Shankar Raman. Framing "India": The Colonial Imaginary in Early Modern Culture. Stanford: Stanford UP, 2002. xii+389pp. ISBN 0 8047 3970 6.
Mark Aune
North Dakota State University

Aune, Mark. "Review of Shankar Raman. Framing "India": The Colonial Imaginary in Early Modern Culture." Early Modern Literary Studies 9.1 (May, 2003): 12.1-9 <URL:

  1. Shankar Raman, Associate Professor of Literature at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, has produced an erudite, closely reasoned first book that extends his research interests in colonialism and early modern drama. Raman begins his book observing that Columbus thought that he had sailed to India, and when this was discovered to be inaccurate, India itself seems to have dropped out of the discourse of exploration. Framing "India" then attempts to locate "India" in early modern European culture and modern critical discourse. In order to produce a study that addresses both these goals, Raman has employed a combination of theoretical positions that is neither New Historicist or old historicist, and instead draws on Hans Blumenberg's metaphorology as well as psychoanalytic theories.

  2. The study takes three parts. First, "The Limits of the World" examines the use of metaphors of the cosmos and the voyage as a means to investigate how Europe addressed the anxieties produced by the intersection of the "discovery" of new knowledge and medieval cultural structures. Raman begins this section with Luis Camões's epic poem of Vasco da Gama's voyage to India, Os Lusíadas. Shankar sees the Portuguese epic as a point where the metaphor of cosmos becomes destabilized. In taking the nationalistic, idealized and ancient form of the epic and combining it with a narrative of mercantile discovery, Camões embodies early modern epistemological anxiety. India becomes, for the Portuguese, the point at which the cosmos and the voyage intersect. It is a space of nationalistic self-definition, but at the same time a space discovered through a mercantile project engendered by an established aristocracy and an emergent bourgeoisie.

  3. The book turns briefly away from literature to examine early modern cartography for the ways in which its portrayal of space, India specifically, defined the East as well as Europe. The metaphor of cosmos is investigated in terms of the development of astronomy and its critique of medieval notions of celestial organization. Raman argues that as spatial knowledge of the world began to change as a result of the voyages of discovery, a European subject commensurate to this increased knowledge became necessary. The geometrical grid map helped to do this by making India and the East visible while at the same time reifying Europe's sense of its own superiority.

  4. With the establishment of a knowable (though European) India, the second section of the book, "Staging the East," investigates English dramatic representations of India and the East. Raman sees the stage as a place where India's becoming visible reflected English anxieties about its national identity and colonial enterprise. John Fletcher's The Island Princess (1621), for example, through its portrayal of Portuguese colonialism both highlighted England's absence from the colonial enterprise and appropriated Portugal's experience for English use. Raman goes further to suggest that the literal space between the stage and the audience enabled the audience to perceive the relationship between the colonizer and colonized, and to see itself as "the subject of a colonial knowledge, potentially a colonizing subject" (185).

  5. Dryden's much later play, Amboyna (1673), appears when the East India Company has established a permanent presence and a permanent trade relationship in India. Depicting the 1623 Dutch massacre of twelve English merchants, the play replaces the Portuguese competition with the Dutch and suggests a much earlier beginning point for the English colonial enterprise. The play's dominant metaphor is the market, where the English are characterized as practicing a form of commerce derived from patronage, embodying honour, gratitude and true faith. Dutch commercialism, on the other hand, is immoral, lacking faith and reciprocity. For Raman, tension is created when, despite these differences, both powers are portrayed pursuing colonial possession by treating native Indians with a similar process of othering and erasure.

  6. The final and briefest section of the book, "Upstaging the East" continues the investigation of drama with A Midsummer Night's Dream and shifts to a methodology based in Freudian/Lacanian psychoanalysis. The play, though it is chronologically out of place, presents further elaborations on the figuring of identity, and metaphors of market and commercial exchange. Unlike the earlier chapters, the use of Freud and Lacan attempts to recognize the paradox implicit in any Western critique of colonialism: that the critique itself is at least in part complicit with the discourse of colonialism. The center of Raman's analysis is the absent/present Indian Boy, fought over by Titania and Oberon. The boy functions like the unconscious, always absent, yet always present. By overcoming the matriarchal order, and appropriating the Indian Boy, the play stages the emergence of the ideals of contractual exchange and the market. This for Raman constitutes a reflection of the simultaneous emergence and erasure of India in the English cultural imagination.

  7. Raman concludes his study with a meditation on the place of literature and literary study in a post-colonial world. Part of the importance of the study of literature is that it helps us to understand how "the lived Indias of the present continue to be shaped by the imagined as well as real Indias of the past" (290).

  8. I approached Framing India with anticipation, eager to read the latest addition to a small, but growing body of work addressing the early modern European experience with India and the East, as well as the necessary and concomitant interrogation of the period in terms of colonialism. This investigation of early modern colonialism, English colonialism in particular, is one of the book's most valuable contributions. A tendency to read post-Reformation English colonialism chronologically backward as if it were an always-already cultural condition still seems to exist . Raman joins scholars such as Nabil Mater, Gerald MacLean, Joan-Pau Rubiés, Jyotsna G. Singh and Daniel Vitkus in the investigation of the early modern European encounter(s) with the East and how the encounters shaped and were shaped by the writing of the time.

  9. Framing "India" is a densely written, carefully argued work that not only provides thoughtful readings of a range of early modern European texts, but through a use of a variety of methodologies, maintains an awareness of its own critical position in a post-colonial world.

Works Cited

Responses to this piece intended for the Readers' Forum may be sent to the Editor at L.M.Hopkins@shu.ac.uk.

© 2003-, Lisa Hopkins (Editor, EMLS).