Deborah Root and the concept of my book

I must find that Julio Ortega book, and I must teach something by Ortega y Gasset in that class on raza. On Spain, we will read things by Branche, Goode, Piedra, and Ortega y Gasset. We will also study Vasconcelos and Aztlán: espíritu, raza, palabra.


Deborah Root’s 1988 review of Todorov’s La conquête de l’Amérique points out that Todorov actually replicates Sepúlveda’s construction of the Indians-as-other. He views Indians racially, and reproduces an essentialist discourse of “Indian” nature. (217)

Imperialist discourse kills the subjected body and dons the flayed skin; animates it; impersonates the absent body and makes it speak. (219) Todorov’s Aztecs are like that: he has Aztecs speak as “natives” to voice European concerns, and he confuses Spanish representations of “Indians” with what these peoples may have actually been.

Absent in Todorov’s work is a recognition of the way in which categories of the (colonized) “Other” may be produced and proliferated within specific economies of imperial power. Literal, political violence underlies “recognition” of and dialogue with what the West perceives as its “Other.” (219)

Imperial power remains “under the skin,” replacing the dead or absent bodies of the “Other” with the discourse of sovereignty. (219) Despite Todorov’s claim to have entered into dialogue with the Other, accepted difference, and recognized equality, in fact in his book the voice of the Other is evoked only to be silenced. (219)

This is the move I am interested in. It is made again in criollo discourse, and it, pace Marilyn Miller, is what mestizaje is for. Actual Others are invoked, but then engulfed (da Silva) or elided; their effigies made to speak in the master’s voice, while actual Otherness is driven underground. So the discussion of racism is disabled, Others are driven underground and the voice of the Other is silenced.

Criollo discourse is designed to assert exceptionalism in two ways: we are mestizo and different, and we are also non racist. But, I argue, this exceptionalism is precisely not exceptional. That is what this paper, and then this book, have to unravel and explain. 

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