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R E V I E W BRUCE HARVEY American Geographics: U.S. National Narratives and the Representation of the Non-European World, 1830-1865 Stanford University Press, 2001. 331 pages. I n American Geographics, Bruce Harvey explores a variety of antebellum American texts that depict non-European lands and peoples. These texts include: travelogues (such as John L. Stephens’ Incidents of Travel in Egypt, Arabia Petraea and the Holy Land and William F. Lynch’s Narrative of the United States’ Expedition to the River Jordan and the Dead Sea); geography schoolbooks by Samuel Goodrich, Arnold Guyot, and others; semi-fictional “travel novels” (Melville’s Typee and Ephraim G. Squier’s Waikna); novels (Martin R. Delany’s Blake and Maria Susanna Cummins’s El Fureidis); and poems (Melville’s Clarel). Harvey pays careful attention to this heterogeneous yet mutually revealing collection of texts, and the result is a significant contribution to American literary scholarship on a number of levels. At the most basic level, Harvey’s book introduces readers to texts which are not part of the Americanist canon and which are sure to enrich their understanding of the period. The chapter on geography schoolbooks, for example, focuses on their use as tools for training future citizens. Harvey argues that the comparative geographical gaze of such texts produced, rather than merely reflected, normative white U.S. culture. It is textual encounters with other regions and peoples, he suggests, that construct the nation in the minds of young Americans. Geography schoolbooks constitute a useful background, moreover, for literary travel texts of the same period, which are generally more conflicted in the way they use representations of geographical others as a means of exploring national identity or engaging in national debates. In his reading of Typee, for example, Harvey argues that concerns about the American legal system are “a haunting presence when Tommo contemplates the legal code of his captors” and that “[w]hen Tommo talks about Typeean law, he also talks about the law of his own country”(81). Because Tommo cannot comprehend the laws of the tribe holding him captive, he imagines that they live by “an interior heart-law” (78), a concept that Harvey sees as related to American debates about social governance and common law. Ultimately, however, Harvey suggests that Tommo’s “experiential encounter” 96 L E V I A T H A N R E V I E W with the Typees “thwarts his effort to appropriate native culture to his own ends” (86). In other words, Typee culture in the end fails to lend itself to a critique of Western law and social authority because the historicity and “notso -natural” law of the Typees intrudes upon Tommo’s fantasies of a pre-legal Eden (86). According to Harvey, Melville’s idealization, in Typee’s appendix, of the British commander Lord Paulet as the perfect lawgiver, as well as his dedication of Typee to his soon-to-be father-in-law Lemuel Shaw, chief justice of the Massachusetts Supreme Court, represent Melville’s ultimate evasion of the question of whether “natural legalism . . . constitutes a less or more coercive form of social rule than that which is based on written law codes” (93). Harvey’s central goal is to approach from a new direction the question of how antebellum Americans construed their nation, and he does this admirably. As he himself points out, scholars of American culture have generally thought about the nation in this period in one of two ways: as “anxiously postcolonial,” concerned about asserting cultural independence, or as a republic turned empire, concerned with dominating the North American continent (3). While he acknowledges that Manifest Destiny probably occupied more space in the psyche of the average antebellum American than did concern with global regions beyond the reach of national expansion, he is clearly on to something important when he suggests that examining American textual encounters with lands and peoples outside the scope of annexation can help us to achieve a fuller, richer picture of American culture in this period. Representations of the Middle East, Africa, and the South Pacific, he suggests, function as lenses through which national desires and anxieties come into focus more clearly than...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1750-1849
Print ISSN
1525-6995
Pages
pp. 96-98
Launched on MUSE
2013-05-29
Open Access
No
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