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Transportasi dalam Struktur Naratif Riwayat Perjalanan ke Amerika di Era Viktorian

Ari Adipurwawidjana

Abstrak

Riwayat yang disajikan penulis Britania era Viktorian tentang perjalannnya ke Amerika mengasumsikan adanya sebuah jaringan prasarana transportasi. Sistem transportasi terkait dengan riwayat perjalanan (travel narrative) dalam tiga hal, yaitu (1) sebagai basis material bagi perjalanan, (2) sebagai substruktur riwayat, dan (3) sebagai pokok pembicaraan dalam riwayat itu sendiri. Buku Domestic Manners of the Americans (1832) merupakan model bagi cara infrastruktur transportasi menentukan aspek naratologis, yaitu urutan dan perspektif dalam struktur naratif riwayat perjalanan. Karya tersebut juga menyajikan transportasi sebagai pokok pembicaraan dalam teksnya itu sendiri walaupun tidak sejauh sebagaimana yang tampak pada The Amateur Emigrant (1895) karya Robert Louis Stevenson. Dalam hal ini, The American Scene (1907) karya Henry James juga relevan karena, walaupun tidak secara gamblang membicarakan transportasi sebagai topik dan tidak pula menampakkan ciri-ciri riwayat perjalanan, karya tersebut merepresentasi cara wawasan Britania-Amerika trans-Atlantik dianggap sebagai sesuatu yang lumrah. Kelumrahan dalam hal ini dapat dipahami baik dalam arti given atau taken for granted maupun sebagai perihal yang berkaitan dengan waktu (dalam bahasa Arab لمره) mengingat bahwa transportasi bagi kedua belah pihak di kedua sisi Atlantik menganggap perjalanan trans-Atlantik sebagai semacam perjalanan menembus waktu sebagaimana tampak pada riwayat yang lain. Dengan demikian, riwayat perjalanan era Viktorian mencatat ketidaknyaman para penulis Britania abad kesembilanbelas terhadap transformasi sosial ke sistem kapitalis yang direpresentasi secara metaforis oleh pemahaman mereka tentang Amerika.

Kata-kata kunci: travel narrative, Viktorian, Fanny Trollope, Robert Louis Stevenson, Henry James, transportasi, wisata, infrastruktur, materialisme budaya

Dalam kurun waktu antara berangkatnya Frances Trollope[1] dari London menuju Amerika pada tahun 1827 dan terbitnya Domestic Manners of the Americans pada tahun 1832, Amerika Serikat sebagai negara berdaulat masih dalam proses mendefinisi diri, dan bangsa Amerika belum lagi mapan. Setelah memperluas wilayahnya ke utara dengan mengalahkan Inggris pada Perang 1812[2] dan menguasai Florida sebagai sebuah wilayah territorial pada tahun 1822, Amerika Serikat masih harus berurusan dengan masalah resistensi bangsa Cherokee dan Seminole dengan mengupayakan hijrah paksa ke sebelah barat sungai Mississippi. Selain itu, Amerika Serikat masih belum  dapat menentukan status politik warga keturunan Afrika dalam republik yang baru saja didirikan tersebut, sebuah isu yang melibatkan masalah perbudakan (dan abolisi terhadapnya) dan kolonisasi Liberia. Negara Amerika Serikat dan bangsa Amerika masih dianggap sebagai “the great experiment,” yang menjadi topik menarik bagi penulis Britania[3]. Trollope sendiri memutuskan menulis bukunya karena

[a]lthough much has already been written on the great experiment … on the other side of the Atlantic[4], there appears to be still room for many interesting details on the influence which the political system of the country has produced on the principles, tastes, and manners, of its domestic life. (Trollope, 1997: 7)

 

Pernyataan Trollope tersebut bukan saja menunjukkan bahwa memang ada kepentingan bagi pihak masyarakat pembaca Inggris, sebagaimana yang tampak dari banyaknya tulisan yang dikatakan telah dihasilkan tentang Amerika Serikat, melainkan juga bahwa kawasan Atlantik dipahami sebagai sebuah entitas regional yang mencakup Amerika Serikat dan Britania Raya. Selain itu, dalam “Unpublished Preface from the Rough Draft of Domestic Manners of the Americans” Trollope mencatat bahwa “the [American] people are so strangely like us, and so strangely unlike us; the connection with us so close, yet the disunion so entire; speaking the same language, yet having hardly a feeling in common” (1997: 319-320). Pernyataan tersebut menyiratkan lebih jauh tentang adanya sebuah masyarakat trans-Atlantik dan juga adanya kepentingan Inggris atas Amerika.

Buku Fanny Trollope sebagaimana pula karya lain yang menurutnya telah ditulis tentang Amerika merupakan contoh “such texts [which] can create not only knowledge but also the very reality they appear to describe [emfasis asli]” (Said, 1978: 94). Dengan kata lain, riwayat perjalanan tentang Amerika oleh penulis Inggris seperti Trollope turut melenggengkan konsep tentang kawasan trans-Atlantik dengan cara mendokumentasi dan memvalidasi keberadaannya dengan cara melekatkan definisi dan makna kepada kenyataan mentah. Lagipula, riwayat perjalanan era Viktorian ini meneguhkan pemahaman bahwa

worldliness, circumstantiality, the text’s status as an event having sensuous particularity as well as historical contingency, are considered as being incorporated in the text, an infrangible part of this capacity for conveying and producing meaning. (Said, 1983:39)

Artinya, teks memiliki signifikansi sedemikian rupa sehubungan dengan relasi antara manusia dan dunia nyata yang dihuninya karena kenyataan material merupakan determinan diskursif yang terjalin dalam kompleksitas teks itu sendiri. Dengan demikian, dari perspektif materialis kultural, haruslah diidentifikasi “landasan sesungguhnya (die reale Basis) yang di atas dibangun (erhebt)” superstruktur sebagai “keseluruhan ‘ideologi’ sebuah kelas: ‘bentuk kesadarannya;’ cara konstitutif memandang dirinya dalam dunia” (Williams, 1977:  76-77). Hal ini demikian karena wawasan, yang dibangun teks sebagai ”bentuk kesadaran” tersebut, berlandaskan sebuah basis ekonomi, sebuah infrastruktur material. Dalam halnya riwayat perjalanan ke Amerika di era Viktorian, infrastruktur ini berupa sebuah kompleks luas sistem transportasi, yang mencakup jalur pelayaran trans-Atlantik dan jejaring prasarana darat di masing-masing sisi Atlantik. Jaringan sistem transportasi inilah yang telah mendukung ekonomi internasional trans-Atlantik sejak Kolumbus melakukan pelayaran pertamanya di abad kelimabelas.

Memang sesungguhnya, transportasi dan prasarana yang mendukungnya merupakan unsur-unsur sentral bagi riwayat perjalanan. Sementara dalam wacana naratif pada umumnya ada asumsi bahwa terjadi “perjalanan” ke dalam dunia naratif, dalam riwayat perjalanan masalah transportasi mendapat makna yang harfiah. Si penulis riwayat sebagai perawi atau narator memang masuk ke dunia yang diriwayatkannya dan memang kenyataannya perjalanan ini berfungsi untuk memvalidasi atau menyahihkan pernyataan-pernyataan yang diajukannya tentang dunia naratif tersebut. Kenyataan bahwa si penulis riwayat perjalanan (katakanlah, ar-rawī wal-musafir) memang berada di lokasi yang diamati, didokumentasi, dan diriwayatkan dalam teks sudah memberi asumsi bahwa ia telah memanfaatkan infrastruktur yang ada. Bagi para musafir dan wisatawan zaman Viktorian yang bepergian ke Amerika ketersediaan sarana dan prasaran transportasi ini memiliki signifikansi lebih karena, tidak seperti para “explorer” Britania yang terlibat dalam “treks to distant, unfamiliar, ‘exotic’ and uncharted lands” (Morgan, 2001: 24), mereka melalukan perjalanan dalam batas-batas dunia yang mereka sudah kenal. Dengan demikian, perjalanan ke Amerika serupa dengan yang dilakukan ke daratan Eropa. Dalam batas-batas kawasan geografis ini basis ekonomi dan superstruktur ideologis sudah saling meneguhkan setidaknya selama tiga abad. Jalur pelayaran, jalan darat, dan rel kereta api telah memfasilitasi perjalanan, dan riwayat tentang perjalanan pun telah menjadi alasan bagi pemeliharaan jaringan transportasi tersebut. Morgan lebih jauh mengamati bahwa pada tahun 1830an saja sekitar 50.000 orang per tahun berlayar dari pelabuhan-pelabuhan Inggris, dan banyaknya pula tulisan tentang perjalan tersebut menunjukkan adanya industri perjalanan yang sedang berkembang pesat di abad kesembilanbelas (2001: 14). Bahkan sesungguhnya, Morgan selanjutnya mengatakan bahwa sedemikian pentingnya gejala yang disebutnya “touring frenzy” di Britania era Viktorian sehingga hal tersebut “affected not only the reading public, but also the landscape in Europe’s and Britain’s towns and countryside” (2001: 15).

