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This essay examines a single article of colonial law—Section 124a, which outlawed “disaffection”—to argue for the centrality of seemingly arcane details of imperial history to our embattled present. The notion of political disaffection that grew out of its criminalization in British India necessitated a racial theory of what counted as criticism and, through the practice of trial law, put a range of literary-critical strategies into play in order to ascertain whether specific instances of Indian writing were (detached) criticism or (embodied) disaffection. In examining how this racialization was theorized and put into practice, I demonstrate how this history prefigures a number of contemporary literary and political concerns, including civility, the status of free speech in a state of emergency, political affects, and literary hermeneutics.