The Transports of
Monsieur Le Vailliant


Alexander Moore

Cambridge University

Copyright (c) 1997 by Alexander Moore, all rights reserved. This text may be used and shared in accordance with the fair-use provisions of U.S. Copyright law, and it may be archived and redistributed in electronic form, provided that the editors are notified and no fee is charged for access. Archiving, redistribution, or republication of this text on other terms, in any medium, requires the notification of the journal and consent of the author.

    I still behold myself in the middle of my camp, surrounded by my people and animals: a plant, a flower, a fragment of rock scattered here and there--nothing escapes my memory, and this spectacle, always affecting, everywhere amuses and follows me.

    		Travels Into The Interior Parts Of Africa, Vol.1

  1. That every beginning is troubled by the nature of its authority, be it the opening pages of a record kept, written and rewritten over two centuries ago, the via ruptas [1] it describes, or an introduction to an essay which hopes to gesture at certain powerful rhetorical trails in that record--this is the necessary condition of inscriptions, wagon ruts, arguments. Yet even an introduction which dwells on the difficulties of starting--the difficulties of preparing for a journey that will involve the charting of passages--does not excuse itself via this self-awareness. It does not, to introduce the figures of supplies and equipment, provide for itself and its recuperative dénouement. Beginning is a violent and inadequate act, a repetitive act of discovery which can never wholly rehabilitate itself. Trailing across space, beginning institutes an ongoing theatre of desire which is an economy of origin at once infecting and being infected by that space.

  2. If beginning is ever a moment, then, it is the anxious moment of announcing the possibility of return. For François Le Vaillant--ornithologist and classificator at large, artist, dandy, hunter, specimen collector, aspiring Rousseauist and reprover of earlier spéculateurs--the prospect of setting out from Cape Town into the Southern African interior during 1781 is exactly the prospect of eventually regaining Cape Town, France, and the ambitions which have prompted him to make his journey. And it is the attendant doubt which manufactures the journals themselves, anxiously clearing a space for their writing. In my reading of Le Vaillant's Travels (hereafter TA), this clearing is governed by a relationship between knowledge, literature, and violence. Through an elaborate ostensive writing of landscape, a violence arises predicated on a complex of decisions concerning which recuperative via to take. These decisions are a matter of life and death for Le Vaillant, his followers, his enemies, and the animals in his way.

  3. How does one investigate this violence? Firstly, by aligning extracts from Le Vaillant's writings which expose this logic of return as a logic of violent consequence. Secondly, by considering this circularity in terms of an epoch characterized by critiques of the 'civilized state' of societies embarking on adventures of discovery--adventures which as a result, in terms of Man and Nature, desire a rediscovery.

    The Classificatory Act

  4. What is the violence of the classificatory act? Firstly, it is not an allegorical violence, where 'violence' serves as a dramatic euphemism for the imposition of order. That imposition of order is not simply reflective and retrospective--it maintains the self from moment to moment and stabilizes the trauma of self-preservation. Furthermore, in an attempt to constitute Nature, the classificatory act must consistently de-nature its discoveries in order to return them to nature, and this is not merely the violence of naming, but the violence of traps, weapons, sorties and lures.

  5. Let us trace this complex of the self and the natural in terms of classification, beginning with Le Vaillant's introduction to the Travels. Concerned with convincing the reader of his competence, he writes:
    My first years were thus spent in the deserts and I was born almost a savage. When reason, which in warm climates always precedes age, began to dawn in my mind, my taste was not long in displaying itself, and my parents did everything in their power to assist the first efforts of my curiosity. Under such excellent instructors I everyday tasted new pleasures: I heard them discourse in a manner suited in my capacity on the objects which they had acquired, and on those they hoped to procure in the future. By these means an abundance of ideas was treasured up in my mind--at first, in a confused manner, I must own; but gradually with more order and method. Nature, therefore, was my earliest instructor, because it was towards her that my views were first directed. . . . Everything seemed to whisper to my self-love that I should also attempt to form a cabinet of natural history. (TA ii-iii)

