6.0110 Final R: Discovery (1/61)

Elaine Brennan & Allen Renear (EDITORS@BROWNVM.BITNET)
Wed, 1 Jul 1992 11:59:13 EDT

Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 6, No. 0110. Wednesday, 1 Jul 1992.

Date: Fri, 26 Jun 1992 09:32 EDT
Subject: One more on the Discovery thing

Well, I guess a question has been asked and answered. Eisinger
says "who cares" and several interested parties answer, stating
elaborately and eloquently just _why_ they "care." This is the
same question that students often ask about a particularly diffi-
cult text which refuses to divulge its meaning obviously and
without question. This is also a question often asked of the
genre of discovery literature in general, because it exists at
the periphery of several disciplines (history, archaeology,
literary studies to name a few). As a Canadian I "care" about
minor and badly written narratives because they risk being
forgotten altogether if I don't, and then there will be even less
to define us against the American "other" which lurks to the
south (or the arctic "other" which looms above). Also, many of
these badly written narratives turn out to be fascinating as they
weave their cultural and structural ambiguities. They have
interesting relationships with more canonical texts as well.

Additionally, the _well_ written, though anonymous (although
"NNTP server account" is a kind of identity), posting states:
John E. Koontz argues that the Norse exploitation of
Newfoundland and other parts of North America enabled
their Greenland colonies to survive. Yet those colonies
eventually died out, so Eisinger's basic point remains
There are some who think that the colony did not "die out," but
rather, assimilated with the Eskimo population who hunted in the
northern areas. The Norse gradually abandoned their
agriculturally based settlements and adapted to the native's way
of life. This is an important point since it concerns the con-
stitution of a "people." This may be the case of a "difference"
which is not merely erased, but incorporated into the body of a
culture. This difference is also "something" which may not be
able to be recuperated through any amount of critical discussion.

Another point is that although many of us do care, we obviously
care about different things. Eisinger states:
In short : if we can prove that Egyptians came to
America it proves that they were able to do so but it
doesn't change anything on our vision of precolumbian
america UNLESS we prove these Egyptians had an
influence on the natives.
I don't know if the Egyptians example is wild speculation or not,
but if we knew for sure that they came, wouldn't that then
_inevitably_ change the way we perceived the landscape they
arrived at before us? Wouldn't it be different just because we
had accumulated more knowledge about it? Hopefully it would
alter the way we perceived the whole "Columbus thing." To say
that even though something happened it "doesn't change anything"
(the absoluteness of this phrase is terrifying) is to take a rad-
ically empirical standpoint. Additionally, because many of these
pre-Columbian voyages have produced texts (oral, written,
archaeological) there is even more reason to think that
_something_ has happened and is changed.

Ted Parkinson
McMaster University
Hamilton, Ontario