Space and the anxiety of empire in Matthew Lewis' Isle of Devils/Matthew 'Monk' Lewis' in Isle of Devils adli siirinde mekan ve imparatorluk korkusu.
In view of its relative unfamiliarity, I want to provide here a synopsis of the poem. From his oceanic island, the protagonist, the Demon-king, raises a storm which wrecks and sinks a ship sailing from Goa to Lisbon. Among the imperiled passengers are the niece, Irza (thirteen years old), and son, Rosalvo (sixteen years old) of the Portuguese viceroy, who are soon to be married to each other. Irza survives but is washed ashore and lured on to the island by its natural beauty and enchanted by the occult power of its Demon-king. Once under his spell, he holds her captive in his grotto, rapes her, and indirectly torments her through the agency of his imps. She bears him two children, the first, a monster child with shaggy limbs and fiery eyes, the second, the antithesis of the first, a child with bright blue eyes, scant gold locks and ivory brow. Some three months after the first child's birth, Rosalvo is swept ashore on the far side of the same island. He tries to rescue Irza, but the Demon-king interrupts him, and dashes out his brain with a club. After three years on the island, Irza's teacher and confessor, a monk, is also found to have been saved miraculously with other monks, and together they return to save her. She is torn between the joy of embracing freedom and the pain of abandoning her child. As the monks in the rescue boat row her away, her demon lover stands on a cliff, holding the fair child high up to view, desperately trying to lure her back. She rejects those entreaties. In a wild rage, the Demonking dashes that child against the rocks. He then plunges into the sea, drowning both himself and the monster child. Irza returns to Portugal to become a nun, lives a pious life, performs works of charity, bringing comfort and succour to the poor, aged and infirm.
Before proceeding to the central concerns of this essay, I will sketch out here a road map to figure the lay of the discussion. In the paragraph following this one, I preview those theoretical and critical sources I have found significant to my objectives here, either because they illuminate and complement my arguments, or because they represent points of divergence or opposition. This part of the essay gives particular profile to theorists who have addressed ideologies of the nation, nationalism, and Englishness within the context of England's expansion as a colonial power. Next I delineate the key spatial categories that shape the theoretical dynamic and thematic content of the essay. Drawing from a number of Lewis texts that precede the journal and the poem, I identify certain analogues and parallels that suggest the genealogical origins of the spatial trope in Lewis' imaginary. Thus the essay locates the origins of Lewis' conservative allegiances in deep historical roots, and identifies them with xenophobic and anti-Catholic tendencies in his writings. Thereafter, I explore how those roots and tendencies precondition the author's ideas about the threat the exteriority and difference of colonyspace in Jamaica posed to the privileged category of nationspace. In the last two movements of the essay I bring into central focus the relationships my reading of the poem suggests exist between the processual expansion of colonyspace into empire and the production of crisis within the nation. First, I show that Atlantic oceanspace, where the Demon-king holds sway, is the site of displacement for the revolutionary threat posed by sources of terror and resistance, and the epistemes that engender and sustain them. Finally, I show that the heterotopic space of the convent, where Irza retreats after her ordeal with the Demon-king, is the ultimate site of displacement for the structural and ideological crisis Lewis is allegorizing in this poem.
Given their centrality to the objectives of this essay, the concept "space" demands some theoretical grounding at the outset. My use of the concept "space" and its specific filiations will be informed by the meanings defined for it by leading cultural theorists during the last quarter of a century. In particular, I have applied Michel De Certeau's construction of space as a more dynamic category than place, focusing on movement and action within a space, and on the category's capacity to prefer or emphasize the possibilities for practice and performance within an expanse (Practice of Everyday Life 117). (2) The Journal covers such a complex expanse, it was imperative to ask how its author's subjectivity and the nationspace associated with it are opened up, entered and altered by differing performance demands. Ian Baucom's reading of the Caribbean writer C.L.R. James provides a pertinent model for thinking about how the space of Englishness has been continually altered by performances in distant colonial places (Out of Place 158). It is on the specific relationships that exist among nationality, subject, and space that my use of the concept "spatialization" should be understood. Thus constructed, spatialization defines what Rob Shields calls a "discursive sphere" which facilitates "veiled criticism of social orders and of the categories of social thought often expressed in aesthetic terms and symbolic resistance" (Places on The Margins 54). Thus, a putatively fixed, closed, essential cultural category like "Englishness" becomes spatialized, effectively stretched; in this way, it can be opened up, entered, and altered by performances within it.
For the purposes of the present discussion I have reduced the thematic and structural materials of Lewis' journal and his poem to the following four spatial categories: nationspace, colonyspace, Atlantic oceanspace, and heterotopicspace. Each of the categories listed will be shown to function as a trope of space in the two Lewis texts, and the list order represents two interrelated plots that inscribe the oppositional relations of empire to nation. The first is a generic plot that may be composed of different permutations of the categories and may be found quite widely distributed across certain gothic and colonial texts, in Lewis' The Monk (1796), in Charles Brockden Brown's Wieland (1798), and in Charlotte Bronte's Jane Eyre (1847), to mention a few. The second is the spatial plot specific to Lewis' Journal and The Isle of Devils, and reproduces a narrative of an English subject's desire to order his colonial relationships after stable nationalist values, while deeply troubled by the conditions of a revolutionizing Atlantic and ultimately displacing the trouble to a foreign religious space.
