Mud, mortar, and other technologies of empire.
Eighteenth Century: Theory and Interpretation Summer ,
Midway through Samuel Johnson's Rasselas (1759), the protagonist asks of his teacher, Imlac: "By what means are the Europeans thus powerful? or why, since they can easily visit Asia and Africa for trade and conquest, cannot the Asiatics and Africans invade their coasts, plant colonies in their ports, and give laws to their natural princes? The same wind that carries them back would bring us thither?" Imlac replies with an object lesson in ideology: "They are more powerful than we because they are wiser; knowledge will always predominate over ignorance ... but why their knowledge is more than ours, I know not what reason can be given, but the unsearchable will of the Supreme Being." (1) Imlac's invocation of this "will" effectively dismisses Rasselas's rather reasonable question. The idea that rational thought belonged solely to the province of Enlightened Europe had assumed its hegemonic status by the mid-eighteenth century, and Johnson is only articulating what seems a self-evident reason for European power. The reason, however, that informs both question and answer has shifted historically. As an empirical form, reason slides from the transparency with which Johnson endows the "great number of the northern and western nations of Europe ... which are now in possession of all power and all knowledge" to the privilege post-colonial readers of the twenty-first century place on the logic of Rasselas's question. This slide is produced through a series of issues that determine the place of European countries against the nations of Asia and Africa, the same slide that lets us talk about Reason as a reason.
Historians and anthropologists interested in the history of empire have invoked Johnson's sentiment, using this moment to illustrate variously the ways in which European hegemony operated in the eighteenth century. Jack Goody, for example, uses this exchange to historicize European ethnocentrism: comparing this telling moment in Johnson to another one in Shakespeare's Richard II demonstrates, for Goody, reason as the triumphant discourse that successfully proves Occidental superiority. (2) The same Johnsonian moment functions very differently for Niall Ferguson. In his sweeping history, Empire: The Rise and Demise of the British World Order and the Lessons for Global Power, Rasselas's question appears only as an epigraph to the chapter "Why Britain?," presumably as irrefutable proof of reason as an a priori European phenomenon. (3) I want to resist the self-image of the "Enlightenment" as it was developed in seventeenth- and eighteenth-century Europe, and as it has been extended in academic and cultural work since. Ultimately, I want to suggest that the "Enlightenment" values and socio-political norms prized by modernity also have roots in cultures and geographies other than Europe, and that progressive values claimed as products of the European Enlightenment exclusively have genealogies and origins elsewhere. In fact, the intellectual and ideological focus on the socio-political attainments of the "Enlightenment" as purely the product of Europe attests to the triumph of European colonialism.
A progressive understanding of Western history of the sort Ferguson offers uncovers the ways in which scientific knowledge, mechanical expertise, and technological development contribute to the increase of material wealth via new forms of commerce, and that ultimately these riches are sublimated into an epistemology sanctioned by reason and divine will alike. If, however, we excavate the idea of progress from this narrowly Eurocentric teleological model and attend to other, more global, histories, then we may be able to restore a necessary complexity to the competing technologies of empire. (4) Although historians effectively have deployed this moment in Johnson's Oriental tale, a closer look at the rhetoric may uncover an even more compelling epistemological history. The "same wind" that has the capacity to blow ships of all nations into lucrative ports presents a logical quandary to proponents of Imlac's logic. If this wind has the potential to establish commercial, technological, and epistemological connections among different cultures (in this case, the nations of Asia and Africa), why is there a need for epistemological mastery? What fears, in other words, articulated here by an eighteenth-century British writer's understanding of an "Asiatic or African" standpoint, are embedded in a conceptual relativism that needs to be swept under the generalized rubric of an "unsearchable," and, therefore, unchartered "will"?
Uncovering the early history of the shift toward Western scientific hegemony has been traditionally understood as a progress narrative, a chronological succession of accumulated knowledge culminating in a grand imperial telos. (5) Reading disparate reports, journal entries, letters, diaries, and log-books written by various merchants, soldiers, doctors, travellers, scientists, and scholars may help uncover ways in which to dismantle--or at least complicate--this progression. More importantly, such recovery may identify different, non-Eurocentric discourses that the British used to make sense of new spaces they encountered in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries.
The ideological lesson Imlac teaches Rasselas is one that has to be rhetorically structured. Even if Rasselas were to convince Imlac of the various capacities for restoring epistemological agency to Asiatic and African nations, the trope doesn't work. The "same wind," in fact, does not blow in any static fashion. That "same" wind is subject to different currents, different directions, and harnessing the "wind that carries them back" to bring "us thither" would involve different ways of charting courses, sailing ships, forms of currency, forms of knowledge-in short, a different techne. Rasselas's question and Imlac's answer can only be articulated by Johnson through his assumptions about commerce, technology, and epistemology, and a larger assumption about the reciprocity of these cultural practices. Johnson's articulation reflects, therefore, his and his culture's fears and anxieties about a different techne. The putative ease with which these Europeans navigate the seas to "visit" Asiatic and African nations masks the necessity for "trade and conquest." That is, for Britons seeking to supplement their meager island resources with trade, such visitations are necessary. For those Asiatic and African nations, however, there is no need for a comparable search because there is no need for such supplements. The same structure of desire is not in place; there is no transcendent sense of reciprocity necessarily governing the asymmetrical relationships between Europe, Asia, and Africa. These nations are themselves self-sufficient, autonomous, and free-standing. The possibility of conquering European nations cannot present itself as a possibility to them not because of Europe's epistemological mastery but because trade implies an economic exchange that seems not to have been historically in place. (6) Contrary to most (European) estimations of the limitless capacities for their trade with Asiatic and African nations, Western Europe had very little to offer in the way of commodities. Especially in terms of manufactured goods, Europe and England had little effect on Asian markets and on the fashion sensibility of their courts. By comparison, Asian goods had a profound influence on European markets, shaping the consumerist practices and tastes at a very rapid rate. (7)
Kenneth Pomeranz argues that the historical accounts of the putative divergence between the development of European overseas commercial practices and those of the rest of the old world, particularly in Asia and particularly pre-nineteenth-century, may not be as profound as it has been otherwise represented. The formation of joint-stock companies and partnerships that Western Europeans favored for the management of overseas trade facilitated, for them, the management of enormous cargoes and trading expeditions that would, according to their calculations, be far too large for a single investor. "By contrast," Pomeranz writes, "a Chinese junk trading in Southeast Asian waters typically carried the stock of many different merchants, and those merchants or their agents were onboard serving as crewmembers and receiving cargo space in lieu of wages." Such a system, he continues,</p> <pre> made perfect sense in light of the monsoon winds on these routes. Since one could not return home until the winds reversed themselves, one could not drastically reduce the amount of time spent in port(s). A group of land-based entrepreneurs who used all the cargo space themselves or rented in for cash would have found themselves paying enormous wage bills to support professional sailors during the long stays on shore. It made more sense to make many shorter stops and have crewmembers who could and did occupy themselves in buying and selling cargo in each port. (8) </pre> <p>The structure of Asian (in this case, Chinese) overseas commerce, at least as long as ships relied upon sails for their power, is one that defies European logic. That logic imagines the same pattern of winds across different commercial terrains. Asian systems, by contrast, are acutely aware of wind patterns and exploit their commercial activity with those differences in mind. Certainly their trade was not with Europeans or the British but with other lucrative ports of the Indian Ocean. In other words, while the "same wind" blows lucrative commodities into the English marketplace, the converse is not true. If there was no need on the part of African and Asiatic nations to exchange their materials and technologies with the British, for whom African and Asiatic material and techne were crucial to national and cultural survival, then the only means for the British to secure supply routes was through conquest. (9)
Given eighteenth-century British interest in cartography and taxonomy, it seems as if Johnson would have produced a more efficient answer to Rasselas's question, one that would have attended more closely to the specific material reasons for European commercial, technological, and epistemological dominance than Imlac's vague reply. My question has to do with what gets swept under the aegis of the "unsearchable will." Eighteenth-century Britain was deeply invested in searching, naming, understanding, collecting, and, most importantly, seeking purchase in the world around them. The "Supreme Being," variously named but most often invoked as a form of Providence, seems curiously unchartered
in Johnson's representation, an articulation of the failures of taxonomic or cartographic language to represent the misfortunes of British exploration, or the breakdown of commercial exchange. Were there concrete issues with Asiatic and African trade that threatened the British presence in a global marketplace? Is there evidence that British goods and British technology did not measure up to Asiatic and African standards? What implications would such a comparison present to an English audience deeply addicted to new commodities apparently flooding their markets? (10) What economic conditions would drive an eighteenth-century man of letters to use the genre of the Oriental tale to teach lessons in imperialism?
