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Disjunctions Abstract 2007

"She Breathed Through Him:" Mother Nature and the Phenomenology of Imperialism in Late Victorian Literature

While Edward Said’s contributions to postcolonial theory have been adapted and applied to various readings of imperialism in texts throughout the nineteenth century, these criticisms generally result in observations of characters’ personalities and appearances, a discourse analysis of language (especially in conversation), and of hierarchical positions, institutions, and constructions.  In this sense, the postcolonialist lens has remained faithful to the human aspects of texts, the logos inherent in the presentation of individuals interacting with themselves and each other.  While the study of the mortal world in fiction lends itself to a comprehensive, useful, and critical body of conclusions about the psychological dispositions of the authors, and perhaps the culture as a whole, a thorough analysis of the non-human, the supernatural, and the natural landscape itself may better divulge the subconscious workings of writers. Ecocriticism seems alarmingly applicable, and necessary, in our contemporary culture in which the natural world seems at odds with ideals of human advancement.   However, ecocritical readings of late Victorian texts, such as E.M. Forster’s A Passage to India and Rudyard Kipling’s Kim, also seem necessary since they may further lend insight not only into human nature and power positions of imperialism, but the tension between human and environment.  Tensions of the subaltern will be explored by applying a psychoanalytical lens to nineteenth-century writings on nature in developing countries, using the “nature-talk” of authors as evidence of prejudice against race, culture, and gender.  When nature “speaks” through the language of fiction in imperialistic writing, determining the “unnatural” aspects of society becomes complicated.