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Conscripts of Modernity: The Tragedy of Colonial Enlightenment Paperback – Dec 3 2004

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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
Beautiful March 19 2009
By Irami Osei-Frimpong - Published on
Format: Paperback
Scott serves up a trenchant rehearsal of C.L.R. James' historical, moral, and political imagination, and what these qualities mean for the project of doing history.

Briefly, Scott takes James' "Black Jacobins" as a point of departure to talk about the work of history. By employing Hayden White's scholarship, Scott understands James' initial release of the "Black Jacobins," in 1938, to be an anti-colonial historical Romance, a telling of the Haitian Revolution that plots Toussaint Louverture as the heroic symbol of indomitable freedom on the march. Scott then views the 1963 re-release as of the "Black Jacobins" as a post-colonial Tragedy, suggesting that the political facts of post-colonial violence and corruption during the intervening years between 1938 and 1963 moved James' from an anti-colonial historian to a post-colonial thinker. Scott sees James as making key changes in the narrative to reflect his growing ambivalence about the moral probity of post-colonial politics and life.

Scott argues that the anti-colonial "problem spaces" that yielded the vibrate Romance of The Black Jacobins in 1938 is substantively different from the post-colonial "problem space" of 1963, due to James' growing understanding of modern material, political, and cultural conditions, and the balance of the book concerns the question, what kind of things are history, politics, and narrative prose discourse, such that 25 five years in the twentieth century can drastically change the telling of a revolution that happened in the 18th and 19th Century?

In discussing this shift in historical plot from Romance to Tragedy, Scott draws ably from Aristotle, Hegel, James, White, Aeschylus and Shakespeare among others to craft a beautiful and compelling narrative about what we do when we do history. I don't agree with him every step of the way, and I found the prose at the beginning to be slightly affected in trying to lead the reader through his project, but once he gets going, the journey is richly satisfying. As ever, do not buy this book from Amazon, buy it from your local independent bookstore.