From his first novel, The Monk (1796), through his theatrical melodramas, to his last work, The Journal of a West India Proprietor (1834), Lewis' imaginary appears to have been shaped, informed, and reshaped by persistent tropes of space. The ideological motives and psychological intensity of the plot that unfolds in The Monk are produced as much from the gross architecture of the convent as they are from the smaller spaces of the novel's pious oratories, its private cells, its hidden recesses, and its secret crypts. Adjudged his best known play, and one of the most financially successful, The Castle Spectre (which ran for sixty nights at Drury Lane in 1797) dramatizes the uncharted interior space of Hassan's raging passions against the turbulent immensity of oceanic space. On another level, also within this play, Lewis unapologetically manipulates the spatial proprieties of dramatic form by "the introduction of negroes into a feudal baron's castle" (Life and Correspondence 223). Staged within the impregnabilities of that castle and its armoury, the struggle between Osmond, the feudal baron, and Hassan, a slave turned misanthrope, becomes a metaphor for the way the dream of empire might transform the fixed discursive plots of nation, or the dire outcomes that result when subjects of nationspace desire empire. Themes of slavery and incest in The Castle Spectre intimate the reducibility of that desire to a struggle for control of bodily spaces. The presence of racial others sharing the same close social and cultural spaces with white subjects of nation and empire posed the potential threats of certain forms of hybridity (mixed races, mixed polities). Lewis' preoccupations with these threats recur in his works as a phobia, and are reproduced in his use of literary space and his conception of political space. These two uses converge in the way he uses the trope of a divided body in the figure of Venice as a hybridized political space in The Bravo of Venice (1805). Victor Sage categorizes the project of that play as a narrative masquerade which chooses hybrid literary forms to represent conflicting ideological and political systems ("Black Venice" 55, 60)
In this essay I will use the recurring incidences of these forms of displacement to account for the tensions surrounding the lineages of colony and empire in the Journal and in The Isle of Devils. In "Anaconda," a story published three years after The Bravo of Venice in Lewis' Romantic Tales (1808), the figures of spatial displacement are deployed in settings of intensifying threat and existential terror. As the central subject of imperial desire in that narrative's inner core, Seafield, an English colonist in Ceylon, combines within his name the oceanic and the terrestrial, both entities that underwrite imperial power. The central plot of the story is the harrowing drama of his entrapment within a pavilion outside of which lurks a monstrous deadly anaconda. Lewis performs some spatial manouevres in this story that illustrate the elastic referentiality of the colonyspace-nationspace-empire trope. While the distance between the pavilion and Seafield's house is not that great, the prodigious length of the anaconda and the certain lethality of its constricting grip powerfully amplify the existential space between the protagonist and the affections of his anxiously waiting family and servants. Analogically, the anaconda's terrible exhalations have reduced the pavilion to a "sultry prison", while Seafield's modest sized villa is imaginatively transformed into the sepulchral space of a mansion. The narrative reveals some further displacements of certain human and zoological geographies. For example, either by inattention or deliberate purpose, Lewis displaces the anaconda, a species exclusive to South America, and inserts it into a comfortable domestic habitat in South Asia. (3) Viewed through the lenses of triple-linked spatialities, the anaconda in its extraordinary fluid length and sinuous folds figures the expansive tendencies and predatory threat empire held for colony and nation. The anaconda's zoological exclusivity to South America was refigured as a metonym for a species that could exist anywhere and everywhere within the far flung reaches of empire. Its deadly action of constricting its victims and swallowing them headfirst and whole repeated in Lewis' phobic imaginary the potential of empire to suck the lifeblood of colonies and annihilate the differentiating attributes of the nation. Seafield is finally rescued by the cunning and resourcefulness of native domestic servants, but he does not long survive his ordeal. The monster's exotic terror had so thoroughly penetrated and overpowered his constitution that even the most skilled care and solicitous attention could not save him. The narrator gravely recalls:
His malady defied the power of medicine; he seemed to perish away before our eyes; and the physician was at length compelled to acknowledge that all the powers of art were insufficient to sustain any longer Seafield's exhausted frame. Not the unsatisfied demands of nature; not the hunger which gnawed his entrails, or the burning thirst which dried up his palate; not the agonies of his mind, and his painful wrestling against despair: none of these had affected him so fatally.--No; it was the pestiferous breath exhaling from the jaws of the anaconda, which had penetrated into Seafield's close and sultry prison; and whose force, concentrated and increased by confinement, had fallen upon his constitution like a baleful mildew, and planted the seeds of dissolution in the very marrow of his life." (4)
The passage graphically establishes that the anaconda, as a specimen of foreign nature, symbolizes the suffocating threats colony and empire could pose to nation. The word "power" is repeated twice in the excerpt, each time to emphasize that the forces of nation and empire are ineffectual against the power of colonial difference. Gripped in the throes of imminent death, the body is reduced to an image of vital spaces ravaged by hunger and thirst, torment and despair.
Space is only one of three conceptual frames that overarch the complex structures of Lewis' journal and poem. Time is a second, and there is a third dimension which I shall call the interval to fix a point where the first two converge in the conceptual universe of the Journal. As the ensuing discussion will show, The Isle of Devils covers considerable physical ground; its specific narrative reach stretches from South Asian Goa in the Indian Ocean, to a group of islands in the Caribbean Atlantic, and on to Lisbon along the Atlantic shore of the European continent. Lewis' voyages between England and Jamaica provide the larger frame for that spatial narrative. Time similarly cuts an impressive swath in the poem, from Lewis' record of his own contemporary actions, thoughts and motives in the second decade of the nineteenth century, backwards to the poem's intertextual allusions to Milton's mid-seventeenth century Paradise Lost and Shakespeare's Tempest (1623), and even farther back to The Isle of Devils' relations to the height of Portuguese imperial glory in the mid-sixteenth century. A history of conquest, colonization, slavery and of the persistent desire for global mastery frames all this.
Differentiated by principles of continuity, order and rationality, nationspace permeates the shape of Lewis' travels; its idealized discourses sustain the travelling subject amidst the vagaries of shipboard life, and mediate his encounters with the differences of Caribbean space, Caribbean slavery and the creolized culture that they produced. Nationspace is the capacity of Englishness to spatialize itself beyond the metropole's insular borders and of its subjects' desires to institute its ordering principles to serve the demands of a sea voyage, to model its rule of law, and to remedy the excesses of slavocratic tyranny in the outposts of empire. Lewis notably realized these forms of spatialization in the measures he codified for the reform of slave discipline and management at Hordley, his most disruptive plantation. (Journal, entry for March 4, 1818). Despite Lewis' apparent faith in the gothic vigour of spatializing Englishness, the journal and the poem evidence that even then his relationship to that purportedly stable essence was changing. The Journal suggests some sources of anxiety and disaffection in his relationship to the nation that might be attributed to changes in class relations, and tensions arising from radical politics. The Isle of Devils displaces to an oceanic space the anxieties the author and his class were evidently feeling in response to the parliamentary debates about the West Indian colonies and the abolition of slavery.
