Julio Ortega (Translated by Philip Derbishyre)
Abundance comes from abundantia, which itself derives from the Latin word for ‘wave’ and is thus already a metaphorical substantive. It is as if the word did not just designate but already announced its meaning in its enunciation. Dictionaries give the sober term ‘copy’ as its first meaning, from which are derived the terms ‘copious’ and ‘cornucopia’. The ‘horn of abundance’ reveals a slight redundancy: the copious is already a metaphorical copy of itself. This copy is always other, a reference: it is equivalent to the extravagance of paradisiacal nature and refers us back to Arcadia. For the Encyclopaedia Britannica, abundance is an Italian concept (the entry is in Italian rather than English) and is defined as ‘a Roman goddess, the personification of prosperity and good fortune.’ Every encyclopaedia asserts that the goddess is similar to Copia, Pomona and Ceres, but the Britannica insists on her fantastic character when it adds: ‘She may be compared with Domina Abundia (Old Fr. Dame Habonde, Notre Dame d´Abondance), whose name often occurs in poems of the Middle Ages, a beneficent fairy, who brought plenty to those whom she visited” (EB, 80). The Enciclopedia dell’arte Antica, Classica e Orientale, by contrast, defines abundance as ‘Personificazione del benessere e della richezza difusa in tutto il popolo’ (8-9). The entry in a Portuguese encyclopedia refers to Brazil. But in the Spanish encyclopedia Espasa-Calpe, three pages are devoted to ‘abundance.’ Its definition is somewhat tautological: ‘A great quantity which a thing contains.’ It widens the register appreciably when it gives Copy, Wealth, Fertility and Fecundity as synonyms (808-810). Abundance becomes a concept in political economy here, and the passage recalls Malthus’s claim that ‘abundance is not the sign of national prosperity.’ In the Diccionario de autoridades (Dictionary of Authorities) (1726) of the Real Academia Española, abundance is understood as ‘a purely Latin word’, although its use is illustrated by a quotation from Cervantes’s Journey to Parnassus: ‘Let all abundance and honour overflow for you’. These uses show the wide register of the concept in Spanish: abundado, abundamiento, abundantissimamente (also used by Cervantes), abundantissimo, abundar, abundosamente and abundoso (28-29). R.J. Cuervo gives more detailed authorities in his Diccionario de construcción y régimen de la lengua castellana (Dictionary of the Construction and Rules of the Spanish Language) which illustrates the use of abundante, abundar and abundoso as different syntactic forms for ‘being plentiful’ (75-79). Examples taken from Cervantes are numerous. In Corominas’s Diccionario crítico e etimológico castellano e hispánico (A Critical and Etymological Spanish Dictionary (1980), we find that ‘abundar, abundancia, abundante’ refer to onda (wave) (25). ‘Onda’ he notes, comes from the Latin ‘unda’, meaning wave. ‘Abundar’ he continues comes from abundare, which means to ‘leap out of the waves, to brim or bubble over’ (283-284). In Julio Casares’s Diccionario ideológico de la lengua española (Ideological Dictionary of Spanish), abundance carries a huge range of associations and includes nouns, verbs, adverbs and turns of speech. The Spanish concept is surrounded by a broad semantic field, in which memory, contemporary reference and paradigm of representation all intersect. It constitutes a discursive matrix of wonder and extravagance born of language itself.
In his Diccionario Etimológico Latino-español (Latin-Spanish Etymological Dictionary) (1985), Santiago Segura Munguía dates the first use of ‘abundance’ to the second half of the 13 th century and that of ‘abundant’ (abundans) to the beginning of the 15 th. The growth in its use, especially during the 16 th and 17th centuries is illustrated in Martín Alonso’s Enciclopedia del idioma (Encyclopedia of Language) (1958). Clearly, the discovery of America increased the word’s importance and significance. It is therefore remarkable that there is no American usage noted in the examples given by the various dictionaries. Samuel Gili Gaya includes examples from other languages in his Tesoro lexicográfico 1492-1726 (Lexicographic Thesaurus 1492-1726) (1947) but ignores any from the New World. His examples are concerned with the abundance of fruit, goods and words, precisely the things most affected by contemporary influence from America. The terms associated with abundance (bountiful, fertile, affluence, rich) receive an added empirical sense, an additional value from the propitious times in which they are used.