Namun, perjalanan ke Amerika memiliki signifikansi lebih daripada sekedar berkembangnya sebuah industri karena hal itu dapat dipandang sebagai perjalanan ke wilayah yang dapat dianggap sebagai perpanjangan dari Britania sendiri. Hal ini disiratkan oleh ambivalensi yang dinyatakan Trollope bahwa orang Amerika itu sangat serupa dengan sekaligus sangat berbeda dari orang Inggris. Seorang musafir seperti Trollope dengan mudah menerima begitu saja penggunaan bahasa Inggris dan adanya sarana dan prasarana transportasi walaupun ia pun menunjukkan kekaguman akan  alam dan kekhasan lokal yang dilihatnya di Amerika.  Ambiguitas dalam membaca riwayat perjalanan ke Amerika Serikat mirip dengan ketidakjelasan tentang betul tidaknya

the early colonization of Australia should be viewed as a part of a coherent narrative—about politics, about criminal justice, or about imperial expansion—or a fragment, a development that had no defensible contemporary cause and which could only look toward an uncertain and perilous future.” (Benis, 2003: 287)

 

Bedanya, dalam kasus pandangan terhadap Amerika, pihak Britania bukan mempermasalahkan isu keadilan pidana melainkan lebih ke isu keadilan sosial karena bermigrasinya warga Britania ke Amerika Serikat dilakukan atas kehendak sendiri—setidaknya di abad kesembilanbelas[5]. Ditransportasikannya para pelaku tindak pidana ke Australia merupakan cara menangani “the crime wave of the 1790s: inflation, unemployment, and near famine conditions brought on by bad harvests have driven British men and women to steal” (Benis, 2003: 288). Serupa dengan itu, Stevenson dalam The Amateur Emigrant mengamati bahwa para penumpang yang menempati dek terbawah merupakan kalangan

[l]abouring mankind [who] had in the last years, and throughout Great Britain, sustained a prolonged and crushing series of defeats … a company of the rejected; the drunken, the incompetent, the weak, the prodigal, all who had been unable to prevail against circumstances in the one land, were now fleeting pitifully to another; and though one or two might still succeed, all had already failed (1921: 16-17).

 

Amerika menjadi sebuah tujuan pengasingan sukarela sebagaimana Australia menjadi tujuan pengasingan yang dipaksakan oleh pihak pemerintah. Keduanya didorong oleh keadaan ekonomi dalam negeri Britania yang mendesak warga kelas buruh.

Dapat pula dikatakan bahwa permasalahan ekonomi dalam negeri serta  kebutuhan akan sumberdaya dan pasar yang lebih luas, yang tidak dapat diperoleh di dalam negeri, juga merupakan basis material bagi ekspansi imperial Britania. Karena itu, kondisi-kondisi tersebut pun menjadi motif bagi pembangunan jalan darat dan rel kereta api Amrika dan jalur pelayaran trans-Atlantik. Inilah kebutuhan, sebagai yang disitir Dunbar, menyebabkan “the growth of the [British] white man’s travel system in America and his subjugation of the continent” (1937: 57). Selanjutnya Dunbar menyatakan bahwa “white travel resulted in more demands to buy land, more purchases, permanent white occupation and curtailment of [Native American’s] territory and natural means of subsistence” (1937: 61). Maka, jelas bahwa kisah perjalanan orang Inggris ke Amerika di abad kesembilanbelas dan pembangunan sistem transportasi tumpang tindih dengan sejarah imperialisme Anglo-Amerika, yang dimulai oleh kolonialisme Britania di abad ketujuhbelas dan dilanjutkan di abad kesembilanbelas oleh politik ekspansionisme pemerintah Amerika Serikat di bawah Andrew Jackson.

Jadi, ketika Fanny Trollope tiba di “the soil of the new land, of  a new world” dan merasakan “considerable excitement and deep interest in almost every object that meets [her]” (1997: 12), sesungguhnya agenda perjalanannya selama tiga tahun dan enam bulan melalui berbagai daerah Amerika Serikat tersebut telah tertata, dan alur riwayatnya—sampai taraf tertentu—sudah terbentuk. Jika Trollope dalam bukunya menyajikan dirinya sebagai salah satu dari orang yang disebut Morgan sebagai

self-proclaimed ‘travellers’ [who] distanced themselves from and denigrated ‘tourists’ by depicting them as passive, dependent followers of the beaten track laid for them by rail companies, guidebooks and entrepreneurs such as Thomas Cook (2001: 10)

 

agar dapat menyahihkan pernyataan-pernyataannya tentang “domestic manners” bangsa Amerika dan juga tentang kehidupan sehari-hari di sana dengan merujuk pada dirinya yang memiliki “aesthetically sensitive, independent spirits, bent on avoiding well-trodden paths and thus experiencing other places and peoples in an original, authentic way [emfasis saya sendiri]” (Trollope, 1997: 14); hal itu semakin menunjukkan betapa sarana transportasi itu telah dipersepsi sebagai bagian yang tak terpisahkan dari lanskap Amerika dan ketersediaannya dianggap lumrah oleh si musafir Britania.

Trollope sama sekali tidak mempermasalahkan kenyataan bahwa ia memulai perjalanan dan domisili sementaranya di Amerika Serikat di New Orleans, bahwa ia menikmati warisan pendirian New Orleans sebagai pelabuhan utama bagi perkebunan di Louisiana. Padahal, ekonomi perkebunan Louisiana didukung oleh tenaga kerja budak yang dianggapnya sendiri sebagai sebuah kejahatan sosial yang secara imoral dipelihara masyarakat Amerika Serikat. Ia mengabaikan—kemungkinan besar tanpa sadar—kenyataan bahwa kedatangannya dimungkinan oleh satu segmen perdagangan Altlantik utara, yang

memanfaatkan  arus berputar Samudra Atlantik, yang dengan demikian menghindari arus utara dan menghasilkan laba yang lebih besar … [dengan cara berlayar] ke arah selatan dan arus Kepulauan Kenari ke Afrika Barat [tempat] mereka mengambil ‘kargo’ budak belian, dan berlayar dengan angin dan arus yang mendukung dan arus ke barat ke kawasan Karibia dan daerah selatan Amerika.

(Franck dan Brownstone, 1984: 277)

Walaupun penulis riwayat perjalanan seperti Trollope tampak mengabaikan mudahnya bepergian karena ketersediaan sarana dan prasarananya, tidak berarti berkurangnya signifikansi transportasi bagi para musafir Britania dan hubungannya dengan proses periwayatan perjalannya tersebut. Fungsi transportasi sebagai basis material bagi dibangunnya riwayat perjalan, sebagaimana yang telah dibahas tadi, meletakkan riwayat dan proses periwayatannya dalam sebuah konteks historis sehingga menunjukkan keterlibatan riwayat dan proses periwayatan dengan dinamika khas sosio-politis yang melingkunginya.  Situasi-situasi spesifik ini

meletakkan batasan pada para penafsir dan penafsirannya bukan karena situasinya tersembunyi dalam teks sebagai sebuah misteri melainkan karena situasi tersebut berada pada tataran surface particularity yang sama dengan objek tekstualnya itu sendiri [emfasis saya tambahkan sendiri]. (Said, 1983: 39)

 

Artinya, jika proses pembacaan yang kritis dipahami sebagai proses berhadapan dengan teks dengan melihat cara teks tersebut beroperasi, dan jika dipahami pula bahwa masalah transportasi begitu terpatri dalam dalam riwayat perjalanan, dapatlah disimpulkan bahwa peran infrastruktur transportasi bisa dipandang sebagai semacam strukturnya pula.

