Les Sauvages Américains: Representations of Native Americans in French and English Colonial Literature

By Gordon M. Sayre | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 4
Clothing, Money, and Writing

The words sauvage and nu (naked) have long been closely associated. The "savage's" nakedness has multiple resonances. By an allusion to the Book of Genesis, nakedness signifies the innocence of the first humans before the Fall into shame, sin, and modesty. In a secular version of the myth of origins, it represents the absence of culture and the equality of humans at birth. Yet Adam and Eve in the State of Nature were not innocent because they lacked vice; they did not even know what it was, any more than an Algonquin in the fifteenth century knew what a European was. Both Eden and the State of Nature give rise to a hermeneutical circle, one of the most tightly wound instances of the dialectic of negation and substitution.

The State of Nature (itself a contradiction if "state" is defined as a political entity) is paradoxically both the negation of civilization and the substitution of innocence for sophistication. The innocence we attribute to this State of Nature, if not the entire concept, is an artifact of our status as observers, quite different from the experience of those in that state we observe. Jean-Jacques Rousseau, in the Discours sur l'origine et les fondements de l'inégalité, described the State of Nature as "un état qui n'existe plus, qui n'a peut-être point existé, qui probablement n'existera jamais" (151) {a state which no longer exists, perhaps never did exist,

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