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Introduction:
Designing Nations

Despite the attending noise, recent shifts in the distribution of political and discursive power between men and women, whites and nonwhites, First or Second and Third or Fourth worlds reveal how closely the contending sides are interconnected and how interdependent are their interests and even their identities. Alliances among women, among minorities in the United States, among Latin Americans, have been strained as contests for power have redefined interests and hierarchies, as attempts to describe the characteristic traits of a collectivity have become the means of opening rifts within it, as new boundaries have been drawn around subjection by class, gender, or ethnicity while time, history, and opportunity redistribute power among them.1

These realignments have prompted new readings of materials from the past, of writings by Phillis Wheatley and Frederick Douglass, by Harriet Beecher Stowe, Charles Brockden Brown, and James Fenimore Cooper; of captivity narratives, and reports of the early encounters between Europeans and Amerindians.2 These readings, which treat matters of power and identity at some length, refer as much to conditions of the present in which they are constructed as of the past they study. In the past, as in the present, issues of power and identity brought a strong emotional and ideological charge to works of the imagination, but time has removed much of the original urgency, and it is possible to gain new profit from their study.

Important shifts in political and discursive power took place in American nations just after they won independence in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. The literatures of the new nations set themselves the task of contesting the legitimacy and power of the former metropoles, determined to disentangle distinctive national selves from the cultural ties that still bound them to Europe. Yet different former colonies took different ways toward political and cultural independence. Here, I want to compare Brazilian and (North) American writings to understand how these ways, which have come to be seen as necessary and almost “natural,” were in fact, to a certain point, contingent, non-determined.3 Both nations produced complete “literary systems"—a concept on which Antônio Cândido builds his study of Brazilian literary history.4 Both were, or are, marginalized. I am particularly interested in the initial marginality of the literature of the United States and the present marginality of Brazilian literature because they indicate that marginality may be a function of time and because they offer what Roberto Schwarz has characterized as the built-in critical stance of the margin toward what the center takes for granted in values, culture, politics, literature.5

Because we are now distant in time from all the American independence movements and distant from many in space or culture as well, we can easily “estrange” for study what every grade-school mention of Washington in the United States, Bolivar in Spanish America, or Dom Pedro I in Brazil endeavors to “naturalize."6 But those of us who live on the western side of the Atlantic are also close to the history of how the New World sought political and cultural independence, for we remember learning to think of our nations, and of ourselves in them. We can recover what was tentative and contradictory in school explanations of how we became independent, of how our nations defined themselves and how they endeavored to inscribe themselves in a world where history was dominated by the colonial powers.

At the core of concepts of nationality in the New World is historical and ideological material encompassing, first, the encounter between the very different cultures (later identified with races)7 of Europe and the Americas; second, the awareness, almost within memory, of a time when national history began; and third, the consciousness of establishing a culture, of marking the boundaries between nature and culture. If we isolate these components we defamiliarize the sense of cultural identity, the notions of history and nature which are so powerful while they are taken for granted. If America is all nature, as it was so often depicted, its inhabitants could be neither partners nor adversaries of Europe, defined as civilization. If American nations wanted to retain a difference defined in terms of nature, yet enter into a civilized relationship with the metropoles, then the line separating nature from culture had to be redrawn, and in being redrawn, it could not be taken for granted.

The questions of identity, nature, history are not always posed in the same terms, but they are repeatedly answered in the literature of nationality and its criticism. Myra Jehlen, for instance (in American Incarnation), finds attempts to connect concepts of national identity with American nature and to merge notions of civilization and nature. Peter Hulme finds that the early accounts of Euro-American contact resolve that problematic connection with an erasure, as when Europe justifies exploration and conquest by insisting on the need to inscribe civilization on an “empty” continent, and ignoring the contradiction of its own complaints about the difficulty of overcoming the resistance of inhabitants, who had, at first, fed and sheltered the invaders (cf. Colonial Encounters, pp. 128, 156–57). The question reappears in eighteenth-century European thought about the origins of society, which in turn provides some of the concepts on which definitions of American national character were based. The difficulty of reconceiving nature and civilization accounts for the tension and sometimes the interest of the new American literatures.

Similarly, the notion of historical origins is defamiliarized if the new nations can decide where national history begins, if origin is chosen rather than given. Preoccupied with the question of historical continuities and discontinuities, the new literatures acquired the deconstructive force of a built-in critical view of themselves and their objects.

Questions about nature, culture, history were encoded by means of writing, the fourth problematic category in an American “literature of nationality,8 whose conscious and deliberate aim was to define national identity and to assert cultural parity with the former metropoles. Writers and public considered this literature of nationality a necessary complement to political independence, and it resisted metropolitan “cultural power” with a certain thematic consistency. Generally through marriage plots it tells of implanting civilization in the American natural world, weighs the appropriateness of joining the opposites of nature and culture, European and non-European. It also tells stories about origins and history and considers the role of writing in the constitution of identity. These themes cannot be ordered hierarchically or causally, nor do they have constant or equal importance in all the works I discuss, but some of them at least are always present in the literature of national consciousness, and they form the kernel of chapters on specific works.

The epic poems, essays, lyrics, and novels comprised in this literature do not necessarily defend independence directly; rather, they aim to create a new cultural environment by using autochthonous material cast in traditional forms that both copied and contested metropolitan forms and values.9 Commentators of that time, readers as well as authors, took it for granted that literature would serve nationality.10 Present-day critics make a stronger, though related, claim. Central to Benedict Anderson’s Imagined Communities, for example, is the argument that writing for mass circulation, specifically the newspaper and the novel, “provided the technical means for ‘re-presenting’ the kind of imagined community that is the nation” and became the secular replacement for the “sacred” languages binding together the earlier complex communities, feudal or ecclesiastic, which were weakened or dissolved by intense pressures at the end of the eighteenth century (pp. 30, 25). Similarly, the title and the introduction of Homi K. Bhabha’s Nation and Narration posit a necessary connection between writing and nationality. This association can appear, however, without being central to the argument; in Novels, Readers, and Reviewers Nina Baym addresses the specific link between American novel and national identity only in her last chapter; she cites British critics who consider the American love of “romances” a sign of cultural primitivism (p. 226) but does not contradict American reviewers who accept the abundance and popularity of the American novel as signs of cultural progress and of the democratic orientation of their country.11

Novels of nationality generally declare themselves so by choice. Added to their preoccupation with and denaturalization of history, nature, and culture, this choice gives the literature of nationality a slightly strained edge, revealing the operation of the will at the very moment when creation should result from what romantic literary theory, from Johann Gottfried von Herder on, saw as the inevitable coincidence between nation and literary expression.12 The element of will is probably what leads critics to read literature of nationality as allegory, defined, in Schopenhauer’s words, as “the purposeful . . . use of a work of art for the expression of a concept."13 Fredric Jameson, in “Third World Literature in the Era of Multinational Capitalism,” analyses two works from the “Third World” as representative “allegories of nationality,” characterized by preoccupation with history and out of step with the First World, for which history is no longer such a problem. Mutatis mutandis, Jameson, like Schopenhauer, finds that these allegories cannot be received as art by a First World reader, whose most empathetic reaction would be to imagine that their stale material and manner must seem original and meaningful to a Third World public. One cannot argue about taste. One can dispute Jameson’s evaluation of allegory, however, as Walter Benjamin did Schopenhauer’s, by defining it not as an artistic technique but as a form of expression, like writing or speech, which arises in a discursive transformation of history into nature (pp. 178, 203). It may then be possible to oppose a literature in which the transformation has become invisible to one in which it is on display. The preference of one to the other is a different matter; it implies a relationship, which Jameson does not stress, between the national allegories he devalues and the cultural matrixes they implicitly address as they attempt to transform their history into the “nature” in whose guise readers from another world see their own history. The aim of these fictions, then, is not to create but to exorcise allegory so as to be included in history as written by that more powerful world.

Doris Sommer characterizes as inexact and anachronistic Jameson’s contention that Third World literature is allegorical and First World literature is not (Foundational Fictions, p. 42). Taking her definition from a “clue” by Benjamin, she describes the “allegory in Latin America’s national novels as an interlocking, not parallel, relationship between erotics and politics” (p. 43), which links together the central characters’ “desire for union and for nation” (p. 48). This definition does not require the traditional structure of levels of signification in ascending degrees of abstraction; it makes allegory less “static,"14 but also more difficult to recognize, and this difficulty is part of the definition of these works and of their reception.

Instead of attempting to redefine allegory, it may be useful to speak not of allegorical novels but of allegorical readings. When the literature of nationality calls itself a representative of national identity and declares its aim to be the creation of the cultural equivalent of political independence, it invites an allegorical reading. Its characters and their interactions, its settings, its opinions stand for a population, a country, an ideology. In order to signify cultural equivalence to the metropolis or to their formerly colonial public, however, these allegories must also allow themselves to be read as novels. Their characters and their interactions, their settings, their opinions must be individual and particular as required by romantic and then realistic conventions. In his reading of Third World fictions as allegorical, Jameson reestablishes a cultural distance those fictions are trying to bridge.15 Speaking in “Third World Literature” from a position of cultural authority (though with a regret that colonial authorities did not usually show [p. 65]), Jameson reacts to a bid for cultural parity by reasserting the ability of the dominant discourse to define and to bestow identity.

