Thursday, December 22, 2016

Christopher Columbus’s Naming in the diarios of the Four Voyages (1492–1504)

Christopher Columbus’s Naming in the diarios of the Four Voyages (1492–1504): A Discourse of Negotiation by Evelina Gužauskytė (review)
In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:
Reviewed by
Gužauskytė, Evelina. Christopher Columbus’s Naming in the diarios of the Four Voyages (1492–1504): A Discourse of Negotiation. Toronto: U of Toronto P, 2014. 276pp. ISBN: 978-14-4264-746-6
In the age of European exploration and expansion, acts of naming were crucial to conceptualizing the world emerging before Europe’s eyes. Products of the interplay between place names recorded in European textual sources and words heard pronounced by local inhabitants, acts of naming pitted the European cultural imagination against the social and natural worlds of the Americas. This contest is the topic of Evelina Gužauskytė’s carefully researched Christopher Columbus’s Naming in the diarios of the Four Voyages (1492–1504): A Discourse of Negotiation, a book [End Page 216] that examines hundreds of Columbian toponyms documented in his ships logs and correspondence for what they show about the complexity of the encounters between Europeans and indigenous peoples of the Americas. With close attention to the diarios’s negotiation of a European toponymic heritage and the toponymies and vocabularies of the various ethnic groups in the Caribbean Basin, Gužauskytė refutes the theory that Columbus’s language of naming was “a rigid instrument” that “carved, unerringly, the shapes of European visions onto silent and passive landscapes of the Americas” (5) and draws out the impact – largely ignored by the majority of colonial and postcolonial critics – that Taíno language and toponymy had on Columbus’s exploration and conceptualization of American lands.
Gužauskytė’s theoretical foundation, which she explains in the Introduction, is the view that Columbian place names comprise not a collection of disconnected utterances, but “a discourse, in the Foucauldian sense of the word, in which the relationships among the toponyms rather than single toponyms alone create their meaning as a whole” (16). The first three chapters of the book develop this case for viewing Columbian toponyms as a rhetoric. Chapter 1 discusses the notably different criteria for judging the “rightness” of a name that existed in legal, historical and religious contexts in Columbus’s time and identifies two contrasting scientific-practical and ideological-spiritual functions that Columbian naming served throughout the four voyages. Chapters 2 and 3 show how, in Columbus’s first two voyages, clusters of toponyms exhibiting patterns of hierarchy, symmetry, and progression create an impression of order and control, while in his third and fourth voyages, this sense of spiritual and imperial order disappears as clusters are overtaken and disrupted by a proliferation of toponyms originating in Taíno and other Caribbean languages.
The second half of the book explores with greater depth the fluid and reactive nature of Columbus’s toponymic discourse. Chapter 4 focuses on a group of place names inspired by celestial bodies and metals given in the first voyage, showing how Columbus’s integration of Taíno misinformation into an otherwise theoretically ordered toponymic discourse in Castilian reflects the indigenous inhabitants’ manipulation and alteration of his itinerary and system of knowledge. Chapter 5 explores a toponymic cluster that begins with an iguana on the Caribbean beach and ends with a vision of Christ crucified on the mountain, showing how the gradual incorporation of elements of the Caribbean, Andalusian, and biblical landscapes into a single abstract visual scene reflects the impact of indigenous cultural and physical realities on Columbus’s vision. And Chapter 6 shows how, in the fourth voyage, three conflicting infernal and paradisiacal serpent toponyms invented amidst a river of indigenous onomastics suggest the way that the physically challenging reality of the Amazon basin produced vacillation in Columbus’s mind about the destination at which he had arrived and fear of the proximity of Hell.
Where it regards the primary goal of Gužauskytė’s study – to “challeng[e] the idea that . . . Columbian naming stemmed exclusively from the political power and cultural vocabulary imposed via European institutions and technologies” (5) – Christopher Columbus’s Naming breaks new ground. The study demonstrates clearly how the names produced through Columbus’s continual effort to negotiate between American, Asian, and European landscapes, visions, and nomenclatures produced [End Page 217] a hybrid, transoceanic landscape that has gone unrecognized in theories that have thus far...