“Ever westward the course of empire.” Bishop George Berkeley’s world-encompassing maxim has had its day—as has Berkeley himself—but it did for a spell help to define the contours of an idea that empire and power never rest, always searching for pastures and victims new. Yet Berkeley’s shorthand for the course of human history has always been precisely wrong, since it gives no account of what forces drive that westward movement, from Greece to Rome to Britain, and so on.

It is not Joe Cleary’s job, in Modernism, Empire, World Literature, to fill in the gaps in Berkeley’s blinkered vision, even as he at times invokes Berkeley. However, in Cleary’s account of the westward-shifting centers of Anglophone literary and cultural power from the late nineteenth century on, it’s hard to escape the feeling that Berkeley’s tectonic argument is being systematically investigated. Cleary outlines power transfers in the Anglophone literary world...

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