According to this definition, the nationspace of Englishness may be understood to exist wherever qualified carriers--a traveler, a ship, a text, a physical structure or institution uniquely affiliated with the nation--may be located at any given moment. These are the structures in which nation may spatialize, transplant, redefine and reproduce itself as empire (Baucom 34-6). The attributes that render these structures mobile or portable define them as spaces of flow: those same attributes render empire vulnerable, penetrable, open to destabilization and susceptible to loss of potency. These conditions define the categories of colonyspace and Atlantic oceanspace occurring in this essay. Lewis' explicit narration of his Atlantic experience on sea and his circum-Atlantic engagements on land are marked by the same patterns of division (labeled earlier as paradox and contradiction). On sea his consciousness is tormented by the morbid thoughts of tropical disease and natural calamity. Typically, these signs are observed in the intertextual poems, where the imaginary identifies them with the reality of colonial menace, and codes them as disruptive of stable norms of psychic and cultural order. Specifically, in The Isle of Devils, the exchanges that produce creolization are distorted through lenses of miscegenation, physical deformation and moral depravity. By contrast, in the Journal, the author/proprietor's attention on land in Jamaica is normalized as the interest of an enlightened subject, one absorbed in the processes of production and attuned to the rate of return, while also curious about cultural differences and moved by a sense of social duty (and economic self interest) to ameliorate his slaves' lot. This is not meant to suggest some radical compartmentalization within and between the two texts. I am here only remarking certain dominant tendencies.
What I have formulated above as a causal relationship between spatialization and the production of empire has been formulated by some other theorists and critics as the relationship between pedagogy and performance. Homi Bhabha ascribes the label pedagogy to the myth of the nation as a stable homogeneous essence; to the reality of the nation's penetration by foreign others and its imbrication with the "scraps, patches and rags of daily life" he ascribes the label performance ("DissemiNation" 145). Appropriating this toolkit, Maria Tienhooven develops a reading of The Monk that identifies the gothic (conservative) Lewis with the novel's impulses towards ratifying middle class domesticity ("All Roads Lead to England"). She codes the novel's intertexts, its Spanish settings, its Catholic institutions, and their effects as the foreign otherness which might threaten Englishness, and which it must resist and exclude. I take issue with some of the logical leaps Tienhooven makes in building her argument ("All Roads Lead to England"). She fails to complicate her account with the centuries-long history of anti-Spanish feeling reflected in the durability of the Black Legend, and the persistent strain of anti-Catholic propaganda fuelling the serial incidence in England of Catholic conspiracies and Popish plots in sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, and the Gordon Riots in the eighteenth. My reading would complement Tienhooven's in showing that between the Monk and The Isle of Devils his phobic fixation shifted from the Spanish to the Portuguese; it accounts for this shift by contextualizing the latter work to political events in England and the Caribbean during the first two decades of the nineteenth century. That said, some significant continuities in our readings of Lewis bear particular exposition here. Where Tienhooven unmasks Lewis' intention in The Monk as a design to scapegoat the Spaniards, I unmask his intention in the Isle of Devils as a design to scapegoat the Portuguese. Where she notes Cuba as a Caribbean-Atlantic locus of displacement for that novel's Gonzalvo, I note Bermuda, Jamaica, and the broad allusiveness of Atlantic oceanspace as the sites of displacement in the Journal and in The Isle of Devils. In Tienhooven's critique the sexual repression of the Catholic Church launches Ambrosio unerringly upon his course of rape, incest, and murder, transgressions which ultimately deliver him into the hands of Satan. In my reading of The Isle of Devils the tutelage of Irza's Catholic preceptors kept her pure for marriage and pious for the faith but were not sufficient to quell her desire for the forbidden lure of the Demon-king's realm.
Now I want to invoke some constructions of oceanic and Atlantic theory to establish how the ocean functions as a space in Lewis' texts and how its tropic flows penetrate and shape the author's imaginary in The Isle of Devils. Lewis' Journal documents the four transatlantic crossings and the two Caribbean-Atlantic sojourns in his travels from England to Jamaica. The Isle of Devils positions the poem's Demon-king in a mid-Atlantic location. Laura Doyle in her Freedom's Empire explores the production of gothic narratives from transactions linking Atlantic oceanspace and colonial terrestrial space, citing the novelistic examples of Lewis' The Monk (1796), Charles Brockden Brown's Wieland (1798), and Charlotte Bronte's Jane Eyre (1847). The terror occasioned in the minds of Lewis' fellow passengers by violent oceanic storms transform the ocean crossings from the serene images of romance and adventure to a space of gothic sublimity. Allusions in the Journal to the threat of pirates during these crossings evoke Marcus Rediker's reading of Blake's "Red Atlantic." The political identification of that term with precisely such types as pirates, runaway slaves, and assorted free floating dissidents confirms that the space was permeated with revolutionary energies which were decidedly antagonistic to nationalist myth and corrosive to the power of empire ("Red Atlantic" 117). As my later analysis will show, Lewis' Demon-king shares a kindred affinity with these types, and the Demon-king's political agenda deploys in complex ways the trope of oceanic space that figures "movements from below." Paul Gilroy's Black Atlantic privileges the movements of African American poets, writers, and artists across and around the Atlantic for the roles their roots/routes play in reimagining nationspace. But his impetus to theorize the Atlantic in new nontraditional ways with emphasis on its unstable, asymmetrical dynamics intimates the Demon-king's desire for empire as one of those "excentric" projects that is similarly antithetical to the narrow identitarian logics of the nation (Black Atlantic 2-4; 12-19). For the Demon-king's objectives, this excentricity is a complex spatial trope which contains the multiple impulses of family, nation, and empire but in this essay's focus his use of that space is being redefined as a project of revolutionary counterorders. I have borrowed the concept of counterorders from Edouard Glissant's work (Caribbean Discourse 163-66), but I have adapted and developed it to stand for systems of knowledge, social or political practices which colonial Caribbean subordinated groups might deploy as resistive responses to their oppression. The West African-derived belief systems of obeah and myal fit these formulations distinctively. Lacking secular political power, Caribbean slaves recovered the traditional epistemes of obeah and myal as sources of occult power to help them to negotiate their relations with the slavocracy. With specific reference to the Demon-king, similar epistemes are at least allusively inflected in his relationship to the supernatural, and may be theorized in the roles the ocean and marronage play in his revolutionary design.
