David E. Johnson, Ph.D.
Visiting Assistant Professor
Departments of English and
Modern Languages and Literatures
910 Clemens Hall
MODERN LANGUAGES AND LITERATURES.
CLOTA (Cultures and Literatures of the Americas)
I am interested in the formation of American cultural identities from 1492 to the present. My current research includes three on-going book projects: the first, "Anthropology's Wake," a coauthored book that the University of Minnesota Press is considering for an advance contract, interrogates the principle methodological metaphors of anthropology's post-Writing Culture epistemological crisis. Pairs of chapters dedicated to affect, dialogue, and hybridity depart from the same major theoretical texts (Renato Rosaldo's Culture and Truth, Homi K. Bhabha's The Locations of Culture, and James Clifford's Routes) in order, by different paths, to remark the exclusive foundational assumptions of an ostensibly more inclusive and tolerant anthropology. The second, "Aporias of Encounter: The Experience of the Americas" reads the formation of modernity in Amerindian-European contact, focusing principally on scenes of encounter from Colón's "discovery" in 1492 to John Lloyd Stephens' "rediscovery" in the 1840s, including Cortés, Jean de Léry, the Jesuit Relations, and Alexander von Humboldt. The book theorizes the economy of contact and suggests an interpretation of experience grounded on the aporetic structures of the secret and translation. The third, "Mexico's Tears," takes up Mexican cultural criticism from the end of the Mexican Revolution to the Zapatista revolt, paying particular attention to calls for democratization, representation, and lo indígena. This book turns, finally, on the massacre at Tlatelolco, October 2, 1968. These books all derive from an ongoing interest in questions of culture and community, on the possibility of a no-longer Amerindian and not-yet European community of others. They thus challenge the identity politics of multiculturalism and its model of a negotiated community of diverse ethnic/racial identities.
My dissertation, "Voice, History, and the Inscription of the Americas," examines multiple scenes of translation from the sixteenth to the twentieth century, paying particular attention to the way translation both grounds the possibility of Mexican cultural identity and, at the same time, questions the univocity fundamental to identity. Chapter one reads Tzvetan Todorov's and Stephen Greenblatt's historicist critiques of European colonial efforts in the Americas, both of which leave intact the principle of European authority in the New World. Chapter two interrogates Hernán Cortés's and Roland Joffé's displacements of the translator from the sites of cross-cultural encounters, inscribing European and North American linguistic superiority in the Americas. Chapter three considers John L. Stephens's nineteenth-century narrative of the rediscovery of the Mayan "ruins" and Paul Theroux's late twentieth-century anti-discovery narrative of a trip by train to Patagonia. Stephens and Theroux import to the non-Anglo Americas the idea of Anglo-North American cultural superiority guaranteed by phonetic writing of the alphabetic type. Chapter four positions Octavio Paz's El laberinto de la soledad next to Ernst Robert Curtius's European Literature in the Latin Middle Ages and Erich Auerbach's Mimesis, reading all three as instances of apocalyptic criticism and theories of the end of history. Chapter five examines Carlos Fuentes's La muerte de Artemio Cruz, and Juan García Ponce's Crónica de la intervención for the graphic challenge to the authority of the voice in the Americas. The dissertation works out the theoretical problem of the place of the voice in the construction of American cultural identities and, in its historical and geographical scope, it participates in the reconstruction of American literature as a hemispheric and multilingual cultural production. In displacing the privilege of the voice in the formation of cultural identities, "Voice, History, and the Inscription of the Americas" ultimately concludes that translation is the language of American literature.
contributions to books: