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Vision, visibility and power in colonial India
Author: Niharika Dinkar

Beyond its simple valorisation as a symbol of knowledge and progress in post-Enlightenment narratives, light was central to the visual politics and imaginative geographies of empire. Empires of Light describes how imperial designations of ‘cities of light’ and ‘hearts of darkness’ were consonant with the dynamic material culture of light in the nineteenth-century industrialisation of light (in homes, streets, theatres, etc.) and its instrumentalisation through industries of representation. Empires of Light studies the material effects of light as power through the drama of imperial vision and its engagement with colonial India. It evaluates responses by the celebrated Indian painter Ravi Varma (1848–1906) to claim the centrality of light in imperial technologies of vision, not merely as an ideological effect but as a material presence that produces spaces and inscribes bodies.

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Niharika Dinkar

Introduction Introduction: writing photo-­graphic histories of empire In his well-­known reflections on the revolution in France, Edmund Burke pointed to the emergence of a ‘new conquering empire of light’. Associating it with the liberatory rhetoric of Enlightenment thought, he took aim at its central metaphor – the empire of light and reason and its vision of a naked truth: But now all is to be changed. All the pleasing illusions, which made power gentle and obedience liberal, which harmonized the different shades of life, and which, by a bland

in Empires of light
Masculine subjects in Ravi Varma’s scholar paintings
Niharika Dinkar

Private lives and interior spaces Private lives and interior spaces: masculine subjects in Ravi Varma’s scholar paintings The sensible sun, which rises in the East, allows itself to be interiorized, in the evening of its journey, in the eye and the heart of Western man. He summarizes, assumes and achieves the essence of man ‘illuminated by the true light’. (Jacques Derrida, ‘White Mythology’, 1982) To say that desire is part of the infrastructure comes down to saying that subjectivity produces reality. Subjectivity is not an ideological superstructure

in Empires of light
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The veil as technology of illumination
Niharika Dinkar

visualisation while relaying new concerns about the role of sight in its encounters with an unknown Other.10 I argue that these acts of unveiling function as the visual equivalents of the trope of discovery that guided European explorations demystifying terra incognitae, while also setting the terms within which the colonial vision machine would engage with India. In the context of the Enlightenment, such acts of unveiling functioned as visual tropes for dispelling the darkness of ignorance with the light of reason – and indeed, a series of frontispieces by prominent

in Empires of light
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The subaltern in the shadows
Niharika Dinkar

craftsmen. If the light and dark Impossible subjects 219 evoke an interiority underlined by the self-­absorbed reading subject, how do we read the relationships between the reader cast into the light and that of the subaltern in the shadows? The exclusive focus on the face as the visual index of the self and the concomitant idea of interiority through the darkness present the work as an intimate portrait. On the other hand, the identity of the person standing in the shadows is indicated by his posture, his position on the margins and his clothing, all of which

in Empires of light
Open Access (free)
Tania Anne Woloshyn

The existence of invisible radiation beyond the limit of the visible spectrum … came to be termed ‘actinic’ or ‘chemical’ rays, as they were supposed to be necessary before chemical reactions could take place. […] The light given out by burning magnesium (photographic ‘flash powder’) also causes explosive combination, as this

in Soaking up the rays
Open Access (free)
Tania Anne Woloshyn

treatment of some diseases by exposure of the skin to the action of light, natural or artificial, has in a marvellously short space of time leaped from the obscure position of a somewhat contemptuously neglected specific to the status of one of the most valued and even invaluable weapons in the medical armoury. 2 (Royal Institute of British Architects

in Soaking up the rays
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Stefania Parigi

perceptual relation between subject and object. In effect, there is a deeply inherent relation between the subject who speaks about the world and the world as recounted, between experience and narration. The perceptions of Rossellini imposed themselves against conventional representational formulas. The realism of Paisà moves in a phenomenological light, emphasized by Amédée Ayfre and André Bazin. It is the film-maker who is

in Cinema – Italy
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Niharika Dinkar

250 Empires of light Postscript I began this book by pointing to imperial practices of light that in turn inflected the more recognisable representations from twentieth-­century India, such as the literary movement Chhayavaad or cinematic noir. While the succeeding chapters went on to develop an archaeology for such visual practices in the long nineteenth century, in closing I would like to indicate how such an approach might help in addressing more intractable visual archives that have remained bound to dominant tropes of mimicry and the latter’s devaluation

in Empires of light
Proscenium theatre and technologies of illusionism
Niharika Dinkar

had frowned upon the singular opacity of the monarch’s decision that is uninformed by public opinion, proposing instead a transparent society of representative government.5 As such, transparency in the public sphere offered a means of countering the threat of darkened spaces with the light of knowledge. Homi Bhabha’s consideration of Montesquieu’s ideas on India proposed that although the colonial government invoked the language of transparency in relying upon writing (documentation and record) to make legible its authority to the wider public, it was nevertheless

in Empires of light