Specters of Conquest : Indigenous Absence in Transatlantic Literatures

Adam Lifshey

This book intervenes in transatlantic and hemispheric studies by positing “America” as not a particular country or continent but a foundational narrative, in which conquerors arrive at a shore intent on overwriting local versions of humanity, culture, and landscape with inscriptions of their own design. This imposition of foreign textualities, however dominant, is never complete because the absences of the disappeared still linger manifestly, still are present. That apparent paradox results in a haunted America whose conquest is always partial and whose conquered are always contestatory.

The five principal texts it covers are Columbus’s diary of his first voyage; the Popol Vuh of the Maya-K’iche’; Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe; the first African novel in Spanish; and Pynchon’s Mason & Dixon. Interspersed are shorter studies of narratives by William Carlos Wiliams, Rigoberta Menchú, Álvar Núñez Cabeza de Vaca, José Martí, Mark Knopfler (former lead singer of Dire Straits), Gabriel García Márquez, and Mary Shelley.