Bernard Bailyn, Atlantic History: Concept and Contours (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2005), 160 pp. Common KnoWLEDgE Postsentimental historians are disaggregating the concept of empire. In early modern history, European states in process of self-formation happened to discover oceanic navigation and set about the colonization of the two American continents. These became part of a Europeanized world known, especially in the first two-thirds of the twentieth century, as âthe West.â This process, here brilliantly summarized, differed from the âimperialismâ of the nineteenth century, when fully formed industrial states acquired global empires that did more to transform their relations than their structures. Exhausted by their wars, some of them have regrouped in a âEuropeâ that disrupts âthe Westâ by defining itself by defining âAmericaâ as its Other. The northern American continent is momentarily involved in informal empire; the southern has pursued a differently ambivalent history. âAtlantic History,â not here pursued far into the nineteenth century, remains a great and global early modern subject. â J. G. A. Pocock doi 10.1215/0961754x-2006-019 Regina M. Schwartz, The Curse of Cain: The Violent Legacy of Monotheism (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1997), 211 pp. Articles in the Common Knowledge symposium on âimperial traumaâ hovered around notions of identity; for what is more at stake symbolically in relations between empires and âtheirâ others than identity? War and peace, poverty and abundance, are embroiled with identity and its evil twin, alterity. Schwartzâs study of the Old Testament stories is worth rereading in this context because the key question that she poses goes to the heart of the problem: âWhy is claiming a distinctive collective identity important enough to spawn violence?â Her answer relates to the principle of scarcity that âpervades most of the thinking about identity.â In cultures of scarcity, âit must all be competed for â land, prosperity, power, favor, even identity itself.â Schwartz finds, in story after story, only one blessing to be given at a time. God cannot bless two brothers, or two of anything. (Monotheist indeed!) Cain is rejected for offering grain, not sheep; Esau, for being late back from the hunt. âDo you have only one blessing, my father?â Esau asks: âBless me too, my father!â Jealous God; stingy Isaac. One brother, once part of identity, becomes an exile, now part of alterity. How do we know who is âreallyâ who? I suspect that we are not passionately attached to our present identities. We are passionately attached to knowing who we are. Identity is
Common Knowledge – Duke University Press
Published: Oct 1, 2006
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