Throughout the eighteenth century, several members of the British East India Company stationed in India reported their discoveries of native scientific and technological practices to the Royal Society. Their representations of these practices almost always focused on the miraculous or marvelous nature of technological discoveries. Several reports describe their encounters with exotic substances. Isaac Pyke, Governor of St. Helena, writes on the manufacture of mortar in Madras, composed of "sand and lime mixed with jaggery, gram, and myrabulens waters," that when "beaten and mixed together" lay every brick "very well," unlike "the common English mortar." Plaster, made up of "one gallon of Toddy, a pint of butter-milk, so much fine Chinam," forms a "stucco-work" that surpasses any known European composition, particularly "Plaister of Paris ... in smoothness and beauty," as durable as "marble." (11) Helenus Scott, a doctor, suggests, "You will think the paper for replacing noses on those who have lost them an extraordinary one. I hope to send you by the later ships some of the Indian cement [caute] for uniting animal parts." (12) Less dramatically, he sends "a piece of cinnabar of this country which is made in masses of 100 lb. weight," having "frequently tried to make cinnabar by the methods recommended in Europe," but having "not been able to procure any so far, as the Indian at one operation." (13)
Likewise the manufacture of ice, an improbable task for many of these writers, is successfully produced by burying porous clay vessels of water in pits filled with reeds, salt, and salt-petre. Having "never heard of any persons having discovered natural ice in the pools or cisterns or in any waters collected in the roads," Sir Robert Barker begs "permission to present to you with the method by which it was performed at Allahabad, Mootegil, and Calcutta." His reasoning, employing ideas about temperature and the measurement of climate, follows:</p>
<pre> From these circumstances it appears, that water, by being placed in a situation free from receiving heat from other bodies, and exposed in large surfaces to the air, may be brought to freeze when the temperature of the atmosphere is some degrees above the freezing point on the scale of FAHRENHEIT'S thermometer; and by being collected and amassed into a large body, it is thus preserved, and rendered fit for freezing other fluids, during the severe heats of the summer season. In effecting which there is also an established
mode of proceeding; the sherbets, creams, or whatever other fluids
are intended to be frozen, are confined in thin silver cups of a
conical form, containing about a pint, with their covers well luted
on with paste, and placed in a large vessel filled with ice, salt-petre, and common salt, of the two last an equal quantity, and
a little water to dissolve the ice and combine the whole. This
composition presently freezes the contents of the cups to the same
consistency of our ice creams, &tc., in Europe; but plain water
will become so hard as to require a mallet and knife to break it.
Upon applying the bulb of a thermometer to one of these pieces of
ice, thus frozen, the quicksilver has been known to sink two or
three degrees. (14) </pre> <p>From "an atmosphere too mild to produce natural ice, ice shall be formed, collected, and a cold accumulated, that shall cause the quicksilver to fall even below the freezing point," Barker reports excitedly. The "promising advantages" he identifies make profitable a "short duration of cold" to "alleviate the intense heats of the summer season, which, in some parts of India, would scarce be supportable, but by the assistance of this and many other inventions." Such profit, more importantly, stimulated by the "Asiatic, whose principal study is the luxuries of life," could capitalize on the benefit of European visitors. (15) Barker's allusion to these studies and inventions, his careful and detailed reproduction of scientific methodology, and his measurement of Indian scientific results with European instruments (the thermometer, the Fahrenheit system), while implying that European scientific method can verify foreign techne, also suggests an acknowledgment of the existence of different sciences and technologies, and, furthermore, an understanding of the paucity of English or European methodologies.