If an allegorical reading of the literature of nationality is not only a response to its declared intent but a distancing move, then instead of defining or exhausting this literature, it can single out recurring structural elements of bids for control over discourse or the channels of communication, over the power to assign value or the right to selfdefinition and self-evaluation. An allegorical reading also implies that the terms of identity and value are still those of the powerful discourse whose domination is being contested. Those who accuse Mario Vargas Llosa or Chinua Achebe of being excessively “Europeanized” are reacting negatively to a particular attitude toward this entanglement between the contesting discourse and the one being contested.16 An allegorical reading can be a strategy to deny either the entanglement or the claim to cultural parity, but this is not its only possible goal.

Many of us will also remember a nonallegorical, nondistanced reading of some work of the literature of nationality when we met, in adolescence, noble Indians who fought against perfidious whites and cruel savages to protect fair maidens or chivalrous young men in the New World wilderness. These fictions were fixtures on lists of books considered appropriate for the amusement and edification of young persons. And we may have read them more or less as Jane Tompkins remembers reading Cooper’s Deerslayer, “at age nine, in a large uncomfortable chair, in a dark house, on a long summer vacation” (Sensational Designs, p. 99). Those were formative years, when we were less interested in the structure and function of a novel than in the rattling good tales we expected from that combination of characters. If we were growing up in Brazil, we might have met José de Alencar’s Indians before we met Cooper’s, and then have gone on from The Last of the Mohicans to Chateaubriand’s earlier validation and Karl May’s later appropriation of exotic American themes. Later still we might have relegated the entire genre, with its primitives and its wilderness alternately threatening and sheltering the admirable, though incompetent representatives of a more refined civilization, to a personal protohistory of reading, unworthy of our newer regard for works we had come to think more complex and more deserving of serious study.

But the memory of being isolated from friends, from the outside world in the dark and silent house, dislocated from workaday activities in the hiatus of summer vacation, reading simple yarns, is misleading. If we were of the New World, we were privately engaged in the collective assertion of cultural identity for which those emblematic Indians were an important building block. If we were of the Old World, we might be imagining, in private, the alternative and complement to our own excessively determined surroundings. The American authors of those novels were assembling the elements of what Tompkins, alluding to the psychological “dream work” that forms and reveals personality, calls the “cultural work” of defining a characteristic national identity. Tompkins connects Cooper with Harriet Beecher Stowe and Charles Brockden Brown. If we connect him instead to Chateaubriand and Alencar, we see not only the internal cultural work of a nation but also how that cultural work intersects with, draws upon, influences, and distinguishes itself from the work of other related cultures and nationalities. Like Philip Fisher, who also analyses Cooper’s “cultural work,” we can say that Cooper has been forgotten because he performed it too well, making it obsolete; that he “invented” the American wilderness so convincingly it was no longer necessary to read him in order to know it: it had entered the language of its culture (Hard Facts, pp. 7, 10–12).

Representative works by Chateaubriand, Cooper, and Alencar form the core of this book. The differences among the two Americans and the Frenchman who made the American wilderness into a legitimate setting for popular fiction tell us much about the role of imported cultural forms in the establishment of cultural independence. The differences between the North and the South American authors indicate the possibility of different roads toward cultural independence and introduce an intra-American relation of dependence, prompting even further cultural work.

This cultural work is difficult, sometimes repetitive. The literature of nationality faces the task of asserting a national self against an externally imposed definition as other, posits an independent history that obeys local, not alien standards in the valuation of events, and provides a written record that defines and validates its own culture. The forms in which these tasks are performed—combinations of the historical novel, the adventure story and the marriage novel—are furnished by contemporary European literature; the materials—the natural setting of the New World, its original inhabitants, its discovery and settlement, the establishment of new communities—tend to be autochthonous; the relationship between plot and material is at times strained. On the whole, the literary relations between European and American texts, and among texts of various New World nations illustrate the complex process by which cultural power—the power to define and evaluate cultural characteristics—is distributed.

Cultural power is a notion rooted in an anthropological definition of culture as a system of practices and values, and in Michel Foucault’s argument that power is not a matter of “constitution, sovereignty, etc.,” or of “the state apparatus,” or invested just in “the economic instance and the system of interests which this serve[s],” but is exercised and makes itself felt in the organization of daily life, functioning under rules naturalized as common sense (Power/Knowledge, pp. 56–58). Economic and political power are easier to recognize, in part because they dramatize themselves; cultural power is a somewhat slippery category, its operation more readily perceived by those who lack it than by those who have it. Foucault also speaks of it as the “regime of truth,” where “‘truth’ is linked in a circular relation with systems of power which produce and sustain it, and to effects of power which it induces and which extend it” (Power/Knowledge, p. 74). Paul Bové glosses it as “the interwoven connections of incommensurable and interwoven power effects in discourses and in institutions that produce ‘the truth'” (p. 9). The concept has diffused through the disciplines dealing with how informally enforced and incompletely articulated systems of ideas and values determine actions and judgments.17 The importance of the literature of nationality for its original readers lay in its resistance to a cultural power that qualified political independence by continuing to control the image of the newly independent nations. It reveals national selves in the process of construction, assimilating for self-definition material used till then to characterize otherness, and stumbling over the uncertainties and disjunctures in the newly formed identities.

Such literature is, however reluctantly, reactive. The title of Robert Weisbuch’s Atlantic Double-Cross implies the reciprocity between English and American letters even a century after the American declaration of political independence. At the same time, by stressing (perhaps even exaggerating) the effects of American letters on the literature of the former metropolis, the book carries into its third century the effort to affirm an American cultural power still rooted in resistance to the former metropolis.18

Just as problematic as resistance to a cultural power located outside the new nations is the relationship between their European and non-European components. On one hand, it is necessary to ascribe positive value to the non-European component, because it handily signifies a positive difference between former colony and former metropolis; on the other hand, choosing the non-European component as an identifying trait risks a judgment of barbarism by a metropolis arrogating to itself the title of civilized. This relation of difference is often treated indirectly in stories about contact and intermarriage. In their more developed form, such tales of kinship and difference construct systems of oppositions in which extreme endogamy, or incest, opposes extreme exogamy, or marriage between European and American, to which value, positive or negative, is assigned.19 This valuation can either reproduce or arrest the slide toward “naturalizing” a social regulation of marriages across class, religious, or national boundaries. If the prohibition of incest is, as Claude Lévi-Strauss maintained, the threshold between nature and culture, one should expect it to hover, as it does, over these tales of contact. And the literature of nationality then finds models in European works that specifically associate exotic settings with the treatment of marriage between social classes (such as Paul et Virginie by Jacques Henri Bernardin de Saint-Pierre) or between cultures (such as Atala by the vicomte de Chateaubriand). Their international popularity shows how close they were to the interests of readers on both sides of the Atlantic.

These works, in which marriage is a metaphor for contact with the exotic other, could be lined up with American stories of marriages that mediate between the New and the Old worlds and make conquest and settlement possible. The evaluation of enabling contact differs between colonizers; João Ramalho, who made it possible for the Portuguese to penetrate into territory beyond the first coastal settlements, is a Brazilian hero. Cabeza de Vaca, who as Richard Slotkin notes, aided the efforts of conquest and settlement by the perilous method of going native (Regeneration through Violence, pp. 35–36), was excluded from a U.S. national pantheon ruled by a Puritan fear of dissolution in contact with American otherness.20 To the extent that this fear imposed itself on notions of an American self, it kept the story of Cabeza de Vaca out of the repertory of available national narratives and branded Thomas Morton of Merrymount, who advocated the inclusion of Indians in the process of settlement, a debauched villain (Slotkin, pp. 58–60). Peter Hulme shows how the story of Pocahontas was rewritten into a “foundational” (to use Sommer’s term) narrative that turned an equal exchange into voluntary subjection of Amerindians to Englishmen. And the evaluation of Marina, the Indian woman who served as an interpreter to Hernando Cortez and bore him a son is still not settled in the Mexican debate on the conquest of Montezuma’s empire.21 Slotkin sees the Puritans’ rejection of contact as central to their concept of their colony’s identity and of the relationship between colony and metropolis: they were as afraid of intermarriage as of cannibalism—two forms of merging with the wild. This rejection of a relation that must take place is mythified as a system of negations, as for instance in Cooper’s elegiacally titled Last of the Mohicans, in which the autochthonous population, whether aggressive like Magua or protective like Uncas, is intrinsically dangerous and must be destroyed.

