Saturday, 3:30-5pm

306 Wheeler

Moderator: Jane Raisch


Gaby Wyatt (UC Berkeley)

Ethnografitti: Unauthorized Becomings in Jean de Léry’s History of a Voyage to the Land of Brazil

This paper uses Jean de Léry’s 1578 memoir/ethnographic account of Brazil’s Tupinamba Indians to explore the multiple valences of “translation” in early modern ethnography.  By translation, I refer both to the process by which foreign, unassimilable information is rendered legible to the traveler, and the change that the encounter with the new renders within the traveler. I argue that de Léry organizes his visual encounter with the Tupinamba as a Christianized and temporalized narrative that characterizes them, albeit tenuously, as both pre- and postlapsarian. This visual description of the Tupinamba stands in contrast to his later description of their song, which he claims “ravishes” him, and continues to resound in his ears nearly two decades after his journey.  While visuality allows de Léry to spatially and temporally order his encounter with the Tupinamba, their song is profoundly disordering.  “Articulation” functions in two senses, both as the formation of “joints” that allow de Léry to recount his encounter with the Indians as temporal and narratable, and also in terms of the Tupis’ song that paradoxically disarticulates the narrative he constructs.  By examining how visual and auditory sense is made and unmade in the text, I suggest that de Léry’s account offers an alternative to the standard understanding of early modern travel narratives as proto-Imperialist documentations of one-sided power dynamics.   Instead, the text demonstrates a process by which the attempt to organize the other both creates and reveals the fissures in the self.


Ashley Williard (City University of New York)

From Conversion to Translation: Père Raymond Breton’s Treatment of the Island Carib Language

The Early Modern Caribbean was a space in which language served as both barrier and potential pathway to the New World other for European colonists. In this paper, I examine Dominican missionary Father Raymond Breton's studies of the Island Carib (or Kalinago) language in relation to a discourse of self-definition in seventeenth-century France.

The missionary's texts are contextualized by the attempted transformation of the French language on the part of intellectuals, from François de Malherbe's desire to purify and unify French to Claude Favre de Vaugelas' insistence on the authority of the social elite over language. The members of the Académie française took such intents still further as they vowed to cleanse French to clarify meaning and elevate the language to its unique capacity for expressing abstract concepts.

Breton reflects this unifying intent by presenting his dictionaries and translations as, above all, evangelizing tools. His deciphering at once allows the ethnological translation of the Kalinago for his fellow missionaries and the translation of the catechism for the indigenous people's eventual conversion. Breton describes the Carib language as demonstrating an absolute lack of religion, a void which requires French words to represent Christian ideas.

However, Breton's texts also reveal the presence of a diversity of influences among intermingling languages within the Carib language and an increasingly fragmented French. While attempting to present language as a unifying force, Breton's dictionaries give way to the plurality of colonial encounters and reflect larger anxieties regarding the impending threat of cultural hybridity.

Ashley Williard is a Ph.D. student in the French program at the CUNY Graduate Center, where her research centers on representations of gender in the 17th century French Caribbean.  She has taught French at York College, in the CUNY Graduate Center Language Reading Program, and presently, at Medgar Evers College and is also currently working in the CUNY Writing Across the Curriculum program as a Writing Fellow.


Emi Foulk (UCLA)

Textual Inarticulacy in Kokugaku's Linguistic Utopia

The language theory of Kokugaku, an umbrella term encompassing various schools of 17th through 19th century Japanese nativist thought and philology, revolves around the polemic against Chinese logography and the rejection of the Japanese writing system as alloglottographic. For Kokugaku scholars, the gap between the Japanese vernacular and its written expression using an “alien” script produced an ontological disconnect between words and things, which in turn was faulted for the societal maladies that were thought to plague Tokugawa Japan.  At the center of the Kokugaku linguistic problematic lies kundoku, a method of reading, rearranging, writing, and interpreting “Chinese” logography (not language) with a Japanese morphology.

My paper examines how Kokugaku thinkers effectively transformed kundoku into what Barthes has called a mythic, or second order semiological, system, enabling the imagination of a “pure” Japanese language inherently immune to problems of equivocality. Here, the primary signified content of the logographic text is a priori disarticulated: its literal sense is sublated to a general intention, the valorization of Japan over China. Yet, at the same time, the mythic objective is “frozen, eternalized, made absent” by the text’s lingering literal sense. An unadulterated, interior Japanese language cannot be present without being negated, its claim to sacrality dependent on a textual inarticulacy. This ideological indeterminacy was far from innocent, and, in the 20th century, Kokugaku linguistic theories were filled out politically with notions of Japanese exceptionalism and militaristic nationalism.

Emi Foulk is a Ph.D. student in Early Modern Japanese intellectual history at UCLA. She plans on writing her dissertation on the language theories of Tokugawa period nativists.