|Internet-Zeitschrift für Kulturwissenschaften||17. Nr.||April 2010|
|Sektion 6.7.|| The travel: knowledge, communication and / or power
Sektionsleiterin | Section Chair: Carmen Andras („Gheorghe Sincai Institute for Social Sciences and the Humanities, Târgu-Mureş, Romania)
Travelling for commodification and political purposes:
'Other' in the Emire as described by Eighteenth-century english pupular culture.
Alexandru Dragoş Ivana (University of Bucharest) [BIO]
The paper is describing the image of the colonized Other in 18th century British popular culture. The popular consciousness of empire was amplified by the circulation of commercial goods consumed and integrated into a system driven by imperial needs. Average people's curiosity contributed to promoting the 'other' as a text of the remote realms and also as a proof that the nation had managed to cross the boundaries and fill the unfamiliar gap. Britain remained the supreme coloniser whereas the exotic peoples colonised exerted only an arbitrary power, despite the heritage of good European virtues. In their topical anthology entitled Eighteenth-Century Popular Culture, John Mullan and Christopher Reid present two colonial encounters of the 1760s. The first one, which is the focus of our discussion in this article, refers to the embassy of Cherokee leaders to London in 1762.
Eighteenth-century England forged its status of an invincible colonising power due to its commercial supremacy and territorial expansion and settlement in different parts of the globe. Rule Britannia gradually became the anthem of the people who seem to have manifested a deep interest in the matter. 'There were strong material reasons...for ordinary English people to be avidly interested imperial affairs' (Wilson qtd. in Mullan and Reid 271).
The popular consciousness of empire was amplified by the circulation of commercial goods consumed and integrated into a system driven by imperial needs. 'A decade later', says Marshall (qtd. in Mulland and Reid 272), the Seven Years War (1756-63), in which Britain achieved unprecedented military success and territorial gains, 'helped to create a new kind and a much wider awareness of a world outside Europe'. This awareness was not to be understood, in popular terms, as hic sunt leones. Average people's curiosity contributed to promoting the 'other' as a text of the remote realms and also as a proof that the nation had managed to cross the boundaries and fill the unfamiliar gap.
Le bon sauvage who came into the possession of the corrupted effects of luxury and false European manners became the 'secondary object of eighteenth-century satire' (Mullan and Reid 272). The great tradition of virtue, war and democracy was transferred to the 'other' and lost in Europe, thus enabling him to be regarded as a noble savage touched by the sharp fang of irony, since, in lay people's opinion, being good was often mistaken for being a mimic person.
In their topical anthology entitled Eighteenth-Century Popular Culture, John Mullan and Christopher Reid present two colonial encounters of the 1760s. The first one, which is the focus of our discussion in this article, refers to the embassy of Cherokee leaders to London in 1762. More historical data provided by the two authors of the selection tell us that 'the Cherokee visits of 1730 and 1762, the visit of the Creek Indian chief Tomochichi in 1734, and the visit of the Mohawk war leader Theyendanegea (also known as Joseph Brant) in 1776 were all official, or semi-official delegations, arranged for the purpose of concluding trading arrangements, military alliances, or treaties of peace'. (273)
Britain thus remained the supreme coloniser whereas the exotic peoples colonised exerted only an arbitrary power, despite the heritage of good European virtues. Hence, the purpose of the visits was based on the fact that the leaders were indeed savages and 'naively susceptible to shallow shows of strength' (274):
The Cherokees are the most considerable Indian Nation with which we are acquainted, and are absolutely free; so that when we call any of their Chiefs Princes of Kings, it is to accommodate their Manners to our Ideas; for this Chief, or any other, has not the smallest Power or Prerogative, or even Property, more than any other Man of his Country. (The Public Advertiser in Mullan and Reid 277)
The Cherokees were forced to admit that the Empire was absolute compared to their feeble state and, during their visit, they had to comply with the empire's strategy to show them the most famous places and spaces in the metropolis in order to be aware of the power of the empire, on the one hand, and to become the 'object' of delight for Mr. and Mrs. Average. In other words, the noble savage's commodification was inevitable in a pragmatic country like England.