In his Historia de regibus Gothorum, Vandalorum et Suevorum (History of the Kingdoms of the Goths, Vandals and Suevi), written in 624, Isidore of Seville has a panegyric or eulogy to Spain as his prologue. Mercedes Vaquero has made me aware that the notion of abundance is already at work in this early text. The concept of abundantia is not unknown in Isidore’s religious writings, although it is Ceres who is mentioned in the author’s Etymologies, one of the concept’s most common representations. But the panegyric in the History, beyond its rhetorical eloquence, expresses the conviction that an exceptional state of nature underpins the model of society and polity. That is, the excellence of the environment is a blessing that also extends to the leaders of the polity and gives rise to the country’s wealth. Later this equivalence will be thrown into doubt by various writers, including Gracián who treats such a claim with studied irony pointing out the notorious failings of Spanish political administration. But at the dawn of representations of the local and regional, Isidore expresses the consciousness that Spain owes its existence to discourse. National being finds its sources in exception, unlike other regions of Europe: the meaning of the nation lies in its blessed difference. Let us look at what Isidore says:
- Of all lands which stretch from the West to India, you are the most beautiful, O Spain, sacred and ever blessed mother of leaders and of nations. By right you are now queen of all the provinces, from whom not only the West but also the East obtains its light. You are the glory and ornament of the world, the most illustrious part of the earth, in which the glorious fecundity of the Getic people rejoices much and abundantly flourishes.
- Deservedly did indulgent nature enrich you with the abundance of all growing things. You are opulent in berries, flowing with grapes, rich in the harvest. You are clothed in grain, you are shaded by olive trees, you are covered with the vine. You are flowery in your fields, leafy in your mountains, full of fishes on your shores. You are situated in the most pleasant region of the world; you are neither burned with the warm heat of the sun, nor are you consumed by icy cold, but, girded with the temperate zone of heaven, you are nourished by favorable west winds. For you produce everything fertile that fields bear, everything precious that mines bear, everything beautiful and useful that animals bear…
- …You are fertile in abundant rivers, you are tawny-colored with streams flowing with gold. Your springs are sources of horses…(History of the Kings of the Goths, Vandals, and Suevi, trans. by Guido Donini and Gordon B. Ford Jr., Leiden, 1966, 1-2).
The eulogy has a foundational character suggesting that things are described in all their abundance as though on the first day of creation. This ‘Adamic’ tone alludes both to the scene of the locus amoenus and to its reconstitution in words. This is not just because the panegyric requires its specific theme to be clearly differentiated but also because the intensity of the praise suggests its novelty. This interweaving of rhetoric and the primacy of the real, of topoi of memory and the rapture of the first day of creation, will be inherent to the discourse of abundance. Although the topos is common in the classical world, Isidore’s Latin has a concreteness that is not just characteristic of his worldly empiricism but also of the synthesis he makes of the regional and the historical, of Roman Hispania and Visigothic Spain. Abundance, after all, is a demand on contemporary reality: Isidore serves as Bishop of Seville under Visigothic rule. The echoes of this panegyric will continue to develop as a wholly Spanish topos in the great mediaeval texts. In Canto V of the Poema de Fernán González from the middle of the 13 th century, there is a ‘Eulogy to Spain’, whose land, it tells us, ‘is well-provisioned’ and ‘abundant’. La Primera Crónica General (The First General Chronicle) (1289) which was composed on the order of Alfonso the Wise, develops the topos. Pedro Corominas (‘The Sentiment of Wealth in Castile’ in his Complete Works in Spanish, Madrid, 1975) gives a genealogy of Spanish praise-writing from the 13 th century onwards. He concludes that there is a direct line that leads from the ballads to the Chronicle of the Indies, which he conceives as a form of Castilian epic. And he concludes that, on a study of the history of the fueros, the wealth of Castile is based less on property