Affect, Biopolitics, and the Realignment of the Repertoire, 1780-1800
by Daniel O'Quinn
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In Corrosive Solace, Daniel O’Quinn argues that the loss of the American colonies instantiated a complex reorganization in sociability and politics in the British metropole that has had long-lasting effects on British national and imperial culture, which can be seen and analyzed within its performative repertoire. He examines how the analysis of feeling or affect can be deployed to address the inchoate causal relation between historical events and their mediation. In this sense, Corrosive Solace’s goals are twofold: first, to outline the methodologies necessary for dealing with the affective recognition of historical crisis; and second, to make the historically familiar strange again, and thus make visible key avenues for discussion that have remained dormant. Both of these objectives turn on recognition: How do we theorize the implicit affective recognition of crisis in a distant historical moment? And how do we recognize what we, in our present moment, cannot discern?
Corrosive Solace addresses this complex cultural reorientation by attending less to “new” cultural products than to the theoretical and historical problems posed by looking at the transformation of “old” plays and modes of performance. These “old” plays—Shakespeare, post-Restoration comedy and she-tragedy—were a vital plank of the cultural patrimony, so much of O’Quinn’s analysis lies in how tradition was recovered and redirected to meet urgent social and political needs. Across the arc of Corrosive Solace, he tracks how the loss of the American War forced Britons to refashion the repertoire of cultural signs and social dispositions that had subtended its first empire in the Atlantic world in a way more suited to its emergent empire in South Asia.
"Corrosive Solace represents an authoritative statement on the importance of the theatre to what Daniel O’Quinn characterizes as the ‘post-American condition,’ i.e., how society, politics, and culture in Britain dealt with the loss of the American colonies and within a few short years, a new imperial dispensation, looking toward India and the threat of Napoleon in Europe. The book traces in fine detail ‘what it feels like’ to experience the pressure of historical change without being able to articulate or fully encompass what that change means. It is thoroughly and admirably interdisciplinary, seamlessly integrating approaches from theatre history, performance studies, cultural studies, affect theory, and social and political history to produce concentrated but still lucid readings of a number of key texts, performers, and events. Together these readings make for a new history of the 1780s and 1790s, especially in relation to the history of the broader politico-cultural role of the patent theatres, that will radically alter how we view these crucial decades."——Gillian Russell, University of York