Academic journal article Mosaic (Winnipeg)

"He Never Harmed an Indian": Ethnographic Consequences of Alexander Mackenzie's Heroic Narrative

Academic journal article Mosaic (Winnipeg)

"He Never Harmed an Indian": Ethnographic Consequences of Alexander Mackenzie's Heroic Narrative

Article excerpt

This close reading of grammatical and narrative forms in Alexander Mackenzie's Voyages from Montreal extends the tradition of colonial discourse analysis to include linguistic analysis. The examination shows how the text's paradigm of heroic crisis resolution is supported by strategic manipulations of narrative elements to produce potently racist ethnography.

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Working in the tradition of colonial discourse theory that Edward Said's Orientalism inaugurated (Tiffin 159; Griffiths 165; Slemon 193-95), Peter Hulme describes colonial discourse as the "sets of questions and assumptions, methods of procedure and analysis, and kinds of writing and imagery, normally separated out into the discrete areas of military strategy, political order, social reform, imaginative literature, personal memoir and so on," by which "large parts of the non-European world were produced for Europe" (2, emph. Hulme's). Elizabeth Vibert's recent history of Pacific Northwest fur traders' accounts takes a perspective similar to Hulme's, emphasizing that the texts examined reflect "European perceptions of colonized peoples" (xi). Studies such as Hulme's and Vibert's, explicitly sensitive to the ideological functions of language (Hulme 5; Vibert 5), point to, though they rarely take full advantage of, the resources of critical discourse analysis to demonstrate those ideological functions. Critical discourse analysis, exemplified by the work of Norman Fairclough, Robert Hodge, Robert Hodge and Gunther Kress, Jay L. Lemke, and Glenn Stillar, bases the study of ideology in language on several fundamental claims. Specifically, it treats language as social practice (Lemke 9); it specifies that "discourse" is available for study only insofar as it leaves traces in texts (Hodge viii); and it adds to traditional linguistics a focus on the ways in which power, social relations, social subjectivity, and intersubjective identity are inscribed in, and negotiated through, the linguistic system (Caldas-Coulthard and Coulthard xi; Fairclough, Language 1-2).

According to historian James P. Ronda, North American exploration texts deserve much more attention--given their importance as the powerful, material, bases of Europeans' claims to ownership, control, and, eventually, nation-formation--than they typically receive (146, 162). As a response to Ronda, and to better understand how specific instances of colonial discourse inscribe and negotiate relations of power and identity, I examine in this essay the linguistic structures that characterize Alexander Mackenzie's exploration account. Published in 1801, Mackenzie's Voyages from Montreal [...] through the Continent of North America to the Frozen and Pacific Oceans was widely read by his contemporaries, reviewed in influential journals, and regularly reissued (Lamb 35; Greenfield 15-16). Among its various effects, Voyages from Montreal provoked both Thomas Jefferson and Lord Selkirk, Jefferson to throw his political weight behind the Lewis and Clark expedition (Ronda 148-50), Selkirk to establish the Red River Col ony (Lamb 41; Kelsch 23), which is now Winnipeg, Manitoba. With few exceptions, twentieth-century historians and literary critics continue to attribute canonical, "nation building," status to Mackenzie and his allegedly heroic account (Hop wood 29; Daniells, "Literary" 27; Daniells, Alexander 53; Barratt 43; Gough 4-5, 206, 211).

I begin by tracing a history of readers' responses to Mackenzie's text and propose that the heroism that readers typically describe is an effect at least as much of the text's narrative forms and grammatical structures as of transparently heroic events. A two-part analysis supports this claim. In the first part, I demonstrate how the text's characteristic syntactic structures create an urgent sense of time. In the second part, I show how that urgency underpins representations of a heroic narrator; here, I read a specific narrative interlude closely, to demonstrate how key narrative elements are realized grammatically in forms that secure Mackenzie s discursive control over time, manipulate time to amplify the narrator's heroism, and re-manipulate time to produce deeply questionable ethnography. …

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