2001 MMLA
Globalization and the Image

S. A. Cohen
University of Virginia


Constellatory Modernism: Imperial Landmarks and Making the World One


Do not cite without permission of the author.

I want to begin by considering the image of global space offered by a series of telegraph cable maps that appeared in the 1905 essay collection, The Empire and the Century. [Cf.www.people.virginia.edu/~sac2n/peel] In his contribution, "The Nerves of the Empire," George Peel champions the success of the mid-century proliferation of British communications technology and displays several maps illustrating the scope of Britain's network of telegraph cables. These diagrams make up six of the seven maps included in this hefty 900 page tome . Read alongside the other essays in the volume, these maps visually chart the future of the empire with the pure geometry of straight red lines. Drawing on his anatomic title, Peel reminds his readers that the success of the empire depends on telegraph cables which "annihilate time and space on behalf of [the nation], [giving] unity to the disunion of her unfettered people, and substance to her dream of an Imperial commonwealth."1 The image of the earth from the implied heights of schematic representation reveals a newly discovered sense of proximity among distant places which, Peel imagines, might just be the harbinger of a new enlightenment under the sign of the British empire.

In this paper I will sketch some of the cultural ramifications of these images to argue that elements of the imperial project were under assault from the very patterns of mastery represented by these cable maps. In light of this crisis of imperial space, I offer a framework for analyzing images emanating from the imperial metropolis and propose that the practical politics of imperialism and the aesthetic practices of literary modernism developed parallel, if opposing, solutions to address the images of global space. For if the "enterprise of empire," as Edward Said has famously asserted, "depends upon the idea of having an empire,"2 the image of the empire depicted in these telegraph maps contributed to how the imperial periphery existed in space. But more importantly, here I want to begin by teasing out the crisis that arises at the intersection of the image of empire and the material practices of empire building to suggest that the British empire slowly became a victim of its own spatial success as much as its military and political failures.

Although George Peel's colorful maps of telegraph cables visually summarize a century of imperial successes and decades of labor and diplomacy that went into laying some 121,000 miles of cable, the skeletal image of empire presented here is markedly different from the images that had dominated imperialist geography for more than a century. These cable maps give a new shape to the world, one less defined by swaths of imperial color than by imagined trajectories through imperial circuits of trade. While the familiar images of the "Imperial Federation Map of the World" (1886) and the "Howard Vincent Map of the British Empire" (1886) still dominated the popular British imaginary, the new topography of telegraph maps was championed by imperialists for representing "the true nerves of the Empire." These maps, in their schematic representation of planetary space, stand out against the more familiar imperial "map-as-logo"-that is, the "jigsaw effect" of coloring schemes of imperial dye that Benedict Anderson rightly distinguishes for its "infinitely reproduc[ablity]" and "instantly recogniz[ably]."3 This jumble of intersecting lines, drawn with little concern for the actual distance between places, produces an often barely recognizable constellation of nodes throughout the empire.

By reducing the contours of continents to straight lines, oceans to short gaps between cities, the telegraph map offers a graphical narration of the more general shift in spatial perceptions that many critics contend is one of the most enduring legacies of imperialist expansion. After all, geography during the expansionist "age of empire" was in the image business; as one historian suggests, geography "was promoted largely to serve the interests of imperialism in its various aspects including territorial acquisition, economic exploitation, militarism and the practice of class and race domination."4 In "mak[ing] the world one," to borrow Said's well-known claim for the geographical and cultural implications of empire, continental empires not only "integrated and fused things within" their spheres of influence,5 they established routes, trajectories, and networks for commerce and transport. Edward Soja's work highlights the importance of imperialism's treatment of space in these terms: "Imperialism . . . internationalized another circuit of capital, involved in finance, money, and investment transactions, which more efficiently organized the international economy for larger scale geographical transfers of value than had ever before been possible."6 This new form of circulation took place in and precipitated the production of what Henri Lefebvre calls abstract space.7 Of course, this new global spatiality had a tremendous influence on how individuals interacted with and perceived geographical places. As one critic concisely put it: capital turns place into space.8

While the image of imperial totality was a rallying point for politicians and statesmen, the spatial dynamic upon which these images rested, I want to suggest, produced rather ambiguous results when it came to actual colonial administration. Specifically, the resettlement of a growing urban population on the colonial periphery was jeopardized by this global image. From the 1880s onward, the threat that a swelling working class would overwhelm the ruling classes produced increasingly shrill calls for empire migration-from Sir John Robert Seeley's prescription for the "superfluous population" to Cecil Rhodes' fear of a "bloody civil war"9 to the pamphlets of privately funded charity organizations like the East End Emigration Fund and the Salvation Army. Such calls for the movement of a "surplus" metropolitan population to colonial settlements and the propaganda of colonial emigration was founded on a structure of feeling where specific remote places flying the Union Jack promised the emotive possibilities of place.

