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The Mandarin (First Appearance) / Eric Hayot, Penn State University

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The Mandarin (First Appearance) / Eric Hayot, Penn State University

In the substantially revised and expanded sixth edition of The Theory of Moral Sentiments, published shortly before his death in 1790, Adam Smith added a remarkable thought experiment to his discussion on “the Influence and Authority of Conscience.” The experiment had to do with the effects of physical distance on moral judgment. Having suggested that any moral adjudication between two parties must proceed “from the place and with the eyes of a third person, who has no particular connexion with either, and who judges with impartiality between us,” Smith went on to remark how infrequently such judgments actually appear in practice.1 If the “great empire of China” were suddenly destroyed by an earthquake, for instance, how would the average European react to the news? Though he might, in the initial shock, “make many melancholy reflections upon the precariousness of human life,” or in a soberer moment consider “the effects which this disaster might produce upon the commerce of Europe,” he would eventually return to his normal life “with the same ease and tranquility, as if no such accident had happened” (MS, 136). Out of sight, out of mind; the death of distant millions would in the long run fail to register its fated and objectively terrifying imprint on his conscience. But consider, Smith writes, that

the most frivolous disaster which could befal himself would occasion a more real disturbance. If he was to lose his little finger to-morrow, he would not sleep to-night; but, provided he never saw them, he will snore with the most profound security over the ruin of a hundred millions of his brethren, and the destruction of that immense multitude seems plainly an object less interesting to him, than this paltry misfortune of his own. To prevent, therefore, this paltry misfortune to himself, would a man of humanity be willing to sacrifice the lives of a hundred millions of his brethren, provided he had never seen them? (MS, 136-37)

With this last hypothetical question, which pits the value of the lives of millions of Chinese against the loss of a European finger, Smith formulates for the first time a philosophical conjecture that has remained, in a variety of derivative forms, a crucial figure of European thought over the last two centuries: What is the relative worth to you of harm done to a Chinese stranger?

The hypothetical’s classic formulation appears in Balzac’s Le Père Goriot (1835), in a conversation between Rastignac and Bianchon:

“Have you read Rousseau?”


“Do you remember the passage where he asks the reader what he would do if he could make a fortune by killing an old mandarin in China by simply exerting his will, without stirring from Paris?”



“Bah! I’m at my thirty-third mandarin.”

“Don’t play the fool. Look here, if it were proved to you that the thing was possible and you only needed to nod your head, would you do it?”

“Is your mandarin well-stricken in years? But, bless you, young or old, paralytic or healthy, upon my word—The devil take it! Well, no.”2

Carlo Ginzburg cites this passage in an essay that places the dilemma of the mandarin within a philosophical tradition that asks how ethical questions depend on distances in space and time.3 How does spatial distance affect one’s moral responsibility to others? Is it worse to allow a stranger to starve on your doorstep than to allow one to starve halfway across the world? And how, historically, have societies drawn the line between the doorstep and the world, teaching their inhabitants where moral responsibility ends and indifference begins? Tracing this line of thought from Aristotle through David Hume, from Smith and Balzac to Walter Benjamin, Ginzburg opens up the history of the putatively “natural” feeling of human sympathy, showing how philosophical articulations of compassion’s necessities have shaped, and drawn on, the eras to which they belong.

Smith’s example of the Chinese earthquake occurs on the cusp of the great humanitarian transformation of Western political and religious life, which from its beginnings in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries has gone on to reshape the entire moral landscape of modern existence.4 Drawing on religious and philosophical doctrines that would have been nearly incomprehensible to their historical forbears, Europeans and Americans in that period dramatically expanded the human and geopolitical space towards which the average member of their societies was presumed to be emotionally responsible, and towards which both the individual and the state were supposed to direct their attention and care.5 By the middle of the nineteenth century, sympathy, and the moral responsibility that abetted it, found itself engaged in social reform movements designed—at least in their public, self-conscious discourse—to establish affective and material relationships with a wide variety of living beings, including the poor, the mentally ill, prisoners, slaves, foreigners, and even animals, whose troubles had not been the subject of serious institutional or personal concern only a century or two earlier.6 This groundswell of humanist reform, an “immense cultural revolution” involving what Charles Taylor has called “the affirmation of ordinary life,” borrowed its philosophical justifications from thinkers like Francis Hutcheson, David Hume, and Adam Smith, and took its religious ones from liberal Anglicanism, whose preachers urged parishioners to visit the sick, care for the poor, and to experience the “‘pleasing Anguish, that sweetly melts the Mind, and terminates in a Self-approving Joy’ which is the chief earthly reward of persons who indulge their naturally good inclinations” toward benevolence.7 It found literary expression in the great eighteenth-century novels of sensibility, which praised “a generous heart” and a “capacity for refined feeling,” encouraging moral growth in those new bourgeois subjects to whom appeals for compassionate reform were so frequently addressed—effectively schooling generations of gentlemen and gentlewomen in the observation of sympathetic scenes, and the performance of the emotions appropriate to them.8 By 1811 this earnest moral education had become common enough for Jane Austen to critique the fad in the name of a more down-to-earth “sense”; and when, sixty years after Austen, Gustave Flaubert lampooned with his usual clear-eyed cruelty Frédéric Moreau’s romanesque fantasies in L’Éducation Sentimentale, he only confirmed the nearly universal approbation conferred on the self-consciously progressive, humanitarian spirit that defined his era. It was in this context, inside the phenomenological framing provided by the great cultural and narrative project that remade the emotional life of ordinary Europeans and Americans, that a narrative hypothetical in which one resisted the temptation to murder a Chinese mandarin established itself as a generic philosopheme for the question of how best to be, or to become, a modern, sympathetic human being.

2. In which I successfully transition

What I’m particularly interested in with this project has to do with the way in which the Chineseness of this example, the appearance of the mandarin in it and the transformation of that example into a form so popular that the phrase tuer le mandarin appears in French dictionaries at the end of the nineteenth century, somehow fails to register in the field of its philosophical import. It is possible to discuss—entirely possible, as it turns out—this particular moment in Balzac or the one in Smith without believing that the choice of the mandarin or of China makes any significant difference to the philosophical issues involved. This is true in any number of places, including Ginzburg, Lynn Hunt’s recent book on the history of human rights, or Kwame Anthony Appiah’s recent book on cosmopolitanism, to name a few of the prominent examples.

My aim in the book, and here today, is not simply to perform a symptomatic reading, in which the mandarin functions as a kind of synecdochic feature of the entire apparatus of European sympathy, a psychoanalytic sine qua non of the great humanist turn. I’m interested rather in thinking about what kind of example is the kind of example in which the example does not matter to the thing being exemplified. I’m interested, that is, in thinking about the ways in which the relation between the particular and the general established and framed in the idea of examples arranges itself around a particular type of example, namely the type of example you see here, in which the thing being exemplified disappears.

The core of my argument—and this is where things become a bit vertiginous—is that China has in general tended to function in Western philosophy and literature as precisely this kind of example. That is: the example of the Chinese mandarin is not just an example of a type of example, operating in the philosophical or epistemological terrain that would be called something like “Example Studies.” It is also, I argue, an example of the more general claim that China has consistently functioned in this particular way, that is, as the kind of exemplar that does not exert any effects on that which it exemplifies. The mandarin hypothetical thus exemplifies, one might say, not so much an event inside the history of exemplarity proper as an event inside the history of the place of China in Western thought.

3. The Example-Effect

Though all books address, one way or another, the theories of culture, of evidence, or of historical causality that hold them together, such an address seems especially necessary for this one, where from the beginning the relationship between the book’s major historical elements—sympathy, the human, and China—has been shadowed by the potentially accidental, coincidental relationship that binds the last of these to the former two. It would be needlessly reductive to assert on the basis of a broad theory of social constructivism that no difference exists between the invention of the modern human, on one hand, and its references to China, on the other, between the well-nigh ontological importance of the primary historical event and the rhetorical or cultural material that accompanies it. Instead, it seems crucial to recognize that whatever twines these objects does so only insofar as it recognizes and takes advantage of the “generic” difference between them; to recognize, that is, that the grammar of this relationship depends on the differing cultural and epistemological roles played by the idea (“the invention of the sympathetic human”) and the example to which it refers (“China”). An explicit recognition of that difference will be needed if the book is to tell the story of what is after all an imaginary and seemingly arbitrary relation, even if that relation continues to haunt, in the precarious lives of those hypothetical Chinese victims, contemporary accounts of the future of human rights and the political possibilities of globalization.9

A book that claimed that China was simply extraneous or supplemental to the main direction of, say, Smith’s theory or moral philosophy or Balzac’s characterization of Rastignac—or that simply ignored the appearance of China in these contexts, which is how most people handle it—would have a lot less work to do. Here we confront the fact that though the exemplarity of examples is a problem for any work that relies on them, for a book that is precisely about the history of a certain kind of example and a certain kind of exemplarity (the kind, that is, that does not “feel” exemplary) the question of the example becomes a particular and pressing problem. If there is a dawn for this darkness, it cannot appear solely as a second-order, metadiscursive discussion of the generic problem, an attempt to argue theoretically for the importance and reality of cultural connections and social imaginaries, even if it is clear that part of the issue here has to do with the epistemological status of the overdetermined, overimbricated cultural object and its relation to history. Since the very heart of the method stems from the difference between the “first” and “second” order of things, the truly historical and the merely coincidental, and thus the degree to which any discussion can or should be held historically or philosophically responsible for the qualities of its content—whether, that is, one can separate something like the central or necessary features of an articulation of the nature of human sympathy from the apparently arbitrary choice of a Chinese mandarin as its avatar—then any discussion that would simply articulate as though at a remove from the argument the theory that subtends it would wind up reproducing the very problem it meant to diagnose. If your point is that the rhetoric of an idea matters—that the choice of examples, for instance, makes a difference to the philosophy of it, or that a set of referential habits and historical occurrences that might not have happened nonetheless exert some kind of effect on the shape of the habits or histories in which they appear—then it would seem especially short-sighted to make your claim while holding it fully separate from the examples that contextualize it, and that make it comprehensible. Or, to put things more plainly: you can’t argue that the example matters to the idea without acknowledging that the examples you use to show that examples matter to the idea matter to the idea that examples matter to the idea.

To think about and justify the epistemological method of the book through a sustained attention to one recent discussion of an experience of Chinese suffering is the project of the first chapter. I take the ethical task of making this kind of argument to be, as that chapter will make clear, that no argument about an experience that arrives to us as a text can be made in a manner that separates it from its examples, and thus that any evidentiary argument belongs at least partially to the examples on which it draws—even or perhaps especially when those examples present themselves as arbitrary. Such an approach has some interesting effects on the role of the examples themselves, since it is only through a sustained critical engagement with their particular language, their historical context, and the forms of their mediatic circulation that the arguments acquire the momentum they need to theorize themselves “away” from the examples, without for all that ever escaping their gravitational pull. The examples in this book thus acquire a strange mixture of particularity and generality. Though such a mixture obtains for all examples everywhere—the function of examples is, after all, to be exemplary—in this case I have tried to halt the normal and normalizing transition from the particular to the general, the instance to the instantiation, that makes the example that which “illustrates, or forms a particular case of, a general principle, rule, state of things.”10 The chapters that follow suspend that process at precisely the moment at which the individual anecdote, citation, sentence, or episode threatens to cross over into general principle, there to be replaced by a rule or state of things that effectively erases the anecdote’s or citation’s importance qua itself—that is, its existence as something other than an example of some idea. The examples thus tend to exemplify the claims I am making in this introduction without becoming for all that exemplary, without constituting the total apprehension of the cultural network or habit whose story the book writes. Instead, they indicate points at which that network can be said to have “touched down” with particular force on the nodes of energy, thought, or life that make up the living skein of history, while retaining a remainder that has in some cases very little to do with their exemplification, but whose presence must be respected if one wishes to avoid dismissing that remainder as accidental and thus irrelevant to the general project. If that incompleteness can be recuperated for the book as a whole, it is because it figures (though necessarily incompletely) the general awkwardness of the Chinese reference in European history, which it thus attempts to think in terms of its example-effect.11