A critic whose definition of displacement in Atlantic gothic is suggestive for my own here, Margot Gayle Backus ascribes a similar function to the spatial settings of gothic family romances found in the projects of Anglo-Irish nationalist authors. Backus finds in authors exemplary of this tradition (Maturin, Melmoth the Wanderer, and Sheridan Le Fanu "Carmilla") impulses to displace or externalize the locus of these intense desires (persecution, sexual appropriation, and infanticide) to a "geopolitical space of alterity" and to divorce the persecutor from normal family structures and from humanity (Gothic Family Romance 6). Lewis' Isle of Devils plots those identical desires, and I categorize the demonking's strategic positioning in that midoceanic convergence zone of the Atlantic and the Indian oceans as the poem's "geopolitical space of alterity". The texts Backus treats belong to her context of the Anglo-Irish family romance. I am placing Lewis' texts within a set of English nationalist discourses that were lusophobic, anti-Catholic, and opposed to a developing revolutionary Atlantic tradition. This positioning provides an ideological context for interpreting Lewis 'ethnographic coding of the persecuted female as Portuguese and Catholic. On those discursive and ethnographic grounds I will read Irza's story as one of those gothics which, according to Laura Doyle, discipline female desire when that desire threatens the interest of nation and other institutions (family, religion) (Freedom's Empire 220).
A brief account here of how Lewis represented those interests personally and discursively will suitably prefigure his relation to the concepts of nation and nationspace. It is not a random coincidence that the author of the gothic Monk should also be an ideological subject of the gothic nation. In common with fellow conservatives of his time, Lewis can be identified with a view of the origins of English identity ascribed to a mythic past coextensive with Germanic roots and ancient liberties vested in Parliament (Tienhooven 2-3; McDougall 31-85). Socially and politically, in his actual life, he embraced the class privileges derived from those traditions: he held a seat in Parliament, he inherited landed and slave properties, and he was well connected in aristocratic circles. Metaphorically, in his writings, he represents the nation as unitary, triumphally protestant, and imagines its constitutional power as gendered masculine. Juxtaposed in negative frames, the nation's others are represented as ethnically heterogeneous, governmentally illiberal and despotic, religiously Catholic and repressed, and at frequent risk of subversion from feminine weakness. Defined in a position of moral superiority to these impure others, English nationspace is a pure space: its historical legitimacy is continuous, its racial identity homogeneous.
By contrast early nineteenth century Jamaica functions naturally and symbolically well in the category of colonyspace (as the category is defined in this essay). Focal point of Lewis' travels as recorded in the Journal, the colony Lewis found on his two visits manifested most of the key features listed above in the negative frames of otherness. During that period Jamaica was the largest slave society in British America with a highly racially diverse population (blacks outnumbered whites in a ratio of ten to one). (5) Fortune hunters were drawn to the "constant mine" of its fabled wealth, but its equally fabled reputation as a "graveyard" for white men raised in the minds of ideologues the fear of biological, social and moral pollution. (Burnard 506). A significant number of tropical diseases threatened the health and lives of slave and free. Work was extracted with unrelenting rigour. Power was enforced in a regime of inhuman cruelty. That system bred retaliation by passive aggression, sabotage and poison. Sexual licence produced the miscegenation ideologues feared. Willfulness and defiance from slaves and subordinate groups provoked harsh repressive measures from power elites. Repression often erupted into outright rebellion. The conditions Lewis found prevailing at Hordley (the most disorderly of his plantations) easily repeated in microcosm the social disorder and moral chaos that characterized the larger colonial landscape. Metaphorically, the conditions existing in Jamaica represented to his mind the perfect image of impure colonyspace.
As a record of historical action, The Journal provides convincing evidence that Lewis attempted to alter the phenomenology of colonyspace by decisively reforming that space. Figurally conceived, the measures he codified for the reform of slave discipline and management at Hordley may be seen as the spatializing capacities of nationspace acting as a prophylactic in colonyspace (Journal, entry for March 4, 1818). It is clear from his journal that he reposed a sturdy faith in the curative power and cultural logic of nationspace order. Power, logic, order, and the gothic vigour of spatializing Englishness notwithstanding, the evidence of the journal and the poem shows that, even then, his relationship to that purportedly stable essence was changing. The Journal suggests some sources of anxiety and disaffection in his relationship to the nation that might be attributed to changes in class relations, and tensions arising from radical politics. The Isle of Devils displaces to an oceanic space the anxieties the author and his class were evidently feeling in response to the parliamentary debates about the West Indian colonies and the political impetus gathering in England for the abolition of slavery. As a record of the history of his interior consciousness, the Journal occludes within its interstitial spaces those images of colonyspace which figure instability and threaten to erupt into revolutionary terror. Occupying the largest of such interstitial spaces, the Isle of Devils displaces this instability and terror to the ocean and to Portuguese others.
Lewis establishes an easy historical and moral equivalence between colonyspace in English Jamaica and colonyspace within the terms of his poem's relations to farther flung Portuguese Goa. Strategically located, Goa was the capital of the Portuguese empire in Asia and headquarters of the Jesuit missions in the East. This colonial outpost equalled if not surpassed the moral decadence of Jamaica. The space Jamaica occupied in the popular imagination of British America for its sugar wealth Goa occupied in the popular imagination of the Portuguese empire for its storied wealth derived from the spice and textile trades (Rao 37-40; Russell-Wood 43-4). (6) An important asset in Portugal's control of the spice trade, the colony earned itself envied status as "the jewel of the eastern empire." For its other secular and material attractions it became known as a symbol of corruption and decadence. In addition, within the poem itself, the interpolation of the enchantment plot constitutes a disruption of the Portuguese ship's charted course from Goa to Lisbon, and the alienation of the passengers' deepest most fervent desires from the capital of empire. At the other end of the axis, Lisbon stood preeminent in history, power, and prosperity as the metropole of Portugal's empire. Itself the creature of ancient empires (established by the Romans, captured by the Moors), Lisbon emerged as one of the headquarters of the Spanish Inquisition and a bastion for the defence of the Catholic faith. Positioned within Lewis' ideologic system, the significant relations sketched above reinscribe the scene of Lewis' most virulent anti-Catholic production, The Monk. (7) The personal piety and institutional sacred power symbolized by the abbot (Irza's tutor and catechist) avail nothing in the face of her willful desire to explore the evil place. Similarly, the abbot's prayers and Rosalvo's selfless heroism fail to protect Irza from sexual violation and moral cooption into Satan's imperial objectives. As The Isle of Devils occupies the spatial middle between Goa and Lisbon, it truncates the productive flows that sustain Portugal's power. Lewis' heterophobic anxieties find hospitable expression in this space where Irza and Rosalvo's youthful dreams of love, marriage, and fertility are mercilessly shattered.