But even though Magua and Uncas die, they introduce a characteristic difference in Cooper’s novel, to which American readers respond with self-recognition and European readers with the recognition of an American otherness. They too can recognize Mohicans and Hurons, having been prepared for them by centuries of European texts on American difference beginning with the accounts of discovery and exploration, continuing with the incorporation of that information into the philosophical discourse of the eighteenth century and flowing into the early texts of French romanticism. The legibility of an American literature of self-definition depends, thus, on familiarty with the literature that views it as other; its otherness can be intelligible only if it is not complete, if it is translatable.22

The exotic, for centuries a mode in which strangeness is translated for the West, constitutes such a mediating entity. The exotic arises as a sign of interest on the part of the self in that which is not self. It is not, however, the complete other; it is the acceptable, complementary, renewing other. The exotic mediates between the defining self and a more radical otherness, which at the limit would fall outside the grammar of the defining discourse. Edward Said identifies one eastwardlooking form of the European discourse of the exotic, which he calls Orientalism. It is, he says, not a mediating discourse but a form of cultural domination, a “discourse of power,” which takes up “a position of irreducible opposition to a region of the world [which Europe] considered alien to its own” (Orientalism, p. 328). Said claims that Orientalism “produce[s] the Orient” (p. 3); he also documents certain ways in which Orientalism contributes to produce Europe. And of course, his book is itself a chapter in the constitution of an independent “Orient,” still on the basis of resistance.23

The totalizing and demonizing strains that Said isolates in Orientalism have a parallel in the mythologies of or about the Americas: it is the image of the American other in the form of the cannibal. But even this image arises, as Hulme explains, in fears made ideologically unspeakable to Christian Europe,24 and can be shown to represent not the ontologically alien but the ethically abhorrent. In that form even cannibalism can be adopted as a positive representation (as Michel de Montaigne comes close to doing) by a newly critical discourse of the exotic which unmasks the earlier euphoric exoticism as an ideological construct.25 Thus, the members of a Brazilian movement of resistance to an official culture perceived as alienating happily term themselves Anthropophagists.26 In 1971 Roberto Fernández Retamar adopted Shakespeare’s Caliban, whose name is an approximate anagram of cannibal, as the patron of a Latin-American culture in opposition both to Europe and to the United States, seen as heir to the metropolitan role.27 A journal of “New World Thought and Writing” founded in 1975 in the United States called itself Caliban.28 And the Yoruba trickster figure Esu-Elegbara of West Africa, who exists to subvert all rules, including those of the culture that created him, turns up as a theoretical term that Henry Louis Gates applies to African-American (and, by implication, to any non-Euro-American) literature ("The Blackness of Blackness"). These examples show the other as translatable, and implicit in this translatability, as in that of the exotic, is not only the incomplete otherness of the exotic term but also the relative receptivity of the term constituted as its opposite self. Those who read and write the exotic as otherness can nevertheless regard it as embodying often-idealized alternatives to the self. Then the exotic becomes associated with desire, with a sense of the imperfect or the incomplete self. But the mediation of the exotic also opposes extreme solutions to the confrontation with otherness. It thus throws into doubt the integrity of a self that strives to assert its identity and its ability to judge by separating itself completely from that which, from the outside, judges and defines it.

Those who aimed to formulate a definition of national identity in the Americas had to develop the notion of the self so to speak from the point of view of the other, to incorporate an exotic identity into the definition of the self. It is both an advantage and a disadvantage that the exotic does not constitute a complete opposition to the defining self. Insofar as the successful assertion of a national self depends on acceptance beyond national borders (just as the successful definition of psychological selfhood depends at least in part on acceptance by others), the European other’s identification of the exotic with desire, with the complement, ensures initial recognition; that form of recognition, however, must itself be rejected in time. The first American writers could be read in the metropoles and often made their careers there, combining their mastery of metropolitan rules of behavior, thought, and expression with their knowledge of exotic customs and landscape and sometimes relying on their own exotic appearance as well. European acceptance placed them at the inception of the creation of national literatures in the colonies.29

Later, however, this very ability to be recognized by the defining (metropolitan) self seems to block the development of the exotic as its own self. Opposition becomes desirable as a guarantee of identity, and writers admired for their success during colonial times come to be derided for their excessive dependence on the language and the values of the oppressive metropoles.30 This desire for difference prompts an embrace of the exotic as defined by the colonizing power and, at the same time, a rejection of the mediating function of exoticism. But the rejection, too, is vitiated. Caliban is defined from the outside: to identify with Caliban is at the very least to acknowledge that definition. Athens defines the barbarian, who is to that extent dependent on Athens, as becomes more evident when the more benign exotic must decide between acculturation and barbarism, both conceptualized within the discourse of cultural power.31

Like the power relations in which it arises, self-definition is not static. Lisa Lowe’s identification of various European Orientalisms in different nations at different times and directed at different regions of the East fragments the Orientalist juggernaut (Critical Terrains). In the Americas self-definition becomes less urgent as the new nations acquire political, cultural, and economic power in internal or external markets. They go from defining themselves in relation to an external power to conducting the discourse of national identity with reference mainly to internal conditions. Those parts of their heritage which had till then been used to mark estrangement, and the ascription of a fundamental identifying importance to that estrangement, begin to be spoken as an inherently national identity without necessary reference to outside validation. For Cooper the newness of American institutions is a valued sign of difference from metropolitan oldness; for William Faulkner, F. Scott Fitzgerald, or Thomas Pynchon the value of American newness is not separate from but neither is it dependent on European tradition.

In time cultural power became contested among American nations. As the political and economic power of the United States grew, it developed a regionalized literature of the exotic which explored internal power relations between North and South, East and West, descendants of old settlers and new immigrants, slaves and slaveholders. At the same time, certain elements of an exotic discourse of nationality were reconceptualized. For instance, the term Indian came to be seen as inaccurate and excessively charged with a history of distortion by nineteenth-century exoticism. Although “Indian” stereotypes persist in stories of the Wild West prepared for internal and external mass consumption,32 a separate discursive trend tries to reclaim for populations descended from the original inhabitants of the continent a measure of conceptual independence from which could be derived an independent demand for recognition.

Helen Tanner’s recovery of an Amerindian history (as she investigated claims to territory) in the interstices of customary American history is valuable in itself—as we value information—but the perception of a vacuum for this information to fill develops as the discourse of power is rearticulated. Tanner’s documentation of Indian trail networks and portage routes counters the European disparagement of Native American populations as incapable of far-flung and purposeful movement of people and goods (though, characteristically, colonial discourse also justifies European occupation by the mobility of Amerindians, who roam upon, and therefore do not own, the land).33 Tanner’s revaluation uses the same index of value—purposeful mobility—but though it serves the integration of cis-Atlantic elements into the dominant system of values, it simultaneously indexes an instability in the allocation of power within the nation.34 Similarly, Rolena Adorno’s recuperation of the split Inca-Spanish address of Guaman Poma to the king of Spain posits a relation between discourses of power and disempowerment which breaks up the customary dichotomy between self and other, colonizer and colonized, by introducing a diversity of interests among the colonized.35

Though they often speak in terms of bipolar systems of opposition, recent studies of the “subaltern” address the variety of interests that can oppose colonial (or neocolonial) domination and arrive at the apparently disconcerting recognition that the mantle of national liberation is large enough to cover, within a “liberated” nation, the subjection of one class or gender by another. The notion of the subaltern hypostatizes the dichotomous structure of the relationship between dominator and subject and generalizes the operation of colonial power till it applies everywhere and absorbs the mediating term of the exotic. While it stresses the role of writing in relations of power, it refuses the three-way relationship—for example, among European, Euro-American, and Amerindian—within which power shifts do not necessarily destroy one of the contending entities.36

Like other theories of difference, that which defines the subaltern reflects changes in the distribution of power. Similarly, reconsidering the factor of nativism in the Americas no longer serves to differentiate America from Europe, as it did in the nineteenth century. Just as American nativism marks the transfer of political, cultural, and economic power from Europe to the Americas, twentieth-century “ethnicism” is part of a rearrangement of the internal influence of certain populations in the United States and the modification of United States power abroad. Preoccupation with ethnic and national identity or consciousness coincides with the attempt of certain populations to be self-sufficient and with claims of originality for their literatures, formerly seen as derivative. It is a revaluation that takes place in an often-acrimonious dialogue between the dominant discourse and that defined as other, but also within the dominant discourse as it changes and as it comes to revise its own self-definition. The need to affirm cultural or national identity arises in reaction to a denial by a more powerful culture and also acknowledges ties with that culture. Similarly, Europe provided not only the opposition against which the assertions of national identity were made in the nineteenth century in America but also the terms in which that assertion could be made.

Proponents and creators of the national literatures of the Americas unanimously declare them to be indispensable to the expression of national identity and cultural independence from Europe. Just at the time of the American independence movements, a coalition of European—mostly German—historians, philosophers, and critics was developing the theory that the expression of nationality is a legitimate and even necessary element of the work of art.37 Hans Robert Jauss begins his study of the interrelation between written works and their readers by reminding us that according to the influential German cultural and literary historians of the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, the main function of any literature is to define national identity; great and recognizably German poetry, drama, and fiction would justify German claims to political prominence as well as to the cultural and political heritage of ancient Greece ("Literaturgeschichte als Provokation” P. 147).