Jadi, secara umum, jelas pola naratif riwayat perjalanan era Viktorian ke dan di Amerika Serikat tampak dicirikan oleh kebergantungan si musafir pada jalur, jalan, dan segala sarana yang tersedia. Ciri naratif ini tampak pada dua tataran naratif, yang menurut teori naratif strukturalis dimiliki semua teks naratif; atau, tepatnya, semua riwayat terdiri atas sebuah struktur ganda. Selalu ada “kisah (histoire), isi atau serangkaian peristiwa (tindakan dan kejadian), serta yang dapat disebut sebagai existent (tokoh, objek-objek yang ada di latar); dan wacana (discours), yaitu proses pengungkapannya, cara isi tersebut disampaikan” (Chatman, 1978: 19). Dalam teks-teks naratif yang pertama senantiasa tampak gamblang dan tidak jarang pula berada di pusat struktur naratifnya. Namun, struktur yang satunya lagi tidak selalu berada di permukaan teks. Dapat saja didalilkan bahwa struktur ganda ini merpakan struktur universal bentuk riwayat karena adanya riwayat sudah mengasumsi adanya pihak yang meriwayatkannya. Namun demikian, banyak pula riwayat yang memberi kesan bahwa peristiwa yang berada di hadapan pembaca merupakan peristiwa  otonom sebagaimana peristiwa yang “nyata.” Dalam hal ini, ada seorang perawi atau narator tersembunyi di balik permukaan riwayat, yang keberadaannya, bagi pembaca yang kepentingan utamanya adalah rangkaian eristiwa yang membangun riwayat, mungkin saja tampak tidak relevan. Akan tetapi dalam hal riwayat perjalanan kedua struktur tersebut signifikan. Sang perawi sekaligus penulis riwayat selalu gamblang (bukan tersembunyi. Ia pada waktu yang sama meriwayatkan hal-hal yang diamatinya  di tempat-tempat yang dikunjunginya dan juga kondisi yang melingkungi perjalannya.

Ada dua aspek naratologis yang secara khusus signifikan dalam kaitannya dengan struktur naratif riwayat perjalanan era Viktoria dan fungsi transportasi sebagai  determinan, yaitu urutan dan perspektif. Genette memprasarankan, bahwa “urutan temporal rangkaian  peristiwa dalam sebuah kisah dan urutan pseudo-temporal dalam penataannya dalam riwayat” merupakan unsur dasar dibangunnya sebuah struktur naratif (1980:).   “Teori naratif strukturalis,” menurut Chatman, “mendalilkan bahwa penataan[6] [peristiwa yang membangun alur] lah yang merupakan operasi yang dijalankan wacana. Peristiwa dalam kisah dijadikan alur oleh wacananya sebagai modus penyajian” (1978: 43). Dengan demikian, pada tataran wacana, dapat diamati bahwa cara peristiwa diatata dalam penulisan riwayat perjalanan era Viktorian tidak menampakkan tidak adanya efek dramatis yang menjadi landasan penting bagi genre naratif lainnya yang juga cukup populer di zaman itu, yaitu fiksi naratif. Henry James dalam The American Scene, yang dapat dipandang sebagai upayanya mencoba menuliskan kisah kembalinya dirinya ke Amerika Serikat, berusaha agar ada sesuatu yang

lurk beneath this … to thicken the plot from stage to stage and to intensify the action” karena “nothing could be more to the occult purpose of the confirmed, the systematic story seeker, or to that even of the mere ancient contemplative person curious of character. (1947: 12).

James sendiri tidak merumuskan unsur pengikat yang mengikat peristiwa-peristiwa dalam riwayat perjalannya itu sehingga selaras dengan konvensi alur fiksi Viktorian yang lekat dengan dirinya sebagai pengarang kanonikal aman itu baik dalam tradisi kesusastraan Britania maupun Amerika. Alih-alih, ia beranjak dari satu adegan ke adegan yang lainnya hanya berdasarkan kenyataan bahwa dirinya sebagai titik fokal narasinya sendiri berpindah sebagai seorang musafir dari tempat yang satu ke tempat yang lain.

Maka, sebagaimana dicontohkan dalam pola naratif James, dapat dikatakan bahwa riwayat perjalanan era Viktorian merupakan pewaris fiksi Inggris abad kedelapanbelas, bukan sekedar karena yang pertama secara kronologis memang berkembang setelah yang kedua dalam konteks sejarah kesusastraan Inggris, melainkan lebih karena ia memiliki ciri-ciri naratif yang serupa dengan fiksi Inggris zaman sebelumnya. Karena bergantung pada adanya jalan, rel kereta api, dan jalur perairan, riwayat naratif era Viktorian bersifat episodik sebagaimana Tom Jones karya Henry Fielding atau Humphrey Clinker karya Tobias Smollet, atau bahkan lebih. Ia memulai kisah di pelabuhan masuk mana saja si perawi kebetulan berada pada awal perjalanannya; dan kemudian maju ke tempat manapun yang dibawa kereta kuda, kereta api, atau kapal uap. Tidak ada konflik tematis yang menggerakkan urutan naratif dalam hubungan sebab-akibat. Dengan demikian, si musafir sebagai tokoh protagonis riwayatnya sendiri disajikan sebagai tokoh picaresque, yang sikapnya terhadap tema dan pokok pembicaraan yang disajikannya pun turut berubah seiring dengan berpindahnya si tokoh dari episode yang satu ke episode yang lain.

Perubahan sikap yang senantiasa terjadi ini juga dimungkinkan oleh aspek lain wacana naratifnya, yaitu perspektif. Genette mendefinisi aspek ini sebagai cara teks naratif

meregulasi informasi yang disampaikannya, bukan sebagai semacam penyaringan, melainkan berdasarkan kapasitas pengetahuan peserta dalam kisah (seorang tokoh atau sekelompok tokoh), dengan cara mengadopsinya atau tampak mengadopsinya riwayat hal yang lazim kita sebut sebagai ‘pandangan’ atau ‘sudut pandang’ si peserta; riwayat tampak dalam hal ini…menggunakan, sehubungan dengan kisahnya, satu atau lain perspektif [emfasis asli]. (1980: 162).

 

Dalam riwayat perjalanan ke Amerika di era Viktorian, kendaraan dan jalur yang dilaluinya berfungsi sebagai sebuah ruang ambang (liminal) yang senantiasa dihuninya beserta musafir yang mengendarainya. Posisi ini memungkinkan perawi menjaga jarak tertentu dari lingkungannya sehingga ia tetap bertahan dengan statusnya sebagai pengunjung tetapi cukup dekat sehingga memiliki perspektif yang memadai agar dapat memperoleh informasi yang cukup agar dapat memasukkannya ke dalam riwayatnya.

 

IV. Transportasi sebagai Isu Tematis

Namun demikian, masalah perspektif ini lebih daripada sekedar perkara struktural. Aspek ini merupakan lokus bagi pemberian makna atas perjalanan karena “perjalanan melibatkan ditinggalkannya situasi sosial dan kultural rutin, dan karena itu mengasingkan [estranges]si musafir dari yang dikenalnya” (Morgan, 2001: 10). Stevenson berkata serupa dalam riwayatnya:

Ada dua macam perjalanan dan perjalananku menyeberangi lautan ini menggabungkan keduanya…Aku bukan saja pergi ke luar negeriku dalam hal garis lintang dan bujur, tetapi keluar dari diriku dalam hal makanan, kenalan, dan pertimbangan. Sebagian dari ketertarikan dan banyak kesenangan mengalir, setidaknya untukku, dari situasi baru ini (1921: 88).