  6. A double authority is at work here. Defending himself against a readership liable to ridicule as parochial the efforts of a not-quite-Frenchman raised in distant Surinam, Le Vaillant announces the 'almost savage' potency of his senses, preserved by virtue of his youthful proximity to the wilderness. Yet at the same time this potency has been guided by an ordering reason that is the ambivalent product both of Nature ('warm climates') and the civilizing influence of his singular parents. It is therefore only through civilization 'outside' of itself that one can learn to discriminate powerfully. At the epicentre, on the other hand, lurks a dangerous incoherence: rationality, not having the benefit of natural ability, devours itself, creating 'the monstrous and natural alliances' that Le Vaillant views in the fashionable zoological cabinets of Paris.

  7. The converse of this argument is equally apparent. Let us be aware of an entire mythology around the concept of 'savage ability.' In Rousseau's Discourse On The Origin Of Inequality among Men, written some thirty years earlier (1755), and which often refers to the Hottentots of the Cape of Good Hope with which Le Vaillant is to spend so much time, he writes:
    What is true of animals in general is, according to the reports of explorers, true of most savage peoples as well. Thus we should not be surprised that the Hottentots of the Cape of Good Hope sight with the naked eye ships on the high seas at as great a distance as the Dutch see with their telescopes . . . [2]

  8. It is with this mythical efficiency that Le Vaillant wishes to make a dramatic alliance. However, in a gesture which recurs throughout the Travels, the word 'savage' as self-description is always approached rather than assumed. That is, it presents itself as a horizon. For to be entirely savage-like would be to inhabit a state of repose in which the desire to classify could never announce itself, and where confusion, the necessary precursor of classification, would also remain unrecognizable. And yet, as I have mentioned, an excessive distance from this state of repose also precludes the possibility of rigorous classification, because perceptual keenness, and sight in particular, decays in 'civilized' environments. Le Vaillant's ability, then, must itself remain perpetually unclassifiable in order to classify: to be able to define it would be to prove its inadequacy. These dangers are chronic:
    ...I returned, as I may say, to the primitive state of man, and breathed for the first time in my life, the delicious and pure air of liberty. (TA 72)

    I was now about to withdraw myself from the dominion of man, and to approach a little towards his original condition. (TA 103)

    In all countries wherever the savages are absolutely separated from civilized nations, and live sequestered their manners are mild; but they change and become corrupted the nearer they approach to them. (TA 180) [3]

    Approaching near to Nature, and under her immediate protection, the savages have no need of our noisy and most harmonious orchestras ... (TA 335) [4]

    Le Vaillant understands himself to be corrupt, an epigone, yet still possessing, by virtue of his birth, traces of faculties which render Nature visible to him in an unusual manner. This genealogy, for Le Vaillant the only one which can survive a novel landscape without continually misinterpreting it, allows him to approach as close as possible to the horizon of the natural; to the moment when classification can begin with the gesture of having penetrated the natural without succumbing to it. This horizon is revealed in the slightest of rhetorical details--the equivocation of 'as I may say'; the perverse uselessness and usefulness of 'man,' who must be abandoned in order to be reacknowledged; the paradox of being able to describe the manners of completely sequestered peoples; and the intransigent metaphorics of 'approaching near' Nature yet being under Nature's 'immediate protection.'

  9. And so although ostensibly a native of the 'desarts,' in this rhetoric of perpetual progressions towards a native horizon it is Le Vaillant's own exotic indigenousness that must be continually affirmed in order to be transgressed, a tidal movement between natural faculty and the learned employment of that faculty. It is this circuitous and nostalgic route back to self that allows Le Vaillant to prepare for the peculiarly preordained self-intervention of his arrival in Africa. Recalling the view from the ship's deck he writes,'. . . I already measured with my eyes those immense desarts into which I was going to penetrate" (TA 11).

