Food, medicine and water: it should come as no surprise, then, that some of the papers in the workshop also touched on the notion of ‘life’, and its corollary, death. John Plunkett (Exeter) explored how Queen Victoria became the subject of photographs and other commemorative objects during and after her lifetime. This, John argued, was a form of ‘commodified affect’ and the production of such objects was key in creating and maintaining an affective relationship between Victoria and her colonial subjects. He further argued that Victoria was made familiar to her colonial subjects by exporting tropes of motherhood and family to the colonies. This was an attempt to soften the image of Victorian rule, to re-present it in terms of domestic life and duty. In the discussion session, Margot Finn (Warwick) mentioned that tropes such as motherhood and family can be cast as universal even though they do not socially exist as universals: did this mean that the ‘exportation’ of the familial rhetoric encountered resistance and if so, where was it possible to find examples of these?
Tapati Guha-Thakurta (CSSS) looked at a rather different type of commemorative object – the civic statue. She reminded us that though statues were immobile, they embodied multiple journeys, both within India and between India and Britain. She argued that though civic statues are placed in large, privileged areas, they have become the ‘least observed spectacle of urban spaces’. The affective relationship with the person the statues resembled had been superseded by a functionary role: they had become mere landmarks within the urban sprawl of Kolkata. In the discussion relating to Tapati’s paper, Supriya Chaudhuri (Jadavpur University) asked whether it was possible to imagine soft interiors beneath the impenetrable surface of the statue? Wax was more capable of mimicking the human anatomy than bronze, stone or cast iron: did this mean that wax statues had a greater potential for retaining an affective relationship to the person it portrayed?
The notion of the object being drained of life came up again in Swapan Kumar Chakravorty’s (Director, National Library) paper. He spoke on the affect that public libraries should attempt to cultivate in their readers – affect between readers and libraries, and between readers and books. He argued that books without readers are like ‘stones waiting for the lifting of a curse’; they are resuscitated at the touch of a reader. More broadly, he argued that, in the creation of affect, public access to the library was of greater importance than the size of the collection.
The subject of Nilanjana Deb’s paper was the Great Calcutta Exhibition, a collection where both size and public access need not be called into question. Nilanjana located the Calcutta Exhibition in a network of other exhibitions spawned by the Great Exhibition of 1851. The Calcutta Exhibition brought countries and companies into greater contact, but there was a huge amount of public interest in the Exhibition as well. Fifty thousand Bengali women attended the Calcutta Exhibition: a surprising fact given that women were rarely seen in places more openly associated with trade, such as the bazaar.
The panel from King’s College London interrogated some of the central terms of the Project: network, affect and commodity. Josephine McDonagh opened the session by arguing that focussing on ‘the stuff of empire and all who participate in it, however reluctantly’ uncovers the fabric of everyday life, at home and in the colonies. She also argued that the circulation of commodities such as the novel produces an affective field as it creates and disseminates a sense of place and feeling. Clare Pettitt focussed on the limits of affect and the commodity. She argued that without affect, the commodity is virtually impossible: affect layers the object with a particular set of symbolic meanings. As such, Clare argued, it is not just the elision of human labour that produces the commodity: Marx’s account of commodity fetishism is insufficient and needs further probing. She ended by asking, ‘What do we miss in this focus on the commodity, or what do we choose to miss? Are there some places or instances where commodity culture is resisted? What does affect disguise or uncover?’ Mark Turner came next, with a paper on Anthony Trollope. Mark examined the translation of Trollope’s postal service work into his fiction, arguing that both of Trollope’s jobs emphasised networks of communication. As a writer on the move – constantly travelling along the various routes of various networks – and yet without a particular destination, Trollope had a rather different experience of networks. Mark argued that while global networks suggest unity and coherence, they concomitantly suggest frustration, melancholy and, at times, disconnection from their centres. Ian Henderson gave the last paper in the panel. He bought Trollope’s account of his travels in Australia and New Zealand (1873) into conversation with A. A. Philip’s essay ‘The Cultural Cringe’. Ian argued that Trollope was an example of Philip’s ‘minatory Englishman’ ever-present at the back of the Australian reader’s mind inducing the ‘Cringe’. Ian further argued that Philips’s suggestions for curing the Cringe replayed some aspects of the racial politics as advocated by Trollope.
Devleena Ghosh (University of Technology, Sydney) and Rochelle Pinto (University of Delhi) both looked at affective relationships to land, but in different contexts. Devleena focussed on how, during the period of decolonisation, money and land were rhetorically separated: money became associated with Indo-Fijans, and land, with indigenous Fijans. Through this separation, notions of citizenship and belonging were transformed and redefined. Rochelle looked at the competing discourses surrounding land in nineteenth- and early-twentieth-century Goa. She argued that disputes over changes in the ways in which each village was allocated land were played out in a variety of ‘genres of print’, such as pamphlets, land reports and novels. These literary and non-literary texts offered new ways of ‘belonging to the land’.