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Wednesday, July 14th, 2010

The Narrative of Captivity

I've started reading Richard Slotkin's Regeneration through violence with the idea that I might be able to draw some parallels between his narrative of myth formation and Borges' stories... In service of that end, here is a passage from "Narrative of the Warrior and the Captive Maiden" (from The Aleph) and one from Slotkin's book.

John Williams' narrative, The Redeemed Captive, taught that the ultimate salvation of the soul itself was really at stake in the trial by captivity. One of Williams' daughters, who was very young when captured, could not be won from her captors in time for repatriation with her father. The result was typical of the fate of many captives: she forgot her language and her catechism and became at once a papist and a pagan savage, married to an Indian. Despite the efforts of her father and her family to bring her back, she refused all opportunities to resume her former life. On one occasion she returned to the neighborhood of her birthplace (Deerfield, MA) dressed as an Indian. Her friends clothed her in the English fashion and sent her to meeting, but she "indignantly threw off her clothes in the afternoon, and resumed the Indian blanket." By her own declaration she preferred the Indian way of life. ...she declared that she would never move again from Canada to New England because to do so would "endanger her soul." Her visit occurred in 1740-41 at the height of the Great Awakening, and her presence in the congregation had been the occasion for "A Sermon Preached at Mansfield, August 4, 1741, at a Time set apart for Prayer for the Revival of Religion," by Pastor Solomon Williams. It was perhaps Williams' attempt to use her as an example of God's delivering a soul from bondage to the devil that made her afraid of "losing" in New England the "soul" she had developed in thirty-eight years of captivity.
-- Chapter 4, "Israel in Babylon"
Perhaps for one instant the two women saw that they were sisters; they were far from their beloved island in an incredible land. My grandmother, enunciating carefully, asked some question or other; the other woman replied haltingly, searching for the words and then repeating them, as though astonished at the old taste of them. It must have been fifteen years since she'd spoken her native language, and it was not easy to recover it. She said she was from Yorkshire, that her parents had emigrated out to Buenos Aires, that she had lost them in an Indian raid, that she had been carried off by the Indians, and that now she was the wife of a minor chieftain -- she'd given him two sons; he was very brave. She said all this little by little, in a clumsy sort of English interlarded with words from the Auracan or Pampas tongue, and behind the tale one caught glimpses of a savage and uncouth life... An Englishwoman, reduced to such barbarism! Moved by outrage and pity, my grandmother urged her not to go back. She swore to help her, swore to rescue her children. The other woman answered that she was happy, and she returned that night to the desert.
--"The Warrior and the Captive Maiden" (Hurley's translation)

Further reading -- The Redeemed Captive; Narrative of the Captivity of Mary Rowlandson

posted evening of July 14th, 2010: Respond
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Thursday, September 9th, 2010

What I'm Reading

Currently pretty involved with two books, both of which I can't figure out quite where to start writing about... I'm having a lot of immediate reactions to what I'm reading but nothing developing into a good blog post.

Gunfighter Nation: the myth of the frontier in 20th-Century America is a really eloquent historical analysis by Richard Slotkin, whose Regeneration through Violence I was reading previously and not writing much about either. A lot of fascinating, chilling quotations from Theodore Roosevelt and Buffalo Bill and so forth, a sort of self-styled macho elite.

Altazor: o el viaje en paracaídas is a book-length poem about falling into space. Much that I'm not sure what to make of, plus some belly laughs and fun imagery. I got interested in this poem when I saw it mentioned in the movie Dictadura. I'm reading Eliot Weinberger's parallel translation, and finding it very helpful (but am going to massage slightly below). You can read the Spanish online at the Universidad de Chile's Vicente Huidobro page. Check out this speech by God, from the preface*:

Then I heard the voice of the Creator, who is nameless, who is a simple hollow in space, lonely, umbilical.

"I made a great noise and this noise was the ocean and the waves of the ocean.

"This noise will be stuck to the waves of the ocean forever, and the waves of the ocean will be stuck to it forever, like stamps onto postcards.

"Afterwards, I braided a great cord of luminous rays to stitch each day to the next: the days, with their dawns either authentic or synthetic, but undeniable.

"Afterwards, I etched geography on the land, lines onto the hand.

"Then I drank a little cognac -- for purposes of hydrography.

"And I created the mouth and the lips of the mouth, to imprison ambiguous smiles; and the teeth of the mouth to keep watch on the absurdities that enter our mouths.

"I created the tongue of the mouth, the tongue which man tore from her proper role, making her learn to speak... She, she, the gorgeous bather, torn forever from her proper role, aquatic, purely sensual."

Huidobro is a very interesting cat, I'm tempted to call this work surrealistic though I don't rightly know how closely he worked with that school... The wikipædia article indicates that his school was Creationism, but also that he was the sole member of that movement. Picasso drew his portrait and Arp shot a great photo of him. There is a great reading of the first Canto up at Google videos, with subtitles.

* (Which I would put in the same class of greatness as the preface to Also Sprach Zarathustra)

posted evening of September 9th, 2010: 2 responses
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