    Inside the Cabinet

  10. But how does Le Vaillant's return express itself? Through the creation of an index that will be infinitely substantial, infinitely scientific, infinitely extra-human:
    When I quitted Europe to travel to Africa, it was not part of my plan to enter into any detail respecting the manner and the customs of the inhabitants of the Cape, much less respecting the political, civil, and military forms of the government. This is the subject, I confess, which engaged the least share of my attention, and which I should give an account of with the greatest reluctance even were I interested in doing it. (TA 64)
  11. As an ornithologist Le Vaillant's official classificatory speciality is non-human, but his rush to leave the colony by wagon, fretting at the prospect that his "journey would be retarded" (TA 77) also bespeaks a concern that the accurate schemes he desires cannot be satisfied amongst people--that is the settlers--who have a 'civilization' in common with him. Amongst these familiar strangers things are not what they seem; one's character, like the characters of those who remain within the city limits, is prevented from embarking on voyages of discovery. Le Vaillant's asides regarding the relief afforded by his departure are numerous, and always nostalgic; towards the end of the Travels he comments that recalling the attractions of a rustic travelling existence makes him "even when surrounded by the arts, and agitated by pride and vanity, lament that I can no longer distinguish my own character" (TA 452).

  12. But what can be distinguished whilst voyaging is not only one's character, but through that clarity the distinguishing features of specimens, specimens which are destined for zoological cabinets. And like Le Vaillant himself, these cabinets, the accuracy of their displays, are engaged in a movement towards a definition which averts itself in the moment of achievement.

  13. Cabinets pronounce the natural; and yet if they are to articulate it perfectly, as perfectly as Nature, they must cease to be recognisable as effortful; they must insidiously rejoin Nature in an ideal moment of arrangement and proper extension, of naming incarnate. There is only one obstacle in the way of this illation, which we have touched upon--the danger of obviating the natural entirely through inattention to its hidden rigour. Initially impressed by the 'cabinets of the curious' which he visits in Paris, Le Vaillant writes: "I was charmed by the beauty and variety of the objects which they contained, and with the prodigious number of individuals of every species, which, like a forced contribution had come from the four corners of the world to be classed as methodically as possible, in a space unluckily too confined" (TA xii). Yet once he has had time to consider them as an expert (especially as a diviner of sexes), he is forced to renounce the aesthetics which have seduced him: 'Here placed as male and female, two beings that had never met together; and there, as male and female classed in two different species' (TA xi). He comments a little later, "I no longer beheld, in these assemblages of foreign spoils, but general magazines, where different beings, ranged without choice, and without taste, were buried in profound sleep for science" (TA xii).

  14. Metaphorics of conquest aside, it is crucial to note that the cabinet exemplifies the horizon of the natural already discussed; its confusion is unnatural, a precursor to order that can only be a result of an inefficient intervention in the natural. The cabinet is always trying to announce the same space as Nature, yet is condemned to be 'unluckily too confined.' Never chaotic, Nature brims with the possibility of pure arrangement, with the suggestion that correct detail has the possibility of supplanting the word 'Nature' itself. "This impossible thing--another name for nature--therefore remains a limit" (Derrida 185). This epistemic limit, an interplay between the perfect reservoir of nature and the desire to account for this perfection, informs Le Vaillant's attempt to construct and fill the perfect cabinet; [5] conversely, the act of filling it, the dialectic of killing and then sequestering oneself with the spoils to arrange them, is an act which spells out the self which defends itself by this attention.

  15. Let us examine a few passages in the light of these remarks:
    I had so perfectly succeeded in the construction of this box; my collections were preserved there so well, and they arrived in such good condition. (TA 68)

    Thus the study of nature engaged my attention, in preference to more pressing wants. Continually inflamed with the powerful desire of robbing her of her treasures, I was dying of hunger, and yet thought of my collections. (TA 115)

    Translators {of the names of animals} ought to attend to these small variations, which may occasion errors respecting the proper names of animals, which ought not to be disfigured. (TA 422)

    . . . I shut myself up in my tent, and hastened, while my observations were still fresh in my memory, to reduce them to some order. (TA 452)

    As for my part, I reviewed my collection, which was far from being in proper order; and this business was a work of no little labour. Everything that I almost had contained birds: my tea-chests, and my boxes for holding coffee and sugar were all filled with them. (TA 521)

    It is this convoluted lineage of self, self-description, and classification that I have chosen to call 'epistemophilia.' Beyond this concatenation, of course, the word has other, more general psychoanalytic connotations; perhaps it is enough to recall that Le Vaillant, in describing his childhood, writes that "Everything seemed to whisper to my self-love that I also should attempt to form a cabinet of natural history" (TA iii).


