Moving away from the Japanese setting of his early works, Sara Upstone’s chapter ‘“An inevitable course”: political responsibility in The Remains of the Day’ offers a re-evaluation of Ishiguro’s most celebrated novel. In the first part of the chapter, Upstone draws on Derrida to advance the notion of ‘nonresponsibility’, suggesting that Stevens, as a butler, struggles to move beyond conditional hospitality and claim personal responsibility when confronted with socio-political events beyond his remit. Developing this line of thought, the second half of the chapter goes on to consider the fruitful consequences of rereading the novel in light of the 2016 British EU referendum, where questions of accountability are brought to the fore, forming parallels with Shaw’s reading of The Buried Giant in the process. For Upstone, then, Stevens functions as ‘a synecdoche for the British voting public and its emergent political consciousness’, with the fateful Brexit vote not an aberration but rather ‘an inevitable course that has its roots in twentieth-century attitudes towards political responsibility’. In this sense, The Remains of the Day emerges as a prescient novel which taps into the early stirrings of an exclusive English nationalism and Britain’s wider desire for a more accountable politics. However, Upstone provides a delicate balance by also acknowledging Ishiguro’s claim that the novel is work of fabulism, rather than direct political commentary, gesturing to the novel form’s more general function ‘as an abstract space for applicable meaning’: a quality that assumes a fresh piquancy in Ishiguro’s later works.
Anthropology struggled to escape its colonial heritage and find a place for itself in the era of decolonisation. Faced with losing access to colonial field sites, anthropologists at the University of Manchester sought to establish the applicability of anthropological theory to modern Britain throughout the 1950s and 1960s. They aimed to demonstrate how their expertise, which was derived from the study of Africa and other colonial regions, could be applied to labour, community or social relations in Britain. This work sought to position anthropologists as social scientific observers who could use their knowledge of different societies to provide guidance to the British government and public in a period of social change, industrial unrest and shifting ideas about national identity. It also reveals how the end of empire and the loss of the privileges of ‘colonial science’ forced scholars to find new ways to justify their expertise and to adapt their practices to win support from new patrons. This chapter focuses on the work of anthropologists based at the University of Manchester, analysing their research into factory-floor dynamics and rural communities. It connects recent historiography on ‘post-colonial careers’ and the links between imperial and domestic intellectual practices with work on the construction of knowledge within the social and human sciences, in order to highlight how social scientific ideas about modern Britain could make use of models developed to explain the social dynamics of the Empire.
On 10 June 2020, three days after #BlackLivesMatter protesters toppled the statue of the slave trader Edward Colston in Bristol, Reni Eddo-Lodge’s Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race topped the UK non-fiction bestseller chart. It brought with it a wave of books marketed as guides for readers – especially white readers – wishing to educate themselves about the effects of structural racism on individual lives. Many of these titles place notable emphasis on the value of personal anecdote and experience, blending memoir with often detailed and cogent anti-racist critique to create a kind of anti-racist life writing that has a long history in African American literary culture. While the genre is less widely known in Britain, this chapter argues that a similar suturing of individual biographies into the structural contours shaping social, cultural and institutional life in Britain after empire has been deployed by a number of Black writers in recent years, often to persuasive and powerful effect. This 'anti-racist non-fiction’ genre blends memoir with social and historical commentary to build similar connections between individual experiences and structural conditions, often (though not always) without conforming to the individualising inclinations of identity politics that are otherwise so pervasive in our neoliberal era. To demonstrate its arguments, the chapter focuses on two of the most rigorous and best-selling of Britain’s anti-racist non-fiction titles: Eddo-Lodge’s Why I’m No Longer Talking and Akala’s Natives: Race and Class in the Ruins of Empire.
This chapter explores the creation of Black British beauty spaces for and by African-Caribbean women in postwar Britain between 1948 and 1990 by scrutinising physical spaces and the literary narratives that represented them – previously overlooked in discussions about postwar migration and multiculturalism. In doing so, it considers how negotiations of beauty, often multilayered and divisive, became resources for fashioning Black British identities. African-Caribbean women mediated Eurocentric beauty ideals, using elements of both conformity and subversion, to create innovative beauty spaces. As part of wider anti-racist community building, quotidian beauty consumption played a formative role in nurturing spaces of belonging for African-Caribbean women in Britain. Configurations of hair and skin colour were navigated in salons, Black businesses, beauty contests, and media outputs. I interdiscursively read visual and textual outputs in two pioneering Black-owned newspapers, The West Indian Gazette and Afro-Asian Caribbean news (1958–1964) and The Voice (f.1982), alongside the early novels of Andrea Levy. This interdisciplinary approach, supplemented by anecdotal evidence and testimonies from The Heart of the Race (1985), accentuate the importance of Black beauty discourse in identity formation in modern Britain.