than on señorío, the traditional structures of dominion. This Hispanic-Traditionalist interpretation is in the end nostalgic and mythologizing. But it does allows us to conclude that while the fields of Castile might well be dusty and poor and the ‘hijos de algo’ (the sons of something) might well have nothing, they are in possession of the pure, Christian, allegorical discourse, which constructs Castile in essentialist terms. I doubt that anyone could now consider the Chronicle of the Indies as a Spanish or Castillian epic, since it is a hybrid genre produced in response to the experience of America, and emerging in a space between the voice that gives testimony to truth and the writing that puts that certainty to the test. Isidore’s panegyric model will undergo complex variations in America: truth will depend on trust in the senses, in sight and taste. The experience of a ‘first day of Creation’ that almost exceeds language will disturb the status of truth. Often the Chronicle of the Indies has to forge a hard-won system of verification in order to support its demand for truth. In another sense, this discursive matrix shows that the roots of the discourse on America lie in that comparative discourse that creates Spain as a place of mediation between North and South, between East and West, between Christianity and Islam and between Europe and America. The fertility of this discourse will undoubtedly be American: as prologue to history, hyperbolic eulogy, but also as discursive abundance. The model becomes differentiated in the account, the roots variegated in the branches, and the obligatory topoi are transformed through the production of differences. Eventually, Isidore’s brief catalogue will be transformed into the Library of the Indies. It is a gesture that is equivalent to America returning the seeds of abundance to Spain: they arrive as names, and return in a new language, almost as second nature. This second, American nature will be Spain’s otherness, where the Chronicler transfers names from language to the world, and from here to writing. Language becomes the material, both oral and written, with which others will make and remake the fluidity and exchange with which the New World begins.
Columbus very quickly demonstrates that language is insufficient to represent the objects of the Indies. His Journal is full of the astonishment felt on that first day of discovery but also of the verisimilitude of the second day in Paradise. Although we have not been on these miraculous islands, we have been in the Garden of Eden, so that to name them is to rename them: their names refer back to religious and imperial power. But the object imposes itself as excess, and although the laws of perspective allow the relation between the subject and the verifiable world to be rationalized, American objects exceed the field of vision itself. They overflow the nominal space of language and the space of visual control. This why Columbus describes the trees that he calls ‘palms’ as having a ‘beautiful deformity’. The oxymoron suggests that they are monstrously beautiful. The Caribbean tree that has a new name superimposed on it by Columbus is the first grapheme of the discourse of abundance. Perhaps it is the first seed of the Baroque tree: it displaces the symmetrical form consecrated by perspective and suggests an undulating structure of branches, which fold and unfold, constantly producing new inflections. The American forest superimposes its name on the Garden of Eden. This extension of language is not coincidental: objects increase in usefulness, in their promised fertility, value and wealth. On the other had, these displacements disturb the norms of Rhetoric by introducing another communicative economy. It quickly becomes the case that one can no longer exchange an object for a word, or represent it by a single name. The object can no longer be classified in the same species, to be read in the given Book of Nature, created by God. Rather, it will expand in words and will be represented by different names. It is no longer a fixed symbol but a sign in process within a natural history that is still being written. Thus the designative economy of rhetoric, with its rationality and logic, and its morality of exchange, is replaced by an extravagant economy, which squanders signs and stimulates figures: metaphor and hyperbole reveal the pleasure of figuration and the play of staging. The persuasiveness of a truth that can be shared gives way to the demands of celebratory promise.