 

Hal tersebut membuka peluang bagi dirinya untuk dapat berada di tengah-tengah Liyan sehingga ia dapat memiliki wawasan penuh yang strategis atasnya agar dapat membuat pernyataan tentangnya. Status ini menganugerahkan kekuasaan yang besar karena naik ke posisi

di atas kekinian, melampaui diri, ke dalam wilayah asing dan jauh” memungkinnya memandang lingkungan sekitarnya sebagai objek pengetahuan, yang “secara inheren rentan terhadap pemeriksaan[7]…. Memiliki pengetahuan tentang sesuatu sama dengan menguasainya[8], memiliki wewenang atasnya. Dan kewenangan di sini berarti ‘kita’ menyangkal otonominya…karena kita mengetahuinya dan ia ada, dalam makna tertentu, sebagaimana kita mengetahuinya. (Said, 1978: 32)

 

Lebih penting lagi, hal tersebut terkait dengan pandangan ambivalen para penulis riwayat perjalanan Britania terhadap bangsa Amerika, sebagaimana yang dicontohkan kutipan dari riwayat Trollope di awal tulisan ini. Karena itu, keluhan yang senantiasa tersebar dalam riwayat mereka tentang betapa kampungannya orang Amerika atau tentang betapa bangsa Amerika terobsesi dengan upaya mengejar uang harus dipandang sebagai gejala yang lebih daripada sekedar kecerewatan yang mengemuka dari keangguhan etnosentris bangsa Inggris. Trollope, dalam penilaian akhir atas masyarakat Ameria menegaskan:

if refinement once creeps in among them, if once they learn to cling to the graces, the honours, the chivalry of life, then we shall say farewell to American equality, and welcome to European fellowship one of the finest countries on earth. (1997: 318)

Ini lebih daripada sekedar semacam ancaman embargo kultural atas yang diberlakukan kekuatan peradaban Eropa atas bangsa Amerika yang vulgar. Hal ini juga menunjukkan kekhawatiran tentang yang dapat terjadi terhadap bangsa Britania[9] itu sendiri dengan melihat Amerika sebagai cermin yang menayangkan Liyan sebagai imago Dirinya. Perjalanan memang bukan sekedar kesempatan bagi si musafir memandang Liyan melainkan juga bagi transformasinya menjadi “pengamat seksama atas kebudayaan dirinya dan orang lain” (Morgan, 2001: 10). Hal ini berkenaan sekali dengan kasus musafir Viktorian di Amerika karena, walaupun ia memiliki kebanggaan tentang bangsanya, mereka tidak dapat menyangkal bahwa ia memiliki afinitas dengan objek pengetahuannya.

Khususnya bagi James, ambivalensi ini bersifat sangat signifikan karena ia terikat pada kedua wilayah geografis tersebut. Riwayatnya tentang perjalanannya kembali memberi kesaksian atas temuannya bahwa sebuah “perpetual passionate pecuniary purpose … derides and devours” kampung halamannya, yaitu New York. (1947: 111). Serupa dengan cara infrastruktur transportasi mengambil kekuasaannya sebagai “the systematic story-seeker,” yang merintangi upayanya memberi makna kepada perjalanan; kekuatan ekonomi saat itu sedang dalam proses mengubah dunia yang dikenal wawasan Viktorian.

 

V. Penutup

Perspektif yang dioperasikan dalam struktur naratif karya James dan Trollope mennghalangi kedua pengamat seksama kehidupan dan alam Amerika ini dari melihat yang gamblang. Trollope dan Stevenson tampak bersikukuh dalam menegaskan bahwa mereka memiliki status sebagai seorang lady dan seorang gentleman walaupun jelas—sebagaimana yang dilihat Setevenson pada sesama penumpang dek terbawah kapal, dan yang enggan diakui Trollope ada pada dirinya—bahwa perubahan ekonomi di tingkat global sedang terjadi di penghujung abad kesembilanbelas, yang mendorong dan memungkinkan orang bepergian menyeberangi Samudra Atlantik dan kembali lagi dengan mudah karena tersedianya sarana dan prasarana. Namun demikian, James yang membandingkan dan menyandingkan masyarakat Anglofon di kedua sisi Atlantik dalam seluruh karirnya sebagai penulis, dan yang dirinya sendiri merupakan personifikasi dari diri trans-Atlantik, dalam haya penulisannya yang yang penuh manuver, sesungguhnya menyiratkan adanya transformasi ini. Perjalanannya ke sisi Amerika identitasnya mengarahkan dirinya pada penemuan, seiringan dengan renungannya tentang konstruksi yang baru sebagai ganti yang lama, bahwa “the monuments of pecuniary power rise thick and close” (1947: 212). Ia selanjutnya menyatakan:

This acquaintance, as it practically been, with the whole rounding of the circle (even though much of it from a distance), was tantamount to having sat out the drama, the social, the local, that of a real American period, from the rise and fall of the curtain—always assuming that truth of the reached catastrophe or dénouement” (213).

 

Karena terkait secara biografis dengan kedua sisi Atlantik, James dapat melihat bahwa perjalanan ke Amerika secara metaforis mengikuti arah perkembangan sistem ekonomi global. Seiring dengan menjalarnya jaringan jalur pelayaran,, jalan darat, dan rel kereta api ke arah barat, riwayat perjalan Britania Britania abad kesembilanbelas, sebagaimana terbangun dalam citra dirinya sendiri, mendokumentasi ekspansi ekonomi kapitalis yang tidak lama kemudian akan mendefinisi Britania Raya dan juga Amerika Serikat. Pada saat yang sama, riwayat-riwayat tersebut, menyuarakan keengganan bangsa Inggris dalam menghadapi akhir kerangka berpikir Viktorian yang diwakili mereka sendiri.

 

Daftar Pustaka

Benis, Toby R. 2003. “Transportation and Narrative.” Criticism Vol. 45 No. 3, hlm. 285-299.

Chatman, Seymour. 1978. Story and Discourse: Narrative Structure in Fiction and Film. Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press.

Dunbar, Seymour. 1937. A History of Travel in America. New York: Tudor.

Franck, Irene M. and David M. Brownstone. 1984. To the Ends of the Earth: The Great Travel and Trade Routes of Human History. New York: Facts On File Publications.

Genette, Gérard. 1980. Narrative Discourse: An Essay in Method. Terj. Jane E. Lewin. Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press.

James, Henry. 1947. The American Scene. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons.

Morgan, Marjorie. 2001. National Identities and Travel in Victorian Britain. Houndmills: Palgrave.

Said, Edward W. 1978. Orientalism. New York: Vintage.

—. 1983. The World, the Text, and the Critic. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press.

Stevenson, Robert Louis. 1921. The Amateur Emigrant and the Silverado Squatters. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons.

Trollope, Frances. 1997. Domestic Manners of the Americans. London: Penguin.

Williams, Raymond. 1977. Marxism and Literature. Oxford: Oxford University Press.


[1] Frances Trollope (1779-1863) adalah ibu dari penulis modernis ternama Anthony Trollope. Karya-karyanya yang lain, yang berpendirian anti-perbudakan konon mempengaruhi penulis Harriet Beecher Stowe.

[2] Kehadiran kekuatan Imperium Britania di sebelah barat Amerika Serikat menjadi penghalang bagi perdagangan internasional karena Inggris masih berkonflik dengan Perancis yang menguasai beberapa bagian utara dan notabene merupakan sekutu Amerika Serikat serta persaingan antara Angkatan Laut Kerajaan Inggris dan kapal-kapal dagang Amerika Srikat. Selain itu, Inggris pun mendukung resistensi bangsa-bangsa pribumi trehadap upaya ekspansi Amerika Serikat.

[3] Walaupun dalam tulisan ini saya sering menggunakan istilah ”Britania”  sebagai sinonim ”Inggris,” sesungguhnya keduanya harus dibedakan satu sama lain.

[4] Frase inipun menyiratkan bahwa di Britania pun ada wacana tentang eksperimen sehubungan dengan upaya transformasi sosial secara revolusioner.

[5] Pada awal kolonisasi Amerika oleh bangsa Britania, memang salah satu alasan migrasi adalah pengasingan para narapidana sebagai ganti menjalani hukuman penjara.

[6] Berkaitan dengan masalah penataan rangkaian peristiwa dalam sebuah riwayat—baik yang fiktif maupun yang non-fiktif Northrop Frye menawarkan juga istilah ”emplotment” dan ”mythos” dengan merujuk kepada konsep-konsep yang diajukan Aristoteles dan para ahli teori sastra Aristotelian.

[7] Said menggunakan kata “scrutiny.” Saya menggunakan kata “pemeriksaan” dalam arti sebagaimana polisi memeriksa tersangka, jaksa memeriksa terdakwa, dan hakim memeriksa perkara; atau sebagaimana seorang auditor memeriksa pembukuan, guru memeriksa ujian, atau dokter memeriksa pasien.

[8] Misalnya, karena seseorang mengetahui ilmu atau cara melakukan sesuatu, dikatakan ia menguasai hal tersebut.

