Geography, Topography, Infrastructure: Mapping the Oscillations of the Frontier in John Buchan’s Prester John (1910)

Dominic Davies


This paper develops a conceptual map of ‘frontier consciousness’, 
outlining this ideological perspective that gave shape to a strand of
Britain’s imperial relationship with South Africa at the turn of the 
twentieth century. It does so through an application of world-systems theory to the textual ‘mappings’ of John Buchan’s frontier novel, Prester John (1910). Frontier consciousness comes into being through its proximity to the unknown spaces of the discursive African interior and its distance from the imperial metropole. But in the very process of describing these unknown spaces they necessarily become known: frontier consciousness, as articulated and mapped by Buchan’s novel, has thus to continuously produce and re-produce new unknown geographical areas in order to maintain the binary simplicity that allows it to come into being (‘civilisation’ vs. ‘savagery’ and so on). It is caught in a constant production of spatial distance and the simultaneous need to become proximal to it. The article concludes by arguing that this understanding of frontier consciousness, underpinned by notions of distance and proximity, can be mapped onto the historic and socioeconomic expansion and accumulation of capital that was 
taking place at this point in Britain’s imperial history.


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DOI: 10.14324/111.2057-2212.017


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