Home > Uncategorized > Mr. Sutton Griggs & Dr. Caroline Levander

Mr. Sutton Griggs & Dr. Caroline Levander

Well, reading Dr. Levander’s article “Sutton Griggs and the Borderlands of Empire,” has certainly made me more appreciative of Griggs’ Imperium In Imperio. Levander has helped me not only better understand the significance of the book but also helped me reconsider how to approach the final chapters of the book. As I read the first half, I found myself largely preoccupied with trying to negotiate between the fantastical nature of some of the plot twists with how the work related to my wider understanding of the course as a whole. However, thanks to Levander, I began to consider the work as a part of its own historical, social, and political contexts rather than in the context of strictly our class and our projects. This, of course, lent me a much greater appreciation and consideration of how Bernard and Belton went about setting up the Congress and Constitution of Imperium.

We just finished discussing Congress in my American Politics class, all of its roles, paradoxes, and obstacles, which also helped me to reorganize the work in my mind under a new, more appropriate critical scope. Acknowledging my own lack of familiarity with the literary landscape surrounding Griggs at this time, I tended to focus more predominantly upon the political aspect of his work during the second half as well as pay better attention to the tension Levander highlighted between patriotism and treason.

In chapter 17, the narrator describes the beginning of Bernard’s role as President thus:

“He familiarized himself with every detail of his great work and was thoroughly posted as to all the resources at his command. He devoted much time to assuaging jealousies and healing breaches wherever such existed in the ranks of the Imperium. He was so gentle, so loving, yet so firm and impartial, that all factional differences disappeared at his approach.”

Now, I agree with understand Griggs interpretation of the George Washington figure. However, I find it interesting that though Belton claimed that they had largely modeled their new constitution off of the U.S. Constitution, that this representation of a harmonious relationship between leader and follower could exist. Jame Madison, after all, wrote a variety of underlying themes into the U.S. Constitution which he expounds in the Federalist Papers, concepts such as the partial separation of powers as well as the need to make “ambition counteract ambition” — in other words, turn natural human vices (such as ambition) into virtues by working them off of one another for the efficiency and endurance of the new government. The fact that Griggs sets Bernard up this way seems very telling, a clear harbinger for his eventual corruption — similar to the rise and fall of Robespierre during the French Revolution and their attempt at instituting a new government.

This rise and fall within Bernard, I find, is a particularly keen illustration of the struggle and overlap existing within the identities of patriot and traitor. After all, it is his fervor and not his apathy which convince Belton to reconsider.

It is only after Barnard announces the resolutions to go to war that Belton stands up against the movement and speaks in favor of ameliorating relations with the U.S. through his own list of resolutions aimed at solving the “race problem” rather than severing them. And it is Belton who thus seems to better understand the truly complex nature of what the Imperium was meant to accomplish, “a nation within a nation,” making African Americans dual citizens of Imperium as well as the United States — something somewhat akin to the dual citizenship of many Native Americans between the U.S. and Native nations. Of course, as Levander points out, this goal is further complicated by Native nations as well as by the Mexican border, creating a multinational, – cultural, and -political region in Texas; thus making Griggs’ novel an effort to “rethink the binary logics that tended to govern African-American rights.” African Americans, Native Americans, and Mexican Americans are thus not faced with the simply choice between assimilate or evacuate, but possess “complex logics and opportunities inhering in the nation’s blurry edges” (Levander 79).

I found Levander’s article exceptionally enlightening as well as the second half of Griggs’ book much more enjoyable and challenging than the first, raising the kinds of questions which better match my own personal interests.

In her conclusion, Dr. Levander states:

“The novel asks us to draw new lines between U.S. sites of conquest outside the nation’s borders to specific regions within its boundaries that remain liminal. … it asks us to rethink what we know about the past, place, and prose.”

My personal question for Dr. Levander is simply: “You well explain the blurred and overlapping nature of the identities: patriot and traitor in regards to Griggs’ Imperium In Imperio. However, though both of these identities are inherently consumed by the question of liberty (and though, clearly, the whites of Imperium In Imperio, Bernard, Belton, and Berl Trout all have different ideas and definitions of what liberty means) you do not much address this concept. Thus, I was wondering, would you say that it is a part of the American national identity and political culture that necessitates our reconsideration (of its past, place, and prose)? That perhaps modern America has denied truer liberty to African Americans by effectively rewriting Texas history with little mention of them? How do the variety of American understandings of liberty affect who are considered citizens and what is considered patriotism?


Categories: Uncategorized
  1. April 10, 2011 at 10:02 pm

    I noticed this dual citizenship that you mentioned as well as the question of labor in Imperium in Imperio. For some reason they both echoed Booker T. Washington and W.E.B. Du Bois debates (at least to me they did) where Washington encourages Black citizens to succumb to their expected roles in labor and Du Bois talks about the dual identity that Black people are forced to live in the U.S. daily.

    I also agree about the struggles and overlaps between identities of patriot and traitor seen in Bernard’s character.

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