A close reading of V.S. Naipaul’s A Bend in the River (1979).


Bigburger pictures looked like smooth white lips of bread over mangled black tongues of meat. (97)


Bigburger: Singular pronoun. Bigburger—“The Big One,” (ibid) curiously set opposite the Big Man, the president—is not merely a brand, product or franchise, it's a pseudo-state, assuming the role of accommodating refugees (99) and constituting the "New Domain" by rivaling the state's role in growing local real estate. Indeed, Bigburger represents Mahesh's "coup", (97) presumably displacing, or at the very least challenging, the Big Man's authority with the backing of international capital's new colonialism.

Pictures: Plural noun. Graphic representations of the Bigburger universe, conceived, manufactured and shipped in from the white outside. These representations interestingly condition our narrator's perception of that outside—in the end, after all, Bigburger becomes a sort of outside, resembling his notions of the U.S., (98) at least in that it provides a space of escape from "real Africa" (100).  These pictures contrast the photographs of the State Domain, which serve the same function in reverse, following an Africa-Europe trajectory.

Looked: Verb, preterit tense, indicating vision, or more generally, perspective. In this case the perspective can be assumed to be that of the narrator, wrapped up in all the complexities of his very fluid subjectivity.

Like: Conjunction, grammatically indicative of union between two clauses: here the representations (i.e photos) and our narrator’s interpretation of them. This term also embodies a sense of approximate resemblance, qualifying that interpretation as subjective and dependent upon the narrator's subject-position as a third-generation African of Indian descent whose loose use of the subject pronoun ‘us’ often includes characters of Indian, Middle-Eastern or European origins as well as Africans. At different times, all of these subjects are equally set up as others depending on the narrator's chosen point of view.  

Stepan, Nancy Leys

Stepan, Nancy Leys. Picturing Tropical Nature. Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2001.

Picturing Tropical Nature looks at the ways the tropics, tropical people and tropical diseases have been represented over the past two centuries. Decidedly anti-post-structuralist, Stepan works under the assumption that the accounts, illustrations, photographs and gardens that she analyzes symbolically represent a guiding mentality, thus the material she looks at is not considered to possess and exercise its own power, based on its position at the nexus of cultural transformations (as Andermann, Rowe et al, would have it). Instead, Humboldt’s depiction of the Andean volcanoes, Chimborazo and Cotopaxi; Wallace’s tale of eating a monkey; Agassiz’s anti-Darwinist (casta) photos; the images of elephantiasis and Chagas’s disease; Roberto Burle Marx’s landscape designs; all of these are examples of media symbolically endowed with the ideas of their authors and their times. (To keep track, I’ll list the person, representations and world-view that she deals with below.)

This point of view troubles me because—well, because I would tend to side with the post-structuralists—but my concern is that, by not taking into account the role these representations play in determining, as much as reflecting, the popular tropical theories of their time, Stepan is loosing sight of a major variable. She has chosen each figure and their representations because she says they mark a significant change in the way tropical nature is portrayed. But by only focusing on the ideology they represent, without much consideration of how they influence formation of ideologies, we miss out a lot of the story.

Poole, Deborah

Poole, Deborah. “Landscape and the Imperial Subject: U.S. Images of the Andes, 1859-1930” In Close Encounters of Empire: Writing the Cultural History of U.S.-Latin American Relations. Ed. Gilbert M. Joseph, Catherine C. LeGrand, and Ricardo D. Salvatore. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 1998, pp. 107-38.

Poole uses three visual representations of Latin American landscapes—Frederic Edwin Church's Heart of the Andes (1859), an 1868 engraving by Ephraim George Squier, and a photograph done by Hiram Bingham in 1913—to question the role of the visual in constituting Said's "pleasures of empire." She also leverages these images to examine different periodizations of visual imperialism, or three distinct “visual regimes” (131), as she calls them: 1) one pertaining to a trancendentalist mode of possessing the subject through representation, aligned with Manifest Destiny; 2) another characterized by the quantification of experience; and a final period 3) coinciding with the modernist abstraction of form and content in which the attainment of a “new view” supercedes (indeed, according to Pool, erases) that which is represented. Poole argues that each of these three periods marks a distinct way in which the “imperial gaze”(131) was manifest.

