Emerging concepts in literary domainsGeopolitics and literature [Archives:2007/1030/Education]

March 5 2007

Dr.Mohammad Ejaz Alam
[email protected]
Assistant Professor,
Department of English
University of Science &Technology, Sana'a

The term “geopolitics” is often used to signify any locational approach to political issues or any political understanding of space. The word 'space' has a broader explanation of a thing that even covers up the region outside the Earth's atmosphere, in which all stars and other planets etc are situated. But in the discipline of geography, space is a field or container usually describable by a two or three – dimensional metric of co-ordinates. In the field of literature, space is recognized for the fluidity, relationality, and multiplicity of the experiencing subject that marks an uneasy gap between the established subject and a discourse of spatial essentialism. The term 'spatial essentialism' connotes the relation of the size, shape and position of things, and relation of objects to each other in shape. In a very literal manner the term comes to explain the relation of people's ability to an understanding of size, shape, position and depth. The early twenty-first century, particularly in modernist literature acquires new meaning as the generative site of the global imagination. The multiplicity of location, the objective practices of surveying, circumscribing, and recording inscribe the motion of intellectual territorial mastery. The works like Henry James's The American Joseph Conrad's Under Western Eyes, E.M. Forster's. A Passage to India, T. S. Eliot's Notes Towards the Definition of Culture, Christopher Isherwood's Berlin Novels and Virginia Wolf's The Years bear testimony to changing modes of previous knowledge and assumptions that occasion the turn to a non-problematized discourse. The growing impact of globalization transforms the nature of spatial relations; the further reflection on the nature and condition of our knowledge will no doubt influence the new mapping strategies and thus those relations.

The Swedish political scientist Rudolf Kjellen coined the term Geopolitik in 1899. He came to understand the term in order to signify a Darwinian understanding of state power as dependent on territorial growth. In course of his working on the concepts formulated by the German geographer Freidrich Ratzel, he realized the philosophy that stronger organisms survive by displacing the weaker.

Kjellen's theories had perhaps their greatest influence on the ideology that informed Nazi Germany. It was supposed to be the dominant paradigm in the west until the end of the cold war in 1904 for world power focusing on territorial control of Eurasia. Brian Blouet, a western geographer has defined geopolitics as a land based ideology that locates power in territorial magnitude, and makes its goal the carving up of Earth's space. Blouet identifies globalization as originally a maritime-based ideology deriving in large part from the Dutch. Ian Baucom has recently observed that the Dutch Seaborne Empire was inherently imperialist; however it would be helpful to describe the Cartography of globalization as mapping fluidities when water threatens to become an article of imperialist control. Barlow and Clarke have pertinently discussed that “water promises to be to the 21st century. What oil was to the 20th century: the precious commodity that determines the wealth of nations.” But the geopolitical paradigm shifts to that of globalization as the world becomes increasingly based on the international or global circulation of capital, information, goods, and services etc.

Analyses of early twentieth century cartography have exposed the encodings of its predominantly Euro centric and masculine perspectives and the primacy given to the borders and frontiers as delimiting boundaries. Let us take into account the acknowledged personalities and literary giants of the time who discussed the privilege of a Northern and Western focalization with its foregrounding of geopolitical relations based on discrete territorial units. In A Passage to India, E.M. Forster presents an exquisite picture with extant remains how the West and the East can not enjoy the sense of personal relationship .At one stage Forster reveals the situation with the geographical details and an enshrined geopolitics:

“To regard an Indian as if he were an Italian is not, for instance, a common error, nor perhaps a fatal one, and Fielding often attempted analogies between this peninsula and that other, smaller and more exquisitely shaped, that stretches into the classic waters of the Mediterranean.”


Forster not only stops here but he also wants to conclude the situation with a bursting note where the spatial essentialism hovers through and through and the novelist has designed to sum up the book with these comments: –

” The earth did not want it; he temples, the tank, the jail, the palace, the birds, the carrion, the guest house, that came into view as they issued from the gap and saw Mau beneath: they did not want it, they said in their hundred voices, ” No, not yet and the sky said, No, not there.”


The partition of Africa generated one of the most blatant of geopolitical maps. They have been recorded in another of Forster's novels, when the former Margaret Schlegel observes a map in the offices of her husband's company. “On which the whole continent appeared, looking like a whale marked out for blubber.” (Howards End, ch- 23) Not only was the world divided into nations; ideological Identities were demarcated as regions of the globe. The geopolitical imagination is still strongly reflected in numerous books published on globalization today. A common image, seen on many book covers, is a lightly sketched schematization of the globe focalized from a position in outer space. The cover of Philip Darby's. The Fiction of Imperialism: Reading Between International Relations and Post colonialism images a portion of the Asia – Pacific Ant Farm by Yukinori Yangi (1994). It is a story about the ant farms connected by plastic tubes. The live ants travel inside this tubes carrying grains of colored sand flag to flag. The recognizable symbols of the individual flags become intermixed, and the installation gradually dissolves and evolves into one universal flag.

In literary studies, the geopolitical closed space paradigm and the operative model for first- wave postcolonial studies where in apposition to the imperial Centro focussed on the distinctiveness and autonomy of identities. Arif Dirlik in his observation has raised the issue of the post colonial nation – state as a product of colonialism in its assumptions of national economic and political organization and its aspirations to the purity and homogeneity of national identity. According to Smith and Katz, geopolitical imaginary has structured not only the space of ” Capitalist patriarchy and racist imperialism” but the space of resistant and revolutionary discourse as well.

As the globe revolves, the continental outlines are ultimately distinct and blurred, separated and conjoined. Landforms also do not dominate over connecting seas, but the hollow core itself inscribes the blank space of the unknown. Ultimately, there is always space of absence to remind us that we never absolutely reach the other side. Globalization as it has become an important subject in the 21st century, tells us that the globe is a realm of endless connection. Once we move out of the bounded geopolitical, out of absolute space, a myriad new geopolitical metaphors emerge to stimulate new imaginings of global space. We need these images to organize our observation, and we need constantly to examine the literal ground, on which these metaphors depend. Globalization is a process towards increasing complexity and increasing simplification. It is the way towards grander and more intricate conceptualizations of the whole and it is the method to be acquainted with the face of a stranger whose eyes are meeting for the first time. It is a great deal of discussion of global and local. If the threat of a new geopolitical lies in laying claim to the globe, it is the imaginative geographies of its myriad individual that can restore the cognitive ecological balance with the views from other eyes. Literature comes to rescue the geopolitics and like an ” objective correlative”, it presents a set of objects, a situation, a chain of events, which shall be the formulae of that 'particular' emotion. T.S.Eliot in one of his poems has very suggestively hinted at the relation between literature and geopolitics. He writes:

” istory may be servitude,

History may be freedom. See, how they vanish,

The faces and places, with the self,

Which, as it could, loved them,

To become renowned, transfigured, in another pattern.

(Little Giddings)