[9] Harus diingat juga bahwa pemahaman tentang Britania sebagai sebuah bangsa pada saat itu merupakan hal yang relative baru dibandingkan pemahaman tentang Inggris sebagai sebagai entitas politik.

On Mina Loy’s Poetry

Laying Out the Exiled Body: Notes on the Spatial Structure of Mina Loy’s “Anglo-Mongrels and the Rose”*

Ari Adipurwawidjana

This piece of writing assumes, on the mere basis of the title, that the issue of the historical exile due to race and gender is the underlying notion around which Mina Loy’s “Anglo-Mongrels and the Rose” revolve. In the first encounter the poem shows itself to be a labyrinth of words. It demands what any text, be it an advertisement or the utterances of a psychoanalyst’s patient on a sofa demands: to be understood. Fulfillment of such a task entails the revelation of an identity. However, that identity is manifest through the disembodied voice the existence of which can only proven by the existence of the body of the poem.

Despite the aforementioned general assumptions about texts, I will not attempt to interpret the long, three-sectioned poem as such, and therefore, neither will assume that it is in fact semi-autobiographical. Meaning through signification will not be the end of the reading. The project will not be to ask what the poem means but rather what it does. It will attempt to see how the poem operates due to the poem’s resistance to, or at least evasion from, interpretation. Therefore, as a number of writers who have set out to take on the interpretive task in the face of Loy’s poetry, I will initially look at the condition out of which the poem was born, namely Mina Loy’s person and her career as an artist.

First, this condition shows that Mina Loy is a manifest feminist, who declares:

The Feminist movement as at present instituted is inadequate, that women should cease to place their confidence in economic legislation, vice-crusades and uniform education, that they should deny at the outset that pathetic, clap-trap war cry Woman is the equal of man [my emphasis].” (qtd. in Potter “Waiting” 258)

This statement gives some light as to how to approach her poem. Clearly, it suggests that Loy does not trust legislation, the most formal manifestation of the Law, and that she insists on refraining from submitting to the rhetoric of “rights,” which defines the civic place of men. Therefore, one step, which I shall take in this project, is to resign from the task of interpretation, to refrain from assuming that Loy’s poem operates under the auspices of the symbolic procedures of linear patriarchal language. After all, it is a poem, and therefore, I shall assume the semiotic approach to poetic language as proposed by Kristeva.

Furthermore, Potter remarks that in lieu of the “rights-based focus of existing feminist politics,” Loy in her feminist manifesto of 1914 proposes that “women’s liberation would be most effectively consolidated through the surgical destruction of virginity in pre-pubescent girls” (Potter “Waiting” 258). This implies that if Loy were to make a statement, she would do so not by means of the linguistic-symbolic but out of the somatic-semiotic. This suggests that what would adequately serve the field on which her creative forces work is the spatial chora. This is understandable considering the fact that Mina Loy was a visual artist and theatrical performer as much as she was a poet. Therefore, a portion of this task of approaching Loy’s poem prior to any daring attempt of reading is to glance at the general composition of some of her paintings, drawings, and collage and compare them to the way her poem is laid out on the two-dimensional page so as to map out the ideas that come together to form the poem.

However, it would be quite misleading also to assume that the poem is the representation of her body. Though metaphors of physicality are prevalent in the poem, the poem is only a body as it is the body for the voice of the subject in the poem. Nevertheless, this subject is not a unitary consciousness. As the focus and perspectives shifts from Exodus, the exiled Jewish
father; Ada, the imperial rose mother; and Ova, the mongrel-rose daughter, the voice also alters. Neither does each of these figures form any kind of centrality for each section. The father is not the archetypal father. He is an exile begotten out of a gentile mother and consequently also a “disinherited” father (22). Exodus is then doubly disinherited, and as Jew in a European world, he is thus doubly exiled. His mother’s revealing to him that “he was seven month’s child” (210) when he “leapt from the womb” (5) suggests that he still in a way belongs in the womb and is continuously trapped in the imaginary held back from becoming a man.

The poem, both in its sections and its entirety, is decentered in its semantic structure leaving numerous gaps in the textual mesh. On the printed page, the poem clearly shows visible spaces between words. These spases may be seen as an element in the set of visual peculiarities of the poem. In general, these spatial and visual features take the place of conventional punctuations. If it may be assumed that punctuation represents the suprasegmental aspects of spoken language, it may also be understood that punctuation operates under the same linearity as speech, which characterizes
patriarchy. Thus, it can be concluded that the visual and spatial features represent the general breaking away from linearity and therefore also patriarchal language.

While the language of the Law regulates the symbolic function, the chora lays out the field for the body to dance in. In Loy’s “Anglo-Mongrels and the Rose” spaces between words and lines indicate that the poem operates within the semiotic function allowed by the spaces provided by the chora. In conventional syntax, words occupy a one-dimensional line which uncompromisingly regulate words into a series. The spaces in this particular poem of Loy’s—not many show this characteristic\—open additional levels of space into which the word can slip out of linearity and obtain a oblique relationship with other words in the poem, revealing a visually apparent collocative and associative relationship. In lines 64 to 72, the words in a line are separated into spaces, which in a way creates two columns. The columns create a space for words to relate to each other in addition to the line:

 

An insect from an herb
errs on the man-mountain
imparts its infinitesimal tactile stimulus
to the epiderm to the spirit
of Exodus
stirring the anaesthetized load
of racial instinct frustrated
impulse infantile impacts with unreason
on his unconscious

 

If forced into a linear syntactic structure, the lines would read: “An insect from an herb errs on the mountain-man[,/and] imparts its infinitesimal tactile stimulus to the epiderm, to the spirit of Exodus, stirring the aenesthetic load of racial instinct, frustrated impulse, [and] infantile impacts with unreason, on his unconscious.” My attempt to provide appropriate punctuations and conjunctions shows that the conventional mechanics of linear language would impose a singular understanding of the relationship between, for example, “errs” and “imparts” by either appropriating a comma or an “and.” However, the choral space, which the poem has opened, makes it possible for the two verbs to have a harmonious ambivalent relationship. This is characteristic of the whole poem’s being “heterogeneous to meaning but always in sight of it or in a negative or surplus relationship to it” (Kristeva 133). In other words, it resists meaning but its resistance recognizes the impending weight of meaning in language, albeit poetic, allowing either complete denial of any kind of linguistic significance or a variety of possibilities for meaning. It variably and simultaneously terminally disables and infinitely enables the interpretive act directed toward it.

 

It is important to observe that the spaces also form a framework of lattices, which resemble the way lines grid the space in her visual art. Consider Le Maison en papier.

While the bodies of the six characters overlap and intertwine, the segmentation of the paper wall of the bathhouse helps configure the spatial relationship between them. The frame simultaneously connects them into the whole of the space and emphasizes the individuality of each body.

Also, the creation of that extra space allows the second column to collocate vertically developing the allusion of “man-mountain” to Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels down to “the tactile stimulus,” to finally “his unconscious” implies that even the minutest violation of the body is a numbing of consciousness. What is more important is, however, that the breaking of linearity with a possible logic perpendicular to it\suggests Loy’s surgical renting of the textual hymen as the seal of the Law’s ownership of the individual body.

Unlike the number of critics which tend to lean too exclusively toward a feminist interpretation in the sense that Loy’s poetic resistance solely voices the damaging impact of patriarchy on the female subject, I see that “Anglo-Mongrels and the Rose” depicts the Law to enforce its power in a trinity of mutually fortifying avatars: patriarchy, capital, and empire.

The poem does not focus singularly on the feminine-gendered subject. It begins with the fractured identity of Exodus as well as both his parents suffering the marginalization of an oppressive social structure. Exodus, despite his being male, is not depicted to be inheritor of the masculinity of the Law. He has

 

[…] grown    
neglected      along the shores of the Danube
on the Danube in the Danube
-or breaking his legs behind runaway horses-
      with a Carnival quirk
      every Shrove Tuesday (6-11)

 

Exodus’s surrounding element is fluid and his relationship to it is varied. He is associated with the carnival, which Kristeva, with reference to Bakhtin, identifies as the opposite of linear narrative (88). The spatial placement of Exodus’s location in relation to the Danube is also interesting. The participle “neglected” is flushed to the left margin in line with “on the Danube in the Danube.” This spatial collocation suggests the exiled quality of being neglected with locative fixity. On the other hand, the implied choral festiveness of the Carnival and Shrove Tuesday is aligned with the fluid aspect of the Danube. Thus, in parallel simultaneity Exodus’s non-location outside the Law is presented as both being denied it and free from it.