Resorting to Emerson’s individualism (111), and Locke’s and Jefferson’s ideas of nature as property (115), Poole looks at Church’s Heart of the Andes as the embodiment of this first period. Literally, she speaks of the way the painting—through techniques of production (mirror-like, glossy surface, no clear foreground to clarify POV) and presentation (separate, spaced panels, dark room, single image)—evokes a sense of disembodiment in the viewer (the transcendentalism) and evoked a sense of utopian and desocialized nature (116). This, she argues, is an aesthetic project that can be closely correlated with the possessive thrust of Manifest Destiny, in which a false notion of wilderness as empty property bolstered homesteading projects and fueled westward expansion.

Pizarro, Ana

Pizarro, Ana. “Imaginario y discurso: La Amazonía.” Revista de crítica literaria latinomaericana Vol. 31, No. 61 (spring, 2005): pp. 59-74.

“Imaginario y discurso” presents a survey of the ways in which the Amazon has been discursively constructed since the first explorations of the sixteenth century. Pizarro divides the textual representation of the Amazon into three borad periods: 1) The period of initial exploration in which discourse was conditioned by a poetics of the fantasitc and inspired by preconfigured tropes inhereted from travellers' attempts to sell their projects to metropolitan funders and by their prior knowledge of the travel genre (Marco Polo, etc.); 2) the period characterized by “reasoned” scientific travel in which discourse was marked by attempts to categorize the unknown world; and finally 3) the period that coincides with the rubber boom, in which discourse has no prior imaginary, but instead principles are used as a benchmark to measure reality, be them capitalistic values—as is the case with Julio Arana's testimony to the British House of Commons—or humanistic ones—Walter Hardenburg.
To demonstrate these shifts in discourse Pizarro resorts to a brief analysis of a few exemplary texts from each period:

Taussig, Michael

Taussig, Michael. “Culture of Terror—Space of Death: Roger Casement’s Putumayo Report and the Explanation of Torture.” Comparative Studies in Society and History 26 (1984): pp. 467-497.

Taussig begins by describing the space of death as a broad, liminal space that can be seen as a threshold between oppositions: it is where hope fades to death, where victimiser needs victim, where myth is made into truth, and where an inability to comprehend becomes understanding (469). Ultimately, it is that space where the culture of the conqueror is bound to that of the conquered. (468) Yet, as the space of death is a space of cultural encounter, Taussig places urgency on creating a subversive cultural politics, which he sees as something achieved through a poetics of counterdiscourse.

To theorize the space of death, Taussig draws from Foucault's injunction to see “historically how effects of truth are produced within discourses which are in themselves neither true nor false” (from Power/Knowledge  p. 118) and subordinates it to Benjamin's idea of the dialectical intertwinement of the mysterious and the mundane. (469) Warning about the danger of aestheticizing horror in the search for a powerful and effective counterdiscourse, he emphasizes the need for a poetics that engages violence dialectically, without trivializing it. In a riff off of Frederick Karl's description of Heart of Darkness, Taussig suggests that such a poetics of counterdiscourse would be able "to penetrate the veil while retaining its hallucinatory quality." (471)

Méndez Gastelumendi, Cecilia

Méndez Gastelumendi, Cecilia. El poder del nombre, o la construcción de identidades étnicas y nacionales en el Perú. Lima: Instituto de Estudios Peruanos (IEP), 2002.

Breaking her article into six parts, Méndez begins by relating her work to contemporary debates about inclusion and nationhood as can be seen in the final report of the Comisión Investigadora de los Sucesos de Uchuraccay, named by Belaúnde and presided by Vargas Llosa. She argues that the report―on the killing of 8 journalists in the Huanta region of Ayacucho in 1983 and the subsequent trial of Uchuraccay community members―bears witness to, and reinforces, some of the common stereotypes attributed to the so-called “iquichanos.”

She next relates her struggles in the archives. In the second section “el sentido de lo no hallado” she ties space to subjectivity, concluding that “iquichano” and the related place of origin “Iquicha” are the products of a process of identity construction that began with the anti-republican rebellion of 1826-1828. As none of her sources could demonstrate exactly where Iquicha was nor, therefore, whom could be identified as iquichano (and, importantly, that no reference to either term can be found before 1825), she speculates that it was precisely the lack of official demarcation that eventually led many restorationist campesinos to identify with it. (18)
In the following section she assesses the seemingly ironic acceptance of the term as a moniker of self-representation on the part of Huanta campesinos following independence and particularly after they sided with Obregoso and Santa Cruz in their resistance of Cuzcan  general Gamarra's attacks (1833-1834). This acceptance is ironic when baring in mind the way town mayors, in a series of petitions to the perfect in 1831, chalked up their plight―poor agricultural conditions, slow recovery from the '26-'28 rebellion―to their having been victims of the “corifeos del partido quichano” (18-19, from petitions).