Americans who traveled to Europe in search of “culture” brought back and disseminated these ideas, calling on them to support American aspirations to independence from and intellectual parity with Europe. Benjamin Spencer documents the influence of Mme de Staël’s German-inspired writings about how autochthonous elements stimulate and legitimate national literatures (pp. 35, 91) and the role of young American cultural pilgrims to German universities, who rejected “Old World modes” but saw “that certain critical principles and literary developments currently dominant in Europe afforded silent reinforcement for their designs and aspirations.” They were “impressed, as [George] Ticknor enthusiastically reported, by the autochthonous expression of popular feeling in Germany and in Spain” (p. 90). It seemed reasonable to press American material—natural and cultural—into service as a complement to or even a replacement for ancient Greece, and still to claim conformity with European values.

At the same time autochthonous American materials appeared in French novels of sensibility as a sign of literary rebellion against classicism and the cultural dominance of the aristocracy. Even so, a society in political disarray found reassurance in the appeal to unspoiled nature—human and botanical—on the other side of the Atlantic. Thus Europe, in a process at once necessary and problematic, offered the new American literatures a repertoire of forms they could adapt to their own preoccupations with rebellion, self-affirmation, and independence from Europe. Benedict Anderson confirms the importance of that idea by turning it on its head and suggesting that these historians, philosophers, and novelists, by arguing that nation produced narration, made it possible for narration to produce nations.

As consistently as they define a national self in terms of American nature and humanity, literatures of nationality ground their claims to parity by aspiring to what José Matos Mar calls “historical density” ("Dominatión,” p. 8). One of the ways Europe denied its former colonies cultural parity was by asserting that they had no past.38 Even in the earliest European accounts the Americas are described as empty, in part because the inhabitants are seen as lacking writing and therefore as lacking history. Dirceu Lindoso finds this absence actively inscribed from the outside on “archaic peoples,” such as Amerindians, who “became the object of the history of the other, which imposed on them a compulsory destructurization. Theorizing about this process, colonial ethnography concluded that history did not exist in an archaic context,” though such ethnography always saw itself as observer, never as an agent of this “privation of history in an archaic context” (A diferença selvagem, p. 35). Similarly, Hulme observes that “prehistory . . is always and everywhere ended by the colonial encounter” (p. 56) between Amerindians and Europeans, whom Roberto González Echevarría characterizes as compulsive scribblers (Myth and Archive). Thus, the new nations discovered that in claiming Americanness they were infected by insufficient historicity, which interfered with their assertion of parity with the colonizers, whose definition of history and whose preference for a long history they accepted. The new nations therefore searched for a way of affirming the depth of their own time. They found it, according to Commager, either in the wholesale appropriation of the European past or by embracing the future and asserting that the past is irrelevant (pp. 9, 7). Another strategy was to accord sufficient weight to the American past since the discovery to make it covaluable with Old World centuries.39 A variant of that tack was to appropriate the pre-Columbian past, adopting its myths and stories to perform the grounding function of those of ancient Europe.40 Insofar as it implies the possibility of choosing a past, the process of defining national identity estranges history by highlighting the difference between meaningful time and the natural sequence of moons and seasons.

But the logic of this estrangement, which, if pursued, would deprive contemporary notions of historicity of their authority, is apparent in hindsight. At the time the more useful strategy was to accept a European notion of meaningful time and turn to American advantage its identification with progress. Progress, said the new European historiography, marched westward, and therefore American aspirations to historical respectability could be satisfied in that inexorable process. In the United States, John Adams could say that “there is nothing, in my little reading, more ancient in my memory than the observation that arts, sciences, and empire have travelled westward; and in conversation it was always added since I was a child, that their next leap would be over the Atlantic into America."41 In France, Alexis de Tocqueville saw in the United States the continuation and possible fulfillment of the historical march toward an ever greater degree of democracy, a continuation, thus, on Atlantic shores of a specifically European history.42 The idea was even older than Adams indicates: Jacques Cartier had observed that Christianity traveled from east to west, from the Mideast to Europe, and that it was, just as he wrote, poised to cross the Atlantic and alight in the New World (Quinn, New American World 1:305). Adams and Tocqueville secularized the march of history, replacing religion with “civilization.” They also turned the argument around and in claiming parity, claimed the superiority of the New World over Europe.

But the validation Adams asks for, and Tocqueville grants, was not always forthcoming, the strength of the resistance an indication of the importance of the claims. Recent studies have found Hegelianism pervasive in the American discourse of national identity, attributable, Henry Sussman writes, to a fortuitous congruence, when “the seminal deliberations on the nature of an American national identity coincided with certain structuralist alignments of historical material effected by Hegel” ("An American History Lesson,” pp. 35–36). Or Hegel’s presence can be iconic, as in Bainard Cowan’s narrative of the attempt to introduce his thought to America through an “unreadable translation” by the “St. Louis Hegelians,” who “saw the historical dialectic as culminating in the American nation state” ("The Unreadable Translation,” p. 3). More important, according to Cowan, a Hegelian view of history informed the interpretation of historical events, from the Civil War, in which through a “labor of the negative” a “higher unity was formed and a greater freedom achieved,” to Frederick Jackson Turner’s “frontier theory of American society” (p. 4). And as Gregory Jay writes, the idea that America would perfect European institutions can also be derived from the teleology of Hegel’s “dialectic of materialism and idealism . . . in which Spirit achieves Freedom through History,” developed in the Philosophy of History ("Hegel and the Dialectics,” p. 89).

In the next four chapters I illustrate the selective use of American material for European cultural purposes. The use of Hegel documented in these studies gives an example of the selective adoption of even recalcitrant European material for national American purposes. For in the same Volesungen über die Philosophie der Geschichte (Philosophy of History) that supported American claims for historical continuity with Europe, Hegel specifically dismisses its possibility. His (Rousseauean) notion of an instinct (Trieb, p. 74) of human perfectibility, which would differentiate a historical from a purely cyclical, or natural—and meaningless-sequence of changes (p. 72), could justify what Myra Jehlen sees as the American impulse to anchor the definition of man and history in nature (American Incarnation, pp. 3–7). Hegel views historical development as a movement toward freedom, defined as the coincidence between the will of the reasoning individual and that of the state, which is more than a political entity and embodies the spirit (pp. 30, 32, 36, 56). Such a view could be and, as we have seen, was used to buttress the claim that freedom had been served in American history. But one of Hegel’s aims is to justify German claims to cultural and (therefore) political legitimacy. His great hierarchical and diachronic ordering of moralities and religions shows that the admirable Greeks are the predecessors of the still superior contemporary Europeans, among whom the Germans stand out, and that Protestantism is superior to the Catholicism that surpassed paganism (pp. 71–72). Applied to the New World, Hegel’s scheme preempts Adams’s use of a similar historicism: “The world is divided into an old one and a new one, and the latter is so called because America and Australia have only lately become known to us” (p. 107, my emphasis). Conflating pre-and post-Columbian America, Hegel emphatically denies the new nations any participation in the history that bears the burdens and benefits of meaning and civilization: “We have news of America and its culture, particularly of Mexico and Peru, but all they tell us is that it was entirely natural and that it had to go under as soon as the spirit came near it. America has always shown itself physically and spiritually impotent and still does so. . . . all that happens in America has its origins in Europe” (p. 108, my emphasis). In the Americas even Protestantism is no longer one of the highest cultural and ethical achievements in history but “falls apart into sects whose observances are expressed in the form of possession and sensual license” (p. 113), that is, into a depraved form of the natural. Finally, the very land of the New World is immature and cannot give rise to properly historical cultures, for its rivers are just huge masses of water, which, not having found well-regulated beds for themselves, seep away into formless, chaotic, irrational marshes (p. 107).

These passages attack all the strategies thus far discussed as useful in formulating an affirmation of American identity: American history is derivative or meaningless (not history); the American population is either behind times or in decay; even American nature, which, like the bass line in a piece of music, anchors and shapes the discourse of nationality, cannot rise out of chaos. The peculiar denial of civilizational potential to American waterways constitutes an early example of the conceptual difficulties facing later discussions of New World civilization as determined by natural environment; it also highlights the problems inherent in the acceptance of American geographical and geological features as guarantors of individuality or value.43 Hegel’s argument breaks the connection between European and American history, denies at their roots any American claims to covaluable existence within a European system of values, and thus brings into clear light the strategies for self-definition and evaluation used in the Americas. Ernest Renan, referring to historical injuries, says that “it is good for everyone to know how to forget,” and he implies that even a definition of nationality is arrived at by systematic inclusions and exclusions.44 Thus, Hegel’s rejection of American parity can either provoke indignation or simply be forgotten, and Hegel can continue to underlie a discussion of identity in terms of the weight of history, the composition of the population, and the role of nature.

Arguments about the influence of Hegel or Herder on the American literatures of nationality imply that they would as a matter of course refer to those texts we recognize now as central to the development of European thought of that time, that these literatures, if not original, would at least be up to date. But though Renan would probably bridle at the suggestion,45 if a nation needs to forget certain things, then perhaps national consciousness has something of bricolage about it, is assembled, that is, from assorted images, odd bits of theories. The following chapter details some of the facts and judgments out of which Europeans and then Americans constructed notions of the Americas. The criteria of selection and combination are not entirely determined; they can be culled from the center or the margins of the dominant discourse, which would still be called upon to legitimate that selection.46 As Benjamin Spencer notes, almost in passing, “Inasmuch as the question of nationalism was of little moment in the literary principles of seventeenth-and early eighteenth-century Europe, it would not be surprising to find the small band of colonial writers ignoring the issue entirely” and, more in keeping with the general preoccupations of their time, portraying their efforts—as some did—as the “realization of dreams and designs from the Old Testament, or from Milton, or from Locke” (p. 3). Asserting independence and defining a separate national self are to an extent the results of choice and strategy that may process elements not yet or no longer central to the culture against which the assertion is made.47 The disagreement between Spencer’s and more recent analyses of the relation between European thought and American nation alerts us to the impermanence of all such analyses.