On the one hand, the totalizing optics of imperialism, what J. A. Hobson called "the lust of the spectator" in his well-known discussion of Jingoism, allowed for delighting in the shrinking of the globe and the planetary image rendered by telegraph maps. After all, such a condition underwrites the claims of empire migration enthusiasts who insisted that a trip to the empire is no more difficult than a trip across the British Isles. Yet on the other hand, such enthusiasm at the shrinking globe belied the fact that trips to the colonies continued to be of the utmost importance.

In many respects, the cartographic pleasure gained by a new global image was enjoyed at the expense of empire relocation which depended not only on the promise of vast open spaces but the specific articulation of legible identities ascribed to places within the empire. Quite simply, the success of appeals to "Get Out!", as one empire migration advocate urged his readers, depended on there being a place to get out to, a place that would be attractive to a metropolitan audience at the center of the world with the trophies of unprecedented imperial conquest exhibited just outside their doors. As Raymond Williams put it in The Country and the City, "the lands of the Empire were an idyllic retreat, an escape from debt or shame, or an opportunity for making a fortune."10 The structure of feeling evident in more than a century of colonial narratives depended on the very basic fact of distance. In light of these new projections of global space however, emigration enthusiasts found themselves in a difficult position, yet not one beyond their powers to negotiate with their own imaginative interventions.

If the difficulty of articulating the possibilities of a specific place posed any obstacle to the empire migration enthusiast, then unreflective movement offered at least an immediate solution. In the face of the "abolishment of space and time," mobility became the driving force of imperial geography during the period. As recent scholarship on the metropolitan spaces of empire suggests, spectacles like Empire Day celebrations and Imperial Exhibitions were successful precisely because they were seen as "spaces in movement, shaped at least in part by the crowds that pasted through them" and that the "rhetoric of ceremonial spaces, and in the context of modernist urban planning in the imperial metropolis, where the human traffic produced the meaning of these spaces and ultimately feed imperial unity."11 The importance of human traffic did not end with urban planning but was translated and reenacted on the global stage. This is particularly evident in the work of H. J. Mackinder, the imperialist geographer who in 1904 offered the memorable formula for Britain's global supremacy where he asserts that understanding "the mobility of power"-from roaming ancient tribes to rail and steam locomotion-would lend to a new "geographical causation in universal history." 12

At the more mundane level of moving metropolitan populations to the colonies, a similar logic is apparent in the rhetoric of William Booth, the founder of the Salvation Army and preeminent empire migration enthusiast. In imagining a constant flow of human traffic to the empire, Booth proclaims: "What I think is required, and what I should like to see realized, would be a bridge across the seas as it were, to some land of plenty over which there should constantly be passing, under conditions as favourable as the circumstances will allow, our surplus population, instead of its melancholy gravitation, as at present, down to the filthy slums, hated workhouses, the cruel casual wards, the hopeless prisons, and the like."13

Booth's image of a bridge, figurative as it was (though I should note that Booth also worked on plans for a railroad from England to Australia but gave up at the apparent insurmountable obstacle presented by the English channel), demonstrates a particular sense of geographical space. Booth's bridge is both a place and a form of mobility. Such a conception resonates with Heidegger's insistence that a bridge is as much a trajectory and condition of transit as it is a site in itself, one that can reinforce specific locations: "the bridge does not first come to a locale to stand in it; rather, a locale comes into existence only by virtue of the bridge."14 By reading empire migration as a condition, practice and location, the empire settlement bridge implies a certain place in the experience of colonial traffic.

According to the voices behind the growing empire migration movement, even the most destitute figure could no longer signify as merely a drain on metropolitan resources and patience. This is evident in W. T. Snead's essay inaugurating The Review of Reviews in 1890. Snead insists: "For the ordinary common Englishman, country yokel, or child of the slums, is the seed of the Empire. That red-haired hobbledhoy, smoking his short pipe at the corner of Seven Dials, may two years hence be the red-coated representative of the might and majesty of Britain in the midst of a myriad of Africans or Asiatics. . . . No one is too insignificant to be overlooked."15 Snead effectively converts the everyday metropolitan loafer into a living landmark to an imperial future, a figure who might one day be responsible for illuminating a node on the imperial map with which we began.

