Susan Castillo and Ivy Schweitzer, eds. The
Literatures of Colonial America: An Anthology. Malden, MA and Oxford: Blackwell,
2001. xxii+602pp.+4 illus. ISBN 0 631 21125 X.
Manchester Metropolitan University
Edwards, Jess. "Review of Susan Castillo
and Ivy Schweitzer, eds. The Literatures of Colonial America: An Anthology".
Early Modern Literary Studies 11.1 (May, 2005) 10.1-9 <URL:http://purl.oclc.org/emls/11-1/revlitco.html>.
- Susan Castillo and Ivy Schweitzer's 2002 anthology The Literatures of
Colonial America will take its place on my shelves alongside several related
texts, collected in my career as a student and teacher of early American literature:
two editions of The Norton Anthology of American Literature, volume
one (the second edition of 1979 and the fifth of 1998); Myra Jehlen and Michael
Warner's The English Literatures of America (1997); and the fourth
edition of The Heath Anthology of American Literature, volume one (2002).
The contents pages of these various anthologies alone make interesting reading
as indicators of continuities and changes in the field. At the heart of all
of these anthologies is a canon of colonial and revolutionary writing running
from William Bradford to Thomas Jefferson which remains more or less untouched,
if variously edited, from the earliest anthology to the latest. The canon
of early American literature is still identifiably a canon, but it has expanded,
both outwards and backwards.
- My earliest anthology--the 1979 Norton--commences with the first successful
English settlements, suggesting that American literature begins with John
Smith's Virginia and William Bradford's New England. Twenty years later, the
1998 edition of the Norton has thought again about this narrative of origins,
incorporating 150 pages of pre-1620 excerpts that define early American literature
as a literature of discovery and exploration as well as settlement. As well
as an extended canon, reaching back to Columbus, this is an expanded one,
which incorporates French and Spanish as well as English colonial writing,
and carefully differentiated native voices: genesis stories and trickster
tales from various tribes. Supporting this extension of the canon are additions
to (but not subtractions from) the original cast of editors: additions such
as Arnold Krupat, who contributed his expertise on Native American oral literatures,
and Wayne Franklin, scholar of discovery, exploration and encounter as well
as settlement. The second section of the 1998 Norton, now titled "Early American
literature 1620-1820," expands the extended canon principally in its addition
of women colonial and revolutionary writers--Anne Bradstreet, Mary Rowlandson,
Mercy Otis Warren and Susanna Rowson--and one black writer: Olaudah Equiano.
If the novelty of some of these inclusions is surprising, we might reflect
how emphatically the field has changed.
- The extension and expansion of the canon in the once unchallenged Norton
anthology responds to and complements interventions by a growing array of
competitors. Impelled both by poststructuralist concerns with identity and
power and by a growing interest in the material cultures of writing, publishing,
performing and reading, these anthologies have made inroads from various directions
on a traditional canon viewed as informing a blinkered and amnesiac nationalism.
Jehlen and Warner's anthology uses the common ground of Anglophone textual
culture to unsettle the exceptionalist paradigm of American literary studies,
exploring an ongoing textual transatlanticism from the first figurations of
America on the London stage to the cross-fertilisations of various Enlightenments.
The Heath Anthology has thoroughly pluralized the canon, making the
most dramatic single impact on the field to date. Most conspicuously, the
Heath emphasizes the cultural diversity of the American seventeenth
century, sandwiching the sectional categories of New Spain, New France and
the Chesapeake between 90 pages of Native American oral narrative and poetry
and the New England canon.
- The structural organisation and content of Castillo and Schweitzer's new
anthology for Blackwell bear a strong relation to the Heath, taking its pluralizing
agenda still further. In fact the editors stake a claim to go beyond mere
pluralism, challenging the nationalist teleology of traditional early American
studies. They want us to read the literatures of colonial America not just
as a prelude to the national literatures of the United States, but for their
own sake, and against the grain of the cultural consolidations we imagine
after them. The anthology divides its material into three sections: pre-1600,
seventeenth century, and eighteenth century. Within these sections, somewhere
between a third and a quarter of the 86 extracts make available to students
material unavailable in other anthologies in English, often through Susan
Castillo's new translations, though sometimes through retrieving Anglophone
texts excluded from the traditional national canon. These additions supplement
the expanded canon presented by the Heath consistently across its chronological
and geographic range, offering new Spanish and Portuguese accounts of sixteenth-century
exploration and first contact; new writing from all of the seventeenth-century
sectional communities (including New Netherland, excluded from the Heath);
and new writing from the later colonial and revolutionary eighteenth century.
Short introductions to each section provide digested context and signal loosely
binding themes through which to focus the diversity of these new perspectives.
These themes--of encounter, translation, creolization, mobility and mediation--suggest
alternatives disruptive to the narratives of cultural consolidation and self-definition
that have traditionally framed U.S. pre-history. They seek to guide a "hemispheric,"
"transnational" approach to the literatures of colonial America that is true
to its original diversity, and that fosters a conception of U.S. culture as
not just post-revolutionary, but also post-colonial.