This disagreement should also remind us that the more powerful culture is not monolithic. There may be differences between its center and margins, or access to the center may be oblique. Thus the novels of nationality can reach into history to deny that their demands are a form of opposition, arguing that they are simply the dues of an alliance. In The Last of the Mohicans Americans and Englishmen face the French and Huron enemies together. In José de Alencar’s O Guarani the old nobleman placed in the position of fictional ancestor to the new nation’s new population is loyal to the Portuguese dynasty when Spain claims the Portuguese crown; his loyalty should make him acceptable even to the Portuguese.

In this appeal to an older unity, the American search for a separate identity proceeds by counteracting the sense of radical discontinuity in the European view of the discovery, conquest, and settlement of the Americas.48 Carrying with them their politics, their religion, and their diseases, conquerors, settlers, and colonizers arrived at an utterly unfamiliar New World. In their reports they struggled to describe the taste of new fruit, the look of new animals and people, the sound and sense of incomprehensible languages; the very smell of the coast looming up before their ships surprised them. The strangeness did not shake their belief in their right to occupy the land or their obligation to impose their religion; they did not doubt they were human and civilized, whereas the humanity of American populations had first to be decreed and their civilization was often a matter of argument. Unlike the difference of the Orient, that of the Americas constantly escaped European comprehension, conquest by the power of discourse. The travelers’ comparisons fall short and attempts to describe tastes, smells, customs falter, subsiding into Columbus’s refrain, “It is a marvel.” Counteracting this sense of difference is as important for the development of literatures of nationality as their appeal to it.

In one form of this counteraction, the Americas recall their own infiltration of Europe. From the beginning, the spoliation of America is well documented; the history of European activity in the Americas in the first two centuries after the discovery is mostly a tale of conquest, exploitation, and destruction. Yet something like a counterinvasion by American difference appears in its interstices, in the European adoption of new elements in everyday life, making it more practical or more comfortable without changing its structure, or in the creation of new, hybrid forms of eating, dwelling, speaking, thinking, or being.49 American strangeness slipped unnoted into European custom and discourse under cover of preexisting structures of meaning such as the fabulous stories about travel and exploration popular from medieval times through the sixteenth century.50 Adapting, adopting, or translating, Europe absorbed quietly while conquerors appropriated by force. Both methods, in practice and in discourse, bridged the discontinuity that had confronted travelers upon their arrival; they did not always notice that strangeness was invading their invading certainties.

A further development blurred the cultural boundary between former colony and metropolis: as discoverers became settlers, and conquerors established governments, their interests began to diverge from those of the metropoles. This separation of interests was unlike the estrangement within the same culture which characterized the first reports of the encounter with the Americas. It placed the colonizers, so to speak, on the other side of the process of definition and, while preserving their claim to power over the soil and the original inhabitants of the Americas, complicated their function as conduits of colonial power. It is in this sense of distance from a kindred culture that the American exotic is most commonly defined, both by Europeans and by Americans. In the struggle for power—political, economic, and cultural—the definition of the exotic as representing the American self wavers between acceptance and rejection of an American otherness. The novels that at the time of political independence became the models for a literature of nationality attempt to validate the exotic, by definition discontinuous with the original European experience, while maintaining continuity with that same European experience and with a historical sequence whose origins and meaning are on the other side of the Atlantic.

Another thematic field organizes the literature of nationality: writing itself. Benedict Anderson has shown how important it was for the literature of nationality that colonial independence movements followed upon the growth of the reading public, the rise of the novel, and the birth of journals and newspapers. It was equally important for the diffusion of information about the discoveries into European discourse that they coincided with the invention and diffusion of print. Through print, the logs, diaries, letters, and reports, the sea of writing that from the beginning washed over the contact between Europe and the Americas, became widely available as a repertoire of images out of which grew the various strains of the European discourse of the exotic. The importance of print made the absence of writing among American peoples all the more striking to the travelers. This perception that Amerindians had no writing, and so no history or culture, was perfectly able to coexist with the admission that some had books—a sign, says Walter Mignolo, of “conflicting ideas associated with the book in two cultures at different stages of their technological development” and “an example of the function of the book in the process of colonization."51 India, China, Islam were other to the European self, but they wrote, and they were recognized as civilizations; unwritten, the New World fell outside the known opposition between Christian and either heretic or infidel.52 Infidels had rival books and monuments; recorded law, theology, and history; palaces and temples. American populations did not. Although Mexico and Peru later strained this perception, the very obvious monuments of the Incas and the Aztecs disproving this lack, what predominated in the image of the Americas was the model of the first tribes encountered, those that lived along the Atlantic in what might be called a limbo of visible or recognizable history, an “absence of civilization” that later became useful in a European discourse of the exotic. Similarly, Columbus’s conclusion, based on a few signs exchanged with the people who met him on the American shore, that “they have no religion whatever” fosters this image (Diários, 11 October 1492). So does Pero Vaz de Caminha’s Letter to the king of Portugal about the discovery of Brazil, describing a people who walk around naked and without shame, like Adam and Eve before the Fall. They are, he states, without religion, ready to be cultivated by the church; their land, too, is without cultivation, but “if you plant, anything will grow” (A carta, p. 240).

The fiction of emptiness was as necessary to conquest as its factual falseness.53 The writing of conquest inscribes it. Francis Jennings bases his indictment of this falseness on the idea of the “cant” of conquest, that is, on the linguistic operations that shaped the New World and its inhabitants for the use of Europeans. One can see its work in John Locke’s notion of the tabula rasa, which picks up and generalizes the idea of a humanity in the New World open to inscription.54 In the discourse of origins which rethought European politics, psychology, and education, the perceived cultural emptiness of the New World made it possible to envisage in secular—ethnographic—terms a stage preceding history and social organization, just as the perceived continuity between American nature in its benign aspect and its gentler human inhabitants had made it possible to assign geographic coordinates to an earthly paradise.

By the time of the movements for independence, the New World had become, as Pierre Chaunu writes of the history of discovery and settlement, “a part not only of the flux of an economic reality . . . but [of] the only truly essential history, which is that of thought” (p. 6).

The example of a slip shows how much so. In one of his best-known sonnets, John Keats, upon first reading George Chapman’s translation of Homer, felt “like Stout Cortez when with eagle eyes / he star'd at the Pacific.” Keats nodded then (like Homer), mixing up his conquista-dores and his explorers. It is the sort of nod noted with amusement in literature classes: of course we know it was not Cortez who stood silent upon a peak in Darien, discovering the wishfully named Pacific Ocean and an endless horizon of possibilities, and of course the mistake does not affect the real meaning of the poem. The nod and its dismissal do mean something, however. The poem associates the discovery of new imaginative and intellectual realms with the discovery of the New World; the discovery of the New World stands for any kind of discovery. At the origin of new powers of the intellect and the imagination Keats places, interchangeably, the empty lands beyond the sea, waiting to be written, and the poem poised precisely where song becomes writing and myth shifts into history. Homer, the bard who never wrote, stands outside of writing but provides the foundation of literature. His proper name denotes not a person but a double function, of discovery and conquest, like the figure on the peak. In this sonnet, once again, the New World is covered with the written word; it is made intelligible to and usable by the Old World by being associated with a mythical European past continuous with the historical European present. When Keats’s slip is skipped in the New World, however, the New World implicitly accepts Europe’s appropriation of its history, Europe’s assessment of the role of writing, Europe’s vision of the beginning of history and its relation to myth.

Keats’s association of Homer and the New World is not uncommon. The voyage of Ulysses can easily be seen as prefiguring and validating the expeditions of discovery, exploration, and settlement, providing a language that assimilates the strangeness of the new land and its inhabitants to better-known categories of strangeness. Thus the Yara, a water spirit of the Tupi, becomes a siren, and Amazons inhabit the banks of a river that takes their name: literature covers the strange with a veil of familiarity that falsifies it while making it knowable. The exchange of names on the peak in Darien falsifies but regularizes history.

By the time of Keats’s sonnet, the literature of nationality was already established in the new nations. Like Keats, it had drawn upon the writings of settlement and exploration, transformed and placed in the service of European art, science, and philosophy. The information in those writings had to an extent cut loose from its sources to build a composite, generic, and sometimes muddled image of the world across the Atlantic. Hobbes, Locke, and Rousseau, Chateaubriand and Bernardin de Saint-Pierre drew on that bank of information and images, entirely absorbing it into a European discourse from which American writers in turn drew them back, legitimated, though changed, by their life abroad.