Many of these substances are neither exotic or alien, yet these writers endow them--cinnabar, mortar, plaster, surgical glue, ice--with mystical properties: hundreds of pounds of cinnabar from a single sublimation, mortar finer than any English equivalent, plaster acquiring the hardness and durability of marble, cement having the capacity to reattach body parts, and vast quantities of ice made from no enduring source of chill. Even the absence of substance is mystified (and, I might add, this particular example functions like mortar and surgical glue). Scott has been "for several years attentive to the methods used by the natives of this country for dyeing their cotton cloths," and thinks that he has "discovered the singular circumstance" that gives "permanency to the colour which is so much admired [by Europeans]." Yet he is "unable to give any theory of the operation of the chief Substance they use" except to suggest that "a cloth is wetted with an infusion of it [the mysterious substance] and a solution of alum," the result of which renders "cloth and colouring ... ever afterwards inseparable.... If this appears to you a matter of consequence as the cotton manufactures are now in so flourishing a condition in England I shall at some future period communicate more particularly their method to you." Scott's query at the conclusion of this letter is typical of his relationship to Joseph Banks and the Royal Society in general: he wishes for their sanction, to be one of the soldiers of England's scientific and epistemological fortune, and to contribute to the continued success of English manufacture. Scott does, however, make an implicit critique of the "flourishing" condition of English cotton mills. The "chief Substance" that renders such "permanency" of color to cloth is plainly absent from English methods of dyeing. The failure to render a more particular communication of this method, in spite of his well-trained empirical eye, speaks to a larger failure on the part of these cartographic adventurers to comprehend what they were seeing. While the result of the process was clearly evident--textiles saturated with brilliant and fast color--the "chief Substance" remains mystified, perhaps because Scott could not see or, more importantly, recognize the nature of this substance. The failure of analytical reason to make this "chief Substance" visible, therefore, made his secession to the authority of this Indian operation necessary. (16)
Why do these writers use the transformation of base material to wondrous substance as a model for their accounts to the Royal Society? It is important to remember that these accounts constitute proper specimens of the "Indian arts," according to Helenus Scott in the same letter to Joseph Banks, that encourage him to find himself "sufficiently repaid if [the Royal Society] thinks [he] has contributed anything to the interests of science." Furthermore, "should anything [he] transmits appear worthy of printing, [he] can have no objection to it." (17) It seems relevant that these substances and their composites, the descriptions of which range over the eighteenth century, demonstrate an enduring interest on the part of East India Company merchants in the alien (to them) technological processes in India. It is also relevant that these substances and their composites are almost always discovered to be superior to their European counterparts--if that's the right term--especially given the increased authority the "interests of science" commands in the West. Nineteenth-century views of Indian science and technology, dependent on the ways in which the industrial revolution changed the shape of the marketplace in England and solidified ideologies about colonial outposts, were increasingly denigrating. Indian versions of "science" were progressively more understood as medieval, worthless, and clear signs of Occidental epistemological superiority (a refinement of Johnson's earlier pronunciation). (18)
At least this was the assumption popularly received and popularly disseminated. However, a cursory glance at the Philosophical Transactions from about 1680 through the 1790s seems to disprove this idea. The reports that got published by the Royal Society's main organ of representation manifestly indicate the anxieties expressed and felt by British entrepreneurs that their goods and their technologies did not measure up (even, as in the case of Barker, according to the instruments of their own invention) to what was and had clearly been available for centuries before Britons started their maritime adventures. Helenus Scott sent a long treatise on a form of iron manufactured in the south of India called "wootz," whose properties were examined and tested by the Royal Society. The report that found its way into the Philosophical Transactions concluded with a sound endorsement that the British should start manufacturing this substance, using the Indian methodology, in order to supplement their ironworks. Certainly the letters East India Company merchants wrote back to the office in London in the seventeenth century reflected their frustration with the disdain with which Indian Moghuls and Portuguese rivals looked upon the goods these newly arrived merchants brought to trade. Nicholas Downton, for example, writes in November of 1614:</p>
<pre> It seemeth to me the ill sales of cloth in India put Mr. Aldworthe into an extraordinary desire by Inquisition to seek out a better place in regard of their cloths yet remaining on their hands, as for such as he feared were to come by the next shipping, and the next after that, before advice can be sent home to forbear.... (19) </pre> <p>Thomas Kerridge writes earlier that year: "The Viceroy of Goa in a letter lately written to this King wrote very basely of our nation, terming us thieves, disturbers of states and a people not to be permitted in a commonwealth, and that if the king received us they would never have peace with him...." (20) But these were early British traders, unsure of their footing with powerful sultans or powerful European rivals, willing to accommodate what they perceived to be native desires and whims in order to gain some small purchase in a potentially enormously lucrative market.
What the published transactions of the Royal Society throughout the eighteenth century demonstrate, however, is that British acquiescence to local rulers and local technologies continued, although under a different guise. While the stories of British mercantile and cultural encounters with India were being disseminated in England as histories of conquest and control, epistemological encounters tell a very different tale. (21) Perhaps an investigation of the relation between substance and sublimation may help uncover some reasons for this persistence. These recorders of marvels from the old and new worlds in fact invented a language to represent scientific "truths" that depended on older forms of mystification: the magical, the marvelous, or fabulous. What did this mean?
K. N. Chaudhuri's arguments about the structure of time and chronology and their relation to the representation of epistemology may usefully deconstruct Eurocentric notions of empirical reason. Chaudhuri argues that the "implied assumption that the period from the seventh to the eighteenth century constitutes a chronological unit for Asia as a whole needs to be examined in detail and its rationale excavated" (98). It is this process of excavation I'm interested in: an examination of chronology as a non-intuitive structure and the important relations such an investigation may have to material culture. The substances that constituted such marvels in the eyes of the servants of the British East India Company had historical significances remarkably different from what later became the domain of the intuitive. For example, later in the nineteenth century, some of these substances dropped out of scientific favor and disappeared from the British scientific consciousness, which implied a substantial shift in the structure of epistemological authority. Nevertheless, these substances remain stubbornly lodged within the archives of scientific discovery. As residual though they may be, when excavated, they unearth a paradigm shift (to borrow a term from Thomas Kuhn) in the history of British imperialism. (22)
Chaudhuri's historical musings about the state of global navigation and trade provide a useful antidote to mind-numbingly reductive rhetorical descriptions of the relentless and inevitable mastery of European epistemology. For example, early in the European eighteenth century, an "Umayyad or Abbasid Muslim would have found it decidedly strange, if not actually beyond the limits of comprehension" that the Rumis and Franks were posing a threat "to the Muslim right of free navigation in the Indian Ocean." Such a person would have, above all, "found it incredible that the same Europeans now held the key to collective wealth and material well-being through their knowledge of the sciences and practical arts." (23) For him, the historical shifts in commercial power simply would not have registered as serious competition, and certainly would not have been perceived as the inevitable result of European progress.
The reports written to the East India Company and the Royal Society extend over the course of the eighteenth century and demonstrate that European scientific hegemony was not as solidified as it is represented in later histories that account for European hegemony. In particular, contemporary historical stories about globalization and empire written by Niall Ferguson and Jared Diamond, while providing narratives that are easy to read (for Western audiences), foreclose with stunning regularity the clearly powerful positions Asian empires occupied, not only in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, but throughout the eighteenth and into the nineteenth centuries. Even early into the nineteenth century, such disbelief in European commercial, technological, geographical, and, arguably, scientific mastery persisted. Halet Efendi, the Turkish ambassador to France from 1803-1806, "believed that the European economic competition could be effectively broken merely by setting up five factories for snuff, paper, crystal, cloth, and porcelain, as well as schools for language and geography." (24) Efendi's suggestion implies that these institutions of manufacture and education would be sufficient to quell European interests in the Muslim market, and reorient European ideas about power and agency to acknowledge Muslim--or Ottoman--hegemony. Efendi's comments challenge historical and contemporary Eurocentric ideas about the primitiveness of Asian science and technology. Interestingly, the reason Efendi seems to arrive at these conclusions is not necessarily the analytic mode prized by Enlightenment empiricists. Rather, he seems to deploy an analogical understanding of the problem: we approximate their putative technological and epistemological expertise and, by analogy, make them understand their shortcomings. Obviously, these five factories were not enough to stave off European intervention in the Asian marketplace, certainly not in the nineteenth century. Yet what this somewhat fanciful notion suggests is how each empire imagined a hegemonic position based on its sustained belief in the reciprocity of perspective. Earlier in the eighteenth century, however, British East India Company discoveries and representations of fantastic substances deployed a similar paradigm of reason, but one that led them to understand the fabulous properties of Indian substances and, by comparison, the relative paucity of their own resources.
The relationship between exotic substance and sublimation may tell us a great deal about the truth-claims these British East India Company members made in order to contribute to the interests of Western science. Their efforts to translate an ancient and (to them) mysterious knowledge of the east into terms that approach a kind of scientific sublime perhaps contribute to a discourse of invention and usefulness that both informs and resists traditional conceptions of Western modernity. (25) Such efforts may also attest to the failure of Enlightenment empirical reason, such as the form employed by Rasselas and rejected by Imlac, to account for the one-way trade routes European merchants represented themselves as navigating. What this motley collection of letter writers may have discovered, however, is that the reigning paradigm of Enlightenment reason may not always have been the most useful or even the most immediately accessible way to make sense of the world they observed outside of Europe.
