Sunday, January 22, 2012

Tzvetan Todorov, "Columbus as Interpreter," The Conquest of America

Columbus does not succeed in his human communications because he is not interested in them. We read in his journal for December 6, 1492, that the Indians he has taken on board his ship try to escape and are distressed to find themselves far from their island. "Moreover he did not understand them any better than they understood him, and they were greatly afraid of the people on this new island. Therefore, in order to make converse with its people, he would have had to tarry there for several days. But he did not do so, in order to see further lands and from doubt that the weather would hold." Everything is in the sequence of these few sentences: Columbus's summary perception of the Indians, a mixture of authoritarianism and condescension; the incomprehension of their language and of their signs; the readiness with which he alienates the other's goodwill with a view to a better knowledge of the islands he is discovering; the preference for land over men. In Columbus's hermeneutics human beings have no particular place.


  1. paramount: "the preference for land over men;" i.e. that's Olson's version of Americanism. . .

  2. "That is, the gate to the center was, here, as accurate as what you and i have been (all along talking about - viz., man as object in field of force declaring self as force because is force in exactly such relation & can accomplish expression of self as force by conjecture & displacement in a context best, now, seen as space more than a time such."