4. The Mandarin (Return)

Let us now return to our hypothetical mandarin, against whose imaginary life the rickety consciences of the West shore their unquiet incertitudes. A little attention to his specificity is in order. In addition to being Chinese he is, let us note, a mandarin, not a peasant or a seamstress, a scholar whose Kantian inner Wert depends at least partly, we might imagine, on the commodifiable Marktpreis of his earned knowledge and social position. Mandarins were, as Balzac knew, state functionaries chosen through an extensive examination process largely focused on philosophy and literature; in the European imaginary, they functioned as expressions of a form of governmentality whose power derived from rote memorization and imitation of the Chinese classics, and which oversaw a state committed to the relentless reproduction of its own social and governmental form. By the mid-1800s widespread historical and philosophical attacks on Asia’s historical immutability from figures like Adam Smith or Hegel made the mandarin a figure for stagnation in its broadest possible meanings: historical stasis (and hence no progress), economic stasis (hence no class mobility), and the stasis of capital, this latter the necessary form of “a despotic state machine cornering the bulk of the surplus and functioning not merely as the central apparatus of repressing of the ruling class, but as its principal instrument of economic exploitation.”12 To exchange a Chinese mandarin for a European fortune was thus, essentially, to exchange stasis for movement, or, to put things in more explicitly economic terms, to exchange non-circulating capital for its circulating cousin. From this perspective Balzac’s hypothetical grasps the social imaginary binding China to the West far more clearly than Smith’s does, since in the former’s proposed exchange the figuration of a particular kind if life as resistant to market pricing (the mandarin’s fortune, like China’s history, fails to circulate) becomes through the act that kills him a mobile inheritance whose assent to the market depends on the fact of it already having been exchanged, once, for a life.13

Other figures might have suggested to their auditors a different answer to the question of exchange: would you accept the death of a slave or two in return for cane sugar and cheap cotton?14 Would you, today, admit that the miner occasionally maimed in an industrial accident is the unfortunate compensation for reduced prices on computer motherboards? Most Westerners alive in the past two centuries have answered yes to questions like those, if only by the passive fact of living in an economic system devoted to the production of surplus value. These rewritten versions of the hypothetical will thus not fail to reveal the embarrassing complicity of all consumers with a certain statistical violence.

This allows us to understand more clearly why the mandarin is a mandarin, and why he is Chinese. His rhetorical function is to move the question from the realm of politics to the realm of philosophy by screening the addressee from the recognition that his or her life has already, and for a long time, benefited from the exchange between life and capital proposed in the trade between mandarin and fortune. The mandarin is just far enough, one might say, that the real effects of his role in the European world that imagines him can be ignored, shifting the modal tenor of the question from “what should you do?” to “what would you do?,” the latter obscuring behind the screen of its implied protasis (its “if” clause) the fact of decisions already taken and made.15

Such a concealment is ideological in the most fundamental of senses, deeply complicit with the production of a mythology of imperialism (and indeed of capital more generally) that aims to divorce its all-too-predictable consequences from its life as an ideal.16 That said, we should also recognize that the removal of this decision to the realm of the imaginary opens a potential space of resistance or revolutionary possibility. In philosophical space, life has not yet been commodified, and the addressee is not yet complicit in the system that has commodified it. The hypothetical’s philosophical space permits its addressee to discover and affirm for him- or herself the moral ground upon which his current political situation might be resisted. The question posed by the mandarin hypothetical thus produces via its forgetting the philosophical space necessary for thought to consider life from “the place and with the eyes of a third person, who has no particular connexion with either,” as Adam Smith had proposed of moral judgments in 1790. Here again we see how the example-effect of “China” (as race, as nation, as culture) reproduces the problem of exemplarity and idea that surrounds China’s historical relation to the invention of the modern human: it matters that the mandarin is Chinese, because his being Chinese means that his being Chinese doesn’t matter. The function of Chineseness is thus, paradoxically, to force the transformation of the instance into a universal that retains the instance in fossil form. It appears by disappearing; it disappears by appearing. Grasping this ghostly, shifting figure in all its holomorphic complexity is the task I set myself in the book.