Convinced of the importance of a written record and of the impossibility of finding an autochthonous model for it, the writers of the first period after independence set out to complete the record of settlement and to provide sufficient written matter to ground historical existence and shore up cultural identity. The role of writing as a sign and guarantee of an independent identity was acknowledged by the metropoles as well as by their American colonies. During most of the colonial era, Portugal prohibited printing in Brazil as potentially subversive. Benjamin Franklin as printer and founder embodied the association between writing and a separate American identity. With its own periodicals and novels, the new nation could not be associated with the primitivism that had for so long been the only imaginable difference between European and American; the new American difference used European criteria of identity and value against European strategies for exclusion and cultural domination.

That this absence of culture was a matter of convenience could be seen later, when the process of settlement, itself amply documented in relations, edicts, and records, eliminated even the traces of the presence of the original inhabitants of the land, except as translated into the justification of whatever action the colonists decided to take against them. Jennings is forever reconstructing the events that led to various wars of colonists against Indians because the original agreements and treatises have disappeared and because from the negotiation meetings between colonists and tribes only the original complaints of the colonists but neither the Indian responses nor the results of the conferences survive on record.55 Here too the written word serves to build and control an image of the independent American self which manipulates the elements it uses to construct itself at the same time as it is manipulated by them.

The following chapters trace the development of certain discursive elements that came to represent the New World, starting with their first appearance in accounts of voyages and settlement, then examining how they became organized into a language of otherness used to conceptualize cultural change in Europe and were transformed in turn into a language of national identity as the European colonies achieved political independence and strove for a commensurate cultural independence. These developments occurred in texts that circulated widely in their time and functioned well within the “horizon of expectations” of the culture that produced them. The accounts of exploration and settlement from the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries; the works of Rousseau, Bernardin de Saint-Pierre, and Chateaubriand; the novels of James Fenimore Cooper and José de Alencar, and the modernist text Macunaíma by Mário de Andrade (Alencar and Andrade being Brazilian authors) carry my argument. They show that ideas of the New World were formed and changed in accordance with the distribution of power among the collectivities holding and using them, that the boundaries within which these ideas shifted were set on both sides of the Atlantic, and distortions occurred in the crossing, that these ideas gained in importance when power was in the balance, and lost when power was established.

The texts are examined as they illuminate the problem of American national identity; I establish continuity and coherence in the consideration of such different works by returning in each instance to how they address history, contact, writing, and what Rolena Adorno, following Michel de Certeau, calls the “boundaries limiting cultural fields"—that is, the definition of the territory of culture as against that of nature.56 The obbligato in this discussion—to change metaphors—is the interrelation between ideas of self and other in any consideration of cultural power and the reaction it invites. I intend to examine the necessarily self-contradictory process by which cultural identity is defined and modified and, by using the concept of exoticism, to mediate between notions of self and other, to show that interaction can have results other than isolation or destruction. And by showing the connection between exoticism and power, I propose to add a historical and distancing dimension to a question of national or group identity—so compelling when it arises that both the clarity and the assurance necessary to confront it fall victim to the heat of immediacy.


1 Without elaborating, I mention the arguments about the relevance of mainstream feminist demands to working-class or black women; the dissolution of the African-American-Jewish alliance of the sixties; the identification in Angel Rama’s Ciudad letrada or Frantz Fanon’s angrier Wretched of the Earth of a split in the “developing,” or Third World, between governing elites and masses. Gayatri Chakravorti Spivak discusses some of the class and culture rifts within feminism in “French Feminism in an International Frame,” in In Other Worlds, pp. 134–53.

2 See David Leverenz, “Frederick Douglass’s Self-Refashioning"; Frances Roe Kestler, comp., The Indian Captivity Narrative; Frederick Drimmer, Captured by the Indians; David Grimstead, “Anglo-American Racism"; Ross Pudaloff, “One Subject at a Time"; Mitchell R. Breitwieser, American Puritanism and the Defense of Mourning; Rachel Bowlby, “Breakfast in America"; Jane P. Tompkins, “Sentimental Power.” Drimmer’s book is a reprint whose new title, changed from Scalps and Tomahawks (1961), marks a discursive shift in the argument about the relationship between colonizer and original inhabitant of the Americas. Drimmer’s introduction speaks with some gusto of the hardship and bad treatment suffered by the captives, though it also indicates that at times they married or were adopted into a tribe. Ross Pudaloff is doing important work on the role of captivity narratives in the formation of early national American literature.

3 In chapter 3, “Beyond the Positivity of the Social: Antagonisms and Hegemony,” of Hegemony and Socialist Strategies (esp. pp. 115–19), Ernesto Laclau and Chantal Mouffe build a subtle and complex picture of how a discourse constitutes for itself certain categories that must seem essential but, insofar as they are discursive, must also participate in the nondetermined, contingent character of discursive constructs. Installing notions of discourse and contingency (even if it is via Antônio Gramsci) in socialist theory is in effect a complex task, but the author’s sense that it is needed illustrates the destabilizing effect of non-European conditions on European interpretations of the world. In quite a different key, A. J. R. Russell-Wood, in “Preconditions and Precipitants of the Independence Movement in Portuguese America,” surveys different characteristics of independence movements in the Americas, noting common elements and disparities in the policies of metropoles toward their colonies, before settling on the particular case of Brazil.

4 Antônio Cândido follows Angel Rama’s analysis in “O olhar crítico de Angel Rama,” p. 145, and uses the concept of literary system as a basis for his Formação da literatura brasileira. Both authors deal with South American, not North American, literatures.

5 See Ao vencedor as batatas; “Cuidado com as ideologias alienígenas"; etc.

6 Victor Shklovsky thought of “estrangement” (or defamiliarization) as a “procedure” by which “what we call art” justifies its existence, “producing a sense of life, . . . so we can feel that a stone is made of stone, . . . producing the sense of the object as vision and not as recognition.” It operates by “increasing the difficulty and the duration of perception” and combats the “automatization” of everyday life ("L'art comme procédé,” pp. 82–83). I give the term a meaning close to the original one to indicate a process, not necessarily artistic, of casting doubt on something generally taken as given. As the opposite of “estrangement,” I use not the Shklovskian “automatization” but the more Foucauldian “naturalization,” since it implies not only the habitual but also that which seems to be determined by nature.

7 In “One Subject at a Time,” Ross Pudaloff traces the beginnings, in the United States, of a discourse of race in the sense of inherent biological characteristics of cultural groups to Mary Rowlandson’s narrative of her captivity among Indians.

8 With Foundational Fictions Doris Sommer offers a longitudinal study of the literature of nationality in Iberian America, stressing parallels among the new American national literatures, rather than continuities with the discourse of the exotic elaborated since the discoveries.

9 Stephen Railton believes the success of Cooper’s first novels depended on their traditional English form as well as their American material (Authorship and Audience, pp. 4–5).

10 According to Benjamin Spencer, “scarcely a native author of any importance before 1900 failed to engage in the inquiry [into national character] and to declare himself publicly on its issues” (The Quest for Nationality, p. ix).

11 Increased reading is a sign of “the diffusion of education,” and novels mark “an advanced state of society.” Baym is quoting from the North American and the Democratic Review; see Novels, Readers, and Reviewers, p. 29.

12 Inasmuch as the relation between novel and nation was established in the nineteenth century, contemporaneously with the independence of the American nations, Benedict Anderson notes, it is not surprising that it should have become important to writers and other citizens. Anderson maintains that the countries of the western hemisphere were the first to emerge “which self-consciously defined themselves as nations” and therefore “provided the first real models of what such states should look like” (Imagined Communities, p. 49). This conclusion may be forced. Portugal had been a self-contained political and administrative unit since the twelfth century; Spain’s unification dates from the end of the fifteenth; periods of turmoil had not seriously threatened the core unity of England. Their rebellious colonies did not have to invent nationality from scratch. Luiz Costa Lima says that in the nineteenth century “the study of literature derived its legitimacy from the idea that literature was the expression of nation-states” (The Dark Side of Reason, p. 111).

13 Schopenhauer, Die Welt als Wille und Vorstellung, pp. 279–81, quoted by Walter Benjamin, Ursprung des deutschen Trauerspiels, p. 177. Benjamin disagrees with Schopenhauer’s disqualification of the work as art when it is so used but not with the definition of allegory.

14 See Jameson’s exposition of medieval allegory which he uses as a basis for his description of a Marxist allegorical reading of realist texts, in The Political Unconscious. The first chapter, “On Interpretation,” is an extended discussion of various definitions of allegory and their modes of operation.

15 The chagrined tone of Aijaz Ahmad’s response to Jameson’s “Third World Literature” bears me out. See Ahmad, “Jameson’s Rhetoric of Otherness and the ‘National Allegory.'"

16 Antônio Cândido’s blunt statement that there is no such thing as an absolute specificity of (Latin) American literatures usefully dears the ground ("O olhar crítico,” p. 141). See also Kwame Anthony Appiah, “The Myth of an African World,” in In My Father’s House.

17 Appiah uses the phrase to name the pressure of non-African definitions of Africa which need to be avoided or exorcised with every reference to Africa and in every encounter between it and what is outside of it. Edward Said’s Orientalism sees European power as inescapably informing and deforming the “orientals'” very vision of themselves.

