The Intimacies of Four Continents
Lisa Lowe is Professor of English and American Studies at Tufts University. She is the author of Immigrant Acts: On Asian American Cultural Politics and the coeditor of The Politics of Culture in the Shadow of Capital, both also published by Duke University Press.
A Fetishism of Colonial Commodities
By means of a discussion of C. L. R. James’s interest in William Thackeray’s novel Vanity Fair, this chapter discusses “free trade,” commodification, and the representation of colonial trades in tea, chintz, calico, silk, and opium, which bring together colonialism in the West Indies and East Indies. Early nineteenth-century ideas of “free trade” were intrinsic both to economic liberty in England, and to the improvisation of new forms of sovereignty in the empire, as Britain moved from mercantilism to expanded worldwide trade, and integrated colonial practices of slavery and conquest with new forms of governance linked to the production of value through the circulation of goods and people. The author argues that James appreciated Thackeray’s literary descriptions of cotton and silk fabrics that furnished nineteenth-century British domestic spaces as linking enslaved workers in the U.S. South, South Asian weavers and textile designs, English and Scottish laborers working in the machine-based British industry, and the opium trade to China—as intimate parts of the same imperial moment