  16. This canton, in my opinion, is very improperly named Roye-Sand, or Red Sand, for I observed none of that colour. I remarked, on the contrary, that it was absolutely yellow. (TA 26)
    We are told from the first pages of the Travels that description is going to exist without invention. The skill of Le Vaillant as a dissector of his environment will ensure this, likewise his conscious attempt to remain the only efficient cause in the landscape he passes through. "Fully resolved to speak only of what I have seen or done, I shall introduce into this work nothing which is not my own; and on this account I shall certainly not be reproached for the faults of those who preceded me" (TA x). Later assertions are as forthright: "People ought to speak from their own experience, and advance nothing more than what they have seen" (TA 350). This emphasis on the singular can be traced throughout the Travels, maintaining the integrity of the classificatory act, an act which we can now re-describe as a literal act. Furthermore, with its emphasis on the singular, we can also describe it as a power-full act, an act not merely empirical, but concerning empire:
    Being then entirely abandoned to myself, and expecting no support or assistance but from my own arm...(TA 72) I was certain of meeting with no other traces of labour other than those which I left myself. By the freedom of my will, which commanded them with a sovereign sway, and by my complete independence, I really perceived in man the monarch of all animated beings, the absolute despot of nature. (TA 93-94) It was here that I intended, for a little while to establish my petty empire. (TA 224)
    Le Vaillant is quite aware of the irony of his status as a ruler without true dominions, and whose subjects, if he is sufficiently untoward, will decamp: "The horde which followed me, without any preamble, told me that they were free, that they no longer considered me their chief; and that they would instantly return" (TA 202). Yet this irony, which inefficiently erases his authority, nevertheless in its repetition affirms the singularity of this irony, its separate moment.

  17. But what has this separate self to do with 'literalism,' and thus with literature? In its independence, this self engages in the attempted creation of authority by devising strategies to convince the extensive with the comprehensive, the subject with the subject name. This urge to nominate an entire literal meaning for experience necessitates privileging the moment of viewing above all else. The glance is not historical; it is a trustworthy instant which appears to transcend the recollective and laborious nature of reportage. It is this literal ideal that reportage must 'look' towards. Remarking on Kolbein, a supposed authority on conditions at the colony, Le Vaillant validates this moment of certitude: "It is well known that he never quitted the town, and yet he speaks with all the assurance of an eye-witness" (TA 65).

  18. What are the difficulties of a language theory founded on the primacy of the literal--on the primacy of the proper noun? As a way of approaching this standard philosophical question within the genealogy of texts that Le Vaillant is the troublesome heir to, it is worth pointing out the ambivalence that infects Rousseau's writings on this matter. In the Discourse on the Origin of Inequality among Men, Rousseau states emphatically that "the first nouns could only have been proper nouns" (41); he states with equal confidence that "figural language predates literal meaning."[6] Paul de Man, in his exemplary essay on metaphor in Rousseau's Discourse puts it succinctly: "It is impossible to say whether denomination is literal or figural" (148).

