I track the disintegrated tribe, I reconstitute the pulverized dynasty. I swim in the canals of the chronicles, go up the apocryphal torrents, I span both time with milliaries and deserts that frighten.Tahar Djaout, L'Invention du désert (1987)
Some of my earlier work analysed the link between Orientalism and Gypsylorism as discursive formations that constitute the subjects of which they write (Lee 2000). Here I extend that work by examining ways in which Gypsylorists, by suppressing alternative possibilities, reinforced their epistemic control in constituting ‘the Gypsies’. I develop the interlinked notions of travelling theory, belatedness, ‘wild praxis’ and the possibilities that postcolonial theorizing can offer to examine ways in which Romanies can uncover and re-present amnesiac discourses embedded in Gypsylorism. I use two illustrations: Francis Hindes Groome's hypothesis for the origin of the term ‘Egyptian’ as applied to early Romani arrivals in Europe, and the existence and operation of the Gypsy and Folklore Club from 1911 to 1914.
Romanies as Colonial Subjects
Pollock has argued that Indological studies in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, in terms of investment by the state and volume of output, were dominated by Germany, which ‘almost certainly surpassed all the rest of Europe and America combined’ (1993: 82). He emphasizes that this occurred ‘without […] any direct colonial instrumentality (1993: 82). Consequently, he argues, the epistemic violence of colonialism can occur without the perpetrator necessarily occupying a colonial territory. Similarly, I argue that while Romanies have never been colonized through dispossession of land in the same way as indigenous peoples, in many other respects they can be considered as colonial subjects – victims of imposed discursive (mis)representations and structural inequalities, marginalized, patronized, exploited, stripped of language, culture, dignity. Here I contend that recent developments in postcolonial theory can offer a new perspective on the ways in which ‘the Gypsies’ have been – and still are – constituted and created as subjects.
The Gypsies and Postcolonial Theory
Edward Said (1983) discussed what he called ‘travelling theory’, the possibility that theories may lose some of their original force when transposed to other times and situations. He later considered alternative ways in which ‘travelling theory’ could produce the opposite effect, asking if theory ‘flames out so to speak, restates and reaffirms its own inherent tensions by moving to another site?’ (Said 1999: 200).