyond the scope of this study, but it is problematic to reject the possibility. In that sense Lettres de l’Inde is imperialist discourse, produced at the center with a clear political agenda, with the added advantage of colonial legitimacy, doubly effective, in other words, as ideology a posteriori recounted as historical truth. Mirbeau uses a number of different narrative strategies to ensure the textual legitimacy expected from an eyewitness’s account. The first letter is dated (“23 janvier 1885”) and although en route to India the location is mentioned as well (Aden), in observance of the fundamental conventions of letter writing. The second letter is centered around an interview of Arabi-Pacha, the founder of Egypt’s National Party and instigator of Egyptian resistance against the British in the early 1880s.4 This is not the only time Mirbeau fictitiously interviews an important political figure in his series of letters. He also visits the Myingun prince, son of the Burmese king Mindon Min who was displaced by British occupation of Lower Burma.5 Both interviews are reported in

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direct speech, typographically dialogical and content-wise authenticated by Mirbeau’s assertion that he speaks both Arabic (36) and Hindi (59). The Myingun prince interview is introduced by the following disclaimer: “Je n’ai voulu ni poétiser ni dramatizer le récit, tenant au contraire, à lui conserver sa saveur de simplicité” (59). Mirbeau annotates his own text not to conceal its lack of authenticity — his sources (Notes de l’Inde and Deloncle’s reports) guarantee a sufficient degree of historical accuracy — but mainly to discursively frame the content of his interlocutor’s speech, to assign truth value to what in both cases is condemnation of British colonial policies and adulation of the French, which, as it has been shown, ultimately increases the colonial subcenters’ power. The Arabi-Pacha interview is revealing of the discursive advantage Mirbeau’s letters have: although part of the interview is taken verbatim from Deloncle’s report on ArabiPacha, the section on the Mahdi is entirely different.6 Mirbeau updates the information available to him based on events that have taken place between Deloncle’s report and the time of composition. In other words, he inserts elements of present historical reality in a fictional text based on the textual version of past historical events, empowering the imperialist center he writes for with the gift of insight translatable into political capital to be used for the further development of colonial discourses. Another strategy Mirbeau uses to ensure discursive legitimacy is the incorporation of information as it supposedly appears in the press. At the beginning of the fourth letter Mirbeau reports from Ceylon a sudden change of plans: Je me proposais de vous écrire encore longuement sur l’île admirable que j’habite depuis huit jours. Mais les graves nouvelles que publie le Times of Ceylan [sic] sur l’agitation soulevée dans l’Inde par la nouvelle de la chute de Khartoum et l’occupation russe de Pendjeh, en Afghanistan, vont m’obliger à résumer mes impressions et à partir précipitamment pour l’Inde, où la situation semble devenir critique. (49) This newsflash is a less than subtle reminder of both verifiable events occurring during the reporter’s supposed stay in India and the dominating British presence on the island. It is worth noting that although the information is provided by a source Mirbeau has no reason to trust, at least according to the unenthusiastic picture of the British he, himself, has been painting all along, he unquestionably vouches for its reliability by organizing the rest of his journey around it. Whether this report is part of Mirbeau’s strategy to anchor his text in History or a turn of events necessary to the continuation of his narrative is, to a large extent, beside the point. The Times of Ceylan is a valid colonial discursive medium: published at the periphery, it is an expression of power and an agent of its proliferation. Information is distributed by two seemingly rivaling but in truth complementary sources: the British colonial newspaper and the French imperialist press.

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The spelling mistake — although by no means the only one in Mirbeau’s letters — illustrates the discursive potential of what appears to be political tension between two colonial powers. Although a significant number of Mirbeau’s letters are more or less overtly pro-colonial, it would be very difficult to classify letters VIII and IX as even remotely political — the section on the inhabitants of Sikkim notwithstanding). They describe at length the natural beauty of Darjiling and marvel at the philosophical integrity of Buddhism. These two letters have been read as the westerner’s desire to lose himself in nirvana — hence Mirbeau’s signature: initially Nirvana and then just the letter N. Christian Petr argues that “les lettres de Mirbeau inscrivent dans notre littérature une nouvelle tentation du sujet occidental: celle d’aller en Inde disparaître en tant qu’entité psychologique . . .” (336). Despite the fact that Petr’s article discerns no political dimension in Mirbeau’s text, this particular observation carries significant political and, in particular, colonial meaning. The description of Darjiling is so exaggeratedly poetic that it clearly transcends the actual landscape. I would argue that, contrary to Petr’s interpretation, the Darjiling chapters attempt the articulation of a rather philosophically oriented colonial discourse : discovering and exploring Buddhist philosophy is certainly more than an orientalist novelty ; it is, in fact, a spiritual retelling of the inaugural colonial narrative, only, this time, it is not the promise of a new world but that of a new, post-psychological self that motivates expansion. Mirbeau’s Lettres de l’Inde, although fictional, produce significant discursive effects: by pretending to know the colonized other and assuming responsibility for excess of power as it is produced at the fault line of colonial antagonism, they facilitate its redistribution among colonial sub-centers, in this particular case Great Britain and France. The fact that a text with such a problematic relationship to reality does in fact participate in actual discourses thanks to its medium, namely journalism, legitimizes the assumption that it may, at any given time, cluster with or clash against equally fictitious texts producing real events at multiple removes from reality. Is the use of the word discourse justified in such an eventuality ? To the extent that, according to Foucault, power is in essence restrictive7, restraining the limits of verifiability should be acknowledged as a perfectly acceptable practice : its discursive effect is no other than the intensification of the search for verifiable truth, a quest on the one hand bound to failure by its very philosophical nature, but on the other hand productive in its incitement for creation and proliferation of structures apparently meant to ensure its success, but, in truth, guaranteeing the inexhaustibility of the discourse at hand. Ioanna CHATZIDIMITRIOU University of California, Irvine

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1

NOTES

Mirbeau’s fictional letters were published with help from Deloncle whose clear political agenda was the intensification of colonization. The journalistic fortunes of Mirbeau’s letters are discussed in detail by Pierre Michel and Jean-François Nivet in the préface to their edition of Lettres de l’Inde. 2 Mirbeau’s most important sources are Deloncle’s 17 voluminous reports addressed to the president of the Jules Ferry Council (Lettres de l’Inde, preface, 11). Other sources include Robert de Bonnières’ Notes sur l’Inde and Haeckel’s Lettres d’un voyageur en Inde. 3 see note 115, p. 108 4 see note 25, p.99 5 see note 103, p.106 6 see note 34, pp.99-100 7 “Le pouvoir, comme pure limite tracée à la liberté, c’est, dans notre société au moins, la forme générale de son acceptabilité” (Histoire de la sexualité I: La volonté de savoir 114).

Works Cited Bhabha, Homi. The Location of Culture. London: Routledge, 1994. Foucault, Michel. Histoire de la sexualité I: La volonté de savoir. Collection Tel. Paris: Gallimard, 1976. ---. Surveiller et punir : Naissance de la prison. Paris: Gallimard, 1975. Michel, Pierre and Jean-François Nivet. Préface. Lettres de l’Inde. By Octave Mirbeau. Eds. Pierre Michel and Jean-François Nivet. Paris: L’Echoppe, 1991. 7-23. Mirbeau, Octave. Lettres de l’Inde. Eds. Pierre Michel and Jean-François Nivet. Paris: L’Échoppe, 1991. Petr, Christian. “L’être de l’Inde.”, Cahiers Octave Mirbeau 4 (1997): 329-337. Young, Robert. Postcolonialism : An Historical Introduction. Oxford: Blackwell, 2001.

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