  19. What pertinence does this have for our reading of Le Vaillant? Simply that in his attempt to erase this ambivalence he is forced to at once exploit and condemn figurative language. His attempt to control the scope of his usage is subverted by the authority he wishes to impose; this desire continually exceeds the impossible boundaries he has set for it:
    Chiefs are chosen by the governor, who gives them a large cane, the metal tip of which is inscribed--'Capitein' as a badge of his dignity. Such a chief becomes to the governor a new creature, a new spy, and a new slave, and to his own countryman a new tyrant. (TA 178)

    I avoided explaining what it was prudent for me to conceal from him; and I increased the idea of superiority with which a white man everywhere impresses the savage. (TA 264)

    Without wishing to be accounted a sorcerer, I was desirous that he might be convinced, by his own experience, that there is a wide difference between a European and a Hottentot. (TA 269)

    I found her name difficult to be pronounced, disagreeable to the ear, and very insignificant according to my ideas; I therefore gave her a new one and called her Narina, which in the Hottentot language signifies a flower. (TA 254)

    The spurious authority of the cane marked 'Capitein', which Le Vaillant cannot countenance; the profit to be gained from concealing a true description of oneself; the erotic nostalgia of replacing a name with another supposedly more natural--these are textual events which speak against themselves. In his attempt to escape from authorities of all kinds, to ensure that "no private hatred, no envy, and no secret displeasure can overbalance in my mind my regard to truth" (TA xiv) and to "never give way when I am certain of the facts, and advance nothing but what is supported by proof" (TA x), Le Vaillant describes for us the connection between literalism, authority, and writing.

    The Logic of Innocence

  20. The most intransigent word in Le Vaillant's Travels, apart from Nature, is Man. I have avoided dwelling on this term in order to follow the epistemological/literary route that Le Vaillant's writings follow concerning the San, the 'Boshmen' of the Travels. In terms of the colony a marginal group, the San were never recruited wholesale into the colonial workforce as were the Khoisan (the Hottentots), nor were they pastoralists such as the more conventionally militarized Xhosa to the North. Neither inside nor out, the San troubled not only the borders of the colony, but conceptions of static difference on which judgements infused with an anthropological idealism could rely.

  21. In this respect, Le Vaillant is required to disentangle the Boshmen from the Nature he has posited, and parade epistemological uncertainty as certainty. To quickly emphasize Le Vaillant's avowed interest in and sympathy with the 'people of nature' he meets, and the Rousseauist gesture in general:
    But with what satisfaction did I observe them unanimously prefer the simplicity of their rural and peaceful life and consider these resources (luxuries) as base and sordid means, for a nation who boast of their superiority over the people of nature! Worthy mortals, who have been painted to us as devouring your fellow creatures, and whom a child might manage! (TA 96)

    Long may they retain their happy ignorance! May I be the last stranger who, with rash steps, shall dare to tread thy native plains; and may thy solitude never be polluted! (TA 269)

    In an uncivilized state man is naturally good; why then should the Hottentots be an exception to this general rule? (TA 347)

    Leaving aside the trail of Le Vaillant never meeting a tribe which had not already tasted tobacco or brandy, his distribution of these goods as inducement, his characterization of the effects of contact with the Dutch ("Some fled, the rest, ruined by a few glasses of brandy and a few rolls of tobacco . . ." (TA 178) and yet his insistent and dramatic use of an 'innocent condition'--let us follow a series of reports which demonstrate how Le Vaillant unfolds a Boshman who can participate in a violent logic of innocence, albeit as perfectly beyond that innocence.

  22. Who are the Boshmen? Long before Le Vaillant has encountered people to which he feels it appropriate to attach this name, we are told that he has been informed of the culpability of the Boshmen in the exacerbation of the conflict between the Dutch planters and the local tribes:
    . . . they told me also that the Boshmen, a kind of vagabond deserter who belong to no nation, and who live only by rapine, took advantage of that moment of disorder to pillage without distinction on the Caffres, the Hottentots and the planters; that nothing but the tyrannical behaviour of these wretches could have made the Caffres include in their general description all the Hottentots, whom they considered as spies attached to the whites, and whom the latter employed to lay snares for them with more dexterity. (TA 189)

    . . . enemies of every nation, without distinction, and plunderers by profession, from whom we could expect no kind of friendship. (TA 441)

