Academic journal article The Arkansas Historical Quarterly

Blood Brothers? Indians and the Construction of a German Colonial Self in Friedrich Gerstäcker's Fiction

Academic journal article The Arkansas Historical Quarterly

Blood Brothers? Indians and the Construction of a German Colonial Self in Friedrich Gerstäcker's Fiction

Article excerpt

NiNeteeNth-ceNtury GermaNs took a keeN iNterest in the United States and everything American. This interest was forged by the mass emigra- tion of Germans to North America, but the appeal of the U.S. involved not only the actual but also the imaginary. German curiosity included a great fascination with the Native American [Indianer], an attraction that, in itself, possessed a multitude of layers. Part of this appeal had its origin in nineteenth-century German colonial fantasies.

The Indianer is a ubiquitous presence in nineteenth-century adventure literature. He features prominently in the fiction of Friedrich Gerstäcker, who also wrote informational pamphlets and nonfictional texts about the United States and Native Americans, visited various tribes, and sketched some of their members.1 Gerstäcker's fictional and nonfictional texts about Indians were based on his personal experiences and observations and are often more nuanced than those of contemporaries, who tended to depict Indians in stereotypical ways.2 Gerstäcker strove for more sym- pathetic, detailed, and individualized descriptions of Indians and often portrayed them in positive relationships with white-in particular Ger- man-characters. Such images were certainly the product of Gerstäcker's cosmopolitan perspective, which he acquired through his world travels and interactions with people of different ethnicities.3 At the same time, he depicted Indians in positions that were, in various respects, inferior to Germans. These often ambivalent portrayals suggest that despite his cos- mopolitanism, Gerstäcker was not able to escape the racial and imperial discourse of his times.

Unlike other European powers such as Spain or England, Germany had not at that point been extensively involved in the conquest and colo- nization of other continents. Its participation in colonialism was generally restricted to individual small, mostly unsuccessful economic enterpris- es-such as the attempted colonization of parts of today's Venezuela by the Welser trading company in the sixteenth century-or to ostensibly non-political explorations of unmapped countries. This was, in part, at- tributable to Germany's particular political situation, i.e. its non-existent nation state. It was therefore not until after Germany's national unification in 1871 that it openly pursued colonial ambitions. It did not acquire its few Schutzgebiete [protection zones] until 1884 and had to yield all colo- nial possessions with the loss of World War I. Yet a colonial subjectivity and discourse existed in Germany long before 1884. In Liberal Imperial- ism in Germany, for instance, Matthew P. Fitzpatrick shows how it man- ifested itself in liberal political discussions at the time of the Frankfurt National Assembly 1848-1849.4 According to Fitzpatrick, expansionism in the form of colonialism was a key element of discourses surrounding Germany's national unification, reflecting its ambitions for international political and economic power. Fitzpatrick stresses how presumably sci- entific disciplines such as anthropology or geography contributed to the colonial discourse in German politics and in the public sphere by pro- viding supportive arguments for establishing colonies.5 But, even before such straightforward articulation of German colonial interests, colonial issues materialized in much more subtle ways. As Susanne Zantop has shown, a colonial subjectivity-an unspecific drive for colonial posses- sion-emerged in Germany as early as the 1770s: "This desire to venture forth, to conquer and appropriate foreign territories, and to (re)generate the self in the process formed in subtle and indirect ways."6

Even texts that did not address colonialism as such still reveal Ger- mans' colonial desires subconsciously in, for instance, depictions of eth- nic Others, foreign countries, gender relations, or other power structures.7 This desire articulated itself in literary texts such as "stories of sexual conquest and surrender, love and blissful domestic relations between col- onizer and colonized, set in colonial territory, stories that made the strange familiar, and the familiar 'familial. …

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