A paradigm of science these writers seem to have put in use in order to arrive at their understanding of the ways in which these substances worked is alchemy, a model of reason that did make possible the transformation of material substance into a scientific sublime. The model these readers had in mind, however, was not the popular belief (that still persists) of the mystified transfer of lead or any base material into gold. It was a model that emphasized the importance of practical knowledge. (26) Pamela Smith's The Business of Alchemy outlines in enlightening detail the adventures and history of a particular alchemist, Joachim Becher, who self-consciously fashioned himself as an advocate of practical knowledge, or praxis: the mutable affairs that could be directed and intervened by humans. Such a paradigm of material knowledge differed from the earlier medieval model that privileged a very circumscribed understanding of epistemology that could not be shaped or directed by anyone outside of the church. Mathematics, a discipline that has been more closely connected with an understanding of abstraction than most "scientific" fields, was, according to Smith, mostly identified with the mechanical arts and with trade. (27) In 1690, John Morris, an English contemporary of Becher's offers the following account of mathematics, to establish a way in which these ideas were disseminated between the Continent and England: "For mathematics ... were scarce looked upon as Academical Studies, but rather Mechanical: as the business of Traders, Merchants, Seamen, Carpenters, Surveyors of Land or the like; and perhaps some Almanack-makers in London." (28) Originating from material sources, mathematics is in the process of becoming with Newton and Leibniz the language or signifying system of disembodied knowledge and a scientific discourse associated with "truth." (29) Mathematics, then, may have sublimated from a material base to an abstraction that engaged the expression of "pure" truth. (30)
Alchemy functions as the historical link between the divine and the material, the methodology that seeks to make truth material and valuable. Helenus Scott's interest in the Indian sublimation of cinnabar (the red mercury distilled from this substance was one of the more important materials used in alchemical practice), expressed late in the eighteenth century, suggests that the belief in alchemy was more persistent than we may have believed. Interestingly, the etymology of the word "alchemy" is Egyptian (alquimia-emia; kemie). The Oxford English Dictionary identifies the source in the Decree of Diocletian against the "old writings of Egyptians, which treat the transmutation of gold and silver" and suggests that alchemy was also identified with the native name of Egypt, the Land of Khem, which means "black earth" in contrast to "desert sand." The Alexandrian practice of this form of transmutation, traced back to the Babylonian tablets of the thirteenth century B.C. (which, according to Debus, "describe the production of 'silver' from a copper-bronze mixture"), was transmitted to Europe through Spain by the Arabs who also transmitted the numerical system that became associated with alchemy. (31) What I would like to suggest is that the paradigm on which Enlightenment science was based (alchemy), a methodology that contributed to the later hegemony of European epistemology was not the exclusive provenance of Europe; rather, this form of knowledge may have been the product of an epistemological exchange between Asia, North Africa, and Europe. (32) The dissemination of these paradigms in Europe, however, were then lodged in the discourse of progressive science, their origins forgotten or erased until an encounter with otherness made their resuscitation necessary.
Such practical models of knowledge that depend on human observation need to be sanctioned by the same authority granted to the divine: the bodiless understanding of truth that is founded, in the motto of the Royal Society, nullius in verba. Stephen Shapin's A Social History of Truth argues, among other issues, the relationship between knowledge and trust. He suggests that if "the natural world was a great treasure trove of hitherto unimagined marvels and singularities, the legitimate scientific practitioner was by no means obliged to credit all pertinent knowledge-claims. Marvels indubitably existed, but they had to be authenticated as such: this marvel-report had to be verified." (33) English natural philosophers and historians espoused individualist rhetoric, shaped, he argues, by notions of gentility and civility, to help formulate an authority that was necessary for credit to be given others' observations. Sir Charles Wolseley, for example, writes that</p> <pre> ... to deny credit to testimony is to deny ourselves the benefit of any part of the World, or anything done in any part of the World, at any time in the World; but just what we our selves saw in the time and places therein we lived. No one Age can be of any use to another, but his Credit.... For, the same reason, that will make a Man not to believe others, will be as good to them, not to believe him: and so, all Mankind must live upon their eye-sight. (34) </pre> <p>Empirical reasoning, therefore, was absolutely contingent upon the idea of crediting the testimony of others. In the case of Isaac Pyke, Helenus Scott, and Robert Barker (among others), who were writing from what was undoubtedly to most Britons a strange and mystified land, that meant granting them the privilege that their observations and reports followed a strict scientific methodology. The fact that many of these reports did find their way into the Philosophical Transactions suggests that throughout the eighteenth century, observations of new technologies and methodologies were given not only the benefit of the doubt but the benefit of the supplement: using these new substances and technologies to secure European epistemology.
Even if these writers to the Royal Society employed modern and "progressive" analytical modes of reason--ones that reduced the visible phenomenological world to its disparate, reductive, constant, and, according to an empirical model of reasoning, immutable parts--their encounters with foreign and exotic substances could not, in fact, register as a seamless part of European or British taxonomy. Rather, these writers required the use of another epistemological paradigm: one that privileged an analogical versus analytical form of reason in order to make sense of the world they thought they saw around them. It was not a convenient return to an "earlier" model, but, rather, an implicit understanding that one discursive paradigm was contingent upon the other that made possible any kind of articulation in these encounter narratives.
The belief in empirical reason dominated scientific practice and epistemological decorum in Europe in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. Other forms of testimony, however, were needed for the members of the British East India Company, anxious to serve the cultural progress of their nation, to account for marvels existing well outside their sense of the familiar and therefore outside their taxonomic range. These early modern travellers, however, didn't merely fold foreign oddities into their extant taxonomies; such a reading is favored mostly by scholars who champion the progress of European epistemology as a self-contained Enlightenment phenomenon. I think that these reports demonstrate an epistemological problem that is far more complicated. These writers' early encounters with strange substances drew upon the authority granted to Indian epistemology through a complete dependence on analogical reasoning that, by the nineteenth century, had been appropriated and abjected through colonialism and the hegemony of analysis. Thus, room was made for the answer Imlac gives to Rasselas's question, an answer that may have reflected domestic complacency because British economic, cultural, and technological encounters with the other had already been redirected by a different techne. Helenus Scott, Isaac Pyke, and Robert Barker, however, demonstrate a very different idea of encounter; they were all convinced throughout the eighteenth century and almost into the nineteenth, that "luxuries" sublimating from exotic and mysterious substances and practices were the result of the "Asiatic's principle study," an epistemology, technology, and aesthetic to which they had no access save what they saw themselves.
One of the striking characteristics about the discoveries these writers made is the insistent mystification of substance. Transforming base material into something with marvelous, wondrous, or magical properties could be, at the very least, something that would prove fantastically profitable for the East India Company, the Royal Society, the Ship-builders of Leadenhall-street, or for the new Indian spaces Britons were beginning to inhabit. Possibilities of profit took shape as new forms of commerce, new scientific discoveries, new ways of waterproofing ships, new techniques and formulas for building materials. The sublimation of mundane material into something with infinitely more value follows the alchemical pattern of turning the material into the sublime: something that at once signifies embodied and disembodied value.
