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BOOK REVIEWS Twilight & Progress Patrick Brantlinger. Dark Vanishings: Discourse on the Extinction of Primitive Races, 1800-1930. Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2003. χ + 248 pp. Cloth $49.95 Paper $19.95 THE DARK VANISHINGS of Patrick Brantlinger's most recent book are the presumed extinctions, especially self-extinguishings, of people not deemed to be, or not deemed to be capable of being, civilized, of those who cannot participate in Western Progress. By focusing exclusively on extinction, this book makes clearer than most post-colonial critiques since Fanon how closely extinction was the reverse narrative of Progress and civilization, the other side of the coin. The death of the primitive was as inevitable, as inescapable, as the Progress of the whites. It also contributes to postcolonial studies a richer explanatory frame for race than color. Here "race" represents a conglomerate of properties —nature, nomadism, propertylessness, relative absence of firearms and technology, and sex—that contradicted western notions of technological and economic progress. In this model, the superficially white, as in the Irish case, could be structurally primitive, and therefore as inevitably disappeared as aboriginals of color in the colonies. The most lethal aspect of extinction discourse, Brantlinger concludes, has probably been its stress on the inevitability of the vanishing. The sense of doom has been rendered all the more powerful by the belief that at least some (chosen) peoples might progress, that Progress is either providential or natural, and that most light and dark races are separated from each other by biological essences that translate as "fit" and "unfit" to survive. Although the racism is less explicit today, the presumption remains of the inevitability, providence, or naturalness of technological and economic progress in the form of Western markets and lifestyles. For readers ofELT, it may be of interest that the dominant literary mode for this extinction discourse is elegy, or Ubi sunt? When the civilized bearers of Progress look at those they wish to be disappeared , they see, paradoxically, the last representatives of romance, of all the white man can no longer be. Such is the white man's burden, the dialectics of enlightenment. Being, above all things, critical, the white man (as a race) intermittently saw the ironies of Progress, and sometimes went native. In his Autobiography (1771), Benjamin Franklin noted that the Carlisle Indians must have been doing something right, because whites captured by them often did not want to return home. In Letters of an American 227 ELT 48 : 2 2005 Farmer (1781), J. Hector St. John de Crevecoeur pointed out that thousands of Europeans had assimilated into Indian families and refused to return, but he knew no examples of the reverse—a point subsequently confirmed by historians. As late as Alfred Rüssel Wallace's Malay Archipelago (1869), Wallace concluded, about an altogether different population geographically, that "among people in a very low stage of civilization we find some approach to a perfect social state." Here are the roots of desire and discontent that haunt the fin de siècle. With his customarily thorough scholarship, Brantlinger explores these contrasts between Western notions of the perfect social state, based on Distinction(s), and its reverse narrative of non-Western Extinction across several major British colonies, the Americas, and Polynesia . As suggested above, the extinction narratives were couched in political economy (Ireland), natural history (the Antipodes), and early ethnology or race-science (Polynesia). The chapter on North America considers "the vanishing Indian" and the removal policy of the 1830s. Chapter 4, on missionary humanitarianism in South Africa, traces the change in mission of the Aborigines Protection Society from "protecting the defenseless" to merely studying them or "recording their history" as they declined. This is a typical part of the elegiac mode—to lament the loss to Western science of a people's passing. (In Chapter 6, on the last of the Australian Tasmanians, Brantlinger describes how their bones were exhumed for further study.) The chapter on the Irish Famine of 1845—1850 focuses on how economic policy was seen as Providence (the Invisible Hand) in what for other commentators amounted to genocide. The chapter on New Zealand Maori and the Pacific Islands chronicles the horrors in Paradise of appetite, sexuality...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1559-2715
Print ISSN
0013-8339
Pages
pp. 227-229
Launched on MUSE
2010-05-21
Open Access
No
Archive Status
Will Be Archived 2021
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