Imperial Leather: Race, Gender, and Sexuality in the Colonial Contest

Imperial Leather: Race, Gender, and Sexuality in the Colonial Contest

Language: English

Pages: 464

ISBN: 0415908906

Format: PDF / Kindle (mobi) / ePub


Imperial Leather chronicles the dangerous liaisons between gender, race and class that shaped British imperialism and its bloody dismantling. Spanning the century between Victorian Britain and the current struggle for power in South Africa, the book takes up the complex relationships between race and sexuality, fetishism and money, gender and violence, domesticity and the imperial market, and the gendering of nationalism within the zones of imperial and anti-imperial power.

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uncertain continents -- Mrica, the Americas, Asia -- were figured in European lore as libidinously eroticized. Travelers' tales abounded with visions of the m onstrous sexuality of far-off lands, where, as legend had it, men sported gigantic penises and women consorted with apes, feminized men's breasts flowed with milk and militarized women lopped theirs off. Renaissance travelers found an eager and lascivious audience for their spicy tales, so that, long before the era of high Victorian

others the scene and time to see the English working classes") .81 There he was, as usual, captivated by the sight of a young working woman 's "gloveless hands . " Concocting an excuse t o take her hand in his, h e gasps with the shock o f contrast: HOh ye ballroom partners, what a breadth o f massive flesh it was to grasp!" What fascinates Munby in this scene is precisely the confusion of gender roles : u Her right hand lay, a large red lump, upon her light­ coloured frock; it was very broad

pointed. His entire appearance has an aura o f frailty, an almost invalid-like vulnerability next to the collierywoman 's sturdy bulk . The striking analogy between the two sketches reveals an unbidden logic of desire . In terms of the outer shape of the body, Munby reveals a secret iden­ tification with the female upp er class in relation to the masculinized working-class women . There is another dimension visible in the sketches that has gone largely unremarked by other comme ntators . While

Cullwick never escape d this social paradox; it could be negotiated but not individually resolved. In this way, S/M brings to its limit the liberal promise of social re solution through individual agency alone . In order to understand more fully the meaning of Cull"vick's fetishism, it is necessary to explore the social context in which it found its meaning and against which it set itself as stubborn refusal. This context was the historical invention of the middle class labor of leisure and the

but is rather the figure that inhabits that borderland where oppositions are perpetually disarranged, untidied and subverted. Nonetheless, Garber herself, by universalizing all cross-dressers as the ilfigure that disrupts" and by universalizing all fetishes as the phallus ('the phallus is the fetish, the fetish is the phallus '), cannot, in the final analysis, the­ oretically explain the wealth of diversity that her own anecdotes reveal. Within the single, cramped Lacanian frame into which she

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