Yet, as many imperialists at the turn of the century recognized, the danger that the "seeds" of the empire would never germinate abroad (or even worse, that they should wander out of the empire) was essentially a problem of the global image. The difficulty becomes most apparent in the metropolitan spectator's perception of empire, for whom maps figured as narratives of imperial space and history. For example, one emigration enthusiast encouraged his fellow "arm-chair" imperialists to "get hold of the first map-the bigger the better-of any portion of the Empire (it matters not which), and just pore over it. The sheet before you will grow into an entrancing dream of seas and islands, of mountains and lakes, of rivers and plains, of vast expanses, and of horizons limited only by the visual powers of the imagination."16 Arguably, images that featured networks cutting across abstract space were less promising for such an exercise. The attempt to imagine the totality of empire, the fantasy of open spaces, the imagined bridge to the colonies, the embracing of what David Harvey called "time-space compression," all result in complicating the fundamental tropes that had constituted and sustained how the colonies had been imagined for two centuries. The itinerary, the journey, the mission are all jeopardized by the projection of abstract space, and all that remains, like city names on a telegraph map, are the signifiers of places outside of lived experience.

While George Peel was drawing his telegraph maps, T. E. Hulme, the influential modernist poet and thinker, was exploring a similar aesthetic of distance in his notes towards a personal philosophy. Hulme surmises that "there is a difficulty in finding a comprehensive scheme of the cosmos, because there is none. The cosmos is only organised in parts; the rest is cinders."17 But the cindery chaos can only be ordered, Hulme imagines, "by drawing squares over it" which at least allows for movement and location, an activity he equates with the logic of a "sorting machine" and the image of a "railway line in [the] desert." Such activities cannot really offer coherence, Hulme insists, but they can facilitate spatial understanding. Evincing the predicament of a global image, Hulme turns to the imperial city from a distance asking, "Why is it that London looks pretty at night?" His answer: "Because for the general cindery chaos there is substituted a simple ordered arrangement of a finite number of lights."18

The similarities between Peel's telegraph maps and Hulme's cityscape are remarkable: both authors draw constellations to map diverse and complex spaces. Yet in some ways it is not surprising that an ancient method of rendering the incomprehensibility of the cosmos should be revived to represent these complex spaces of modernity. I draw these two images into conversation because the similarity of their responses to different representational crises lends to a possible framework for understanding modernism's relationship with empire. As Fredric Jameson has suggested, modernism's relationship with imperialism is defined by the "representational dilemmas of a new imperial world system." He continues to aver that the first response to "this problem of a global space that is like the fourth dimension somehow constitutively escapes you" is to "make a map." 19 But unlike the cartographic impulse which Jameson rightly asserts will be inadequate in its Lukácsian thrust toward totality, the image of a constellation, I want to propose, gives rise to imaginative possibilities unavailable in more conventional cartography or cognitive mapping. As Michel de Certeau reminds us, maps are documents of barbarism par excellence, enclosing the spatial practices and "eras[ing] the itineraries" of their production. Effectively "coloniz[ing] space," maps "collate on the same plane heterogeneous places, some received from a tradition and others produced by observation."20 A constellation, however, highlights the very lack inherent in the representational dilemma of mapping complex spaces and makes possible a variety of imaginative interventions to fill the void.

In light of empire migration enthusiasts' dealings with the global space that seemed beyond their grasp-infusing space with romance, constructing imaginary bridges, and foregrounding movement-we should consider whether or not the aesthetic practices of modernism produced a similar set of responses to the new constellational mapping of the metropolis, responses that might parallel the imaginative interventions of empire migration. For a constellation is markedly different from map not only in its stark and almost modernist rendering but in the ways it necessitates the infusion of figurative, imaginative and even mythic qualities to flesh itself out and make itself legible. But perhaps more importantly, a constellation also figures to highlight location and position, something that is threatened by a "sprawling imperial periphery." This hermeneutic is illustrated later in Hulme's notes when he offers a closer look at London, giving us a better appreciation for his earlier purchase on the city: "Only in the fact of consciousness is there a unity in the world. Cf. Oxford Street at 2 a.m. All mud, endless, except where bound together by the spectator."