Henry Timberlake, the escort of the Cherokee leaders, adapts perfectly to the Empire's requirements and becomes very selective in so far as the audience that was supposed to visit or see the 'other' was concerned. Timberlake's memoir illustrates the popular crave for exotic spectacle. It is constructed in a hierarchical manner, with the polite as detached and ironic observers, seconded by the 'Rabble of the Nation' whose craze for the show reflects its own savagery, more acute than the other's:
Our Nation is remarkable for its Greediness after Novelty, which requires continually to be fed with fresh Matter. (The St. James's Chronicle; or, the British Evening-Post in Mullan and Reid 283)
The allegedly civilised foreigner shared the same status of a savage as 'any Man of this Country'. Timberlake's testimony of the representation of the other guarantees for the accreditation of the text as witness of the other (Certeau 68). Thus, Britain becomes the Index locorum (a redistribution of cultural space) in the pursuit of its affirmation as a bossy place (a locus of utterance) (Certeau 68). This locus of utterance is disturbed by the viva voce of the community that must be updated on all sensational social events. This is another heritage of backstage modernity valid today too. Instead of being praised for its avid interest in the matter, the mass is blamed as a savage counterpart of the savage as such. We have here an overlapping and confusing perspective of the social status within and without the oikoumene. The polite identify people with the same notion of 'true' witnesses of the savage body. As de Certeau puts it (69), 'the discourse that sets off in search of the other with the impossible task of saying the truth returns from afar with the authority to speak in the name of the other and command belief'. The Cherokees' presence in the English empire becomes a discourse captured by the polite and also a metadiscourse typical of the poor:
Curiosity is certainly no censurable disposition in a people, while it is, as all dispositions should be, under the guidance of reason. But when it passes the bounds of reason, it becomes a mark of great levity; and when indulged to the greatest excess, is certainly to be deemed madness...
What, for example, can apologize for peoples running in such shoals to all public places, at the hazard of health, life, or disappointment, to see the savage Chiefs that are come among us? Are time, expense, and danger, of so very little consequence to us that we cannot wait for so poor a sight till opportunity can gratify us, as it very soon will do, without our suffering of either of them? These poor creatures make no more than theatrical figures, and can be seen with no satisfaction from the pressures of a throng: why then are people mad in their avidity to behold them?
The St. James's Chronicle in Mullan and Reid 279
The cynical argument of the 'high' goes on:
I own it caused mirth in me, but it was with a mixture of contempt, to read in the papers, how these poor wild hunters were surrounded by as wild gazers on them at Vauxhall, and that three hundred eager crouders were made happy by shaking hands with them; and have wondered from what motive that familiarity could arise, whether it was with a design to do honour, or receive it; or, whether it was from hearty good fellowship, on a supposition of equality.
The St. James's Chronicle in Mullan and Reid 279
It is more of a certainty of equality if we were to consider the elite's opinion. The ordinary people's desire to look like genuine savages, hiding, at the same time, commercial purposes when they appear as disguised Cherokee leaders in order to attract public places of consumption, is more than obvious. The low class appears as a mediator between the production of the other and the production of the text. The high class perspective on the latter reinforces the idea of the savage as elusive, in whose name its writing/visual recognition takes place. Its role is always altered by the inaccessible (t)exterior [hors-texte] that authorises both (Certeau 69).
The (t)exterior [hors-texte] de Certeau refers to when talking about the savage turns into a need for acknowledging the foreigner according to his own code of behaviour. Scopophilia as advertisement completes the other's narrative in a hierarchical structure: the polite observers look at the crowd whereas the crowd looks at the Native Americans. On the other hand, advertisement becomes a means of colonising the Cherokees at home, since the population's curiosity for such exotic and uncommon 'objects' rises incessantly. At the same time, we think of the hypocritical aristocrats, who actually join the rabble in the spectacle and pretend to carry out anthropological research. The Cherokees are now a worthy commodity, moved here and there 'like wild beasts' in order to give the population a sense of colonising legitimation:
Our beer is to be sold six pence per pot, are we are to have a particular sort for that day; which, to say the truth, is to be worse than we usually sell, as people will be too much taken up with the Cherokees to mind their liquor. We are not to put up bills, but to have a man stand at the door with a Constable's staff, who is to cry, Walk in, Gentlemen, see'em alive!