    If a 'State of Nature' is a state of chronic repose, how does one account for any disruptive force in this state? It must, if one's rhetoric is to remain consistent, be an intervention in this state, a transgression. We have already been told who the original transgressors are--the European traders--so it is necessary to derive this transgression, this name 'Boshmen,' from that 'fatal accident'. [7] They cannot constitute a nation on their own, a nation ready to display behaviour that is violent, irruptive and organised. Representing the obverse of the idle and phlegmatic character of the 'conquered' Khoisan that Le Vaillant insists upon, the Boshmen stand for wantonness, nomadicity, and lawlessness--a ceaseless peripheral activity. [8]

  23. This logic leads us to Le Vaillant's confrontation with the Boshmen and the violent dénouement it entails. A Boshman is chased by horse and eventually killed for a betrayal that Le Vaillant himself does not witness; Le Vaillant shoots him after the servant he has left with the Boshman is lightly wounded. That he had given the man gifts that his servant may well have been jealous of and tried to obtain by force, that Le Vaillant had himself reported on the animosity between Hottentots and the Boshmen--these imponderables are effaced by the decisive moment of violence that the episode's rhetorical sensibility demands. Continually warned against them, yet never having actually met these 'outsiders,' his own desire to resolve the inconstancy of his rhetoric means that he must ignore his own, impossible advice: "People ought to speak from their own experience, and advance nothing more than what they have seen" (TA 350).

  24. This, then, is the moment when epistemic desire finds its closure, a closure which succeeds not through elaboration, but through condensation--through a brief, explosive validation that eliminates incoherence and re-establishes a higher logical totality.


  25. What Le Vaillant conceives of as 'himself', which is exactly the moment of writing, requires in all instances a detour from writing to violence and back again. This detour is nostalgic: time laden, it is produced between biography and academic history. When Le Vaillant comments on the rocks crowning Table Mountain resembling "the ruins of an ancient city" (TA 48) this confluence becomes marked: fatal epochs, epigones and decaying geographical hierarchies allow that most problematic word, Nature, to gather descriptive momentum. This perpetually divided "attempt to retrieve nature's authenticity" (Lefebvre 32) is the fissured nexus of Le Vaillant's ambition.

  26. Lastly, violence is a fashionable word, with fashionably pejorative connotations; I trust that I have made it clear that I am merely interested in how, in relation to the schemes I have suggested, 'violence' must suspend itself between death and measurement, revealing itself as the efficiency of measurement as judgement. Soon after arriving at the Cape, Le Vaillant takes it upon himself to rid the district of a 'tiger'; his description of this incident is telling once the triangulation of violence, literature, and knowledge that I have signalled has been examined. Relating that hunting is 'his ruling passion' he tells us that his great skill and fearlessness acquired for him "a reputation for intrepidity, which was spread to the distance of ten leagues around. . . . Happy at having at opportunity of hunting this animal according to rule," Le Vaillant eventually dispatches the beast and reports, "I then began to take his dimensions with the utmost exactness: I turned him over and over again, in every direction; and examined him with the greatest care"(TA 38-44).


  1. The phrase, describing Levi-Strauss' depiction of the Nambikwara as idealistic in terms of their 'illiteracy,' is Jacques Derrida's. He writes in a passage worth deliberating over:
    . . . one should meditate upon all of the following together: writing as the possibility of the road and of difference, the history of writing and the history of the road, of the rupture, of the via rupta, of the path that is broken, beaten, fracta, of the space of reversability and the repetition traced by the opening, the divergence from, and the violent spacing, of nature, of the natural, savage, forest. The silva is savage, the via rupta is written, discerned and inscribed violently as difference, as form imposed on the hyle, in the forest, in wood as matter; it is difficult to imagine that access to the possibility of road maps is not at the same time access to writing. (107-08)
    Of course to mention the name 'Derrida' at or near the beginning of a 'trail' is also to invoke an authority of a sort, which I wish to distance myself from, at least in part; nevertheless, this passage explores how a linea, however convoluted, must be recognised as carrying a tentative message of origin and destination--that it is tendentious, that it describes an absence--and thereby suggests the intransigent, culpable nature of beginning, of reading beginnings, and of loci in general. Back

