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”Like Moses on the Nile: Competing Temporalities in Seventeenth Century French Travels to the Caribbean”
Uppsala University, Disciplinary Domain of Humanities and Social Sciences, Faculty of Languages, Department of Modern Languages, Romance Languages.
2015 (English)Conference paper, Presentation (Other academic)
Abstract [en]

This presentation investigates a common rhetorical strategy in French Early Modern travelogues to the New World, namely to place the history of the colonies within a classical and biblical time-frame. It interrogates the ways in which travelers frame the historical narrative of the Americas with a mythological European temporality by linking it to the politics of colonization and missions, and to the poetics of French early modern travel accounts to the Caribbean. Drawing from studies by Réal Ouellet, Frank Lestringant and Anthony Padgen, the aim is to offer a thorough analysis one of the dimensions of temporal complications in Baroque travelogues, and outline new theories for understanding temporal operations in the poetics of travel writing. The chapter takes as its point of departure one of the most representative travelogues Histoire générale des Antilles habitées par les François (1654; 1667-71), written by Dominican missionary Jean-Baptiste Du Tertre. Here the French colony is at one point compared to Moses on the Nile, to the twins on the Tiber, and Joseph in the well. Such temporal juxtapositions place the colony's American adventure in the lineage of a European heritage as if the author let the “sigh of History” sweep over the Caribbean as a supplement for what Derek Walcott has described as the region’s absence of ruins. But more importantly, I argue, they infuse the text with competing temporalities pointing backwards and elsewhere while at the same operating as a prolepse, hinting to the future. For the destiny of the mythic figures evoked by Du Tertre points toward the success that the colony will soon achieve. On the one hand, the chapter studies metaphors, iterations and visual images used to create a coherence within the layered and competing temporalities at play. On the other, it shows how travels like Du Tertre embeds the story of French colonialism with a sense of moving forward, toward the future and a new American community to come, at the same time as this very movement is based upon an “inscription” in the European mythical past. The texts narrating the initial French colonization of the islands hence part from the common use of Rome as a political model and an allegory of empire. The focus is not on France being a replica of Imperial Rome laying other nations under her feet. The target is the colonizing process from the perspective of the settlers. This creates a constant paradoxical movement between here and there, then and now resulting in a challenging attempt to capture a Caribbean colonial, or creole, temporality, which still resonates in contemporary postcolonial Caribbean writing. 

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
Keyword [en]
Travel Writing, Ancient and Moderns, Caribbean Studies, narrative temporalities, Du Tertre
National Category
Research subject
Romance Languages; Literature
URN: urn:nbn:se:uu:diva-281732OAI: oai:DiVA.org:uu-281732DiVA: diva2:915443
Temporalities in European Travel Writing
Available from: 2016-03-30 Created: 2016-03-30 Last updated: 2016-03-30

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Kullberg, Christina
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