The seventeenth through mid-eighteenth centuries were tumultuous times for the British East India Company. Without a solid purchase in the potentially profitable marketplace India represented for the British, Britain found itself in the uncomfortable position of having to account for its own economic failures. Nicholas Downton, for example, early in the seventeenth century exhorts the Home Office to stop sending useless woolens to sell in Surat. William Edwards informs the Company that the "small commodities" they have chosen to trade with the Moghul courts on the Malabar coast have little use other than as "presents," and urges them to take better care of gifts that were much more valuable for his purposes because they marked a possible ingress into a future market in other commodities. He writes:</p> <pre> All the small commodities which were sent in these ships, as looking-glasses, comb cases, knives, pictures, fowling pieces, Muscovy hides, and such like, serve only for presents, but will not sell for any price. </pre> <p>Whereas:</p> <pre> if it please you to send by your next ships ... an English coach and coachman, to bring their horses to that labour, it would be very acceptable with the king; and to send some curled water spaniel of the greatest size, with a bloodhound or two, they would be very welcome, for they will hardly be persuaded that they can be taught to fetch and find things lost. The mastiffs that came along in these ships are all dead except one, whereof we are very chary, for that I understand it will be very acceptable with the king. (35) </pre> <p>Downton concurs with the value English fauna (whether real or representational) and other trinkets have to the Indian Moghul, writing in his "Particulars desired from next ships from England to Surat for Great Mojore" (1614):</p> <pre> crooked swords, all manner of toys for women, pictures in cloth, not in wood, any figures of beasts, birds, or other similes made of glass, of hard plaster, of silver, brass, wood, iron, stone, mastiffs, greyhounds, spaniels and little dogs, three of each. </pre> <p>He notes that "Figures of divers beasts and dogs in stone and plaster I have seen come from Freinckford [Frankfurt]. I think at Amsterdam may enough be had" and that "Dogs hard to be carried." (36) Later letters exhort the Company directors to take better care of the transport of live animals, noting that the death of dogs could be easily prevented by making sure they were watered properly. The wild calculations made by British merchants as to what constituted commodities proper to Asian trade--woolen cloths, small trinkets--vastly underestimates the economical, commercial and technological mastery wielded by Indian sultans as well as their political power in the marketplaces of the Indian Ocean. Far from commanding any kind of epistemological authority, merchants like Downton and Williams discovered very quickly that they were in the awkward position of procuring commodities that signified the existence of an English (and European, if we take into account the figures of animals from Frankfurt and Amsterdam) cultural landscape to vast and powerful courts of disbelievers. At the very least, what these almost querulous requests suggest is that the Company merchants were primarily at the mercy of the Indian and other European rulers (Portuguese) alike, and it was in the East India Company's best interests to reconceive the commodities that would serve their own power vis-a-vis their rivals, who were not the English. English merchants could not sell anything in India except gold, silver, and saltpeter (so the Moghuls could make gunpowder). (37) Indian markets ascribed to different systems of value that the British merchants had to learn if they were going to be at all successful in their trade. But even later in the eighteenth century, when domestic Britain was convinced of its capacities to engage feelings of shock and awe from Indian cultures (as Johnson's Rasselas indicates), just as often the reverse was true, as these letter-writers imply.
The letters written by the English in India throughout the eighteenth century convey a sense of the magnitude of an ancient and mysterious (to them) knowledge. In order to make sense of this mystified discourse, these Company servants appear to have re-engaged analogical models of reason that once again called into being the paradigm of alchemy. However, while these writers continued to record their marvels, invoking the sublimation of mundane substance into the abstraction of scientific discourse, another kind of apocalyptic expansion, however imaginative, was on the cusp of realization.
When the War of Spanish Succession was effectively ended by the Treaty of Utrecht in 1713, Britons found themselves faced with the possibility of accruing other new territories. The negotiation of expanded trade monopolies between Spain and the Grand Alliance (of which Britain was a principal organizer) resulted in the prospect of valuable British holdings in the New World, however abstract (in reality the British only got a share of the asiento, and even if this later proved profitable, at the time these prospects hardly aligned with Pope's vision of the pax Britannica). The concessions Spain made to Britain also provided potentially vast new spaces that needed to be accounted for within British taxonomy. The asiento, similar to a patent in early modern England, was a trade relationship that established a monopoly for a group of traders over the trade routes or products, or both. For Britain, this monopoly had to do exclusively with the trade of African slaves between Africa and the Americas. This monopoly was given to Britain (through the peace negotiated between Spain and the Grand Alliance) as a compensation for the victory of the French candidate Philip V of Spain. Hence, the pax Britannica, which hailed, according to Pope's poetic rhetoric, a new world order, while eventually proving quite lucrative, was certainly a treaty inundated with the problematic politics of the slave trade from its inception.
Alexander Pope's Windsor-Forest, started in 1704 as a pastoral and augmented in 1713 as an explicitly political lyric, celebrated the pax Britannica promised by the signing of the Treaty of Utrecht. Many accounts of this poem focus on reading Pope's rhetoric of commodity fetishism to supply his pastoral representation of the new age of English nationalism and British imperial power. Laura Brown, for example, has argued that the poem describes the effects of mercantile expansion even as it dismembers the effects of imperial violence. (38) These readings, however, foreclose others that don't assume a priori British imperial might or, in fact, question the historical validity of such an assumption. I wonder if Windsor-Forest's poetic rhetoric may also (and ultimately?) be determined by the same kind of British uneasiness about Asian science and technology characterizing many of the letters to the East India Company's office in London, or to the Royal Society. Such anxiety, I argue, is structured by the paradigm of alchemy that is recalled in order to understand the strangeness of a new world that, for Pope, is simultaneously about addressing domestic exoticism.
The commodities featured in the poem take shape primarily in the colors of precious goods (in Brown's words, "nature dressed to advantage with the colors of imperialism"). (39) These poetic colors are wrought from textiles or dyes, from the oaks that supply navies and merchants with ships, from the blood that supplies, however metonymically, the bodies engaged in military conflict (most notably, although not exclusively, the armies fighting the War of Spanish Succession). Such blood eventually is the substance that dyes a previously transparent "Iber's Sands, or Ister's foaming Flood" an opaque red. The material origins of imperial colors (textiles, dyes, oaks, and blood) are equally opaque, alluding perhaps to the murky history of imperial violence Pope uncovers in his celebration of a transparent and abstract peace.
Pope's description of a pastoral that succeeds the "dreary Desart and gloomy Waste" of "Ages past," despite being saturated in sylvan violence, recalls most insistently the progression from base material (desert waste) to bucolic plenty, even if it is rendered "thoughtless" because this period predates Enlightenment reasoning. The "Tyrian dye" coloring pheasants and fish gives way to "The silver Eel, in shining Volumes roll'd,/ The yellow Carp, in Scales bedrop'd with Gold,/Swift Trouts, diversify'd with Crimson Stains" to "Pykes ... of the wat'ry Plains." The progression of the trope follows an alchemical telos. The mundane substance constituting "Tyrian" dyes, made from mollusks, transforms this landscape into something rich and opaque: the silver and gold that represents, albeit via the "crimson stains" that necessarily attend colonial conquest, wealth pouring in from new and old worlds to enrich the once-barren English plain. But while the endpoint might seem to rest in silver and gold--the solidity of bullion that ensures British trade--these tropes don't conclude Pope's description of the "genial Spring" or the "patient Fisher." Rather, those plains, so lately drenched in the opaque colors of imperial possession, give way to something much more transparent: the "wat'ry plain" (11. 135-47).
