Captive Selves, Captivating Others: The Politics and Poetics of Colonial American Captivity Narratives

Captive Selves, Captivating Others: The Politics and Poetics of Colonial American Captivity Narratives

Captive Selves, Captivating Others: The Politics and Poetics of Colonial American Captivity Narratives

Captive Selves, Captivating Others: The Politics and Poetics of Colonial American Captivity Narratives

Synopsis

This book reexamines the Anglo-American literary genre known as the "Indian captivity narrative" in the context of the complex historical practice of captivity across cultural borders in colonial North America. This detailed & nuanced study of the relationship between practice & representation on the one hand & identity & alterity on the other is an important contribution to cultural studies, American studies, Native American studies, women's studies, & historical anthropology.

Excerpt

Tradition is in practice the most evident expression of the dominant and hegemonic pressures and limits. It is always more than an inert historicized segment; indeed it is the most powerful practical means of incorporation. What we have to see is not just 'a tradition' but a selective tradition; an intentionally selective version of a shaping past and a pre-shaped present, which is then powerfully operative in the process of social and cultural definition and identification.

--Raymond Williams, Marxism and Literature (1977:115)

In a selective tradition that dates to the seventeenth century, Anglo-American identity is represented as the product of struggles in and against the wild: struggles of a collective Self surrounded by a threatening but entic ing wilderness, a Self that seeks to domesticate this wilderness as well as the savagery within itself, and that opposes itself to Others portrayed as savage, bestial, demonic, and seductive. Originally an outgrowth of the Puritan penchant for defining the individual and collective Self through opposition to presumably uncivil, ungodly Others, this remarkably re silient fabrication of identity took shape during the century of colonial wars preceding the American Revolution. In the course of extended struggles among English, French, Algonquian, Iroquoian, and other groups for control over northeastern North America, a significant number of English colonists were taken captive by Native Americans. For the Puritan colonists of New England, who were continually searching for signs of the work of Providence in the world, these captivities came to epitomize the spiritual trial posed to the colonists by the American wilderness, its savage inhabitants, and perhaps most importantly, the savagery within themselves. By the mid-eighteenth century, colonists were representing the experience of captivity among Indians in a more . . .

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