The graft is another principle of abundance, well documented by the chroniclers and historians of the Indies. The product of this intermixing is determined not only by the combination of American and Spanish plants but also by the land that makes the new growth possible. The notion of the new that is born out of this practice emerges in a cultural context of abundance. The principle is one where the new land ‘triggers’ the production of a true interbreeding. A parallel phenomenon occurs in linguistic contact. The incorporation of loan-words is to a certain extent predictable in the encounter between agglutinative indigenous languages with Spanish. It was inevitable that languages whose structures already allowed the incorporation of variants would assimilate and adapt Spanish vocabulary, and they did so with increasing vigour. The various native languages thus expand their register through the appropriation of new terms, or by inclusion of Spanish words into their declensions. By contrast, Spanish adapted the other language to its vocalic system, Hispanicizing names and expressions. Thus Peru seems to come from Virú, a river, and Lima from Rimac, another river. A different phenomenon is transcoding, that is the movement of a word or a concept from one code to another, a passage that significantly affects its meaning. This happens with papa (potato), which in Europe is seen either as an aphrodisiac or a poison. Guamán Poma realizes that the term India is composed of two words ‘in día’, the land that is in the day, that is Peru. Later, the first couple, Adam and Eve will be assimilated to a single person, Adaneva. Nevertheless, linguistic norms and recommended usage do not favour intermixing, and dismiss hybridity as license and excess. Joan Corominas in his previously cited Dictionary (volume IV, p. 26) quotes Laguna’s documentation of the use of ‘melon’ (1555): ‘The [melon] is really a bastard peach because it grows from grafting a quince onto a peach.’ The notion of bastardy or illegitimacy as the truth of grafting acts as a disqualification in both natural order and the order of language: truth demeans the product of interbreeding. Oliva Sabuco (17 th century) uses the same genealogical procedure, the explanation of the object by its origins, to effect punishment: ‘we have seen how children turn out better and more virtuous than their parents, or worse and more vicious, as the melon from the peach and the quince, or the abovementioned crocuta from the lion and the hyena.’ In this space of control and punishment, the novel elements of interbreeding can only be produced as an excess: they open up another scene. From the graft to hybridity, from transplantation to mestizaje the new is seen to be the sum and combination of the parts that construct the American subject, produced out of difference and strangeness. What is new about the American is the form of the future.
Abundance passes from extravagance to excess, from metaphor to hyperbole, and in the process becomes itself a fertile discourse. Abundance is self-referential, a seed, a transplant, a graft in the colonial setting: but it soon becomes a moment of discourse, where it produces lavish figuration. The more classical notion is that nature is a common good that is enjoyed by everyone in the New World. But this is already inflected by Humanism and its utopian perspective: the sun is the model of a common good because its light illumines everyone alike. Mexico’s ‘eternal spring’ is marvellous but it is also a classical allusion. But when native chroniclers wanted to describe their own natural resources they found their sources of hyperbole elsewhere. Hernando Álvarez Tezozomoc, the grandson of Montezuma, spent more time in his Mexican Chronicle describing the ornaments the warriors wore than the actual war. Even the writings of Las Casas and Vasco de Quiroga are marked by the demands that abundance makes. The fourteen proposals to alleviate the situation of the Indians that Las Casas drew up were all intended to make sure that the islands ‘become the best and most fertile land in the world, so that the Indians could live there content.’ Abundance requires a subject, and the poor man appears as the natural hero of an American Golden Age, which according to Inca Garcilaso, is an improvement and extension of Spain. Following Las Casas, Guamán Poma holds that discourse itself is the remedy for the ills of the Indies, and he foresees and advances this state of affairs: ‘soon we shall have a remedy.’ And he repeats the central element of praise in his submission: ‘abundance’ follows the calendrical round with its fruits and plants, as if time itself were an emblematic Garden. Gonzalo Fernández de Oviedo pays more attention to size and taste: he can even forget the name of a fruit but still remember its taste. He says that some of the fig-trees in the Islands ‘bear figs the size of melons’ (Summary, 214), and that ‘there are also melons that the Indians raise that grow so large that they measure one and a half arrobas and more. Some of them are so big that the Indians have to carry them on their backs. They are soft and white inside, although some are yellow, and have soft pips like squash…’(225). Comparison with plants found in Spain gives the account more credibility: ‘squash’ adds the element of verisimilitude. The plants are thus demonstrative examples, and are part of a Humanist strategy to persuade the reader. But they also test the logic of the account, going beyond any simple connections between cause and effect, potential and act, series and object. Evidence has to be given and defended, accounts rendered of what was seen and what was tasted, thus augmenting their size and their value. Figs and melons, for example, are Spanish produce that grow without restraint in the Indies, so that one can compare one with the other in size: figs grow like little melons, and melons become enormous, and would be monstrous if they did not have ‘soft pips’ inside, that is, if they did not have seeds like the common, domestic fruit. Examples become acts of faith, and are based on hyperbole, an accumulation of comparisons and the repeated testimony of eyewitnesses. Melons are an eloquent example.