Likewise, later in the poem, the "Man whom this bright Court approves" is one who "gathers Health from Herbs the Forest yields,/ And of their fragrant Physick spoils the Fields." Such a man, well-versed in medicinal art (part of alchemical science), is able to determine from a natural base the spoils that he may "with Chymic art exalt the Min'ral Powers,/ And draw Aromatick Souls of Flowers" (11. 235-44). Such capacities for distillation lead to a further abstraction; these actions allow him to</p> <pre> mark the Course of rolling Orbs on high: O'er figur'd Worlds now travels with his Eye (11. 245-46) </pre> <p>The lines from Windsor-Forest I have used here follow the process of distillation, but they don't conclude with opaque composites ("Tyrian dye") or distillation ("min'ral powers," "aromatick souls of flow'rs"). Instead, Pope sublimates these commodities to something more abstract and transparent. The charts of "rolling Orbs" or "figur'd Worlds" makes physical travel irrelevant; the approved man, well-versed in empirical powers of reason, may now travel, "with his Eye," toward a new cartographic comprehension of the world. Similarly, the "sons" that "dye with British Blood/ Red Iber's Sands" sublimate to a "fair Peace! from Shore to Shore" that is negotiated by the "liquid" (transparent) figure of Father Thames, the new reigning authority.
But this comprehension depends on his knowledge of a pre-modern, pre-Enlightenment past:</p> <pre> Of ancient Writ unlocks the learned Store, Consults the Dead, and lives past Ages o'er (11. 247-48) </pre> <p>Drawing on a past regime of thought (alchemy--"ancient Writ"), this man, approved by the same court that has negotiated the pax Britannica, which in turn has ushered in an age of "home-felt Quiet," "Successive Study, Exercise and Ease," uses an older technological paradigm in order to charter new spaces. The "rolling Orbs" or "figur'd Worlds" only make sense when a "learned Store" is unlocked, when "past Ages" are lived again. When Enlightenment analytical modes of reason fail, consulting the "Dead" from "past Ages" yields other ways of accounting for domestic mysteries. Pope uses the (mythological) history of England to represent England's changing global relations. Bringing it home, so to speak, replicates the ways in which travellers to foreign lands like India didn't simply fold into their extant language an account of foreign oddities but integrated these differences deep into the heart of their epistemology.
Pope's return to other histories, however, signals more than just a need to restore or retain notions of a prisca scientia to pristine scientific knowledge. In his rhetorical move to account for a muddied past, to find a language to assert a new episteme, or, perhaps, to find a new logical authority that is both "imperialistic" and deeply uncertain about its own principles, he invokes the problems with forms of knowledge with which Newton, among others, was struggling. For example, Newton questions the capacity for mathematics to function as a totalizing methodology, even if he increasingly argues for the use of mathematics as a significant language with which to explore, as Robert Markley has pointed out, the complex connections between history and theology. Markley argues that Newton's corpus is marked by a series of ostensibly contradictory moves that ultimately disrupt a progressive notion of history: Newton's "redefining of order takes a variety of forms, attacks on systematizers, from Leibniz to Athanasius; an obsession with origins, which he equates with a notion of pristine, uncorrupted meaning; and efforts to defer the kind of authoritative claims for his work that were often made for him by his eighteenth-century followers." (40) The dialectical structure of epistemology is made possible by alchemy. Pope's poetic project of Windsor-Forest embodies and articulates this structure: first written as a pastoral exercise and later revised as a celebration of the pax Britannica, the political work being enacted in this rhetoric, including the invocation of Virgil that attests to Granville's commission, reflects the problems with representing a coherent national history produced from disjointed memory. Whether or not Pope self-consciously fashioned the pax Britannica as a mask--both of past domestic violence and a future of further brutality as Britain prepared to fully immerse itself in the slave trade--it still remains that the opaque, dark, and bloody figures inhabiting the poem are idealized by Father Thames' mighty "flood": the transparent and abstract discourse of Enlightenment Britain, sublimating notions of conquest into ones of social mission, that Johnson deployed.
For Pope, attendant to the anxieties of using the genre of the pastoral to resignify a civic, national, and cultural understanding of London as a free port, a duty-less place where all free nations naturally flow, such a task may well have raised similar problems of a totalizing poetic discourse that had to redeploy an account of the past to represent a future whose parameters were less clearly defined. Unlike the grand imperial trajectory Victorian England might have imagined for itself (although clearly not unmarked by similar anxieties), Pope's representation of liquid assets was speculative. He may have had to refer to a past alchemical "truth" to solidify future projections, and the pastoral in Windsor-Forest is figured as an alchemical history.
Alchemy may have crucially supplied Pope with a poetic language with which to read new spaces and an ancient authority for new knowledge, although it was also a language that asserted an epistemological (and imperial) authority with a good deal of ambivalence. This model may account for the conflicting, oxymoronic insistence on opacity. Such opacity takes shape most visibly as the commodities (imperial colors) littering the poem. These commodities are, in turn, sublimated through the alchemical discourse already saturating representations of another soon-to-be imperial possession (India), as the letter-writers demonstrate, into transparent, enlightened scientific, geographical, racial, and poetic truths. Thus the "fair peace" reigning from "shore to shore" may also refer to the ways in which the cultural discourse of alchemy provided Pope with a language from one "shore" (India) to account for the alterity of another (the New World).
Alchemy provided a discursive structure with which Britons could imagine or shape their material historical engagement with cultural and epistemological difference. Alchemy, always attendant to the purification of muddied substance, was a useful paradigm by which the English transformed a dark and impure land into pure wealth and the refinement of pure possibility. More crucially, however, alchemy displaced the necessity for accountability, perhaps onto the notion of "providence." The messy, muddy reasons to represent trade or colonial conquest as divine right to a nation equally invested in the increasingly divergent discourses of imperial commerce and republicanism are simplified or purified. When Rasselas posed his question, Imlac could confidently reply--against all visible reason, but surely aware of another discourse that sanctioned the glaring logical holes left by the first paradigm--that an "unsearchable will" of a "Supreme Being" was reason enough. But the travellers to India in their correspondence back home throughout the eighteenth century make those holes insistently visible to those who want to recognize them.
I've spent most of my time arguing that the British tried intermittently to harness material and technological substances and methodologies to supply their own scientific wants. Such accruement suggests that somehow these forms of knowledge were extant without human agency. Certainly the entrenchment of colonialism in the nineteenth century as a political force to keep open profitable mercantile exchange privileges the idea that Indians were only present, in this process of abjection, to supply brute labor, to become as inanimate as the materials their culture "offered" to their conquerors, and as unconnected to the epistemology they contributed to the interests of Western science as farm animals are to agricultural production.