- This hemispheric approach makes for some remarkable insights. In section
one the newly anthologized narrative of Hans Staden, a German Lutheran taken
captive in 1548 by the Tupi Indians of Portuguese Brazil, tells us much about
the complexity of early encounters. Staden himself is a typically migrant
figure in this anthology, and as fluent in cross-cultural communication as
the Indians with whom he deals, posing as French to gain favour with a people
used to trading with some Europeans and warring with others. Section two is
a particularly rich weave, making for entirely new perspectives on the canonical
English literatures of settlement. While foregrounding the distinct national
cultures of American colonisation this selection also allows us to appreciate
much common ground. Newly translated writers such as El Inca Garcilaso de
la Vega invoke Roman precedents for Spanish colonial practice, write to correct
scurrilous domestic rumours about the colonies, and struggle with scepticism
about the very genre of colonial history and relation--all much like their
English counterparts. Various writers reverse the polarities of cultural stereotypes
long regarded as distinctive tropes of English colonial writing. Newly translated
Carlos de Siguenza y Góngora inverts the "black legend" of Spanish brutality
in America, detailing his own abuse at the hands of English pirates, and their
abuse of natives on the islands at which they stop. Jacob Steendam depicts
New Amsterdam as a maiden raped by English Swine: a counter to familiar figurations
of America as a willing bride to English conquest, or the rescued victim of
its ravishing natives.
- Beyond the diversity of sectional perspectives here, and the common ground
between them, it is the hybridity of individual selections that often makes
for the most striking and disruptive intervention. Many of the writers newly
collected here have been obscured to date not just because they have fallen
through the mesh of a narrowly pre-national U.S. history, but because they
sit uncomfortably even within the more expansive categories of a pluralist
approach. John Lederer, for instance, like Hans Staden a migrant German who
lived in America under the auspices of a foreign colonial nation, was resented
by English-speaking Virginians for his role in exploring and describing their
territory. This apparently marginal figure, who in reality played a central
role in the cultural mapping of his colony, brings marginal concerns to the
centre of his map. Like his predecessor Staden, Lederer foregrounds the intercultural
skills required by a traveller amongst the Indians, providing a particularly
striking perspective on one of the most famous encounter stories of early
American history: the legend of Pocahontas. John Smith would have benefited
from Lederer's advice that the traveller prepare to be treated ceremonially
as a prisoner on entering an Indian village, however friendly his relations
with the inhabitants. Across the three sections of the anthology, many of
the new inclusions are authored by figures analogous to Lederer: figures apparently
marginal to those paradigms through which we frame colonial cultures yet in
reality central in their capacity to negotiate highly unstable cultural geographies.
One such figure is Felipe Guamán Poma de Ayala, an Inca who worked closely
with the Spanish in Peru, and who produced a huge manuscript history of Christendom
documenting the Conquest. Guamán Poma de Ayala offers advice in an imaginary
dialogue with Philip III on how colonial administration might be stabilized
through more equitable treatment of the natives and stricter regulation of
corrupt colonial bureaucracies. Another such figure is Prince Hall, a black
Freemason who fought tirelessly for abolition, but also preached loyalty in
the 1770s to the existing civil institutions of British colonial government.
- The writing of the acculturated Inca and the counter-revolutionary black
bourgeois pose singular challenges even to that pluralist pedagogy which allows
neat slots for timeless native "voices" and slave narratives. Another kind
of challenge is posed by generic misfits and mediations. Alongside a range
of revealingly analogous attempts by European writers to translate America
into neoclassical form, it's particularly heartening to find Richard Lewis's
Augustan poetry in this new anthology. Like so many of the writers included
here, Lewis, a Maryland schoolteacher, is a retrieval: a writer of whom most
students and teachers of early American literature will have heard little
if anything before. Yet Lewis's is not a private voice newly publicized. His
attempts to pastoralize the American landscape were sufficiently well known
in his day to earn ridicule in Pope's Dunciad. As such he sits slightly
outside the primary remit of his editors, and brings me to my sole reservation
with this generally excellent anthology.
- If recent revisions of the American canon have been driven by two distinct
if related impulses--a poststructuralist concern with subjectivity and power,
and a materialist concern with the politics of textual culture--the editorial
ethos of this anthology leans markedly towards the former. The editors remark
in their general preface, for instance, that they have preferred "personal
narratives" over "public works" as more "revealing of colonial subjectivity."
This comment begs several questions. Many students and teachers may think
that it is precisely public, and indeed popular, works that tell us most about
the cultures within which they circulated: not just about writers, but about
readers. This is why we read Benjamin Franklin when we study American literature,
as well as the great yet sometimes distinctly un-popular novels of the American
Renaissance, and it is certainly why we are beginning to read popular writers
such as Susanna Rowson. Many may also think that genre is just as formative
of subjectivity in the ostensibly "private" as in the "public" work. Witness
the many highly formulaic journals and spiritual autobiographies included
here. And it is precisely in the area of genre and the cultural work it does
that much of the most interesting scholarship has been going on in recent
early American studies, shedding new light on the earliest American novels
and most recently on drama. This anthology has little to say to these developments,
not just because it includes almost no material from either genre--a decision
defensible on formal and practical grounds--but also as a product of its approach
to subjectivity, history and the text.
- While sorting the selections into generic categories might have inhibited
the interplay of diverse voices intended by the editors, students do need
to know a little more about what the authors of these texts thought they were
writing. In many instances, and particularly in the case of previously obscure
selections, I wanted to know more about the print or preservation history
of the text. While we are given a good biography of the Creole poet Sor Juana
Inés de la Cruz, for instance, we are told little about the circulation, preservation
and generic form of her extraordinary poetry and drama. Without this context
we are in danger of reducing the highly specific cultural mediations performed
by her writing to generic poststructuralist categories of marginality and
resistance. This reduction helps students bridge the historical gap within
which they might lose their own issues of subjectivity and identity, a leap
which the editors undoubtedly intend. But it also compromises another editorial
objective of this anthology: that of resisting teleologies which point to
the formation of the modern (American) self, and of honouring the difference
of a truly pre-national, early modern America. A little more editorial work
in a future edition would address these reservations, strengthening an anthology
that, as it stands, is remarkable and groundbreaking.
Responses to this piece intended for the Readers'
Forum may be sent to the Editor at M.Steggle@shu.ac.uk.
Matthew Steggle (Editor, EMLS).