‘Melon’ is a generic term, which covers lots of different species, and thus becomes an emblem of how transplantation augments growth. It is a traveling name, and takes on a new meaning in the New World, like a syllable of abundance itself. (In Latin it is called melopepon, and Covarrubias rules that ‘strictly speaking it means ‘apple’’.) Everything is thus tending towards the Baroque: but when the Baroque arrives it too is exceeded. The Baroque is already in itself a nominative expenditure that heaps up sub-clauses until the subject of the sentence is altogether lost from view. In the Baroque, an incidental digression can become the primary theme. The drama of abundance, then, ceases to be about testing vision and nomination, and becomes a sumptuous decoration of the art of re-vision and renaming.
New World heraldry re-engages with abundance topoi. On the 10 th of November 1558, Philip the Second signed a Royal warrant in Valladolid, which conferred a coat of arms on Popayán in Colombia. This can be seen as the escutcheon of the very period of abundance now controlled by the growing power of the region. The social and political history of Popayán reveals the process of negotiation and competition that occurred between the founders and the leading gentry, who had grown wealthy through trade and whose status needed to be confirmed through appropriate emblems. The warrant decreed:
Philip II confers on you a coat-of-arms, in the middle of which there will be a city of gold with green groves around it, and two rivers: the one of one part of the said city and the other of the other part, between green groves, blue and white water: above and to the right a snow-covered line of hills and a sun above it, in the blue field an orle with four Jerusalem crosses on a field of gold.
Gold signifies nobility and magnanimity: Wealth, Power, Splendour.
The green or sinople signifies Justice, Zeal, Loyalty, Perseverance and Gratitude.
Good faith and happiness.
The snow-capped hills, through the white of the snow indicates purity of deed.
The Sun signifies Unity, Truth, Clarity, Majesty, Abundance, Liberality
The Orle, as an honorable band of the first order is given for the services indicated.
The Jerusalem crosses signify Sacrifice in the wars for the Faith.
As can be seen, all the objects and attributes of the coat-of-arms come from the Old World. But the small yet proud Spanish city in the Colombian Andes halfway to Ecuador has become a gentle version of the Golden City, now turned into the Fertile Garden, overseen by the sun of Abundance: the monuments to virtue are separated by a space of joy. The horn of abundance also presides over the national coats-of-arms that Venezuela and Peru adopted after independence from Spain. In the case of Venezuela, it comprises a laurel branch tied to a branch of the local palm. In the Peruvian case, the plant kingdom is represented by a chinchona tree, which produces quinine, one of the ‘remedies’ that promised well-being from colonial times onwards. The animal kingdom is represented by the llama ‘the Peruvian ram’ which so astonished the early chroniclers of Peru. A mythical abundance is thus already part of the rhetoric of region or nation within the projects of trade and state consolidation, and receives expression at the level of heraldry. Abundance ceases to be marvellous and becomes illustrative. It nevertheless continues to be a constant feature of the imaginary identity of Latin America.