I'd like to close with another argument. Not one of the writers I have read so far as much as named a single Madra mortar-maker or ice-manufacturer, Bengali alchemist or cloth-dyer. To the British, these forms of manufacture and practices of science were as abstract and unreadable as the substances themselves. What may also have been sublimated by the British, then, is the Indian physical and intellectual labor that extracts, refines, and disseminates the properties of the substances: what Barker names the "Asiatic study of the luxuries of life," and what Scott named the "Indian practice." But what Barker identifies as the "luxuries" of life seem primarily directed toward the luxuries of a British life: a study that alleviates native discomfort (though, to the natives, how would this have been read in the same way?). The history of British imperial appropriation of Indian natives, therefore, may not have simply been organized around the exploitation of bodies but also of minds.
Almost a hundred years later (1816) Austen writes in her novel, Emma:</p>
<pre> [Jane Fairfax]: There are places in town, offices, where inquiry would soon produce something--Offices for the sale--not quite of human flesh--but of human intellect. [Mrs. Elton]: Oh! my dear, human flesh! You quite shock me; if you mean a fling at the slave-trade. (41) </pre> <p>I wonder if such a conversation would have been possible in a novel depicting a solidified culture of manners in an England now informed by its growing status as an imperial power were it not for an earlier understanding on the part of the British that the other represented not simply a body to conquer but a discourse that mattered and, therefore, had to be mastered.
(1.) Samuel Johnson, Samuel Johnson: Selected Poetry and Prose, ed. Frank Brady and W. K. Wimsatt (Berkeley, 1977), 91.
(2.) Jack Goody, The East in the West (Cambridge, 1996), 1-10. Goody goes on to uncover the ways in which syllogism, primarily considered of Greek origin, exists in other epistemologies that predate the Greeks. See chap. 1, "Rationality in Review."
(3.) Niall Ferguson, Empire: The Rise and Demise of the British World Order and the Lessons for Global Power (New York, 2002).
(4.) See, for example, K. N. Chaudhuri, Asia Before Europe: Economy and Civilisation of the Indian Ocean from the Rise of Islam to 1750 (Cambridge, 1990); Linda Colley, Captives: The Story of Britain's Pursuit of Empire and How its Soldiers and Civilians Were Held Captive by the Dream of Global Supremacy, 1600-1850 (New York, 2002); Andre Gunder Frank, ReOrient: Global Economy in the Asian Age (Berkeley, 1998); Richard H. Grove, Green Imperialism: Colonial Expansion, Tropical Island Edens and the Origins of Environmentalism, 1600-1860 (Cambridge, 1995); and Kenneth Pomeranz, The Great Divergence: Europe, China, and the Making of the Modern World Economy (Princeton, 2000).
(5.) For Thomas Kuhn, this is a process he identities as "normal science." In fact, the inception of his argument is a call to deconstruct the idea of history as a "repository" of anecdote and think through the complexities that dominant ideology forecloses. Changing the Eurocentric paradigm of global history, one that is structured by Enlightenment epistemology, is the enterprise Frank, Grove, Pomeranz, and others have been working toward for years. In literary studies, and particularly in post-colonial studies, it is crucial to call into question the automatic assumption that Enlightenment thinking has been the sole province of European endeavor. Thomas Kuhn, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions (Chicago, 1962).
(6.) See Frank.
(7.) Pomeranz, 156-59.
(8.) Pomeranz, 171-2.
(9.) As Pomeranz points out, Asian merchants competed very successfully with European merchants as long as the Europeans did not use force.
(10.) I would like to make a distinction between my use of "British" versus "English" in this context. While the seafaring droves of merchants were drawn from Britons inhabiting a pre- and post-Act of Union Britain (1707), the fashions and tastes shaping London culture and social relations, drawn, perhaps, from the various courts of Charles II and Queen Anne, were specifically English.
(11.) Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society, Vol. 65: 231-32, British Library. Interestingly, this mortar from Madras, containing "Chinam" or lime, was also famous for its startling whiteness. Carl Nightingale makes an intriguing claim about the relationship between architecture and color designation in his unpublished manuscript, "Madras, New York, and the Urban and Global Origins of Color Lines, 1690-1750." He argues,</p> <pre> Madras had become the first place in world history to designate separate sections of the town by color, renaming "Gentue Town" or "Malabar Town" as "Black Town," and its "Christian Town" as "White Town." (unpublished mss., 1) </pre> <p>Hence, the value of Madrasi mortar may also be in its effectiveness to convey notions of racial difference.
(12.) BL, Add. MSS 33979 (ff. 1-10). In a lengthy letter to Joseph Banks, Scott in fact not only describes the substance itself (which remains unanalyzed and somehow slips through the inventory records of the ship on its voyage back to England) but, more importantly for my argument, goes into graphic detail of the surgical process and methodology for this operation. Popularized by native Sepoy surgeons, such operations were apparently popular among those guards who crossed Tipu, the Sultan of Mysore.
(13.) BL, Add. MSS 33979 (ff. 1-10).
(14.) Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society, vol. 65: 256, BL.
(15.) Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society, vol. 65: 252-57, BL. Barker's respect for the manufacture of ice is not solely based on his observation. "Many gentlemen, now in England, have made the same remarks, in their frequent visits with me to the ice-pits," Barker writes. His esteem for the "principal study" of Asiatic science is shaped by the consumption of those sherbets and creams and ices with which he has been "regaled ... when the thermometer has stood at 112." Barker's continual allusion to the contradictory "truths" produced by competing systems of measurement--on the one hand, the evidence of the thermometer, on the other, the production of ice through Indian invention--describes an epistemological encounter that, contrary to Enlightenment reasoning, favors another system of knowledge. In fact, such favor is confirmed through the employment of European standards.
(16.) BL, Rare European Manuscripts Collection, Add. MSS 35262, 14-15.
(17.) BL, REMC, Add. MSS 4432, 14-15.
(18.) Having said this, I might add that crucial historical interventions have been made to demystify the nineteenth-century notion of science and scientific methodology as both universal and objective. In particular, Kavita Philip's Civilizing Natures: Race, Resources, and Modernity in Colonial South India (New Brunswick, 2004) is an important study of the relationship between colonialism and science. See esp. 134-39.
(19.) Nicholas Downton to the East India Company, Nov. 20th, 1614, BL, Oriental and India Office Collections, Letters Received by tile East India Company from Its Servants in the East, Vol. II (1613-1614), Document 181: 169.
(20.) Thomas Kerridge to the East India Company, Jan. 20, 1614 (Agamere), BL, OIOC, Letters Received by the East India Company from Its Servants in the East, Vol. II (1613-1614), Document 235: 298.
(21.) Linda Colley's latest treatment of British imperialism (whose title says it all, see n. 4) offers a clear account of the ways in which stories of British captivity dominated much of the putative histories of British imperialism as an unproblematic telos.
