Columbus, Foucault, and the New World as Keplerian Baroque Space

Mid-summer progress report:

I’ve been engaged in some reading and rereading in anticipation of getting started on the third chapter of the book project, which will chiefly consist of readings of Cabeza de Vaca as he presents himself in Castaways and Cooper’s Natty Bumppo in The Last of the Mohicans and The Prairie.  I have also been editing the preface, the Columbus chapter, and the Faulkner and Amado chapter with the goals of trying to tighten up the writing.  Finally and most significantly, in the Columbus chapter I’ve incorporated an argument about the Baroque that you’ll see in this post.

A while back, I wrote in this post about Foucault’s reticence as to the causes of the shifts in ideas about language and space that are his subjects in, respectively, The Order of Things and “Of Other Spaces.”  For Foucault, the Baroque is the aesthetic of those shifts, but he seems deeply suspicious of it, if not actively dismissive of it: in it, “[s]imilitude is no longer the form of knowledge but rather the occasion of error, the danger to which one exposes oneself when one does not examine the obscure region of confusions” (The Order of Things, 51).  Anyway, while in that earlier post I name the Encounter as the cause of those shifts Foucault describes, in the excerpt below I develop that more fully with an assist from Cuban novelist and theorist Severo Sarduy’s essay “Baroque Cosmology: Kepler” (found in Baroque New Worlds, one of the titles I mentioned here).  I think this excerpt is pretty self-contained; just in case, though, “Carpentier” refers to Cuban writer Alejo Carpentier’s essay “Problemática de la actual novela latinoamericana, and “Benítez-Rojo” refers to Antonio Benítez-Rojo’s book The Repeating Island: The Caribbean and the Postmodern Perspective.

I am hopeful that someone out there in the Interwebs who knows more than I do about Foucault and/or Sarduy will bump into this and leave a comment.  Thanks in advance.



Mappamonde, Gerard Mercator, 1587.  Via.

[The] dynamism inherent in this New World Baroque as described by Carpentier gives us some insight into his response to his argument that this hemisphere’s lack of a style conveys well the truths of this region.  Moreover, other writers and critics likewise, in their own ways, either name the dilemma(s) New World writers encounter, or name it/them and then propose ways of framing New World experience similar to Carpentier’s own solution and his rationale for it.  That solution lies not so much in postmodernism’s lack of a center and distrust of Grand Narratives but, rather, in the Baroque’s honoring of dynamism, its lack of fixedness, which creates a space within which the interactions of cultures and the land provide a common ground for this hemisphere’s writers.

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“His normal sensitivity to negro behavior”: Looking for black and heterotopic spaces in Go Down, Moses


Eudora Welty, Home by Dark/Yalobusha County.  1936.  Via.  This is also the cover image for the 1990 Vintage edition of Go Down, Moses.

What follows is some thinking-out-loud that will be part of the chapter on Go Down, Moses and Tent of Miracles–specifically, an attempt to tie together land and cultural expression in the two novels.  (Progress report: It’s coming along, but it has felt at times like I am a vulture circling high in the sky over an animal to make sure it is dead before I will alight on it.  I’m pretty sure it’s dead now.)

It’s below the fold to spare those who won’t be interested; here, though, is the tl;dr version: 1) At the time he wrote it, Go Down, Moses was Faulkner’s most intimate exploration of not just black-white relations but of black lives and black interiority.  Still, though, it is a novel that is ultimately more concerned with white attempts to come to terms with the post-bellum South.  Thus, those glimpses of black lives we have are (mis)read by whites, but some of them resist any attempt to read them.  This brings me to: 2) You can learn a heck of a lot about how to read Faulkner from Minrose Gwin.

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Pedro and Ike and Culture and Land: Some Comments on Tent of Miracles and Go Down, Moses


The cover of a Brazilian(?) edition of Amado’s novel, via (though this particular copy of the book is no longer for sale at that site).

I have begun my reread of Brazilian writer Jorge Amado’s novel Tent of Miracles, which I have paired with Faulkner’s Go Down, Moses in chapter 2 of the book project. I’ll start off this post by making a couple of points regarding Ike McCaslin’s relationship to the land, and then I’ll make some comparisons between that and Tent of Miracles‘ treatment of Bahia, along with some initial remarks comparing Ike to Tent of Miracles‘ protagonist, Pedro Archanjo.  A good starting point for where I will be headed, though, is to compare the cover art for the Amado novel (which appears to be a scene from the 1977 film version) with that of the first edition of Go Down, Moses, which I posted here.  Though admittedly a bit of a cherry-pick on my part, that cover, with its depiction of a vast landscape empty of people, contrasted with the cover of Amado’s novel–the frame crowded with people, dressed and equipped with a fusion of Western and African-diaspora clothes and instruments–serves quite nicely as a starting point for this post.

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Book Project Notes: Transcribing and Re-orienting Chapter II


The first-edition (1942) jacket for the novel Faulkner wanted to be called simply Go Down, Moses. Image found here.

It’s been a while since I have reported on my progress on the book project.  I thought I’d use this post to both comment on that and to do some sketching out of some work on it I’ll be taking up over the Christmas break.  To spare the uninterested, the rest of this post will appear below the fold.  If you do click to read on, apologies in advance for some of the Inside Baseball quality of what you’ll run into.

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The Land as Character in New World Writing: Some Initial Comments

John processing Nash

The keeper of this blog, processing–yes, let’s call it that: “processing”–Roderick Nash’s Wilderness and the American Mind, June 2015. Photograph by Megan Buaas.

In the Columbus chapter of the book project, I am at a place where I am trying to noodle my way through the idea that it is this hemisphere’s land’s There-ness, its resistance to being read in such a way as to conform to Europeans’ previous knowledge and assumptions about the world, that renders if not nonsensical then at least inaccurate not just Columbus’s claims that he had found Asia but, even, Europeans’ invention of the term New World–after all, Peter Martyr’s term in its essence simply says that this place fits neatly into what was already known about the world; Europeans just hadn’t known about this particular part of it before.  On the other hand, though, I’m trying to show that New World as appropriated by this hemisphere’s peoples does make rational sense because they do take into account, a priori, the land’s Thereness.  To that end, I have been reading/thinking through/writing a section in that chapter where I am presenting an overview of various writers and thinkers from throughout the hemisphere who in some way address how the land influences culture.  From there I’ll move on to making my argument for a different way of reading the texts of this hemisphere (that part is already pretty much written).  Very indirectly in this post on an early modern map of Tenochtitlan-Mexico City, I’ve already touched on this subject via my passing mention of Edouard Glissant’s argument about the land as character and my other reading of Latin American writers this summer has led me to other writers who seem to be saying much the same thing as Glissant without too much squinting on my part.  So, for the past couple of weeks I have been reading around in cultural writing from the United States from the 19th century, along with more recent interpretations of that writing, to see if somewhere in there might be traces of that same idea of the Thereness of the land and its fully-participant role in the shaping of culture.  The short answer is that, the Transcendentalists aside and much to my surprise, there really isn’t.

Below the fold, as I say in this post’s title, some comments; no real arguments, just some observations.  The more I think about this topic, the more I realize there is to say on it.  It’s not something I will pursue at any great length in the book project, but it will help me to enhance some thinking of mine in subsequent chapters–especially my discussion of Go Down, Moses, a novel in which the land figures prominently in Ike McCaslin’s thinking about his family’s history.

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