  2. It would be easy (and several commentators have found it so) to label Le Vaillant's writings, and especially his deliberations concerning Man, as Rousseauist. But what is interesting is not that Le Vaillant is obviously well versed in the debate of the philosophes and others who sought to explain the nature of contemporary society in terms of a 'State of Nature,' nor that he sides with Rousseau's valorization of this 'State'--but that he is travelling with this debate and attempting to inflict it, often with very little success, on a landscape. That it was (and is) a matter of contention whether or not Rousseau ever envisaged such a journey as having any bearing whatsoever on his theses--there is his infamous line, "Let us begin by leaving aside all the facts" (p. 24), and yet his constant use of examples gleaned from travellers--is a difficulty which Le Vaillant's writing, against its own intentions, displays. Back

  3. Echoing Rousseau, Le Vaillant writes, "The establishment of the Dutch colony was a fatal epoch, which disunited them all, and occasioned those differences by which they (the Gonaquas, or savage Hottentots) are at present distinguished"(TA 176). It must be re-emphasized: the relevance of Rousseau is not to be discerned by discovering 'congruencies' (which are endemic), but by considering Rousseauist idealism in terms of the violent possibilities of nostalgia--by the imposition and fracturing of this idealism. Back

  4. In Rousseau's Letter on French Music, he contrasts the enervated harmonic (the societal) with the energetic melodic (the isolated primitive). Arrangement, or imagination, is opposed to passion. A little later in the Travels Le Vaillant quotes a contemporary writer on dancing and singing: "...the savage has no other instructor but his own passions, his own heart, and nature. What he feels we pretend to feel" (TA 336). Back

  5. I have expanded here on another comment of Derrida's in his writings on Rousseau's Essay on the Origin of Languages: "This permits us [readers of Rousseau] to determine a function of the concept of nature or of primitiveness: it is the equilibrium between reserve and desire. An impossible equilibrium, for desire cannot awaken and move out of its reserve except by the imagination, which also breaks the equilibrium" (185). Although Le Vaillant would hardly characterize his classificatory exercises as acts of the imagination, all depictions which involve the desire for closure are, in however orderly a way, imaginative, in that they are constituted by the structured invention of that which they wish to describe. Back

  6. De Man 140, quoted from Essai sur l'origine des Langues, texte reproduit d'apres l' edition A. Belin de 1817 (Paris, le Graphe, supplement au No. 8 des Cahiers pour l'Analyse) p.506. Back

  7. This notion of the 'primary wrong' is quintessentially Rousseauist, and perhaps his most blatantly metaphysical: "The more we reflect on it, the more we realize that this state was the best for man and the least subject to revolutions; and that man can have left it only as the result of some fatal accident that, for the common good, ought never to have happened" (Rousseau 62). This moment, when imagination and desire replace passion and need, this 'stem,' must take on the status of the entirely exterior ("the fortuitous convergence of several external causes" [53]), the entirely arbitrary, the entirely colonial, if it is to remain a moment at all. It is easy to see how seas between continents could come to represent, in a mundane way, the difficult gap that Rousseau has to "vault over" (38) and which remains properly inconceivable ("it is inconceivable how a man on his strength alone, without the help of communication or the spur of necessity, could bridge so great a gap" [36]), yet essential in order to get a history of degeneration under way. Space becomes a substitute for history, or rather for prehistory. Back

  8. Idleness has been explored at some length by J.M. Coetzee in his essay "Idleness in South Africa" in White Writing. Back

Works Cited

Coetzee, J. M. White Writing. London: Yale UP, 1988.

Derrida, Jacques. Of Grammatology. Trans. Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak. London: The Johns Hopkins UP, 1976.

de Man, Paul. "Metaphor (Second Discourse)." Allegories of Reading: London: Yale UP, 1979.

Lefebvre, Henri. The Production of Space. Trans. D. Nicholson Smith. Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1991.

Le Vaillant, François. Travels Into the Interior Parts of Africa . . . . 3 Vols. Dublin: Graisberry-Campell, 1790.

Rousseau, Jean-Jacques. Discourse on the Origin and Foundations of Inequality among Men. Oxford: Oxford UP, 1994.

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