18 Since Weisbuch adopts Harold Bloom’s paradigm of the “anxiety of influence,” he stresses the confrontational aspects of the literary relation between England and the United States, “the savagery characterizing the American debunking of imported British wisdoms” (Atlantic Double-Cross, p. xvii); he lists statements made from 1832 to 1869 complaining that American literary works copy the English (pp. 4–5) and derogatory remarks about American literature published in British literary magazines (pp. 12–13); he explains that though “American literary nationalists . . . argue[d] that Britain had been superseded, like the claims of separation and superiority to which it is related, this American-aggressive version of the myth falls prey to anxiety” (pp. 72–73). The continued scholarly interest in the subject is one indication of its centrality to the cultural history of the United States, as is its repeated translation into contemporary critical terminology. The extended and fascinating discussion of the often unacknowledged influence of American literary works on important British ones shows cultural parity between former colony and former metropolis still at issue. Andrew Ross, in “Uses of Camp,” places the question of relation in an even less likely context when he finds that British acceptance validates American “lowbrow” culture: “For Britons, the importation of American popular culture, even as it was officially despised, contained and controlled, brought with it guaranteed immunity to those traditional ‘European’ judgments of elitist taste to which it was structurally oblivious. By the early sixties, the ‘success’ of this wave of American exports among British taste makers was such that they were able to set the final seal of approval on the formation and acceptance of Pop taste in the U.S. itself. Thus, the British version of Pop (always an imaginary relation to a foreign culture . . . ) was somehow needed to legitimize American pop culture for Americans” (p. 5). One should note that though the process of legitimation is homologous with that of the early nationalist period, it now takes place in relation to a marginalized subculture within the larger American cultural landscape, which no longer depends on recognition from Britain for itself but is open to British validation of differentiated forms of discourse within itself.

19 Weisbuch observes, for an instance, that in Herman Melville’s Pierre a semi-incestuous romance refers in a critical way to Wordsworth’s and Byron’s relations with their respective sisters (p. 14), but he sees that reference as part of the discourse of national superiority and national identity; he does not discuss the literary fashion for brother-sister incest as a metaphor for the union with the perfectly appropriate other—the one closest to the self—which is the object of frustrated desire in such blockbuster novels of the beginning of the century as Renée and Atala by Chateaubriand. Nor does he establish a direct connection between the incest theme and the theme of difference treated in works about national identity, including Melville's. J. M. S. Tompkins, in The Popular Novel in England, documents the popularity of the incest theme in the European novel at the turn of the century of American independence (pp. 62–66), noting it is used, often “casually,” as “the unexpected obstacle suddenly thrown in the course of a plighted pair to the altar” (p. 65). It is the more interesting to see the theme appear in the literature of nationality, adapted to the consideration of questions of cultural identity and of the creation of new social or cultural entities.

20 Capistrano de Abreu’s swift, nervous history of colonial Brazil, Capítulos de história colonial, 1500–1800, mentions Ramalho, the first colonist established where São Paulo was then founded, without further comment or explanation; he assumes that everyone will know about this adventurous person, whose huts, together with those of “his half-Indian, half-Portuguese sons and relatives, . . . announced the victory over the coastal forests, obtained earlier here than anywhere else in Brazil” (p. 85).

21 Fernando Coronil, however, states that “most contemporary Mexicans view [Marina, or ‘la Malinche'] as a symbol of cultural betrayal” ("Discovering America Again,” p. 322).

22 In a different context, and for a different purpose, Laclau and Mouffe define the interrelation between self and other, explaining that neither can exist entirely in itself when both are present: “If language is a system of differences, antagonism is the failure of difference; in that sense, it situates itself within the limits of language and can only exist as the disruption of it—that is, as metaphor” (p. 125). Neither the other nor its relatively benign form, the exotic, can exist in isolation from the self, the nonexotic.

23 Said objects to Dante’s placement of Mohammed in the eighth circle of hell, which seems to me a normal, though ungenerous consequence of a political war exacerbated by religious differences, corresponding (for example) to a less artistic Iranian Satanization of the United States. Dante’s placement of Avicenna, Averroës, and even Saladdin in the same privileged space as Socrates (Orientalism, pp. 68–69) looks to me more like a recognition of “Oriental” merit than a denial of “Oriental” autonomy.

24 Hulme believes that Europe creates the cannibal, eater of human flesh, out of its unspeakable horror of the implications of the Eucharist. We shall see that the similarity presented itself to the Brazilian novelist José de Alencar.

25 Antônio Cândido discusses these ideological transformations at greater length and depth in “Literatura e subdesenvolvimento,” esp. pp. 140–43.

26 This literary, cultural, and artistic movement of the 1920s is a radicalization of Brazilian modernism as introduced by the “Modern Art Week” of 1922; it will be discussed later.

27 Roberto Fernández Retamar begins “Caliban: Notes Toward a Discussion of Culture in Our America” with a question asked of the author by a “European journalist” about whether there exists a Latin-American culture (p. 3). The reaction is as indignant as was that of Americans to the English question about who would read American literature.

28 Michael Palencia-Roth, in “Cannibalism and the New Man of Latin America,” unlike me, believes that “the cannibal represents the New Man at the point of greatest difference from the European . . . the extreme Other” (p. 2). Nevertheless, he also shows Montaigne using the cannibales as relatively positive models whose actions and motives allow him to criticize European shortcomings. As for the journal Caliban, it began publication in the winter of 1975, edited by Robert Marquez, with David Arthur McMurray and Hortense Spillers; an editorial statement identifies its contributors as “heirs to the combative spirit of the Antillean slave who is [their] symbol, and whose name [they] take as [their] own"; it takes a stand “against the eurocentric, capitalistic, hierarchical vision traditionally imposed upon who and what we are, upon how we view ourselves and our history,” and affirms “authenticity and singularity” (p. 4). Its assumption of the oppositional name is explicitly associated with claims to self-definition and self-revaluation and to the appropriation of a history of the self that is independent from an extraneous discourse of power. It proposes to achieve this revaluation well within the discursive structures of that power, however, as an academic literary journal, legitimated by a passel of respected writers and scholars signed on as advising and contributing editors.

29 The Brazilian Gonçalves Dias, graduate of the University of Coimbra, author of some of the first “national” Brazilian poetry, “immensely popular” and “praised . . . by leading Portuguese critics,” is one example (David Haberly, Three Sad Races, p. 19). Washington Irving is another, writing in a “strange land,” which Railton sees as the presence of the reader in the writing but which can also be taken more literally, as a reference to where Irving was writing and to his consciousness of the metropolitan reader, prompting the “provincial cosmopolitanism of his allusions” (Authorship and Audience, p. 4).

30 Sacvan Bercovitch’s rehabilitation of the Puritans as legitimate ancestors of an independent America, like Weisbuch’s after him, and like Antônio Cândido’s placement of the Vila Rica poets on the Brazilian rather than the customary Portuguese side of the development of a national literature (in Formação da literatura brasileira, vol. 1, chaps. 2, 3) and Rolena Adorno’s recuperation of Guaman Poma for the Americas from a judgment of excessive hispanicity which had so far disguised the subversive elements in his work (in Guaman Poma), is more than the rehabilitation it would at first seem to be. Such restorations are symptoms of greater assurance in affirming the independent identity of the Americas, and they oppose the less secure strategy of defining writers from colonial times by only that part of the contents of their work which depends on European models.

31 The need for opposition becomes even clearer when one considers the difficulties occasioned by the acceptance of exotic categories within the dominant discourse. If Esu were adopted into general critical discourse, for instance, as a shorthand sign for Mikhail Bakhtin’s carnivalization, he would become useless as a marker of African-American difference.

32 These stories are examined in Henry Nash Smith, Virgin Land. His revaluation of that study, Symbol and Idea in Virgin Land,” is a rare and interesting document of change in the attitude toward the discourse of American (US.) exoticism in terms of an empty land inhabited by tragic Amerindians.

33 Helen Tanner, Atlas of Great Lakes Indian History, p. 4. In addition to the network of water and land travel routes, Tanner documents the ability of Native American people to communicate in more than one language, belying the stereotype of an insular, immobile population confined within limited cultural variations.

34 Robert E. Berkhofer, Jr., remarks that “as fundamental White ways of looking at themselves changed, so too did their ways of conceiving of Indians” (The White Man’s Indian, p. xvi). Berkhofer traces these changes even though, as he states in the preface, the main purpose of his book is to stress continuities, one of the most important of which is the persistent dichotomy between the white “we” (or self) and the Indian “they” (or other) (xv). In his account power relations do not play a role, for they are not seen as changing.

35 See Adorno, Guaman Poma, especially the introduction and chapter 4. The application of modern and sophisticated techniques of discourse analysis to the long-devalued text Adorno’s work recovers, is also an example of how certain forms of the exotic become visible once the dominant discourse acquires new tools for scanning the cultural materials around it, and of the usefulness of their difference whenever the dominant discourse is challenged from within its own sphere.