Combined together as a single formation of colonypsace, the cautionary weight of Jamaica and Goa packs a powerful punch for the kind of ideological work the journal and the poem are made to perform at this point in Lewis' literary project. The two texts yield a complement of themes that presaged dire consequences for individual and nation, if empire was allowed to expand unchecked.
Risks to the individual may be recovered in those conditions that threaten to undermine the travelling subject's psychic stability both during Lewis' voyage and during his stays in Jamaica. The Journal codes these implications as tantamount to profound psychic disruptions which undermine and decenter the subject's consciousness. These alterations manifest themselves first in physical form. They coincide with the very space-time dimension in which the poem was composed. Lewis records that the interval of composition was occasioned by a severe bout of seasickness occurring around the time he composed The Isle of Devils (Journal entry for May 10, 1816). That malaise engendered complex sensations of nausea, fear and anxiety which furnished the elements of gothic nightmare that are so palpable in the Isle of Devils. The reader detects the deeper psychic effects in moments of moral and philosophical reflection, in those periods of retreat during the author's shipboard passage each way between England and Jamaica (entry for December 10, 1815). Others are to be observed in certain (often lurid) visualizations from slave plantation life, read, lived and observed up close which then return, as from a repressed place, to inscribe themselves in other interstitial poems in the Journal (entry for May 29, 1816).
For the nation, colonyspace and empire threatened palpable material and moral hazards to the continuity of an untrammeled mythic heritage. Recovered through the lenses of Lewis' poetic imagination, Irza's fate stands as an admonition: at that imaginary nodal point where the Demon-king has established his domain. The hazards of Portuguese entanglements in the East become undifferentiated from the English entanglements in the West. The complex relationships and transactions that take place in colonyspace produce ideologies and desires for empire that become indissolubly linked, in the terms of Lewis' imaginary, with female weakness and willfulness (Irza's insistence on exploring the island). These tendencies feminize the authority and resolve of male power (the failure of the ship's crew and monks to stop her). Further, these contingencies of empire enervate the nation's vital powers and incur risks of miscegenation. Enervation and miscegenation have the effects of depleting the organic purity of the blood lines and ultimately destabilizing national identity. That Lewis extends this trope of empire to identify its effects with demonic terror and satanic global desire is evident from the way he used Milton's Paradise Lost and Shakespeare's The Tempest as intertexts of his poem. Taken together as they function in the poem, these intertexts of the poem (which is itself an intertext) homogenize the meaning of empire down to an image of European global power under constant threat from internal and external others. The main thrust of the commentary that follows alludes to both texts, but I shall confine my explicit references to Paradise Lost, to highlight the similitudes existing between Milton's satanic protagonist and Lewis' Demon-king.
Milton's Paradise Lost extends over an immense conception of space and time. The poet's epic imagination gives form to vast immensities of cosmic space and to the illimitable depths of unplumbed oceans. Written in the age of England's imperial expansion, the poem reflects that time with its high frequency of spatial references to "empire," "colony," and "New World." Its protagonist, Satan, sees Paradise as a space richly suited to fulfil his territorializing desire, and as a base from which to launch a future challenge to God's claim to universal empire. To do this he would use his own guile and subterfuges to exert physical control. He would devise a scheme to colonize Adam and Eve, to exploit their labour and their reproductive potential to further his project of global dominion, just as the Demon-king used his strategies to subvert the empires of later time.