Nevertheless, this exiled character constantly portrayed to have the desire to penetrate the limitations which separates him from the realm of the empire similar to the ambivalent relationship he has with the Jewish community:

Imperial Austria taught the child
the German secret patriotism
the Magyar tongue the father
stuffed him with biblical Hebrew and the
seeds of science exhorting him
to vindicate
his forefather’s ambitions
Kouidis remarks, seemingly likening Loy’s use of spaces to Dickinson’s dashes, that “[t]he internal spaces reflect pauses of the intuition and leaps into the subconscious” (181). I would agree insofar that intuition is associated with the chora. However, to suggest that the spaces represent pauses would be indifferent to what I think is Loy’s effective use of space in the act of writing. Though obviously the poem comes into being as an enactment of Loy’s creative imagination and her imaginings of her own coming to being, the poem on the page at the moment that it is manifest on the
page becomes a separate entity detached from its authorial origin. Mina Loy afterwards merely functions as the author as a textual aspect. According to Foucault, “author” functions as a “figure” to which the text points and is attributed, but understood to be “outside it and antecedes it” (Foucault 264). It is characterized by the contemporary conventions about “[t]he form of ownership from which [texts] spring,” about the “types of texts [requiring] attribution to an author,” about the author’s being “the result of a complex operation which constructs a certain rational being that we call ‘author,'” and about notions of origin and authenticity (Foucault 268-270). In short, the author function is just a convenient personification of the voice of the text itself. It is quite obvious that Ova is the parallel of Mina Loy, and her relation to Exodus and Ada resembles that of Loy’s to her parents. However, the whole structure of the poem points to a voice attributed to a personage known as Mina Loy. In that sense, not only Ova but also Exodus and Ada are poetic incarnations of Mina Loy.

This is the main problem with Mina Loy criticism so far. It is too preoccupied with her person, partly because the text’s evasiveness directs the interpretive enterprise toward the more stable, more centered figure of the writer’s person and because Mina Loy herself is somewhat a text. Her range of aesthetic endeavors forms a spectrum consisting of her body in one extreme, and in the other her photographic performance as a model, her visual art, and her poetry. It must be kept in mind that the aesthetic form with which Dickinson works is quite different from Loy’s. Dickinson was not a public speaker, nor was she a well-developed visual artist. Her explorations with possibilities of writing were thus limited to whatever cracks and loopholes language provided.

More importantly, the development in and prevalence of print technology made it possible for Loy to play with more typographical variants than Dickinson, whose dash is really just the printer’s interpretation of obscure markings (definitely the sign of the chora) on her manuscripts. Loy’s “Anglo-Mongrel and the Rose” is virtually bereft of punctuations in the conventional sense. The poem retains the function of the capital letter as the sign for the beginning of a sentence, but, reasonably enough does away with periods to mark the end. It also keeps the conventional usage of double quotes, which marks direct speech, and single quotes, which signifies unique word usage. There are special typographical characters commonly used as punctuation, which in “Anglo-Mongrels and the Rose” function in a different way from their normal utilization, namely hyphens (in sets of one, two, three, and five) and multiplication signs in sets of three. The latter set always functions as a marker separating certain stanza units from another. The former, however, are situated in the poem in a variety of ways suggesting a similar diversity of functions.

In most instances, the markings fill in spaces much in the same way as words. They may function as signifiers for a language with no signifieds. Or, they may represent signifiers for signifieds lay in the poem’s own subjectivity. Either way, the poem indicates that non-linguistic elements are in play and causes the breakdown of linguistic integrity. Such a textual instance occurs when Exodus as the intruder of the empire first meets Ada as the feminized, perfect form of the empire:

And the rose

rises

from the green

of a green lane

rosily-stubborn

and robustly round

– – – – –

Under a pink print

sunbonnet

the village maid

scowls at the heathen

Albion

in female form

salutes the alien Exodus

staring so hard—

warms his nostalgia

on her belligerent innocence

– – The maidenhead

drooping her lid

and pouting of her breast

– – forewarns

his amity

– – – – –

Amorphous meeting

in the month of May

– – – – –

(449-473)

Amorphous it is. The poem underlines the destructiveness of the event both by its self-referential comment and the disintegration of its syntactic structure. The hyphens open an entrance to the poetic chora
as the ambiguity of physical gestures initiate the collapse. The maidenhead offers the ambivalence which mixes the untouchable, immaculate image of the Virgin Mary and the forbidding hymen/tempting vagina, that is both impenetrability and invitation. Similarly, the “pouting of her breast,” in itself neutral, becomes double-edged: either disapproval or affirmation. In the moment of crisis, her initial stately appearance and threatening looks upon the trespasser succumbs to Exodus’s “staring so hard.” It is not a sudden defeat either. Something happened between line 454 and 455, as indicated by the five-hyphen intrusion. Then after line 458, her position shifts with indentation, while the stable post of the left margin is taken over by Exodus with his penetrating gaze. This violent moment on woman’s body as the seal of the authoritative purity and grandeur of the empire resemble the crushing effect of decorum for the interest of the male gaze as displayed by Loy’s drawing “Consider Your Grandmother’s Stays.”

The woman seems to be squeezed by the overwhelmingly space-occupying dress until her arms and head appear to dangle out of her disappearing torso. Ironically, Loy herself had had the experience of being constricted by the male gaze. In a photograph taken by her husband Stephen Haweis, the image of Loy’s body more closely resembles the falling apart of Ada’s presence in the poem than her drawing:

In the picture Loy’s identity “is reduced to a voyeuristic fetish, her body is exposed as the object of the violence of the male (gaze)” (Goody 278). Like the “maidenhead | drooping her lid,” Loy cannot return the gaze of the male camera.

However, it is Exodus that penetrates the emblem of the empire. This Exodus earlier in the poem is sent to live with “Sinister foster-parents | who lashed the boy | to that paralysis of | the spiritual apparatus | common to | the poor” (40-45). And later on in his life he joins “voluntary military | service paradise of the pound-stirling [sic] | where the domestic Jew in lieu | of knouts is lashed with tongues” (56-59). Each character within their respective sections is marginalized and victimized, but bring about the eventual violence of another. The marriage of Exodus and Ada results in the birth of Ova. Her birth is not a miracle:

Her face
screwed to the mimic-salacious
grotesquerie of a pain
larger than her intellect
– – – – They pull
A clotty bulk of bifurcate fat
out of her loins (674-680)
Again the hyphens appear in the liminal instance upon the coming to existence of another body within the choral space. It a transitional space between the grotesqueness of giving birth and being born, the sheer physical labor, where the rigid strictures of language cannot function. It is the Kristevaean abject. Out of this indescribable event outside the realm of the law is the image and voice of the artist, in whose person “Jesus of Nazareth | becomes one-piece | with Judas Iscariot in this composite | Anglo-Israelite” (725-729). As she is born out of this in-between space, through it also she squeezes into the symbolic order:
And instantly
this fragmentary
simultaneity
of ideas
embodies
the word
A
lucent
iris
shifts
its
irradiate
interstice
Mina Loy’s “Anglo-Mongrel and the Rose” is not a labyrinth after all. Its non-linearity, ambiguity, and ambivalence indicate its exhaustion of the potentials of poetic language and extensive exploration. Her use of non-letter typographical characters and space “creates a dense, multi-layered text which elaborates and synthesizes connections among personal, cultural, social, and moral” (Jaskoski 351). It is the same explorative spirit which she seeks from shifting from one media to another, much in the same way her poetry moves up and down the page. Unfortunately, it is her exploration in the spaces of the chora in various fields that she disappeared from the memory of academic scholarship, until her rediscovery by Virginia Kouidis. For Loy poetry is the process of “defining her own place within the ‘spatiality’ of poetry” (Burke 137). In her lifetime, she had expanded that poetic space into the realms of various media, which the ever-changing subject of “Anglo-Mongrel and the Rose” has found through the crevices of rigid linear language.

References

Burke, Carolyn. “Becoming Mina Loy.” Women’s Studies 7 (1980): 137-150.