Lioyd's Evening Post, and British Chronicle, 28 July 1762 in Mullan and Reid 281
Things can be considered the other way round as well. The English imagine what the other will say about their nation and discover that the homology, savage-ordinary citizens, is quite evident. Furthermore, the polite say that the rabble's curiosity and 'savage debauchery' triggered by the Cherokee leaders' presence is a political pretext of overthrowing monarchy. Therefore, relations are turned upside-down within the Empire where former officials seemed to instigate rebellions against monarchy, especially the one referring to the ultimate power of the British. This toing and froing of hierarchical observation focuses now on the population as a 'mimic' instance, according to Homi Bhabha, supposed to inherit the other's recent 'literal' memory, as Tzvetan Todorov calls it:
For my own Part I am apt to suspect, that there was a deeper Scheme of Politics in bringing theis Indian Monarch over than is generally imagined. (...) May it not therefore be conjectured, that this strange Sight was exhibited, like a Tub thrown out to a Whale, to divert our Attention from the present political Squabble? At least, I am sure it would have been made a Plea against Mr. P----, (i.e. William Pitt) had he continued in, and brought as a Proof of his republican and aristocratian Principles, that his Cherookean Kinship was suffered to expose himself among the Dregs of the People, in order to inspire them with a dislike to Monarchy. (The St. James's Chronicle in Mullan and Reid 283)
Popular hegemony (i.e. printed media) records social facts that point out in their turn the commodification of Indian identity among the British by British disguised as Cherokee Kings. We can talk here about a carnivalesque dimension and a qui pro quo of the will to power:
It is said that three Men, in Imitation of the Cherokee Kings, and having their Faces painted like them, have been shewn at many of the Public Places for the real Indians.
The Public Advertiser, Friday, 6 August 1762, in Mullan and Reid 285
Debauchery and eccentricity of the British are also exploited in ballads and theatrical performances in order to deride the other as eccentric. The Empire imagines sexual intercourse between savage males and refined females, as well as the patriotic prospect of British womanhood's unmanning of the Indian warrior. The message would be that difference between races lies in nature. This is very fruitful advertisement, given that British colonising courtesans overcome the other in love matters:
The Ladies, dear Creatures, so squeamish and dainty,
Surround the great Canada Warriors in plenty;
Wives, Widows and Matrons, and pert little Misses,
Are pressing and squeezing for Cherokee Kisses,
Each grave looking Prude, and each smart looking Belle, Sir,
Declaring, no Englishman e'er kissed so well, Sir.
Each grave looking Prude, &c.
or bad advertisement for the nation:
Ye Females of Britain, so wanton and witty,
Who love even Monkies, and swear they are pretty;
The Cherokee Indians, and stranger Shimpanzeys,
By Turns, pretty Creatures, have tickl'd your Fancies;
Which proves, that the Ladies so fond are of Billing,
They kiss'd even M-----rs, were M-----re as willing.
Which proves that &c.
A New Humorous Song, on the Cherokee Chiefs. Inscribed to the Ladies of Great Britain.
By H. Howard, 1762 in Mullan and Reid 286
Diverting advertisement promoted and performed by everyday British people brings into question the reversal of the vocabulary of colonisation. 'Such a reversal of viewpoint portrays England, now embarking on an aggressive mercantile and colonial agenda, as the historical victim and creation of invasions. It demands that Englishmen recognise their hybrid and polygenetic origins even as the discourses of racial and national difference-fostered by adventuring abroad (...) were gaining new and national-defining power (Suvir 88).
