Robinsonades: pertaining to allegories from the East India Company in Ceylon and other islands, from Marxism to Post-structuralism, and in which, dear reader, a 300-year-old adventure book may still have something to say
ABSTRACT Robinson Crusoe has been conjured with in many ways over the course of 300 years. While there has been an anti-orientalist critique of the figure of Friday, and some exposure of Crusoe’s investments in the slave trade, there are other aspects of Defoe’s book that receive less consideration. Post-structuralist and Marxist readings that have been made familiar again in recent work, look decidedly more interesting when the role of the English East India Company is reinstated as backdrop. What then of the resurgence of interest in the models that Robinson provides across the centuries: isolated individual, self-reliant, economic rational and civilising force, alone among nature...? If Marx were writing of Robinson today, would the colonial corporation feature? The possibility must be that the environment would be in focus, and a target would be the transnational corporate polluters who accumulate profits through exchanges that risks any future rescue. To think of Robinson is to seek again an allegory for our times, as ever. Perhaps every interpretation of the text leaves us isolated and stranded, left to our own devices with only the sketchiest tools, and a vague textual-moral compass, with which to reproduce a livelihood on an island planet far from home.
KEYWORDS: Robinson; Robinsonade; East India Company; colonialism; Derrida; boredom; Defoe; Marx
John Hutnyk is the author of several books, including 1996 The Rumour of Calcutta: Tourism, Charity and the Poverty of Representation, 2000 Critique of Exotica: Music, Politics and the Culture Industry, 2004 Bad Marxism: Capitalism and Cultural Studies, 2014 Pantomime Terror: Music and Politics and 2018 Global South Asia on Screen. He lives in Ho Chi Minh City with Theodor and Annabel, who, despite it all, love to hear adventure stories.