Foucault, Michel. “What Is an Author?” Trans. Donald F. Bouchard and Sherry Simon. In Contemporary Literary Criticism. Eds. Robert Con Davis and Ronald Schleifer. New York: Longman, 1989: 263-275.

Goody, Alex. “Ladies of Fashion/Modern(ist) Women: Mina Loy and Djuna Barnes.” Women: A Cultural Review 10.3 (1999): 267-282.

Jaskoski, Helen. “Mina Loy Outsider Artist.” Journal of Modern Literature 18.4 (1993): 349-368.

Kouidis, Virginia M. “Rediscovering Our Sources: The Poetry of Mina Loy.” Boundary 2 8.3 (1980): 167-188.

Kristeva, Julia. Desire in Language: A Semiotic Approach to Literature and Art. Trans. Thomas Gora, Alice Jardine, and Leon S. Roudiez. Ed. Leon S. Roudiez. New York: Columbia University Press, 1980.

Nicholls, Peter. “‘Arid Clarity:’ Ezra Pound, Mina Loy, and Jules Laforgue.” The Yearbook of English Studies 32 (2002): 52-64.

Potter, Rachel. “At the Margins of the Law: Homelessness in the City in Mina Loy’s Late Poems.” Women: A Cultural Review 10.3 (1999):253-265.

—. “Waiting at the Entrance to the Law: Modernism, Gender, and Democracy.” Textual Practice 14.2 (2000): 253-263.

Alternative Versions of the American Nation

 

Re-membering Identity and Negotiating Nationhood: William Apess’s Proposal for a Hybrid America

Ari Adipurwawidjana

Abstract

The writings of William Apess are representative of a particular narrative strategy which early nineteenth-century Native American voices employed to negotiate their place in the formation of a new American nation. The greater bulk of early American writing could easily present the American national self in reference to either its association to or disassociation from the British crown or a particular church. It presents a person’s life as not only an individual (with particular bodily features and ailments) and a member of the local body politic (secular and religious) but also in constant reference to the developments that occurred in England just as the ideal and the peccant individual is presented as an issue of its being unified and intact (with corresponding dress and behavior), the body politic (local and trans-Atlantic) is described to be held together by  the existence of functioning civic infrastructures, public services, and social institutions. However, writers like Apess, who identify themselves as natives, were in a more difficult position. The fact that the new American nation was being built on the land over which Native Americans are in the position to claim exclusive natural rights as their homeland makes total absorption inconceivable. Nevertheless, historical experience has also shown that complete resistance has been impracticable. Taking advantage of historicist, I would like to argue that while Apess’s writings show that there are efforts to be absorbed in the dominant discourse through, for example, conversion to Christianity, acknowledgement of U.S. laws, and, most importantly, the taking on of writing in English as the medium of expression (with the rhetorical techniques conventionally employed at the time), they represent a strategy to bargain for the inclusion of Native American identity in the formation of the new (hybrid) American nation.

 

 

In an essay entitled “An Indian’s Looking Glass for the White Man” published in 1833 as the concluding piece of The Experiences of Five Christian Indians of the Pequot Tribe, William Apess makes the statement:

I know that many say that they are willing, perhaps the majority of the people, that we should enjoy our rights and privileges as they do. If so, I would ask why are not we protected in our persons and property throughout the Union? Is it not that there reigns in the breast of many who are leaders, a most unrighteous, unbecoming and impure black principle, and as corrupt and as unholy as it can be—while these very same unfeeling, self-esteemed characters pretend to take the skin as a pretext to keep us from our unalienable and lawful rights? I would ask you if you would like to be disenfranchised from all your rights, merely because your skin is white, and for no other crime? (156)

Here, Apess assumes that Native Americans are inherently part of the Union of states on the east coast of the North American continent although he also admits the fact that their “persons and property” are denied membership in this Union. The above statement claims that Native American exclusion of the American nation is mostly expressed in terms of physical features: “the skin as pretext to keep us from our unalienable and lawful rights.” In other words, the very reason for their omission from the American body politic is their Native American body.  The color of their skin becomes a “crime” that justifies exile from society, as if it were the mark of Cain.

Apess’s bringing forth the issue of the skin-color as a deficiency reminds us of the manner by which writers such as Samuel Sewall, Jonathan Edwards, and Mary Rowlandson emphasize physical ailments and weaknesses in the effort to underline the strength of the communal body held together by common conviction and dependence on legal documents and religious scriptures. However, Apess clearly asserts that skin-color is not an acceptable ground for alienation and dispossession.  He argues:

Did you ever hear or read of Christ teaching his disciples that they ought to despise one because his skin was different from theirs? Jesus Christ being a Jew, and those Apostles certainly were not whites—and did not he who completed the plan of salvation complete it for the whites as well for the Jews, and others? … And you know as well as I that you are not indebted to a principle beneath a white skin for your religious services, but to a colored one. (158)

Thus, Apess’s appeal for inclusion is completely textual. The fact that the essay follows five Native American conversion narratives further highlights his argument that the Indian can serve as a looking glass through which the white man may identify himself. What Apess is implying here is that he is not attempting to request acceptance but rather reminding the white majority that they are historically already one people. He points out his belief that the white man’s Christian identity is due to the colored people’s inclusion of them, and therefore it is only appropriate for whites to acknowledge their common affiliation. Apess does not only use the scriptures as textual evidence but he also invokes the language of the U.S. Constitution as the basis on which the American nation is constructed, in whose body individual persons and property must be protected as their “unalienable and lawful rights,” regardless of physical appearance. Thus, although the incorporation of bodies and their material possessions into the American body politic seems to be the ends for his argument, he insists that the bodies themselves can neither characterize nor found the polity.

Indeed, even Apess’s body of work does not find complete acceptance. It is recognized and characterized in the scholarship and criticism of early nineteenth-century American literature as Native American writing. Writings by those who identify themselves as Native Americans (or as Indians as well as members of a particular indigenous nation) in fact have received acknowledgement as part of the American canon, if at all, quite late, even compared to works by African-American writers. Apess, who produced and published a considerable number of works in his lifetime, it was only in 1994 that his works were collected into one book. Despite the historical significance of his social activism and works he is excluded from such conservative anthologies of American literature as the Prentice Hall Anthology of American Literature edited by McMichael et al., which nonetheless includes the works of African-American writers such as Olaudah Equiano, Frederick Douglass, and Harriet Jacobs.

Furthermore, criticism discussing Native American writing in the context of American writing in general seems to tend to bring itself into a problematic sphere. One significant element which often surreptitiously enters into the discussion is the critic’s own cultural inclinations in viewing these texts. In her analysis of the writing of William Apess, Carolyn Haynes points out that even Arnold Krupat, a major scholar of Native American literature, is prone to take on what Gilroy calls “cultural insiderism,” founded on “an absolute sense of ethnic difference” (qtd. in Haynes 25). Such a perspective assumes that an a priori unified consciousness constitutes the subject of the text. It also supposes that identities are exclusive and essential. This issue has greater weight in discussions of Native American autobiographies, in which the voice of the text tends to be identified with the persona being presented in the text. Thus, it is understandable why Krupat needs to make the distinction between “Indian autobiographies” written by a person other than that whose life is being narrated and “autobiographies by Indians.” Krupat opines that this distinction owes itself to the tribal nature of Native American culture, because members of this culture “tended to define themselves as persons by successfully integrating themselves into the relevant social groupings—kin, clan, band, etc.—of their respective societies” (“Introduction” 4). Thus, he also says in The Voice in the Margin that this Native American cultural feature characterizes Native American autobiographies as “the textual result of specific dialogues (between persons, between cultures, between persons and cultures) which claim to represent an Indian subject who, him- or herself, is the human result of specific dialogical or socio-cultural practices” (134). Krupat’s distinction is especially significant for a discussion on Native American autobiographical texts by Apess because Apess wrote both. Thus, Krupat implies that, as a writer of an “autobiography by an Indian”, Apess “propels a tragic silencing of his Pequot ethnicity” (Haynes 26). This is as if to say that by his very act of writing his own autobiography “written by himself,” Apess relinquishes his “original” identity, and assumes a Western one, which “has tended to define personal identity as involving the successful mediation of an opposition between the individual and society” (Krupat “Introduction” 4). It also implies that when Apess writes the conversion narratives for Hannah Caleb, Sally George, and Anne Wampy (Mary Apess’s narrative, like William’s, is “written by herself”), he assumes the role of the white writer who relays the Indian’s voice. To presume that individual identities is alien to the Native American mind is as hasty as to suggest that Euro-American autobiographical texts of the time emphasize individuality, for eighteenth-century texts such as the diary of Samuel Sewall, the captivity narrative by Mary Rowlandson show that the recognition of an individual as a member of particular community is an issue of prominence.  Also a characteristic of cultural insiderism is the conclusion that the adoption of new cultural modes such as literacy and Christianity signifies departure from previously held cultural systems rather than viewing it as a development in which individuals are confronted with cultural encounters.