The framework of the constellation, I want to suggest, foregrounds both the "pedestrian rhetoric," to borrow Certeau's term, and the imaginary frontiers of the imperial spectator in the metropolis. Our challenge, then, is to redirect our attention from the disjunction between metropole and periphery to focus on the blurring and mutual mapping of these spatial categories.

It is worth turning in conclusion to Walter Benjamin, not only for his dedication to the difficult task of tracing interlaced images in their global and local contexts, but for his remarks on the difficulty we all face in understanding images and mapping our positions, a difficulty that is amplified not attenuated by the roar of globalization and its images. The city, Benjamin explains, is persistently masking and unmasking itself, and the spectator faces the constant rivalry between the real and imagined images of the city: "Yet one day the gate, the church that were the boundary of a district become without warning its center. Now the city turns into a labyrinth for the newcomer. Streets that he had located far apart are yoked together by a corner like a pair of horses in a coachman's fist. The whole exciting sequence of topographical dummies that deceives him could only be shown by a film: the city is on its guard against him, masks itself, flees, intrigues, lures him to wander its circles to the point of exhaustion. . . .But in the end, maps and plans are victorious: in bed at night, imagination juggles with real buildings, parks, and streets."21

Our challenge when approaching the image in the wake of globalization, it would seem, is to exhaustively follow "topographical dummies" to recognize how geographical abstractions enfold and enclose complex spaces. While we probably can no longer share Benjamin's hope that a mass cultural account of this experience would give us the clarity seek, as critics and cultural historians we can be on our guard, and at least try to see the images of empire and metropolitan spaces not only in dialectical relation, not only connected by similar modes of apprehension by the spectator, but we can also try to set these images into motion and revive the thrilling terrain they delineate. Until we recognize the global image as moving and shifting, as the product of real and imaginary relations, we are destined to build our own "topographical dummies" from which we then triangulate new positions only to find ourselves in an utterly unfamiliar landscape.


1 George Peel, "Nerves of the Empire," in The Empire and the Century: A Series of Essays on Imperial Problems and Possibilities (London: John Murray, 1905), 287.

2 Edward Said, Culture and Imperialism (New York: Alfred Knopf, 1993), 11.

3 Benidict Anderson, Imagined Communities: Reflections on the Origin and Spread of Nationalism (London: Verso, 1983), 175.

4 B. Hudson quoted in Felix Driver, "Geography's Empire: Histories of Geographical Knowledge," Environment and Planning D: Society and Space 10 (1992), 27.

5 Said, Culture and Imperialism, 6.

6 Edward Soja, Postmodern Geographies: The Reassertion of Space in Critical Social Theory (London: Verso, 1989), 165.

7 Henri Lefebvre, The Production of Space, translated by Donald Nicholson-Smith, (Oxford: Blackwell, 1991).

8 Roger Friedland, "Space, Place, and Modernity: The Geographical Moment," Contemporary Sociology 21 (1992): 14.

9 J. R. Seeley, The Expansion of England [1883] (London: Macmillan,1921), 141; Rhodes quoted in Lenin Imperialism, 79.

10 Raymond Williams, The Country and the City (Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press, 1973), 281.

11 Felix Driver and David Gilbert, "Imperial Cities: Overlapping Territories, Intertwined Histories," in Imperial Cities: Landscape, Display and Identity, edited by Felix Driver and David Gilbert (Manchester: Manchester Univ. Press, 1999), 8.

12 See H. J. Mackinder, "The Geographical Pivot of History," The Geographical Journal 23.4 (1904), 421-444.

13 William Booth, "Our Emigration Plans," in Proceedings of the Royal Colonial Institute, Volume XXXVII [1905-1906] (London: The Royal Colonial Institute, 1906), 145

14 Martin Heidegger, "Building Dwelling Thinking," in Basic Writings (San Francisco: Harper, 1977), 356.

15 W. T. Snead, The Review of Reviews Vol. 1, issue 1. January 1890, 16.

16 Ernest Williams, The Imperial Heritage (New York: New Amsterdam Book Company, 1898), 19-20.

17 Hulme, Selected Writings (London: Fyfield Books, 1998), 20.

18 Hulme, 21.

19 Jameson, "Modernism and Imperialism," in Nationalism, Colonialism, and Literature (Minneapolis: Univ. of Minnesota Press, 1990), 51.

20 Michel de Certeau, The Practice of Everyday Life, translated by Steven Rendall (Berkeley: Univ. of California Press, 1984), 121.

21 Walter Benjamin, "Moscow," in Reflections (New York: Schocken Books, 1978), 99.