This book is a novel attempt to think about the eighteenth-century view of
India and the West Indies together, arguing that this is how Edmund Burke and Denis Diderot actually saw them.
The interest in more than one geographical space is revealed to be a largely unacknowledged part of Enlightenment thought. Focusing on colonized regions in relation to the Enlightenment, Agnani demonstrates how Burke’s horror of the French Revolution—the defining event of modernity— was shaped by prior reflection on these other domains.
Exploring with sympathy the angry outbursts against injustice in the writings of Diderot, Agnani nonetheless questions understandings of him as an unequivocal critic of empire.
By looking carefully at the thought of both radical and conservative writers, Agnani asks what it means to critique empire “properly.” He draws from Adorno’s quip that “one must have tradition in oneself, in order to hate it properly.”
“Empire” and “the Enlightenment” are linked terms. Sunil Agnani shows us connections between them from a new perspective, ones that have hardly been known, much less outlined and analysed. His work is an important contribution to political theory, history, literary studies, and postcolonial studies.
Winner of the 2014 Harry Levin Prize from the American Comparative Literature Association
Sunil M. Agnani’s Hating Empire Properly is an astute and learned inquiry into the Enlightenment, colonialism, and revolution in the anticolonial writings of Denis Diderot and Edmund Burke. Agnani’s nuanced analyses of Diderot and Burke and “the two Indies” demonstrate the suggestive power of ‘hating properly,’ of “entering into its [empire’s] terms and allowing the internal contradictions to be heightened rather than covered by a politic veil.” With rich textual analyses and theoretical agility, Hating Empire Properly more than substantiates its concluding suggestion “that the full ‘meaning’ and significance of the fragmentary discourses of the Enlightenment are manifest only in the colonies, rendered legible only by means of the colonies . . .”
Sunil Agnani is Associate Professor with the departments of English and History, University of Illinois at Chicago. He has held previous positions at the University of Michigan and the Princeton Society of Fellows. He teaches courses on the European Enlightenment, eighteenth-century British and French literature and thought, and the literature of empire and decolonization.