1 The Theory of Moral Sentiments, Eds. D.D. Raphael and A.L. Macfie (Indianapolis, 1984), 135. Further references in the text as MS. Raphael and Macfie note that though Smith wrote the following passage in 1760, it did not appear till the 1790 edition; they also suggest that his choice of an earthquake owes something to the famous earthquake of 1755, which killed as many as 90,000 people and destroyed the city of Lisbon (see 134na, 136nj and 141nx for more extensive bibliographic information). The entire section “Of the Influence and Authority of Conscience” appeared for the first time only in the second edition of 1760, which substantially revised the text of the first 1759 edition. The book remained more or less unchanged until the sixth edition in 1790.

2 Cited from Carlo Ginzburg, “To Kill a Chinese Mandarin: The Moral Implications of Distance,” in Wooden Eyes: Nine Reflections on Distance, trans. Martin Ryle and Kate Soper (New York, 2001), 165-66; Balzac, Le Père Goriot, in Oeuvres Complètes, Scènes de la vie privée VI (Paris, 1949), 361.

3 Ginzburg notes that Rastignac’s attribution of this passage to Rousseau is responsible for the widespread assumption that Rousseau was its origin. The passage does not appear in Rousseau, Ginzburg notes, but can be found in François-René de Chateaubriand’s Le Génie du Christianisme (1802), where it takes this form: “If, merely by wishing it, you could kill a man in China and inherit his fortune in Europe, being assured by supernatural means that the deed would remain forever unknown, would you allow yourself to form that project?” (Ginzburg 164). Ginzburg suggests that Chateaubriand’s story draws from an episode in the work of Denis Diderot dating from 1773, in which a European murderer “transported to the coast of China” is too far from his crime to feel its sting on his conscience (Ginzburg 165). But there may be a simpler explanation, since Smith’s version predates Chateaubriand’s by twelve years in print. Given that Chateaubriand began writing Le Génie while in England in 1799, his source for the hypothetical’s basic structure was likely Smith rather than Diderot. Chateaubriand’s passage is discussed by Paul Ronai, “Tuer le Mandarin,” Revue de littérature comparée 10 (1930), 520-23. The mandarin hypothetical appears in a variety of literary sources over the years; for a listing of mostly European sources see Laurence W. Keates, “Mysterious Miraculous Mandarin: Origins, Literary Paternity, Implication in Ethics,” Revue de littérature comparée 40:4 (1966), 497-525.

4 See for instance Thomas Bender, Ed., The Antislavery Debate: Capitalism and Abolitionism (Berkeley, 1992); Shirley Samuels, Ed., The Culture of Sentiment: Race, Gender, and Sentimentality in Nineteenth-Century America (New York, 1992); Elizabeth Barnes, States of Sympathy: Seduction and Democracy in the American Novel (New York, 1997); Ian Baucom, Specters of the Atlantic: Finance Capital, Slavery, and the Philosophy of History (Durham, 2005); Benjamin Daffron, Romantic Doubles: Sex and Sympathy in British Gothic Literature, 1790-1830 (New York, 2002); Joseph Fichtelberg, Critical Fictions: Sentiment and the American Market, 1780-1870 (Athens, 2003); Mary Lenard, Preaching Pity: Dickens, Gaskell, and Sentimentalism in Victorian Culture (New York, 1999); Dana D. Nelson, The World in Black and White: Reading “Race” In American Literature, 1638-1867 (New York, 1993); Gonzalo Sánchez, Pity in Fin-de-siècle French Culture: “Liberté, Égalité, Pitié” (Westport, 2004).