36 Spivak, in "A Literary Representation of the Subaltern: A Woman’s Text from the Third World” (In Other Worlds), raises the problems implicit in this division, similar in many ways to those one encounters when looking for the trace left by Native American populations in the records of conquest. It is difficult to recover an otherness that has not been overwritten by colonial discourse into a mere boundary for the self. In this respect, the literatures of nationality simply use the rhetoric of otherness; making it originate in some American essence identified with American nature or culture is a discursive maneuver that allows the colonists to take over any discourse that could have so originated. The point is that the takeover cannot be complete; however elusive the trace of otherness, it has to be there for the discourse of liberation to become possible.

37 Henry Steele Commager, In Search of a Usable Past, p. 4. Commager also mentions Giuseppe Mazzini, Joseph Renan, and John Stuart Mill as proposing the study of the oral record in old stories and poetry, as well as documents, in the search for an authentic ancestral spirit to explain and justify the more recently constituted American nations (p. 4). Germans, however, such as August Wilhelm von Schlegel and the brothers Grimm were probably the most influential proponents of such restoration of the past for the purpose of anchoring a definition of nationality.

38 Weisbuch notes that Melville and his generation were constantly hearing the British taunt that they had no history, and without history they could have no literature (p. 53).

39 “It is difficult,” says Commager, “to exaggerate the impatience of the transcendentalists with the past. . . . they found it irrelevant” (p. 7). George Santayana sees in Whitman the variant of this strategy which valued the American over the European by deemphasizing the past altogether and declaring “that what was vital in America was only what was absolutely modern and native, to the exclusion of anything that might have been transplanted to this country ready-made, like the Christian religion or the English language.” This belief, however, says Santayana, is a “mistake,” for “after all, the future often belongs to what has a past” ("Genteel American Poetry,” p. 149). Whitman’s effort and Santayana’s analysis and criticism are among the many signs of the pervasive preoccupation with the relation between writing and history in the consideration of American letters: it seems that the more “American” a nineteenth-century author is considered, the more pressing the question becomes.

40 One of many examples of this strategy can be found in Matos Mar’s examination of ten thousand years of Peruvian history, the last four hundred of them continuous in many ways, he says, with the first ninety-six hundred. The strategy tends to appear in conjunction with other forms of valorizing autochthonous American material, and will be discussed later. See Matos Mar, “Dominación, desarrollos desiguales y pluralismos."

41 Quoted by Weisbuch, to make a slightly different point (p. 71); Weisbuch gets the quotation from Benjamin Spencer (p. 22).

42 Alexis de Tocqueville, Introduction to Democracy in America, 1: 3–16. Incidentally, Democracy in America further illustrates the use of American material in the analysis of European phenomena. Phillips Bradley’s “Historical Essay,” appended to Tocqueville’s text notes that it was not written “only for the benefit of Americans . . . [but] in order to show how and to what extent democracy was applicable to Europe and especially to France” (11:405).

43 Roberto Ventura, in ‘"Estilo tropical,’” says that in the New World nature became one of the features in the definition of national culture; it is a concept fraught with fruitful contradictions, one of which is that it can stand Hegel on his head and attribute to American nature both value and the power to grant cultural identity. But this subversion of Hegelian negative judgment is fragile, since it accepts his geographical and geological determinism. Hegel too, however, writes within a tradition of the representation of the New World, and the form of geological determinism he displays appears often in the literature of the exotic. William Boellhower notes that in novels set in the Americas, “place defines character; climate evokes a political order and a way of life,” and “if habitat is all, only the New World is all habitat” ("New World Topology and Types,” pp. 156, 160).

44 Ernest Renan, “What Is a Nation?” p. 18. He also states, further on, that “man is a slave neither of his race nor his language, nor of his religion, nor of the course of rivers, nor of the direction taken by mountain chains,” and that what “we call a nation” is a “kind of moral conscience” (p. 20). Thus he stands in opposition to the racial and geographical determinists whose theories worried a later generation of artists and scholars trying to define national character in Latin America. See Nancy Stepan, The Hour of Eugenics, especially chaps. 1 and 2. It is important to attend to Renan’s words, since they could at least be used against that kind of determinism, even if one agrees with Martin Thom that in view of his earlier writings and French politics (international, intellectual, and other), it is likely that “Renan . . . was less committed to the ‘voluntaristic’ argument than his lecture suggests” ("Tribes within Nations,” p. 23).

45 He wards off randomness by specifying that the idea of nation would be created by a “large aggregate of men, healthy in mind and warm of heart” (p. 20).

46 Robert Weisbuch documents the importance of these criteria to American writers and the American public.

47 Centrality could be disputed; a decision would depend on an extensive study of the diffusion of German romantic philosophy and literary criticism, but would not affect my point that justifications for American claims of legitimacy do not have to resort to the central tenets of European thought of the time. I will add that most of the articles on Hegel’s role in the development of American thought and literature collected by Bainard Cowan and Joseph G. Kronick in Theorizing American Literature deal with authors from the American Renaissance to the modernists.

48 Even Francis Jennings, who in The Invasion of America discusses (in a vein of criticism) the continuities between European history in Europe and in the Americas, begins the first chapter, “Crusader Ideology—and an Alternative,” at the point “when Europe burst its bounds in the late fifteenth century” (p. 3, my emphasis).

49 Sometimes the adaptations appeared first among groups that were eccentric to begin with, in the sense of existing on the periphery of the culture, the place where it necessarily comes into contact with other cultures. For instance, J. H. Parry, in The Age of Reconnaissance, casually mentions that during the first voyages of discovery the Spanish, Italian, Portuguese, and other sailors of the Atlantic had to sleep on hatch covers and coiled rope, for the hammock, an Amerindian invention, was adopted only after a few voyages; and casually too he explains that the cassava, the tropical staple he calls “dreary,” became widely distributed mainly because of its durability and suitability for long sea voyages (chap. 4, “Seamen and Seamanship” esp. pp. 70, 72). In the two first volumes of Civilization and Capitalism, Fernand Braudel documents the penetration of European life by the epiphenomenal and structural consequences of the great voyages of the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, from the introduction of Mexican chocolate (1:249–50) to the vast trading networks that integrated the discoveries into a world economy (vol. 2, esp. chap. 2). The development of characteristic building styles and cuisines in the Americas, showing the influence of all the peoples who adapted to local conditions rather than simply transplanting themselves from the metropoles, demonstrates the accommodation to the new environment on the level of practical life, even when the ideological superstructure—politics, economics, or religion—strictly enforced separation from it.

50 David B. Quinn, in New American World reprints Saint Brendan’s mythical Navigatio, which circulated in Europe in the last quarter of the fifteenth century; the islands where he was said to have landed appeared on maps into the fifteenth century (1:54). Parry observes that “nothing illustrates European geographical ignorance better than the long inability of the reading public to discriminate between [Marco] Polo’s eyewitness accounts and [Sir John] Mandeville’s lying wonders” (p. 8), at least where extra-Mediterranean navigation was not politically and economically important; when such travels got seriously under way, “the value of Marco Polo’s Travels as a reliable source of information came to be generally recognized,” first, presumably, among serious students: both Henry the Navigator of Portugal and Columbus owned copies (p. 8). Pierre Chaunu, however, while acknowledging that because of Marco Polo thirteenth-century Asia became contemporary with Christopher Columbus in the imagination of Europe (L’expansion européenne, p. 85), also notes that the Travels were read for the pretty picture Marco Polo paints of the khan in a Europe enfeebled by plague and famine. Carlo Ginzburgh in Il fromaggio e i vermi tells the story of a miller from a small village in northern Italy, who was burned by the Inquisition for his heresies, some of which consisted in his acceptance of the validity of non-Christian cultures and religions he had read about in Mandeville’s Travels.

51 Walter Mignolo notes the non sequitur: “Castilians readily conceded that the Aztecs had books, even though they knew they did not have writing” ("Signs and Their Transmission").

52 See Parry on the religious definition of the conquest under Isabella and on its relation to the Catholic reconquest of the Iberian Peninsula: if the inhabitants of the new continent were not Christian, at least they were not Muslims; this was one of the logical openings to catechization (p. 30).

53 Francis Jennings reminds us that “European explorers and invaders discovered an inhabited land. Had it been pristine wilderness then, it would possibly be so still today, for neither the technology nor the social organization of Europe in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries had the capacity to maintain, of its own resources, outpost colonies thousands of miles from home” (p. 15).

54 The same expression was used by the Jesuit missionary to Brazil José de Anchieta to describe the people he had been sent to catechize: they were “tamquam tabulae rasae” on which it would be easy to inscribe Christianity (A província do Brasil, p. 43).

55 See, for instance, chap. 13, “We Must Burn Them,” on the buildup toward war against the Pequods.

56 Adorno discussed that in “Arms, Letters, and the Mestizo Historian in Early Colonial Mexico.” The reference is to Michel de Certeau, Heterologies, p. 68.

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Preface

Additional Information

ISBN
9781501726057
Related ISBN
9781501726064
MARC Record
OCLC
1057688720
Pages
1-33
Launched on MUSE
2018-04-06
Language
English
Open Access
Yes
Creative Commons
CC-BY-NC-ND
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