Plunging Kaplan’s Anarchy of Empire

Kaplan, Amy. The Anarchy of Empire in the Making of U.S. Culture. Cambridge, Mass: Harvard University Press, 2002.

Kaplan sets out Anarchy of Empire to answer, fundamentally, “how international struggles for domination abroad profoundly shape representations of American national identity at home, and how, in turn, cultural phenomena we think of as domestic or particularly national are forged in a crucible of foreign relations” (1). “The idea of the nation as home,” she argues, “is inextricable from the political, economic, and cultural movements of empire.” The deconstructive work she does between the home and the foreign becomes heavily reliant on seeing the luminal areas of ambiguity between home and the foreign as places of anarchy, as she places more and more emphasis on her interest “in the way anarchy becomes an integral and constitutive part of empire, central to the representation of U.S. imperialism in dispersed locations and at different historical movements” (13). For Kaplan, “Anarchy is conjured by imperial cultural as a haunting specter that must be subdued and controlled, and at the same time, it is a figure of empire’s undoing” (13). Imperialism, for Kaplan, is understood as “a network of power relations that changes over space and time and is riddled with instability, ambiguity, and disorder, rather than as a monolithic system of domination that the very word “empire” implies” (14). Perhaps it is in this very definition of imperialism that Kaplan is able to see anarchy as a fundamental trait within U.S. imperialism, as a method of control without a center, as an ambiguous regime of power. Manifest Domesticity Domesticity, for Kaplan, “refers not to a static condition, but to a process of domestication, which entails conquering and taming the wild, the natural, and the alien. Domestic in this sense is related to the imperial project of civilizing, and the conditions of domesticity often become markers that distinguish civilization from savagery” (25). The domestic, in this sense, is polarized against the foreign and is thought of as a means of conquering the alien. Kaplan however sets our attention not on this definition, but on domesticity as a discourse, one that, she argues, “both redressed and reenacted the anarchic qualities of empire through its own double movement: to expand female influence beyond the home and the nation, and simultaneously to contract woman’s sphere to that of policing domestic boundaries against the threat of foreignness” (28). In other words, while the sphere of the “angel of the house” has often been thought of in direct opposition to the alien land outside of the domestic sphere, for Kaplan it is the domestic itself that enables ways of conquering foreign lands: “Domesticity’s imperial reach allows the woman’s sphere to include not only the heathen but also the unmarried Euro-American woman, who can be freed from biological reproduction to rule her own maternal empire” (32). To situate her argument, Kaplan focuses on “Colonization in the 1850s” which to her, “had a two-pronged ideology: to expel blacks to a separate national sphere, and to expand U.S. power through the civilizing process; black Christian settlers would become both outcasts from and agents for the American empire” (36). The black female, active in missionary groups as well as organizations meant to assist blacks after emancipation, also had a role to play in civilizing missions. Kaplan states that “the needs of heathen women allow American female missionaries to conquer their own domestic empire without reproducing biologically. Instead, American women are metaphorically cast as men in a cross-racial union, as they sow seed in the bodies of heathen women who will bear Christian children” (42). Indeed, to Kaplan, “domesticity both reenacts and conceals its origins in the violent appropriation of foreign land” (50). Mark Twain Kaplan’s chapter on Mark Twain is probably her most strange, as her focus on Twain seems to struggle to both maintain her larger argument concerning home and the foreign, as well as make an extremely aggressive contribution to how scholars interpret the works of Twain, as she proposes that “the national identity of Mark Twain, his ‘Americanness,’ was forged in an international context of imperial expansion” (52). Specifically, this takes place in Twain’s visit to Hawaii, which “became a site of what Ernest Renan called the necessary forgetting, which is a ‘crucial factor in the creation of a nation.’ For Twain and his nation, it was necessary to forget the interconnections between slavery and imperialism—that is, to remember to forget—in the re-creation of American national identity in the aftermath of the Civil War” (57). She further argues that due to his influences from Hawaii, Twain “turns both the bodies of native women and the remains of the dead into exotic sites for the projection of colonial desire, sites apparently frozen in time and divorced from the historical struggles over colonization in which his journey is enmeshed” (66). These sites of barbarism and atavistic peoples, for Twain, perhaps contributed to his ideas of race relations in the deep South. As Kaplan states, “in the culture of the sugar plantation Twain found striking parallels between the colonization of Hawaii and the changes convulsing the slave-holding South. The remnants of imperial violence that would not stay buried in the Hawaiian landscape evoked uncanny echoes of the ongoing violence of slavery, which was not laid to rest by emancipation” (75). From here, a direct causal line seems to be implied, that “Twain found Hawaii and America closer than he imagined geographically, on a map of an international struggle that linked emancipation and imperialism in creating a coercive system of nonwhite free labor” (79). Romancing the Empire A chapter that perhaps would have made more sense had it come after Manifesting Domesticity than her brief claims concerning Twain’s possible influences, Romance the Empire argues that because the “heroines of the 1890s romances escape from the home to participate in imperial adventures,” femal readers are liberated “from the confines of domesticity to re-domesticate them as spectators enjoying the ‘pleasures of imperialism’” (95). Indeed, women are again placed in a more prominent role in the growth of imperial dominions by the reading of literature and the imaginary roles it provides for female spectators, inviting them to see the native in a foreign way, inciting them towards a narrative of white female reproduction, convincing them that “the self-contained white male body is delineated by its rejection of feminization and racial otherness, but it is mobile and flexible enough to make itself at home anywhere in the world” (106). To forge this way of seeing the other, first a notion of liberation and freedom had to be secured among the readers of popular literature. As Kaplan states: “To be liberated, according to McKinley, meant, as it does in romances, to submit to being rescued, not to make claims for self-government” (110). However, “the imperialist agent…also engages in a form of mimicry in which he does not retrieve an embodied primal self but assumes shifting theatrical roles which undermine his own agency” (116). Novels of this era thus served as a means of passifying possible resistors, marking liberation as a form of complicity with a higher power, a more benign one over a less benign one. Kaplan further explains that “the historical romances of the 1890s “derevolutionize” the Revolution, in Michael Kammen’s terms, not only to mitigate social conflict at home, as he argues, but also to repossess and neutralize the symbols of the American Revolution that served as a usable past for contemporary revolutions abroad” (117). “Revolution in these novels,” she goes on to say “thus becomes a uniquely American heritage lodged firmly in the past, safe from the grasp of minorities and immigrants at home and anticolonial nationalists abroad” (118). Black and Blue on San Juan Hill Perhaps the most noteworthy essay in this collection is this chapter, where Kaplan seeks to prove that “representations of the Spanish-American War had to collapse the thirty-year history separating the two conflicts by waging a discursive battle against Reconstruction” (123). The erasure of African American soldiers emphasizes this collapse, reinforcing her argument: “focusing on conflicting accounts of the famous battle of San Juan Hill, I argue that the spectacle of imperial masculinity was challenged by the presence and writings of African American soldiers” (124). As she says, “black soldiers in blue uniforms raised the whites’ fear that the imperial war meant to heal the rifts of the Civil War would continue to heighten that conflict by recasting it as a global race war. The threat of black soldiers in blue uniforms…lies in their direct representation of American nationhood in lands defined as inhabited by those unfit for self government” (145). Imperial Cartography of Du Bois Through Du Bois’ Darkwater, Kaplan argues that Du Bois “imperial cartography charts the way that the anarchy of empire dissolves the boundaries between the domestic and foreign, he also reimagines forms of transnational collectivity that go beyond the boundaries of colony and empire” (173). Indeed, Darkwater shifts the race question from a domestic issue to “part of a global imperial context” and “centers ‘we black men of American’ as leaders of the darker world, for which the United States serves as a model” (177). As she began with Dubois’ quote concerning the anarchy of empire, so Kaplan ends with Du bois, using his international politics in Darkwater to further show how “the discourse of domesticity holds that the home shapes young citizens for democracy” and that “Du Bois turns it around to show that democracy is built on the foundations of exclusion, the relegation of blacks to the realm of servants and noncitizens” (203). Finally, she concludes: “This utopian notion of future world citizenship depends on turning domestic spaces of the home and the nation inside out, as inadequate sites of social belonging, and positing the new perspective of an imagined global community” (205).

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