5 On the incompatibility of doctrines of sympathy with earlier models, see R.S. Crane, “Suggestions towards a Genealogy of the ‘Man of Feeling’” ELH 1.3 (Dec. 1934), 206-207.

6 On slavery, see Thomas Bender and Baucom; on the mentally ill, see Michel Foucault, The Birth of the Clinic: An Archaeology of Medical Perception, trans. A.M. Sheridan Smith (New York, 1973) and Madness and Civilization: A History of Insanity in the Age of Reason, trans. Richard Howard (New York, 1965); on torture, see Edward Peters, Torture (London, 1985); on prison reform see Norval Morris and David J. Rothman, Eds., The Oxford History of the Prison: The Practice of Punishment in Western Society (New York, 1995), and John B. Bender, Imagining the Penitentiary: Fiction and the Architecture of Mind in Eighteenth-Century England (Chicago, 1997). On animals, see James Turner, who writes that Europe’s ”flood of sympathy, embracing all people, could hardly fail to overflow its original bounds and brush with pity the sufferings of other sentient beings. Particularly at a time when scientific discoveries suggested a closer kinship between men and beasts… animals began to benefit from this exuberance of compassion” (Reckoning with the Beast: Animals, Pain, and Humanity in the Victorian Mind [Baltimore, 1980], 7).

7 Taylor, “Conditions of an Unforced Consensus on Human Rights,” in The East Asian Challenge for Human Rights, Joanne R. Bauer and Daniel A. Bell, eds. (Cambridge, 1999). The second citation is from Crane, who is quoting the Scottish moralist David Fordyce, writing in 1754 (227). A great deal of work has been done to debunk the notion that the rise in compassion resulted from the general moral improvement of humankind; on this subject see especially Thomas Haskell, “Capitalism and the Origins of Humanitarian Sensibility,” parts 1 and 2, in The Antislavery Debate: Capitalism and Abolitionism, ed. Thomas Bender (Berkeley, 1992). For philosophy, see David Hume, Treatise of Human Nature (New York, 1978) and Francis Hutcheson, Essay on the Nature and Conduct of the Passions and Affections (Gainesville, 1969); see Alexander Broadie, “Sympathy and the Impartial Spectator,” in The Cambridge Companion to Adam Smith, ed. Knud Haakonssen (Cambridge, 2006), for an essay describing Hutcheson and Hume’s influence on Smith’s theory of sympathy. On liberal Anglicanism, see Gerald Cragg, From Puritanism to the Age of Reason: A Study of Changes in Religious Thought within the Church of England, 1660 to 1700 (Cambridge, 1966).

8 Janet Todd, Sensibility: An Introduction (London, 1986), 8. Todd identifies sentimental literature’s heyday as the period from 1740 to 1770, tracing its decline through adjectives applied to the term “sensibility” (see 7-8). She writes that Smith’s Theory of Moral Sentiments was the “end to a line of British moral philosophy” that admitted “the sentimental aim of trying systematically to link morality and emotion” (27). The long-term implications of this sentimental education, though no longer explicitly articulated in philosophical terms, continue to operate through the humanitarianism that bears their dreams through the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. On the literature of sensibility, see also Barbara Benedict, Framing Feeling: Sentiment and Style in English Prose Fiction, 1745-1800 (New York, 1994).

