A gloss which recuperates Kipling’s intended meanings in ontological terms could appear calculated to drain the writings of historical specificity; […] it attests to the authenticity of [Kipling’s] ‘portraits’ […] through extrapolating the ‘historical realities’ from the do-it-yourself hagiography of the Raj, among which [his] fabrications were pre-eminent. The outcome is a criticism which projects the authorized representations [of the ‘master culture’] as truths.
[In Kim, the ‘terror’ of the] colonial encounter becomes domesticated into the familiarity of every day facticity. […] ‘Imperial time’ [is thereby rendered as a ‘wistful’] montage of autonomous moments […] engender[ing] a discourse that lacks any direction in which to go.
I. The two epigraphs placed at head of this note are intended to suggest the bewildering array of conflicting responses occasioned by Kipling’s novel Kim (1901),3 ranging from readings which express undiminished admiration, if not for the uncharacteristically ‘unpolitical’ treatment of the narrative subject-matter, at least for the novel’s ‘aesthetic merit’ or for a (purportedly) genuine attempt on Kipling’s part to negotiate the colonial divide and portray Indian culture(s) and ‘spirituality’ in a sympathetic light, to more sceptical accounts which foreground the text’s socio-political context so as to diagnose the author’s continuing concern with the security and survival of the Empire.4 Indeed, if one accepts Ann Parry’s argument regarding the ‘time-location’ of the narrated events as roughly contemporaneous with that of the novel’s composition (1894–1900),5 a period which saw a series of colonial campaigns culminating in the BoerWar (1899–1902) and was also marked by strained diplomatic relations with Britain’s old and new imperial rivals,6 those readings which dwell on the text’s affirmation of a ‘world of infinite concrete potentiality’7—its endorsement of ‘a new vision, […] more inclusive, humanized and mature than that of any other [of Kipling’s] works’8—appear less convincing.