Time Travel in the Latin American and Caribbean Imagination: by Rudyard J. Alcocer (auth.)

By Rudyard J. Alcocer (auth.)

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According to him, Todorov’s “analysis of the conflicting cultures, the mindsets on both sides that led to the European conquest of America—and most particularly his view of Columbus, Cortés, and Moctezuma—rang true” and illuminated “much that had been mysterious” to him about the hemisphere’s past (351). Not unlike other works of fiction about Columbus, Pastwatch sets out to create a history of the world in which the conquest of the Americas never took place. Although the scientific or technological explanations are never outlined within any standard of plausibility (and thus, for Foote, would bring the novel closer to the realm of fantasy), we learn that the fictional characters in Pastwatch live in the twenty-second century and are trying desperately to save humanity from imminent extinction, an extinction that is quickly approaching on account of all the evils and environmental mistakes perpetrated by earlier generations; eventually, several travel to the time of Columbus in an effort to sabotage or at least redirect his mission.

Simultaneously, the story clearly and unequivocally references— via a modern news crew reporting at the scene—the newcomers’ unabashed greed as well as the initial phase of a regimen of brutality the Europeans visited upon the indigenous Americans. The brutality of the “discovery” and conquest, it turns out, is frequently a focal point in fictional representations of these epochs, perhaps because many of the issues that derive from them have remained unresolved. On the one hand, Eco’s playful sarcasm with regard to the oppression of the indigenous population could suggest a subtle distance on this issue: a distance afforded to him by his Italian nationality.

In her seminal study, Imperial Eyes: Travel Writing and Transculturation (1992), Mary Louise Pratt advances the notion of a “contact zone”: a theme relevant both to texts central to this study as well as to those that fall slightly beyond its parameters. A contact zone is, according to her, the space of colonial encounters, the space in which peoples geographically and historically separated come into contact with each other and establish ongoing relations, usually involving conditions of coercion, racial inequality, and intractable conflict .

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