All the above-quoted passages highlight the idea of the industrious merchant as the globalizing agent of 'civilisation' here (Suvir 184) who lefts his mercantile mark upon the savage, mitigating his xenophobic drives. To put it differently, he shows a marketable hospitality.
The savage's presence as a 'speaking body' (Certeau 79) whose target is to civilise the British masses may introduce the idea of his coming back to Urtext. Samson Occom, a native American, comes in London on a religious mission, hoping thus to collect money for Wheelock's school. According to Mullan and Reid (295), the action must have been initiated by the prominent English Methodist George Whitefield, who spent extended periods of time in America during his religious career. As Wheelock observed in a promotional pamphlet which was distributed in the course of the mission, 'as none but Samples of uncivilised Indians have ever been sent over, and exhibited to Public view on this Side of the Water, the Britons are naturally led to form a despicable Idea of them, and consequently to hold them in far more sovereign Contempt' (295). To sum up, it was Occam's role to regulate this thorny problem and appear as a metonymy of Indian civilisation.
We find out about Occam's missionary actions due to his diary from 1766. The Indian returns in this way to his text as other, leaving the real logos behind. He manages to gain the sympathy of the English thanks to his 'picturesque character in a dramatic role' (Blodgett qtd. in Mullan and Reid 297).
The other is not so strange a curiosity for the Empire as long as he can be either commodified, like the 'Cherokee Kings', or laughed at and ironically imitated by the masses. Mimicry in this case no longer stands for the savage's urge to comply with the coloniser's prerequisites, but for joyful performance:
Monday June 23: we return'd to London, got there some time before night – the Ld be Prais'd for all his goodness to us – this Evening I heard, the Stage Players, had been Mimicking of me in their Plays, lately – I never thought I should ever come that Honour, – O god would give me greater Courage. (Extracts from Samson Occom's Diary, 1766, 299)
Occom is rather an image of mythos or the low social class in England, and not only. Familiar with the successful colonial experiences, the British retained only the primitive features of the colonised in terms of both physical features, climate, or geographical position and of qualities of their mind. That is how doxa worked. Nevertheless, the salient aspect, if not the moral of the whole chapter about Occom, is that he carries out an imagological study, capturing the attitude of the English towards their polite or unenlightened fellows. As a matter of fact, he is the savage who comes across pretended civilised savages, given the residual memory of the Britons loaded with their terrible colonial experiences of the past. Occam's economic pragmatism is expressed in biblical and scientific terms:
May a Spirit of Liberality prompt you to employ the Talents entrusted to you, in promoting the Work of Lord; that all may be subject to his Kingdom - that his Kingdom may come unto all Mankind, and that all may come into one Fold and under one Shepherd. In this way and manner may we employ your worldly Pelf to the greatest Interest and most lasting Advantage.(...) What can I say? - As the Load-Stone draws Iron by a secret Charm, so let the Word of Power in my Mouth melt your hard Hearts and draw forth more precious Metals from your Purses.
We may infer that such sermons were particularly tasted by the 'low'. Yet, the low put on shows to divert at Occam's expense. Their belief in superstitions and old customs transmitted from Father to Son, without neglecting religion, counterbalanced the mainstream to a large extent. Occam is barbarian because of his original unnaturalness while the British people are barbarian because of their cruelty. His return to Urtext means, in polite terms, savagery of the lowest kind, the same as the low's one. The only difference resides in the fact that British low-class citizens are savages in matter of capitalist modernity whereas Occam is the isolated other waiting to be colonised.
We can conclude by quoting some lines that are another proof that 'high' and 'low' can unite their cruel forces to resist to genuine barbarians:
At such Farce-Actors, who pretend
These pious Means, for wicked End,
We laugh amain, and keep our Pence
From spoiling Indian Innocence.
From A Cry from Wilderness: Or, A Converted Indian's Address to a Xn. Congregation.
Norwich: Printed in the Year 1767 in Mullan and Reid 301
6.7. The travel: knowledge, communication and / or power
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