Romance As Political Aesthetic in Ahdaf Soueif's the Map of Love (Critical Essay)
Genders 2007, June, 45
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 Romance has, to put it mildly, a sketchy political history. On the one hand, its focus on interpersonal dramas within the feminized private sphere, from aristocratic liaisons in the chivalric epics of the Middle Ages to the novels of Jane Austen to the tawdry delights of Harlequin, Mills and Boon, and the romantic comedy film, seem ill fitted to grand statements about social and political concerns. In this sense, the romance's very identity depends on being defined against a masculinized realism and its weighty problems. At the same time, as scholars such as Anne McClintock and Laura Chrisman note, the romance's tradition of male questers seems to lend itself all too well to narratives of imperialism as grand adventure, as evidenced by classics such as Ryder Haggard's King Solomon's Mines (1885) and Edgar Rice Burroughs' Tarzan of the Apes: A Romance of the Jungle (1912). With their trademark depictions of exotic colonial subjects as alluringly available, primitively threatening, or often a combination of both, these colonial romances express the fears and fantasies of Western publics about their empires.  If romance proved well suited to the xenophobic nationalism of the colonial project, it has been taken up equally enthusiastically as a vehicle for postcolonial nation-building. In Foundational Fictions: The National Romances of Latin America, Doris Sommer describes how the genre of the "national romance" that dominated postcolonial Latin American literary production in the late nineteenth century functioned to reconcile diverse national populations with each other and with the goals of new national governments and their accompanying civil societies (12). The motif of lovers struggling to come together across barriers, whether of race, class, or religion, provided a "narrative formula" for gestures of conciliation between groups that had been positioned antagonistically within colonial hierarchies (15). Because the romances that are the object of Sommer's study serve to unify the nation through a fantasy of reconciliation often at odds with the economic, gendered, and racial discrepancies of new Latin American states, she concludes that they are ultimately a "pacifying project" (12, 29). The bourgeois ideal of the nuclear family, married to the national ideal of the unified populace, produces a revisionist historical narrative that contains dissent in the service of national unity.
- Category: Reference
- Published: 01 June 2007
- Publisher: Genders
- Print Length: 38 Pages
- Language: English