Vanish the Tropes!

Great seminars today! I wanted to mention, in relation to Stef’s, the two tropes which have dominated the colonial/post-colonial, namely, the vanishing native and the invisible ethnicity of Eurocentrics.

The former finds no greater expression than in the work of photographer Edward S. Curtis (1868-1952) (http://www.sil.si.edu/Exhibitions/Curtis/curtis-intro-2.htm). While Curtis sought to represent pre-contact indigenous lifeways, the irony of his life’s work (a monstrous 20-volume photo-centric ethnograph) was the contribution to the myth of the vanquished and vanished first peoples of the plains.

Studies in anthropology have revealed the pervasive nature of the second trope, wherein Eurocentric N. Americans rarely identify themselves as having an ethnicity. This trope has long been employed to support that other, even more scary, trope, that Europeans were placed on Earth to spread the light of civilization across the globe. Thus, everybody ELSE is ethnic, and whitey is just NORMAL (or, what? correct?).

Any study of the literature of a people should take into account the positional and the proximal. And of course all those old questions come back to tap us on the shoulder: who speaks? who records? under what institutional constraints? under what historical ones?

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