Sam Zucchi

Document Type

Book Review


Fittingly, Rage For Order by Lauren Benton, Professor of Law and History at Vanderbilt University, and Lisa Ford, Associate Professor of History at the University of New South Wales, takes both its title and its epigraph from the last stanza of Wallace Stevens’ “The Idea of Order at Key West.” Originally written on the then-sparsely inhabited island of Key West in Florida, the poem blends the sound of a woman singing with the ocean and uses that voice to delineate the various boundaries between wave, sky, and horizon line. Beginning with the stanza quoted above, Stevens ends up identifying the ocean with that voice, and describes the singer as the one who creates that ocean with her singing, before he then describes our “rage” for order. Put another way, Stevens writes a poem about how man—or woman!—is the one who orders the natural world, delineating with light and sound the various zones and poles of the ocean. It is a fitting epigraph precisely because the project of empire and international law both are similar attempts by humankind to order the world. For this book, however, the key word in the poem is, of course, rage: rage as a thoughtless, uncontrolled passion; rage as a deeply damaging action; rage as a fashionable craze. All three understandings of rage have their place in the narrative of empire spun by Benton and Ford.

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