This essay considers the space of the museum as a dissident of location of postcolonial critique, inspired by Daljit Nagra’s poetic sequence ‘Meditations on the British Museum’ (2017). It fully acknowledges the Western institution of the museum as complicit in articulating colonial perspectives, but also challenges the views of those who regard museums as forever compromised by their indebtedness to empire. To this end, the essay combines recent thinking in museum studies concerning ‘diasporic objects’ with the critique of origins central to critical adoption studies in order to query the problematic nativism and unexplored passion for the patrial that sometimes underwrites ‘decolonial’ attitudes to object provenance and legitimate heritage. Drawing, too, upon Nicholas Thomas’s work regarding ‘curiosity’, it reframes the museum as a site of postcolonial critique where emergent relations might be struck through uncommissioned encounters between the museum’s visitors and its galleries. The new constellations of meaning created as a consequence empower us not only to admit but also redeploy our contact with colonialism’s plunder for purposefully resistant ends. A cognisance of exactly these possibilities resides at the core of Nagra’s poetic sequence, which imagines a diasporic visitor to London’s British Museum wandering at will among its myriad objects drawn from, but not confined to, a plethora of empires, ancient and modern. In his exploration of the museum as a space of generative opportunities for resistant thinking, Nagra curates in his poetry a generative encounter between the present’s enduring coloniality and the contestatory constellations yielded by unchartered diasporic curiosity.
British culture after empire is the first collection of its kind to explore the intertwined social, cultural and political aftermath of empire in Britain from 1945 up to and beyond the Brexit referendum of 2016, combining approaches from experts in history, literature, anthropology, cultural studies and theatre studies. Against those who would deny, downplay or attempt to forget Britain's imperial legacy, these contributions expose and explore how the British Empire and the consequences of its end continue to shape Britain at the local, national and international level. As an important and urgent intervention in a field of increasing relevance within and beyond the academy, the book offers fresh perspectives on the colonial hangovers in postcolonial Britain from up-and-coming as well as established scholars.
Chapter 4 focuses on the road to the Medical Act 1858 which began the process of unification of the professions. It will be shown how the Act fell short of uniting the different orders of medical practitioners into a single medical profession. What the Act achieved by establishing the Medical Register was a means to identify practitioners recognised by the State as qualified to practise and entitled to be entered onto the register. The chapter reviews some of the many conflicting proposals for medical reform advanced by different groups. The first outcome of campaigns for reform, the Apothecaries Act 1815, is seen to be a damp squib. Sixteen Bills presented to Parliament from 1830 to 1858 failed. Noting that the only matter on which the orthodox agreed remained their abomination of unqualified healers all of whom the orthodox labelled as quacks, the chapter goes on to explore the use of the courts and prosecutions for manslaughter in attempts to scare unlicensed healers out of business. It is shown that the judges rejected pleas to privilege the licensed practitioner. Finally, the Medical Act 1858 and its lukewarm reception is assessed. The omission of measures to criminalise all unlicensed healers is explained. The Act marked a gradual move towards a partial merger of the orthodox professions making it easier for the courts to identify ‘responsible medical opinion’. Medicine can be seen to be a profession acquiring a stronger voice in debates about laws relating to matters such as abortion and anatomy.
This chapter shows that the young white people who spent their nights sharing music and organising around musical activism in postcolonial London built a shared culture that struck an often-tenuous balance between culturally appropriating Black spaces and music and building friendships and solidarities within them. These spaces had the power to make such interactions banal but, particularly in the case of the Brixton Academy, they also foregrounded the possibility of inter-racial encounters.
Emily Horton explores Kazuo Ishiguro’s first novel, considering his negotiation of the discourses of memory and trauma in order to investigate their relevance to postwar migrant experience. Focusing on A Pale View of Hills’s repeated engagement with Puccini’s opera Madama Butterfly, Horton demonstrates how Ishiguro provides a world literary critique of Orientalist thinking and exposes the discriminatory discourses underpinning Western accounts of Japanese culture. The novel, in this sense, questions stereotypical accounts of ‘Eastern fragility’ and victimhood, and their role in nurturing ‘false nationalist mythologies’ that fail to align with complexities of migratory experience. In addition to this world literary rereading, the chapter also investigates the lingering impact of memorial revision, guilt and disavowal in relation to the mother–daughter relationship of Etsuko and Niki, particularly in relation to their diasporic negotiation of the past. Providing a finely balanced critique of postwar Orientalism, as well as an acknowledgement of the historical ties to prewar Japanese imperialism, A Pale View of Hills negotiates what Horton terms ‘a multi-directional approach to history and memory’, disrupting any simplistic East v. West cultural binaries. Horton’s concentration on Ishiguro’s authorial fascination with the migratory nature of memory and the lingering effects of trauma develops a common thread that runs throughout the following chapters in the volume.
For some critics, Ishiguro’s 2015 novel The Buried Giantmarked an unexpected turn to fantasy, serving as an urgent parable for a nation hung up on the former glories of its cultural past. In ‘Disinterring the English sublime: haunted atmospherics in The Buried Giant’, Kristian Shaw frames the novel in relation to the political climate of twenty-first-century Britain. Drawing on Ishiguro’s own comments relating to nationalism, populism and the recent rise in xenophobic political rhetoric, Shaw suggests that Ishiguro’s post-Arthurian landscape contains allusions to mythical constructions of Englishness which were also deployed during the 2016 EU referendum campaign. Despite being published in the months leading to the referendum, the novel carries a clear anticipatory logic, gesturing to the nationalist violence and cultural amnesia which would come to define the subsequent post-Brexit period. The chapter goes on to demonstrate how Ishiguro utilises the fantasy genre to expose the fallacious nature of our foundational myths and warn of the dangers in assuming a backward-looking national perspective to attend to our troubled present. In developing these ties, Shaw argues that The Buried Giant attempts to disrupt what he terms the ‘English sublime’, forcing us to consider ‘the internal ailments affecting the body politic’ and pointing towards the need for England to radically overhaul its comforting cultural imaginary.