For the Record

On Sexuality and the Colonial Archive in India

For the Record

Next Wave: New Directions in Women's Studies

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Book Pages: 232 Illustrations: Published: September 2009

Asian Studies > South Asia, Gender and Sexuality > Sex and Sexuality, Postcolonial and Colonial Studies

Anjali Arondekar considers the relationship between sexuality and the colonial archive by posing the following questions: Why does sexuality (still) seek its truth in the historical archive? What are the spatial and temporal logics that compel such a return? And conversely, what kind of “archive” does such a recuperative hermeneutics produce? Rather than render sexuality’s relationship to the colonial archive through the preferred lens of historical invisibility (which would presume that there is something about sexuality that is lost or silent and needs to “come out”), Arondekar engages sexuality’s recursive traces within the colonial archive against and through our very desire for access.

The logic and the interpretive resources of For the Record arise out of two entangled and minoritized historiographies: one in South Asian studies and the other in queer/sexuality studies. Focusing on late colonial India, Arondekar examines the spectacularization of sexuality in anthropology, law, literature, and pornography from 1843 until 1920. By turning to materials and/or locations that are familiar to most scholars of queer and subaltern studies, Arondekar considers sexuality at the center of the colonial archive rather than at its margins. Each chapter addresses a form of archival loss, troped either in a language of disappearance or paucity, simulacrum or detritus: from Richard Burton’s missing report on male brothels in Karáchi (1845) to a failed sodomy prosecution in Northern India, Queen Empress v. Khairati (1884), and from the ubiquitous India-rubber dildos found in colonial pornography of the mid-to-late nineteenth century to the archival detritus of Kipling’s stories about the Indian Mutiny of 1857.


“Arondekar crafts a devoutly historical and methodologically steady approach to a diverse range of texts (literature, government reports, legal cases, pornographic manuals). Her strong theoretical scaffolding brings these objects together effectively, tightly cross-hatching them through propositions on writing an intelligible history of sexuality. The result is an intervention of scholarly significance that asks us to rethink what it means to ‘do history’ in queer theory, colonial studies, South Asian history, gender studies, and literary and cultural theory.” — Bishnupriya Ghosh, GLQ

“Arondekar’s For the Record is a superb first book that asks how and why scholars of sexuality seek its truth in the historical archive. . . . Written from the perspective of a literary critic, Arondekar’s volume is likely to engage the literary and the nonliterary reader alike.” — Ruby Lal, Feminist Studies

“Following Ann Stoler, and extending as well as illustrating her thesis with very relevant and illuminating examples, Arondekar argues that the context from which traces of sexuality emerge is as (if not more) important as the content of the traces. . . . This book makes for demanding but rewarding reading. . . . Each chapter is ‘whole’ on its own, and each relies on different kinds of archives (bureaucratic, legal, newspaper and literary, to name a few) to make its case. It is precisely the centrality of archive (state, institutional or literary) to academic study, and its mobilization for political causes, that magnifies the dangers of reading it uncritically, and this work goes a long way in facilitating critical readings such that it becomes a subject in its own right.” — Devika Sethi, Book Review

“In the wake of this book, scholars of South Asian studies and sexuality studies will be forced to rethink our assumptions about what we are looking for when we search for archival evidence about sexuality and, indeed, to pay closer attention to the relationships that undergird the constitution of particular archival sites. . . . . Perhaps appropriately, given Arondekar’s emphasis on the process of interpretation, For the Record is not always easy on its readers. But for those who persevere, the book offers new insights not only about sexuality, but about the very process by which we write with, and through, the colonial archive.” — Mytheli Sreenivas, Journal of Asian Studies

“This book is innovative in its intellectual scope and in its theoretical contributions and will surely influence the field of sexuality studies broadly. . . . This elegantly written text is thoughtfully informed by the fields of feminist and queer studies, as well as the historiographical schools of subaltern and postcolonial studies, and will be of interest to scholars and students interested in these approaches, as well as to those interested in the study of South Asia and its role in empire more generally.” — Rachel Berger, History: Reviews of New Books

“This illuminating text forces the reader to ask further questions about sexuality and empire. . . . [A] compelling read for anyone interested in Cultural Studies, Subaltern Studies, or Queer Studies.”
— Jenell Morrow, Women's Studies

“This is a book of enormous importance to scholars of sexuality studies and colonial studies, particularly those of us who work with textual archives. It is a diagnosis and a provocation, particularly to anthropologists, historians, legal thinkers, and those working in archives, official or otherwise.” — Durba Ghosh, H-Net Reviews

“For the Record is an interesting resource for the study of colonial archives containing fresh ideas to approach the subject of sexuality in colonial India. I have enjoyed the narrative journey in the past of colonial India, and I feel that the book will be useful for scholars of colonial history, sexuality, queer studies and law. It is particularly important for all those interested in exploring archival methodologies and histories.”
— Nadia Siddiqui, South Asia

For the Record is a deft, at times dazzling, archival-based critical reading of the South Asian archives. Anjali Arondekar seeks not the lost objects of sexuality, but the colonial compulsions and disciplines that conjure their appearance and disappearance across time and space. In doing so, For the Record turns sexuality studies on its head with the breathtaking elegance of a master historian and reader.” — Elizabeth A. Povinelli, author of The Empire of Love: Toward a Theory of Intimacy, Genealogy, and Carnality

“In situating sexuality at the heart of the colonial archive, Anjali Arondekar in For the Record brilliantly magnifies the dynamics of recovery and occlusion, desire and emptiness, that attend any archival project. Arondekar inquires specifically into anthropology, law, literature, and pornography in British India, not only contributing to our understanding of the ways the colonial apparatus made sex visible but also pushing forward into questions of what the postcolonial politics of that visibility might now entail. She both quotes Derrida's oblique footnote and makes it urgent: ‘The question of a politics of the archive is our permanent orientation here.’” — Carolyn Dinshaw, author of Getting Medieval: Sexualities and Communities, Pre- and Postmodern

“This engaging and inventive book is not a typical critique of the colonial archive: it depends on the colonial record even as it exposes its limits. This is a crisp and intelligent study that provides both an accounting of the traces of sexuality in colonial India and an excursus on the writing of such a history.” — Mrinalini Sinha, author of Specters of Mother India: The Global Restructuring of an Empire


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Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

Anjali Arondekar is Associate Professor of Feminist Studies at the University of California, Santa Cruz.

Table of Contents Back to Top
Preface ix

Introduction. Without a Trace 1

1. A Secret Report: Richard Burton's Colonial Anthropology 27

2. Subject to Sodomy: The Case of Colonial India 67

3. Archival Attachments: The Story of an India-Rubber Dildo 97

4. In the Wake of 1857: Rudyard Kipling's Mutiny Papers 131

Coda. Passing Returns 171

Bibliography 181

Index 205
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Winner, 2010 Alan Bray Memorial Book Award, presented by the Modern Language Association GL/Q Caucus

Additional InformationBack to Top
Paper ISBN: 978-0-8223-4533-6 / Cloth ISBN: 978-0-8223-4515-2
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