9 Lynn Hunt’s 2007 history of the human rights, for instance, refers to Smith’s earthquake as it imagines the challenges facing the future of that powerful, utopian discourse (210). Likewise, K. Anthony Appiah’s 2006 Cosmopolitanism, whose goal it is to articulate an intellectual and political “attitude” towards this era which continually announces itself to us as global, makes Balzac’s mandarin a feature of its final chapter on “Kindness to Strangers,” though it does not mention his Chineseness (Cosmopolitanism: Ethics in a World of Strangers [New York, 2006], especially 155-58; for a discussion of the status of the philosophical example in that book, see Bruce Robbins, “Cosmpolitanism: New and Newer,” boundary 2 34:3 [2007], 59). Another recent philosophical discussion of the mandarin that makes no mention of his Chineseness appears in Iddo Landau’s “To Kill a Mandarin,” Philosophy and Literature 29 (2005). Only Keates in 1966 seems to find the mandarin’s national origin interesting, writing that for Europeans in the nineteenth century “the rich citizen of the Middle Kingdom was yet a citizen of an alien and remote society; indeed, the plurality of the worlds discovered in the Renaissance has still to be fused into a new unitary world. The only unity is moral, in the limited sense that our Chinaman-mandarin belongs to humanity [my emphasis], and a crime or sin against him, as it concerns the mens rea, would be as grievous as one against our next door neighbor” (op. cit. 504).

10 The citation is from the OED’s definition of example.

11 Because their historical range is extensive (the earliest example dates from 1606, and the latest from 2006), their geographic and linguistic range reasonably broad (most of the material is in English, but some is in French, some in German, some in Chinese), and their genres diverse (travel narrative, medical case study, photograph, novel), the examples discussed in the chapters that follow do have the advantage of indicating a wide set of possible forms that the discourse on Chineseness, suffering, and the human can take. They do not, however, define the entire range of discursive possibility, since among the many things I do not discuss are the history of footbinding, and the dramatic increase in recent decades in the international adoption of Chinese children, two major sites for the expression and indeed the lived, embodied production of the discourse on China and human life. On footbinding, see Dorothy Ko’s excellent Cinderella’s Sisters: A Revisionist History of Footbinding (Berkeley, 2005), and Wang Ping’s Aching for Beauty: Footbinding in China (Minneapolis, 2000). On adoption, see Vincent Cheng, Inauthentic: The Anxiety over Culture and Identity (New Brunswick, 2004), particularly chapter four; David L. Eng, “Transnational Adoption and Queer Diasporas,” Social Text 21.3 (Fall 2003); and Toby Alice Volkman, ed., Cultures of Transnational Adoption (Durham, 2005).

12 This is Perry Anderson, summarizing Karl Marx’s theory of the Asiatic mode of production, in Lineages of the Absolutist State (London, 1974), 483.

13 To the mandarin’s role as a figure for a certain model of capital circulation one can further adduce a linguistic dimension, since among the definitions the OED gives for “mandarin” is “any obscurantist, esoteric, or exclusive variety of a language,” which borrows from the mandarin’s economic and governmental stereotype the sense of mobility without movement, or activity without change. The fact that “Mandarin” names, when capitalized, the official language of the People’s Republic of China adds another layer of relevance.

14 Remembering, perhaps, that Toussaint Louverture died in a French prison in 1803.

15 In this sense the hypothetical of the murdered mandarin can be compared to that other great nineteenth-century hypothetical question, “What would Jesus do?” (i.e., if you were Jesus, what would you do?) whose formal operations and cultural history have been discussed at length in Gregory S. Jackson, “‘What Would Jesus Do?’: Practical Christianity, Social Gospel Realism, and the Homiletic Novel,” PMLA 121.3 (May 2006). Another project here would connect the hypothetical as narrative form to the work done in fiction by the rise of the scientific hypothesis, which John Bender has argued shares with novelistic fiction an affinity for knowledge production based on “cases,” that is, “causal and narrative sequences” that share “basic technologies of world making and sense making” (“Enlightenment Fiction and the Scientific Hypothesis,” Representations 61 [Winter 1998], 15).

16 Much the same way civilian casualties caused by modern warfare, as predictable as they are to anyone who has been paying the slightest bit of attention, are nonetheless understood to be extraneous to the ideal of modern warfare and thus remain in some sense excusable, this even though the stated ideal has never existed, and never will. You don’t have to have lived through the current war in Iraq to notice this, though it helps.

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