The voyage, the devil, and empire powerfully connect Milton's epic to Lewis' verse narrative. The rich metaphoric and historical values of those three subjects combine to produce Atlantic oceanspace as the fourth spatial category in this essay's conceptual scheme. With six lines from Act 3 of Shakespeare's Tempest serving as its epigraph, The Isle of Devils strongly suggests the Atlantic as the chronotope for Irza's fateful voyage, her temptation, and her shipwreck. Likewise, the same oceanic setting is the strategic location for the domain of the Demon-king, the devil who incited that temptation and engineered that shipwreck. The nature of both setting and plot repeats Milton's mythic discourse and reinvents it to illuminate the contemporary meaning of Lewis' private anxieties and his nationalist ideology. The temporal uncertainties of empire are strikingly inscribed first in the poem's imagery of Portuguese power and opulence:
From Goa's precious sands to Lisbon's shore, The viceroy's countless wealth that vessel bore: In heaps there jewels lay of various dyes, Ingots of gold, and pearls of wondrous size: And there (two gems worth all that Cortez won) He placed his angel niece and only son. (III: 1-6)
Later, that power is violently and mercilessly broken when the tempest fiend, in tones of swelling pride, reports his destruction of the Portuguese ship:
For I swoop from aloft, and I blaze, and I burn While my spouts the salt billows are drinking (I: 11-13) The barge?--well remembered! 'Tis strong, and 'tis large, And will live in the billows' commotion; But now all my spouts from the clouds I discharge, And down goes the vessel, and down goes the barge! Hurrah! I rein lord of the ocean! ("Song of the Tempest Fiend" ll. 46-50) (8)
The tempest-fiend's rhetoric is militant, triumphalist. The action of his song transforms the ocean into a theatre of war in which powers temporal and spiritual, moral and satanic compete for hegemony over space and over souls. His song also opens up the larger field of dramas that inhere in the ocean as a mythic and philosophical signifier. This signifying discourse comports with what Ina Haberman describes as landbound humans' compulsion to "conceptualize life as a perilous sea-voyage and connect their existence with the element of water". ("Death by Water" 104). As philosophical discourse the poem illustrates the ocean's potential to disrupt the voyager's aims and disorient them with its spatial ambivalence. Ann-Julia Zwierlein associates this potential of the ocean with its capacity to serve as a symbol of the instability of human knowledge ("Satan's Ocean Voyage" 63). As an artifact of Lewis' ideological design, the poem equates Irza's shipwreck with the collapse of Portuguese imperial power. It conflates the price she pays in lost autonomy with the price national subjects of empire would pay in lost cultural value when the scourges of empire were fully tallied. With this design Lewis produces a politics of oceanic space with dual implications: he displaces to an ocean space the violent potential for revolutionary change that existed within the social diversity of colonial populations; and he reproduces from the slaves' traditional belief systems of obeah and myal the value of the ocean as a space of counterorders and an agency of metaphysical threat. (9)
Represented in Marcus Rediker and Peter Linebaugh's figure of the many-headed hydra, the social diversity of colonial populations included dispossessed commoners, transported felons, religious radicals, and slaves ("The Red Atlantic" 111; Many Headed Hydra 165). This is a broad and inclusive category that easily attracted fugitives and the disaffected. As such, these ranks naturally magnetized alliances of fugitive slaves, maroons, and pirates. The Demon-king personified those last three identities in the way he combined them into a polymorphous unity, and in the way that polymorphism shaped and defined the space he commanded. To the explicit allusions to The Tempest already mentioned, Lewis adds gestures of servility and images of blackness that strengthen the case for seeing the Demon-king specifically as a Calibanic figure, or as the figure of a black slave. The Demon-king's appearance ("All shagged with hair, wild, strange in shape and show"), his eagerness to show Irza the living springs, noontide shades, spice breathing groves, and to select for her sweet roots, cool waters and lovely fruits recall the knowledge Caliban shared with Prospero and Miranda. The demon-king's location on a midoceanic island suggests the conditions of possibility for a masterless fugitive slave who has reclaimed his freedom and assumed the sovereignty of a space at this far exotic remove. As a fugitive slave he could easily be assigned the identity of a maroon, both in his radical separation from centralized state control, and from the closely regulated life and surveillance of a plantation. His "marooned" condition on this remote island extends the possibilities for interpretation to the context of piracy. The Demon-king mimics the behavior of pirates when he wrecks the Portuguese ship, causes the loss of its wealth, and later rapes Irza. Each of those identities, separately and collectively, posed real threats to colonial order. In the aggregate he represents a paradigm of radical autonomy frequently asserted within the pirate hydrarchy.
Rediker and Linebaugh use the concept of hydrarchy to denote a zone of freedom in which sailors and pirates exercised power, set their own rules, and evolved "a maritime radical tradition" (Many Headed Hydra 145; see also 155-6). The profile of the Demonking I have been developing mirrors those elements precisely. I want to exploit the complex referentiality of the concept "hydrarchy" to emphasize how polymorphous forms function to produce the spatial dynamics I am pursuing. Hydrarchy contains the hydra of its many-headed mythological origins, reflecting the social multifariousness of Atlantic maritime communities, the element of watery space (hydro-), and the power (arch-) that inheres in (or may be exercised within) that space. Pirates haunted the seas and marauded on Atlantic islands just as the mythological hydra (the nine- headed monster) haunted the marshes near Argos (an island city).
Considered in this other identity defined above, the Demon-king reminds us that slaves haunted the Atlantic too. Besides their physical presence as human cargo in the Middle Passage, their agency as sailors on the high seas, and their agency as pilots in coastal waters, thousands of slave bodies lay buried beneath the ocean depths. Some had been jettisoned overboard after succumbing to shipboard disease; others suffered that fate as the victims of wanton cruelty; still others were sacrificed for crass economic motives. (10) In the mythic and metaphysical valorization of the Atlantic all these bodies came to represent spectral presences.
The conflation of the Demon-king's identity with black slavery and his appropriation of oceanic space invoke certain specific cultural meanings of the ocean in the metaphysics of African cosmology. The Demon-king's relation to the supernatural invokes the meaning of the ocean as what I am going to call a space of counterorders. The power and meaning of these presences establish the ocean as archival or epistemic space. According to Foucault, epistemes are the total set of relations that unite the discursive practices of a historical period (Archaeology of Knowledge 191). Within that formulation, multiple epistemes may coexist at any given time (Power/Knowledge 197). (11) As I gloss Foucault, they may represent competing interests or orders. The colonial structures of empire which are thrown into robust contestation in Lewis' poem are instituted and sustained by epistemes of normative order. Slaves and other subjugated groups existing within those structures typically positioned themselves as resistive or counterordering forces. Since the operation of epistemic systems is largely invisible and unconscious (some Foucault commentators refer to an "epistemological unconscious"), their hidden or occult dimension is of especial relevance to the space of counterorders which the Demon-king commands.
The foregoing analysis illustrates how the category of Atlantic oceanspace in The Isle of Devils transforms the meaning of empire with a dense figural complexity. Transformed by the experience of empire, Lewis' subjective imaginary refigures the sea as a site of gothic nightmare. Drawing on the preexisting mythic narratives surrounding the poem, and from his own experience of it during oceanic travelling, he reproduced the sea as the site of hidden power and moral agency, the space in which to displace the palpable threat and terror he perceived in the condition of his Hordley slaves. The sea, the Demonking, and his island ("where every leaf's a spell, Where no good thing e'er dwelt", III: 6162) embody elements of the slaves' belief systems. Those elements starkly oppose different ways of knowing, being, and existing as counterorders to the political imaginary of nationalist secular empire.