(22.) Colley's account of the spectacular failure of the British in Tangier is a persuasive example of how certain stories get erased or forgotten in the service of the grand narrative (a key point Benedict Anderson made years ago that, obviously, bears repeating). I'm arguing for a similar phenomenon occurring in the representation of epistemological exchanges between India and Britain. For example, she writes that the only extant major history of the seventeenth-century British colony of Tangier was written early in the twentieth century by a woman (E. M. G. Routh--working outside the almost exclusively male establishment of historians of empire), and notes that Sir Hugh Chomley, the major engineer of colonial Tangier, has disappeared from The Dictionary of National Biography, thus demonstrating "how effectively Britain's sporadic imperial disasters and retreats were expunged from the historical record and from national and even international memory" (33).
(23.) Chaudhuri, 99.
(24.) Chaudhuri, 99.
(25.) Bruno Latour argues that our use of modernity defines "by contrast, an archaic and stable past ... it designates a break in the regular passage of time, and it designates a combat in which there are victors and vanquished" (10). Latour understands the ways in which "modernity" invokes, simultaneously, a chronological and achronological state is what I am attempting to argue here. That is, on the one hand, the idea of modernity forecloses the possibility of a history of science and technology as effectively as the histories attending scientific discoveries (as Thomas Kuhn has identified). And, yet, those histories, despite their foreclosure from current discourse, haven't disappeared but have been simply buried by the dominant ideology. Part of the project I'm engaged in is a way of restoring the multifarious stories that articulate the production of a scientific fact or technological innovation. Bruno Latour, We Have Never Been Modern (Cambridge, Mass., 1993).
(26.) Allen Debus's monumental study, The Chemical Philosophy, gives the most comprehensive account of the origins of alchemy and development. He claims that the general agreement is that alchemy was a combination of medicine and pharmacology, fueled by a persistent belief in a unified nature, and documented primarily in philosophical works. He argues, however, that alchemy wasn't simply an abstract theoretical paradigm, but was rooted in the practical crafts of metal workers and others. Sources for alchemy in antiquity, then, are also in the "surviving texts that illustrate the practical craft traditions of antiquity. In fact, we do find that the oldest surviving works of metal craftsmen combine an emphasis on the change in the appearance of metals with the acceptance of a vitalistic view of nature--a view that included the belief that metals live and grow within the earth in a fashion analogous to the growth of the human fetus. It was to become basic to alchemical thought that the operator might hasten the natural process of metallic growth in his laboratory and thus bring about perfection in far less time than that required by nature." Allen G. Debus, The Chemical Philosophy: Paracelsian Science and Medicine in the Sixteenth and Seventeenth Centuries, Vol. I (New York, 1977), 4.
(27.) Pamela Smith, The Business of Alchemy: Science and Culture in the Holy Roman Empire (Princeton, 1994), 35.
(28.) Smith, 35.
(29.) Mathematics, arguably, also originates from Indian sources; the idea of zero, coming from a Hindu system, was disseminated by Arab merchants to Europe. Brian Rotman writes, for example:</p> <pre>
The mathematical sign we know as zero entered European consciousness with difficulty and incomprehension. It appears to have originated some 1300 years ago in central India as the distinguishing element in the now familiar Hindu system of numerals. From there it was actively transmitted and promulgated by Arab merchants; so that by the tenth century it was in widespread use throughout the Arab Mediterranean. Between the tenth and the thirteenth century the sign stayed within the confines of Arab culture, resisted by Christian Europe, and dismissed by those whose function it was to handle numbers as an incomprehensible and unnecessary symbol. (7) </pre> <p>Rotman continues to argue that the development of mercantile capitalism in the fourteenth century and the passage of handling numbers from church-educated clerks to merchants and artisan-scientists, among others, resulted in the adoption of zero as crucial to trade and technology. Such artisans, were, according to Smith and Debus, ones that were trained in alchemy, the discourse that was partially responsible for deploying mathematics as a more reliable and useful method of accounting. Brian Rotman, Signifying Nothing: The Semiotics of Zero (Stanford, 1987).
(30.) For an astute account of Newton's vexed relationship to semiotic endeavors, alchemy, and the absolute systematization that mathematics could promise, see Robert Markley's Fallen Languages: Crises of Representation in Newtonian England, 1660-1740 (Ithaca, 1993), esp. 131-215. Markley argues, for example, that</p> <pre> [the] ideality of mathematics ... rests on the privileging of 'pure' mathematics as a general equivalent and on its status as a commodity: mathematical knowledge becomes part of an exchange economy, but this knowledge must present itself as emptied of any inherent value, that is, as a fetish which can be consumed, traded, sold, and commodified. (211) </pre> <p>(31.) Debus, 4.
(32.) While the OED cites Egypt as the origin of alchemy, it's entirely possible that this origin itself was a product of the similar forms of exchange, similar global dialogues between China, India, other parts of Asia and the Ottoman Empire, and locked as an "origin" by the same hegemonic institutions that have erased certain histories.
(33.) Steven Shapin, A Social History of Truth: Civility and Science in Seventeenth-Century England (Chicago, 1994), 200.
(34.) Shapin, 203.
(35.) William Edwards to the East India Company by the Hope Dec. 2, 1615 (rec'd) Dec. 20th, 1614, Amadavar, BL, OIOC, Letters Received by the East India Company from its Servants in the East, Vol. II (1613-1615), Document 177: 151.
(36.) Nicholas Downton to the East India Company, Nov. 20th, 1614, BL, OIOC, Letters Received by the East India Company from its Servants in the East, Vol. II (1613-1615), Document 183: 173-74.
(37.) See Keith Wrightson, Earthly Necessities: Economic Lives in Early Modern Britain (New Haven and London, 2000).
(38.) In particular, Laura Brown's groundbreaking work on both The Rape of the Lock and Windsor-Forest helps identify the ways in which imperialism, commodification, mythological history, and the reconciliation of imperial violence shape the poem. Her recent reworking of the poem alludes to the figures of liquidity as part of the trope of commercial power. Donna Landry's account of violence in Windsor-Forest identifies the poem with the progression of hunting and blood sport:</p> <pre>
A precondition for the Pax Britannica that is celebrated at the end of the poem would seem to be for the whole colonized world to have been comparably bloodied. Once the British have extended their
empire of field sports sufficiently overseas, the colonized will
return to the imperial metropolis to gape at the English, who will
forever be madly chasing some creature or the other. (117) </pre> <p>Landry's focus, of course, is more on the history of sporting and how this affects the invention of the notion of "countryside," and Brown extends the critique of imperial hegemony that she has established in earlier works. Although both approaches are very different from one another, they share an interest in maintaining an understanding of English power in opaque terms: either the blood-soaked hunts that are metonyms of the colonial enterprise, the material commodities scattered throughout the poem in order to mitigate the violence of English colonialism, or even, as Brown argues in Fables of Modernity, Pope's understanding of the "flood" (the Thames, the ocean) as a material embodiment of England's global political and mercantile power. See Laura Brown, Alexander Pope (London, 1985) and Fables of Modernity: Literature and Culture in the English Eighteenth Century (Ithaca, 2001); and Donna Landry, The Invention of the Countryside: Hunting, Walking, and Ecology in English Literature, 1671-1831 (New York, 2001).
(39.) Brown, 33.
(40.) Markley, 133.
(41.) Jane Austen, Emma, ed. Lionel Trilling (Cambridge, Mass., 1957), 233.
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