In his Descubrimiento del Río Apure (The Discovery of the River Apure) (ed. José Alcina, Madrid, Historia 16, 1985), Jacinto de Carvajal (approx. 1567 – 1650) recounts the expedition that Miguel de Ochogavia undertook in 1647. He produces the most Baroque chronicle of the so-called Orinoco Cycle. In a suitably extravagant manner, using all the tropes of the Baroque repertoire, the chronicler inflates the passage of the Apure in Venezuela into a military enterprise. He says he is already eighty years old, but his curiosity about nature and its peoples is inspired by the Baroque appetite to list the world and catalogue what is abundant in it. Thus he enumerates thirty different classes of fruit and thirty-five types of birds. He also gives information about the different Caribbean tribes, and lists seventy-two of them, albeit the bulk of them cannot be identified under the names he gives. He differentiates between fruits by utilizing every dimension of possible comparison: colour, taste, smell, size, form and similarity to those from Spain. The fruit have the added value of appearance: ‘Pammas, the fruit the length of a piece of coral which is purple and very sweet.’ The author also takes great pleasure in the recitation of the new names, the celebration of spoken language in the language of fertile nature: merecures, chivechives, cubarros, pachaccas, guamaches, yaguares, caraminesquebraderos, ojos de payara, manires, chares, muriches, guaycurucos, curichaguas …[varieties of Latin American plants and fruits]. He concludes as follows: ‘Beyond these, the Caribbean Indians enjoy those that we have, and I later saw and experienced their abundance…’(242). There are other lists in this day today chronicle of Venezuelan syntheses, and the account reaches the point where the chronicler even tells us when he goes to sleep and when he wakes up, all of which happens amidst prayers and masses. The world is supported by its names and is reproduced in them, newly born and shining, but mutual and shared, like a hostel provided by language. This is a characteristic of the chronicle, which tells of the Venezuelan llano (plain), with its newly founded towns and the vast variety of its vegetation. It is a catalogue of wonder produced in a time of enjoyment and promise, with hardly a shadow from the past. Even the most important 19 th century Venezuelan poem, the ‘Ode to Agriculture in the Tropics’ by Andrés Bello, the Humanist, jurist, linguist, poet and philologist, takes the form of a panegyric listing the plants of the country, combining American and Spanish, as if they were all off-spring of the garden and hostel of the new nation.
Joseph Luis de Cisneros was a trader with the Compañia Guipuzcoana, the Basque company that had held the monopoly on trade with Venezuela since 1742. Cisneos printed a short commercial treatise, Descripción exacta de la provincia de Benezuela (An Exact Description of the Province of Venezuela) (1764), which was rediscovered by Enrique Bernardo Núñez and republished by Caracas Editorial Avila Gráfica in 1950, with an introduction by Núñez. This succinct description of rudimentary economic geography is an inventory of the goods and produce of various towns and villages of the country. It is a curious treatise on abundance from a commercial perspective. Thus the author is only required to provide a list of fruits, manufactures and pastoral produce from each district. His enumeration is inspired by a faith in exchange as a proof of public health and civic well-being. The commercial perspective creates a sort of public space of mediation. There are negotiations and conversations: production and consumption take place amidst a constant stock of provisions and categorical names that carry native or Creole inflections. We thus have a storehouse of trade, which exists in the space between an extravagant nature and the people who enjoy the goods. The treatise is a sort of modern cornucopia whose location is somewhere between the space of the countryside, and the advance of the cities and worker migration. Meat brings the best prices in Caracas: ‘They bring supplies to this Beef City, since this is what is consumed: there is never Mutton hanging in the Butchers’ Shops: the lowlands of Villa de San Carlos, Villa del Pao, Villa de Calabozo and Ciudad de S. Sebastián, are all in the province, and so much is in abundance there, that a Bullock or Cow sometimes costs eight silver reales…’ (46). The sonorous names of the towns and villages