The consequences of those differences attain their highest expression in the satanic hero's climactic act of submergence. There, plunging into the ocean with the Demon child that most resembles him; the Demon-king appears to commit a murder-suicide. In my reading of the poem, I retheorize that tragic ending as the voluntary and deliberate action of a supernatural hero. His dramatic submergence in the ocean is not an act of suicide. Rather, it carries with it the threat of resurgence in which he might be imagined to return to repeat the cycle of satanic desire for empire in future episodes of entrapment and forcible impregnation. The sea in the poem thus remains an enduring image of oceanic revolutionary possibility, capable of continually producing meaning in mythic time and space.
What, then, of Irza? The dimension to which the poem's denouement consigns her is this essay's final category, heterotopic space. Both the grotto where the Demon-king confines her, and the convent to which she retreats on returning to Lisbon figure heterotopia in the ways they spatialize the crisis in her personal life as a metonym for the crisis of empire Lewis was contemplating. For Foucault, heterotopias exist between the Real and the unReal. They accommodate crisis and deviation. ("Of Other Places" 26). They destroy, as he puts it, the syntax [structure] of things, even as they include the desire of utopian perfection. Irza's experience of heterotopias may be divided into two phases, her enclosure in the Demon-king's grotto, and her enclosure in the Lisbon convent.
The physical dimensions of the grotto spatialize the ambivalences of crisis in its vast size and depth, and in the unscalable height of its walls. These concrete elements of materiality and impregnability are further reinforced by the clear opening of its "fractured roof" which admits the brilliant light of day. At the same time, though, the brilliance of the real sun engenders certain surreal ambivalences that are the stuff of faery or enchanted space:
The fractured roof gave ample space for light, Through which in gorgeous guise the day-star shone On many a lucid shell and brilliant stone. Through pendent spars and crystals as it falls, Each beam with rainbow hues adorns the walls Gilds all the roof, emblazes all the ground, And scatters light, and warmth, and splendour round. (VI: 6-12)
Under Foucault's definition, the origins of deviation may be recovered in the causal impulses of Irza's willful curiosity which lure her out of the spheres of her betrothed's gaze and her confessor's protection. Deviation quickly escalates to crisis in this grotto which Irza experiences as the feminine space of gothic torture through the physical pain of rape and childbirth, and the spiritual pain of psychological terror. The desire for utopian perfection is therefore reversed within a demonic domain of real-unreal spatio-temporal consciousness. Produced as a subject or agent of secular empire, possessed with empire's inquiring, appropriative gaze, Irza suffers alienation from stable norms of identity and existence. Her agency as a Portuguese imperial subject is radically altered to the degree that her experience of space is contracted to the limits of the grotto.
While the heroine is ultimately rescued from the space of persecution and moral damnation, the convent to which she retreats reproduces similar paradoxes of heterotopic space. Positioned at a definitive liminal moment in Irza's life, the convent that awaits her matches pointedly the identification of heterotopia with "places reserved for individuals who are in a state of crisis with respect to society and the human milieu in which they live" (Foucault, Aesthetics, Method 179). (12) In The Monk, Lewis had demonstrated that convents could yield complex gothic intensities: running the gamut of ambivalence from piety to perversion. In The Isle of Devils, his deconstruction of romantic myths surrounding marriage and of the discourses that sustain family and social power suggest the continuing figural value for him of the convent as a strong marker for social crisis. As a place of radical enclosure, associated with inward isolation (and withdrawal), the convent is recoded with a spatio-temporal value that is antithetical to the outward-oriented reach of empire. Seen within this context, the convent provides a powerful (albeit extreme) image of the idealized nation, a pure essential, monologic space, unsullied by the taints of empire. The apologists for this view of the nation as a pure space became identified with an anti-empire ideology which framed slavery and the colonial system in a polemical discourse of political paranoia and cultural apocalypse. (13) As such, the convent is a fitting space to displace both the private and public crisis Irza personifies even as she is rescued from the transgressive space of the Demon-king's domain.
On an objective level alone, the narrative and thematic elements of Lewis' journal and his poem render an instructive account of his efforts to negotiate between the ethics of aesthetic freedom and the ethics of profit from unfree labour. This categorical split so powerfully dramatizes the author's subjective tensions as to tempt the reader to focus interest on the private dimensions of authorial interiority and downplay or ignore the texts' broader social and discursive meanings. However, by reducing the narrative and thematic elements to specific spatial categories and by examining the relations that exist among those categories, this essay reveals how space produces and accommodates anxiety within the texts. Lewis' prior social and political allegiances predisposed him to a myth of nationspace whose essence, purity, and homogeneity could sustain the homeland, and whose spatializing power was always sufficient to penetrate and transform alien spaces. The desire for empire with its seductive promise of material wealth and global power forced that mythic national identity to reckon with the anxieties empire engendered in its two related conceptual arenas of colonyspace and oceanspace. As poetic artifact and timeless myth, The Isle of Devils gathers its powerful symbolic energies from the way colonyspace and oceanspace reinscribe the narrative of Satan's preternatural cosmic ambitions into the Demon-king's nefarious design to subvert latter-day secular empire. The Isle of Devils problematizes and threatens the nationspace myth because it straddles the impregnable ground between the colony as a geopolitical space of alterity and the sea as a timeless entity, a formless and chaotic space. The poem's allusiveness to the revolutionary threat of Jamaican slavery and to the theoretical threat of rival sea power repeats the anxieties underlying the dire polemics of anti-empire ideologues. Lewis' strategy to appropriate in The Isle of Devils the remoteness of the colony and the immensity of the ocean as fitting sites of displacement unerringly reveals an urgent sense of crisis. He experienced that sense as an intelligent and gifted individual and as representative of a class with particular cultural interests in the nation, material interests in the colony, and ideological investment in the ideology of nationspace. The definition of heterotopic space which I have assigned to his choice of the convent as the ultimate gesture of displacement emphasizes the complexity of this crisis for a figure with such diverse motives and allegiances. As a convent, Irza's space of retreat could at once restate Lewis' anti-Catholic phobias and punish imperial desire as a feminine weakness and a feminizing threat to nationspace. As heterotopia, the convent could comprehend the dualisms of the nation's crisis and ironically suggest the ancient gothic origins of the myths that might sustain it.
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(1) References to journal entries will be identified by date and will appear in parentheses within the text. While The Isle of Devils is most commonly encountered as an intertext of Lewis Journal, and it is that intertextual relationship which I exploit for the spatial relations of this essay, it should be observed that the poem was first published in Jamaica in 1827 as a separate work, seven years before the publication of the Journal (1834), and then, again separately, in London in 1912.
