George Cruikshank, "The Radical's Arm's" [1819]

It was never easy to grasp the present as history, since vitally by definition the manuals all stopped and were printed a year or two earlier in time, but a politically conscious collectivity can keep itself up-to-date by a ceaseless multiple or hydra-headed scrutiny of and commentary on the latest unexpected peripety. Today, however, collectivity in that form has been drawn back inside the media, leaving us as individuals bereft even of the feeling of being alone and individual. The occasional flash of historical understanding that may strike the "current situation" will thus happen by the well-nigh postmodern (and spatial) mode of the recombination of separate columns in the newspaper: and it is this spatial operation that we continue to call (using older temporal language) historical thinking or analysis. The Alaska oil spill thus sits cheek by jowl with the latest Israeli bombing or search-and-destroy mission in southern Lebanon, or follows closely on it heels in the segmentation of television news. The two events activate altogether different and unrelated zones of reference and associative fields, not least because within the stereotypical planetarium of current "objective spirit," Alaska is on some other side of the physical and spiritual globe from the "war-torn Middle East." No introspective examination of our personal history, but no inspection of the various objective histories either (filed under Exxon, Alaska, Israel, Lebanon), would in itself be enough to disclose the dialectical interrelatedness of all these things, whose legendary Ur-episode can be found in the Suez War, which determined the building of larger and larger oil tankers to circumnavigate the Cape of Good Hope, on the one hand, with its sequel, on the other, in 1967, a sequel that fixed the political geography of the Middle Wast in violence and misery for more than a generation. What I want to argue is that the tracing of such common "origins" -- henceforth evidently indispensable for what we normally think of as concreter historical understanding -- is no longer exactly a temporal or genealogical operation in the sense if older logics of historicity or causality. The "solution" to a juxtaposition -- Alaska, Lebanon -- that is not yet even a puzzle until it is solved -- Nasser and Suez! -- no longer opens up historiographic deep space or perspectival temporality of the type of a Michelet or a Spengler: it lights up like a nodal circuit in a slot machine (and thus foreshadows a computer-game historiography of the future even more alarming). 
- Fredric Jameson, Postmodernism, or, The Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism [1989]
So what I try to do -- whether successfully or not, I can't tell -- what I try to do is, in the re-creation of the work or the interpretation of the work, dramatize and present the circumstances -- I mean the political circumstances, the historical circumstances, cultural circumstances, idealogical circumstances -- and try to make the work more interesting as a result without reducing it. I mean, it's  much easier to see this in the rereadings of texts for me or in the restating and reconceiving of musical works, because there you can actively intervene to point the work in a particular direction, to stress certain things, to connect, as I tried to do with Jane Austen, some of the problematic aspects of her tacit endorsement of slavery, not at all to blame her but to connect her to an emancipatory strain of interpretation that comes after her with West Indian writers themselves. To read her along with C.L.R. James, along with the history of colonialism, the history of slavery and so on, trying to reunderstand that history, which in the case of her novels, is occluded or at best marginal. So, that's what I try to do. It's very hard, but it seems to be the most interesting thing about the criticism and interpretation of great works of art. 
- Edward Said, "The Panic of the Visual: A Conversation with Edward W. Said" [1998]

Louis Caravaque, "Peter the Great at the Battle of Poltava"

Goethe did not come to the fore until the 1870s, after the establishment of the Empire, at a time when Germany was on the lookout for monumental representatives of national prestige. The chief milestones are as follows: the foundation of the Goethe Society under the aegis of German princes; the Weimar edition of his works, under princely patronage; the establishment of the imperialist image of Goethe in the German universities. But despite the never-ending flood of literature produced by Goethe scholars, the bourgeoisie has never been able to make more than a limited use of his genius, to say nothing of the question of how far they understood his intentions. His whole work abounds in reservations about them. And if he founded a great literature among them, he did so with face averted. Nor did he ever enjoy anything like the success that his genius merited; in fact he declined to do so. And this was so as to pursue his purpose of giving the ideas that inspired him the form which has enabled them to resist their dissolution at the hands of the bourgeoisie, a resistance made possible because they remained without effect and not because they could be deformed or trivialized. Goethe’s intransigence towards the cast of mind of the average bourgeois and hence a new view of his work acquired a new relevance with the repudiation of Naturalism. The Neo-Romantics (Stefan George, Hugo von Hofmannsthal and Rudolph Borchardt), the last bourgeois poets of any distinction to attempt to rescue bourgeois ideology, if only on the plane of culture and under the patronage of the enfeebled feudal authorities, provided a new important stimulus to Goethe scholarship (Konrad Burdach, Georg Simmel, Friedrich Gundolf). Their work was above all concerned with the exploration of the works and the style of Goethe’s last phase, which nineteenth century scholars had ignored.
- Walter Benjamin "Goethe: The Reluctant Bourgeois" [1928]
In Western thought, Montesquieu shifted the debate about empire and imperium when he asked about the possibilities of a republic being an empire. Alexander Hamilton answered this question when he noted that republicanism ‘‘need not stop America from becoming a true empire.’’ Hamilton then went on to say that this ‘‘true empire . . . is able to dictate the terms of the connection between the old world and the new.’’ It therefore seems to me that if we think about power and empire, about the deep connections between Roman political thought and the genealogy of the political languages of the West, then we would want to ask questions about current modes of power and stability, about how the so-called political man of Aristotle translates itself into empire and what that empire looks like: an empire based on a certain kind of sovereign order that attempts to regulate human life. Or, as Cicero might ask, How does one create a society in which you have a single, joint community of gods and men? 
The repertoire of power and empire is obviously conquest, but it includes ‘‘civilization,’’ and civilization is always about how to create ways of life. Empire is a project of violence and death that intends to create another form of life. This is extremely important, because thinking historically, we see how the European colonial empires functioned, and we should draw some insights: empires conquer, kill, and carry out genocide, but they also seek to create new forms of life, because empires need to create new kinds of subjects. 
This impulse, which became highly developed in colonial modernity, is now a central one in our new configuration of power. Thus, domination, in our present moment, is really about creating forms of life under the banner of an ‘‘empire of liberty.’’ There is present in this form of domination a double articulation. If we live within the matrices of language, then how does liberty become a form of domination? How is it captured and made naturalized and then transformed? 
-  Anthony Bogues, "Imagination, Politics, and Utopia: Confronting the Present" [2006]

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