Civilizing War

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ISBN 978-0-8101-3603-8

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ISBN 978-0-8101-3604-5

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ISBN 978-0-8101-3602-1
Publication Date
December 2017
Page Count
264 pages
Trim Size
6 x 9

Civilizing War

Imperial Politics and the Poetics of National Rupture
Nasser Mufti

Civilizing War traces the historical transformation of civil war from a civil affair into an uncivil crisis. Civil war is today synonymous with the global refugee crisis, often serving as grounds for liberal-humanitarian intervention and nationalist protectionism.

In Civilizing War, Nasser Mufti situates this contemporary conjuncture in the long history of British imperialism, demonstrating how civil war has been and continues to be integral to the politics of empire. Through comparative readings of literature, criticism, historiography, and social analysis, Civilizing War shows how writers and intellectuals of Britain’s Anglophone empire articulated a “poetics of national rupture” that defined the metropolitan nation and its colonial others.

Mufti’s tour de force marshals a wealth of examples as diverse as Thomas Carlyle, Benjamin Disraeli, Friedrich Engels, Arthur Conan Doyle, Rudyard Kipling, Joseph Conrad, V. S. Naipaul, Nadine Gordimer, and Michael Ondaatje to examine the variety of forms this poetics takes—metaphors, figures, tropes, puns, and plot—all of which have played a central role in Britain’s civilizing mission and its afterlife. In doing so, Civilizing War shifts the terms of Edward Said’s influential Orientalism to suggest that imperialism was not only organized around the norms of civility but also around narratives of civil war.
About the Author

NASSER MUFTI is an assistant professor in the department of English at the University of Illinois at Chicago.

“East is East, and West is West? Not so simple, explains Nasser Mufti in this fine study of the migration of the category ‘civil war’ from the age of empire to postcolonial globalization. Mufti shows how cruelty has continually operated as the reverse side of civility, albeit strategically displaced from one shore to another, as narratives of the nation both reveal and mythologize. This is an abhorrent but fascinating lesson that we keep learning.” —Etienne Balibar

"This book is an excellent example of what post-colonial criticism was intended to be: a serious historical engagement with the texts that emerged in the encounter between the colonizer and the colonized in the postcolonial world. Mufti makes a powerful statement on the relationship between colonial governmentality and the poetics of empire, and a clear and sustained connection between the discourses surrounding the idea of civil war, the civilization claims of colonial rule, and the imbrication of texts in this arena.” —Simon E. Gikandi, author of Reading the African Novel and Slavery and the Culture of Taste

"What if we thought of the nation as populated by citizens not so much willing to die for their fellow countrymen as willing to kill them? The Victorians did.  As Nasser Mufti shows, before civil war became an excuse for imperial intervention, it was a part of domestic history that the 19th century did not feel it had to or indeed could forget. Mufti ties the domestic and the imperial together in a brilliant excavation of the 19th century that is also a dazzling polemic with the reigning wisdom of cultural theory." —Bruce Robbins, author of The Beneficiary 

“Mufti’s Civilizing War charts a promising path forward for Victorian studies, not only by its argument about civil war but by its clear commitments to showing how looking at the nineteenth century is critical for understanding the present. The trajectory of the book is exciting because it suggests ways that Victorian studies projects can include readings of novels by Disraeli and Gordimer alongside readings of the World Bank reports in the same extended book-length study. This is significant for scholars, as we are continuously asked not only ‘why the humanities?’ but also ‘why the Victorians?’” —Victorian Literature and Culture 

"Mufti’s monograph is perhaps most at home in a wide division of transdiscplinary scholarship interested in the constitutive negations produced by imperial and state power . . . to anti-imperial sociology and history interested in the study of how things come to be unknown. Civilizing War, in its sustained emphasis on antipathies, silences, blind spots, forgetting, confusion, and irresolution seeks in this tradition to detail the stakes of including these negativities in our historical consideration of poetics and politics and the difference they make in our understanding of the present." —ASAP Journal

"Civilizing War is rewardingly provocative throughout. It bears close reading by literary scholars, historians, and anyone interested in the ways in which narratives operate to order and at times disorder our world. Mufti convincingly demonstrates that civil war as a discursive construction is not going anywhere: imperialism and globalization may have over the course of the twentieth century relegated civil wars to the developing world, but the ongoing refugee crisis is seen by many Western commentators as threatening to sow the seeds of civil war more globally." —Douglas, M. Peers, Victorian Studies