(2) Besides my specific debt here to De Certeau's Practice of Everyday Life (p. 117), my understanding of space and spatial theory has been considerably assisted by wider reading in other authors, including Henri Lefebvre, La Production de L'Espace (Paris: Anthropos, 1974), S. Kern, The Culture of Time and Space (London: Weidenfield and Nicolson, 1983), and D. Gregory and J. Urry, eds., Social Patterns and Spatial Structures (London: Macmillan, 1985).
(3) For zoological and habitat information on the reptile, see "anaconda," World Encyclopedia. 2005. Encyclopedia.com. 28 May. 2009 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>convert endnotes to footnotes. For quotations from Lewis' "Anaconda" I have used the e text found at http://www.litgothic.com/ Texts/anaconda.html. A note from Dr. Dick Collins, of Inchigeela, Co. Cork, Ireland, appended to that text, alerts the reader to the geographical distortion represented in Lewis' narrative setting.
(4) In an illuminating essay Julia Wright places Lewis' "Anaconda" both as story and symbol within gothic and Orientalist frames of meaning: see her "Lewis's 'Anaconda': Gothic Homonyms and Sympathetic Distinctions," Gothic Studies 3:3 (Dec 2001), 262-78
(5) The ethnic diversity of colonial Jamaica included black slaves from different African cultures, Scots, Irish, and Jews; see Gad Heuman "From Slavery to Freedom: Blacks in the Nineteenth Century British West Indies" in Philip D. Morgan and Sean Hawkins, Black Experience and the Empire (London: Oxford UP, 2004) (141)
(6) Notwithstanding the intentionality, allusiveness and symbolism it contributes to Lewis' contemporary concerns, Goa had long declined from its magnificent status as its Portuguese imperial interests were eclipsed by British, French, and Dutch competition in the seventeenth century. See R. P. Rao, Portuguese Rule in India, 1510-1961 (Bombay: Asia Publishing House, 1963) (37-40)
(7) In an article that lays out convincing accretions of evidence, principally from The Monk, Steven Blakemore identifies Lewis with a "virile and virulent [anti-catholic] ideology," linked together with misogyny, homoeroticism, and unnatural demonic relations; "Matthew Lewis's Black Mass: Sexual, Religious Inversion in The Monk, Studies in the Novel 30:4 (Winter 1998), 521-39.
(8) Comprising an additional layer of intertextuality, "The Song of the Tempest Fiend" is a poem within a poem (the already intertextual Isle of Devils), in which the speaker's pride and efficiency in performing the bidding of demonic power closely channels Ariel's in performing Prospero's magical designs.
(9) In the colonial Caribbean, obeah was a belief system widespread among the slaves, combining practices of healing, divination, spite and revenge. With origins traced to Dahomey, Nigeria, and Ghana, these beliefs and practices provided Africans uprooted from their native lands with sources of power to negotiate their powerlessness among alien masters and alien spaces. In the Demon-king, Lewis appears to embody an intriguing combination of obeah's traditional uses to punish enemies, thwart competitors for power, and manipulate cosmic sacred knowledge to the demands of secular life. A useful source on obeah's religious and philosophical foundations is John Mbiti's African Religions and Philosophy (New York: Praeger, 1969); for scholarship with specific reference to the Caribbean, see J. S. Handler and K. M. Bilby, "On the Early Use and Origin of the Term Obeah in Barbados and the Anglophone Caribbean," Slavery & Abolition 22 (2001), 87-100; Alan Richardson, "Romantic Voodoo: Obeah and British culture, 1797-1807," in Margarite Fernandez Olmos and Lizabeth Paravisini-Gebert, eds., Sacred Possessions: Vodou, Santeria, Obeah, and the Caribbean (New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press, 1997), 171-194; see also T. Banbury, Jamaica Superstitions or the Obeah Book: A Complete Treatise of the Absurdities believed in by the People of the Island (Portland, Jamaica: 1894).
(10) Certainly one of the most shocking cases of racial terror from the history of the slave trade, the Zong Case documents an incident in which a ship's captain, Luke Collingwood, threw 150 slaves overboard in 1781 to alleviate conditions of disease, malnutrition and water shortage. His action was calculated to secure the insurance indemnity on the grounds of accidental death rather than risk losing that indemnity if the slaves were left to die a natural death. The incident is well known and widely critiqued. For discussions with significant bearings on my present essay, see Ian Baucom, Specters of the Atlantic: Finance Capital, Slavery, and the Philosophy of History (Durham: Duke UP, 2005); Marcus Rediker, The Slave Ship: A Human History_(New York: Viking Penguin, 2007), chapters 9 and 10.
(11) The eminent Caribbean scholar and theorist Sylvia Wynter develops a searching analysis of the episteme and its place in Western intellectual history, but also applies its meaning to the Caribbean, connecting the episteme with myth, water, and marronage, in her "Beyond the Word of Man: Glissant and the New Discourse of the Antilles". World Literature Today, 63 (Autumn 1989): 637-647.
(12) Foucault emphasizes that the incidence of heterotopias is universal across cultures, though their form varies from place to place (each society can make them function in a very different fashion). For examples, he names prisons and other places of "retirement". Though he does not name them specifically, convents may be understood to be included in his list of those "places of retirement and isolation, places of compulsory entry, places where an individual has to submit to rites and purifications" ("Of Other Places," in Diacritics, 26). For another critical essay which discovers and explores the heterotopic values of the convent, see Javier Duran, "Utopia, Heterotopia, and Memory in Carmen Boullosa's Cielos de la tierra," Studies in the Literary Imagination, 33:1 (2000), 51-64.
(13) The recurring themes in this anti-empire discourse were miscegenation (a threat to mythic racial and national purity) and contamination (a threat to cultural ideals), pollution (risk of moral degeneracy) and enervation (risks to future leadership through depleted masculinity): see Kathleen Wilson, The Sense of the People: Politics, Culture, and Imperialism in England, 1715-1785, New York: (Cambridge UP, 1995).
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