Such assumptions as Krupat’s are problematic at least in one aspect. At the time of the production of Apess’s texts both Native American and American national identities were in a critical historical point. While the former found the necessity to alter any pre-existing essentialist conception of their socio-cultural identity (if there were any) due to pressing social changes in their environment, the latter was only beginning to conceive of a need to establish an identifiable national identity separate from their pre-existing Eurocentric identities. Apess’s texts are situated at the very site of this critical historical moment. I believe that Apess’s writings do not show his desire to abandon or retain his Pequot identity, nor do they indicate that there is an inclination on the part of Apess to either resist or accept the dominant Euro-American discourse. What I think Apess’s works demonstrate is an attempt to negotiate the incorporation of Native American identity into that of the American nation as a work in progress. Thus, the voice that operate these texts are in fact a sujet en process in the Kristevan sense, not only as the operating consciousness that drives the texts but also in itself is a subject in process, whose formation is prospectively incomplete. In other words, Apess simultaneously adjusts how his own identity (and the identity of those he represents) and also explicitly proposes how American national identity is to be defined.

Indeed, it is apparent that for Apess identity is negotiable. On various occasions, he indicates that identities can be assumed by adoption. In his description of his paternal lineage in A Son of the Forest, he says:

From what I have already stated, it will appear [my emphasis] that my father was of mixed blood, his father being white and his mother and his mother a native or, in other words, red woman. On attaining a sufficient age to act for himself, he joined the Pequot tribe, to which he was maternally connected. He was well received, and in a short time afterward married a female tribe, in whose veins a single drop of the white man’s blood never flowed. (4)

By this statement Apess validates his Pequot identity. For him, this ethnic identity is unquestionable because, although his father was genetically “of mixed blood,” the mature, conscious decision to join the tribe, and addition to his marriage to a full-blooded Pequot, makes his partly white lineage a mere “appearance.” This validation by adoption is important for Apess because he seems to be quite unsure about his familial background. In his attempt to emphasize the significance of his autobiography he is careful to insert such disclaimers as “if I am not misinformed” and “the truth as I have received it” (4). However, while he seems to de-emphasize the significance of identity based on physicality, he cannot ignore the fact that his physical body is in fact a mark of identity and identification. Complexion, he observes, does serve as grounds for “a nation to hiss at you” (120). He further complains that physical appearance has become one of the causes of the difficulties in life and has hindered him from

[finding] a place good enough for me. But such is the case with depraved nature, that their judgment for fancy only sets upon the eye, skin, nose, lips, cheeks, chin, or teeth and, sometimes, the forehead and hair; without further examination, the mind is made up and the price set. (123)

Thus, he oscillates between presenting identity as a deliberately assumed condition and as a given feature. This, however, does not seem to be due to confusion or inconsistency but rather it is called for in his narrative strategy.

All his writings, without exception, whether those which take the form of religious autobiographical narratives or those which more conveys secular, political issues, include the issues of Native American rights and the appeal to view Native Americans as having equal status as important underlying themes. In this sense, even in his autobiographical works, namely A Son of the Forest and The Experiences of Five Christian Indians, he presents a voice which not only represents his own person but also the communities which he takes on himself to represent, either Pequot, Mashpee, or Native American in general, much in the same way he would seem to present himself as an ordained Methodist minister in his sermon Increase of the Kingdom of Christ.

Furthermore, Apess’s works demonstrates the problematic position of Native American identity in American nationhood. As Doolen points out, there is a strong indication that Apess is considerably influenced by his abolitionist contemporary William Lloyd Garrison. Garrison in Thoughts on African Colonization (1832) presents the African-American appeal: “we claim, this country, the place of our birth, and not Africa, as our mother country” (qtd in Doolen 161). However, while for African-Americans the colonization of Liberia was still a possibility, for, Doolen says, “even  Garrison believed it provided the safest solution to the nation’s racial crisis” (155), displacement, for Native Americans, at least as they are voiced through Apess, is not so much an option. Apess asserts that Native Americans have “inherent rights” over the land, and it is only due to the fact they have “extended the hand of friendship” to the white settlers that the latter have gained access to that land. Not only is their land appropriated but also their identity. Apess indicates that his white oppressor’s have unreasonably used the term “Indian, … as a slur upon an oppressed and scattered nation” (10). He goes on to say that he has “often been led to inquire where the whites received this word,” for he “could not find it in the Bible [his main textual source] and therefore concluded it was a word imported for the special purpose of degrading us” (10). He further insists that

the proper term which ought to be applied to our nation, to distinguish it from the rest of the human family, is that of ‘Natives”—and I humbly conceive that the natives of this country are the only people under heaven who have a just title to the name, inasmuch as we are the only people who retain the original complexion of our father Adam. (10)

Apess is proposing two independent, though related, arguments for the inclusion of Native American as equal members of the American nation. The first is the claim to biblical authority similar to that which is proposed by Olaudah Equiano when he claims that his Igbo ancestry is closely related to the biblical patriarchs. Apess in The Indians: The Ten Lost Tribes claims that Native Americans are “indeed no other than the descendants of the ten lost tribes” (114). This assertion not only validates his ministerial authority but also serve as a counter-claim against white dehumanization of non-whites. By making this statement, Apess places Native Americans on the same level as Euro-Americans by claiming first-hand access to Christianity. It undercuts the assumption that Native Americans are less civilized and less human than whites which forms the main grounds for their subjugation. This issue is of particular significance in his Indian Nullification of the Unconstitutional Laws of Massachusetts Relative to the Marshpee Tribe; or, The Pretended Riot Explained (1835), for one of the reasons for the Mashpees’ complaint against the State of Massachusetts is that they are denied the right to choose the denomination and minister to which they receive religious service, as one of the resolutions cited in this defense is that the Mashpees “will have our own meeting house, and place in the pulpit whom we please to preach us” (177).

More importantly, for the purposes of this paper, however, Apess’s argument provides prior right of Native Americans over American land, which makes both assimilation through “passing for white” and removal from their ancestral lands inconceivable.  As Benjamin F. Hallett, “Counsel for the Marshpee Indians” in their legal suit, in his endorsement of Apess’s Indian Nullification, the Mashpee community “have a higher title to their lands than whites have, for our forefathers claimed the soil of this State [Massachusetts] by the consent of the Indians, whose title thus admitted was better than their own” (167).

Nevertheless, Apess does not promote nativist superiority over the settler population either. He “offered no prophecy of a return to pre-European days of Indian glory and religion,” for, as Nielsen argues, his belief that Native Americans “were descendants of the lost tribes of Israel,” indicates Apess’s vision of Native American membership in the existing American national self through “conversion was an important fulfillment of their biblical heritage” (406). Apess fully recognizes the sovereignty of the United States government in general as well as the State of Massachusetts in particular. He constantly refers to the U.S. Constitution seeking legal justification for equal rights of Native Americans within the confines of the United States. The so-called “revolt” of the Mashpees was in fact an act of civil disobedience in response to the State’s denial of the Mashpees’ right to representation in Legislature and therefore to their participation in deciding policies to be enforced on them.

 

Works Cited

 

Apess, William. On Our Own Grounds: The Complete Writings of William Apess, a Pequot. Barry O’Connell, ed. Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 1992.

Doolen, Andy. Fugitive Empire: Locating Early American Empire. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2005.

Haynes, Carolyn. “‘A Mark for Them All to…Hiss at’: The Formation of Methodist and Pequot Identity in the Conversion Narrative of William Apess.” Early American Literature 31 (1996): 25-44.

Krupat, Arnold. The Voice in the Margin: Native American Literature and the Canon. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1989.

—. “Introduction.” Native American Autobiographies: An Anthology. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1994.

Nielsen, Donald. “The Mashpee Indian Revolt of 1833.” The New England Quarterly 58 (1985) (1977): 400-420