Phiroze Vasunia – Ends of Empires

Event date:1 March 2011 10.30 – 17.00
British Library
London Room MR4



The Humanities and Arts Research Centre (HARC) at
Royal Holloway University of London presents:

Civilizational Collapse: Dystopian Imaginings of the Past,
Present, and Future (1880 – Present)


Phiroze Vasunia: Ends of Empires (not recorded)

Empires hate nothing so much as contemplating their own ends, but such ends of empire bring their own temporality. There is a sense of inevitability about ends of empire which requires the observer to await the barbarian (as in Coetzee’s Waiting for the Barbarian) but the repressive measures to keep out the barbarian are such the individuals might be tempted to cross over and let the barbarian in. The trope of decline and fall established by Gibbon influenced American imperial discourses. Although there were hopes that the Republic might survive the entropy of empires, and the pecularity of America’s domestic empire encouraged a separation from the fate awaiting Rome, American decline and the restoration of the American landscape was often seen as inescapable. For the British, it was the Orient that threatened, with images of death and squalor. In Kipling, the great nightmare of the imperialist was that he might fall among the Indians, with no escape, no status by which he could be differentiated, and no historical escape. Fear of the infection of empire, becomes a fear of death and of mortality, a psychological as well as a political malaise.




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