In postcolonial studies, the focus has traditionally been on colonised subjects and on the wide-ranging impact that European imperialism has had on non-Western societies. However, in the face of the resurgence of nationalism, it is as pertinent as ever to also ask what colonisation did to the (former) colonisers. My current research project pursues this question in relation to the literary histories of Great Britain and the Netherlands, as competing powers in the ‘East Indies’. Analysing British and Dutch writing on colonial Malaysia, Singapore and Indonesia, the project seeks to trace how the British and Dutch developed distinct affective and aesthetic relationships to empire, which continue to impact on their respective societies. In my talk, I will explore some of the theoretical and methodological issues that have arisen since the start of the project, discuss the historical parameters within which I seek to compile my corpus and analyse selected passages of primary literature. Writing (on) empire, the British and Dutch both navigated “the social antagonism of the colonial relation” (Bhabha). However, in doing so, they represented and supported very different notions of what that relation entailed and whom the antagonism concerned. As empire became a framework alternately for self-assertion or self-critique, the very discourse on which European hegemony was based in the region became open to renegotiation. Similarly, it is through the comparative analysis of colonial literatures that we can rethink the theoretical and ethical implications of some of the key concepts in postcolonial studies today.
Marijke Denger holds a Ph.D. (2016) in English Literature from the University of Bern, Switzerland; her monograph Caring for Community: Towards a New Ethics of Responsibility in Contemporary Postcolonial Novels was published by Routledge in 2019. Marijke has also studied and pursued research at Leiden University, Trinity College Dublin and the University of Kent. Her research interests include Anglophone and Dutch colonial literatures, postcolonial theory and comparative imperialisms. Currently, Marijke holds an Early Postdoc.Mobility Fellowship from the Swiss National Science Foundation. In this context, she is affiliated, first, with KITLV and, as of November 2019, the University of Oxford. Her current research project concerns Empire in the East Indies: Literature, Geopolitics and Imperial Awareness in British Malaya and the Dutch East Indies, c. 1780-1930.
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“The Author’s First Ride in Perak”, Isabella Bird, The Golden Chersonese and the Way Thither (1883) – University of Pennsylvania, Digital Library, A Celebration of Women Writers.