Purifying Empire: Obscenity and the Politics of Moral Regulation in Britain, India and Australia
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Purifying Empire explores the material, cultural and moral fragmentation of the boundaries of imperial and colonial rule in the British Empire in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. It charts how a particular bio-political project, namely the drive to regulate the obscene in late nineteenth-century Britain, was transformed from a national into a global and imperial venture and then re-localized in two different colonial contexts, India and Australia, to serve decidedly different ends. While a considerable body of work has demonstrated both the role of empire in shaping moral regulatory projects in Britain and their adaptation, transformation and, at times, rejection in colonial contexts, this book illustrates that it is in fact only through a comparative and transnational framework that it is possible to elucidate both the temporalist nature of colonialism and the political, racial and moral contradictions that sustained imperial and colonial regimes.
For Indian writers such a situation necessitated creating a subjective voice that could balance the inner realm of Indian experience with the encroaching realm of colonial modernity, a struggle that for individuals such as Krupabai Satthianadan proved impossible in the face of a cultural dislocation so profound that she was wracked by a self-division bordering on madness.63 While her heroine Saguna proudly imbibes English literary works such as Spenser’s Faerie Queen such reading, ‘rather than
government, the bureaucracy, and the police, should compel individuals to act in the best interests of society’.126 With social and political shifts such as the rise of the social purity movement in the 1860s and 1870s, the growth of Nonconformism and, by the last decade of the century, the emergence of New Liberalism and Liberal Imperialism, both of which favoured state-sponsored social and moral reform, the governmentalization of the socio-moral realm by the state had come to be regarded as
publications. The powers accorded to the post to regulate print culture were, like those given to the customs, considerable. The first Commonwealth Post and Telegraph Act (which, like the 1901 Customs Act, was one of the first pieces of legislation passed by the new Commonwealth parliament) gave the department the power to remove any newspaper containing indecent or obscene matter from the postal register; to refuse to deliver and to destroy any newspaper or parcel containing an indecent or
works there, to which the minister replies that the dictation test will do so, and asks him if he can speak Esperanto. Rabelais cannot and fears that he would fail the test were it to be administered in such a language, to which the minister replies: ‘That’s the idea . . . We pick a language that we know you will fail in.’ Rabelais thereupon decides to abandon both Australia and his literary endeavours and to head for Hollywood, which he thinks will be pleasing to the minister since celluloid
Colonialism, p. 6. Such limitations were arguably imposed, furthermore, from an earlier age. As Grant Rodwell demonstrates in the case of preschooling, ‘The notion of quarantine’ – of segregating children with ‘poor heredity’ (as manifested in ‘immoral behaviour’ such as masturbation) from their peers – ‘pervade[d] the early history of the Australian kindergartens’. ‘Curing the Precocious Masturbator’, 87. 144 Purifying Empire ironically deny that Australia’s system of literary regulation was