George Phillips deposited “Structures of Irony: Curiosity and Fetishism in Late Imperial London” on MLA Commons 7 years, 1 month ago
This essay argues that curiosity can work as irony’s shadow dialectic in modernist responses to imperialism and metropolitan culture, and suggests that curiosity deserves further exploration as a modernist device. Attentive to the settings and visual metaphors of space and structure that abet irony’s role, this essay finds that curiosity’s conspicuous absence in Joseph Conrad’s The Secret Agent (1907) burdens irony with the obligation to respond alone to the late imperial culture Conrad characterizes as governed by fetishism. By contrast, curiosity emerges in E. M. Forster’s review “The Birth of an Empire” (1924) not as irony’s naive opposite but as that which may learn from the distance irony produces and as the occasion for testing tentative styles of reattachment to the metropole that seek deeper knowledge of British India and late imperial London than colonial exhibitions could display. Reading such texts today calls not for reaffirmations for ironic distance, but for pursuing an alternative knowledge of curiosity’s role in response by considering it within the paradigm of modernist irony.