are centres of production, and the produce itself belongs to a new, fertile, commercial discourse. Very quickly, this cataloguing turns into hyperbole: ‘They eat cheap Veal, good Mutton and Capon, and everything is in abundance. There are cuts of Pork from the surrounding villages, in great abundance, Chickens, Hens, Turkeys and Ducks’ (47). Cisneros is writing as if he were in the public square, where the market is at the centre of this marvellous vision: the different produce marches past like an allegory of worldly wealth. He goes on: ‘White and brown sugar in excessive abundance…’ But there is so much flour that it gets lost in the warehouses, even though its loss confirms that ‘we are always in the midst of abundance.’ After meat, what is most enjoyed is cacao: ‘It is incredible how much cacao is consumed in this country, and they use it as a food’ (47-48). This excess that eventually comes to constitute waste acknowledges that consumption is free and that the citizen of Caracas is defined by the way that he sweetens his cup of cocoa. When the chronicler passes by the rivers of San Juan, he verifies that in every inlet ‘you can build a Shipyard, cutting Timber just as you want it, from the proud mountains in the Vegas or the River Yaracuy’ (51). This ‘as you want’ seeks to transform nature under the new stipulations of industry. In a gesture worthy of his poetic empiricism, Cisneros lists all the ports and bays of the coast, without qualification, because the accumulation of the geography of the Venezuela Caribbean is in the last analysis a cornucopia that is as much verbal as terrestrial.
The Baroque City
In his La grandeza mexicana (The Grandeur of Mexico) (1604) Bernardo de Balbuena makes the city the centre of his Baroque representation. Nature is a catalogue of goods that language no longer orders in the external world but on the urban and courtly setting of the page, in the relaxed and limpid poem where the subject criss-crosses the dictionary as though it were the map of Mexico. Balbuena was probably twenty years old when he came to Mexico from Spain. His education in Mexico turned him into a learned poet, with a formal, classical aspect and a taste for unfolding Baroque symmetry. He is not concerned with the specific difference of what is Mexican, but with the inclusive difference of its language: as it expanded in America, the Baroque figure comes to occupy present time, which has no boundaries, and thus what is Mexican is a fold within a universal Spanish. Like Gracián he uses images of a strange grandiloquence, where the alien quality of the world creates a tension in the logic of representation. We can see this in the polished stanza where he tells us that Mexico City
Is the centre and heart of this great ball,
The beach where the proud wave
Grows higher in delights
The city as axis and heart of this world creates a figure of equivalences. Mexico is the double centre, geographic and corporeal, real and allegorical, but it is also a beach or shore where delights grow like a wave breaking. Thus each thing is another thing, and only the declaration that ‘Mexico is a city of delights’ would indicate the implicit reference. The poem does not speak, although at times it does sing. For the most part it metaphorizes: it says one thing through another, thus increasing the register of equivalences, augmenting descriptive exaggeration and producing a hymn which is too worldly to invoke the Muses. This ‘epilogue and last chapter’, which declares itself to be a ‘coded’ discourse, even lingers over the high cost of renting a house (there is one which is so expensive, that its rental income is greater than a county, ‘since it gives over thirty thousand pesos’). Its accumulation tends therefore to the generic, and even the central market owes more to the catalogue than to the senses:
All that a changing taste wants
July will season and April
with flowers please in abundance's plaza;
there where desire matches the will
and greed could not ask for more.
Here we have an abundance that is more emblematic than real. Abundance is turned into a quotation from literature, into an argument that is culled from the archive to buttress the authority of the poem. In reality, the ‘grandeur of Mexico’ lacks a subject: it is a phrase, a discourse in search of the act of enunciation, which would give reality to the subject of abundance within the poem from the outside. The poem ends like this:
Its famous people, full of nobility,
Their sweet, courtly, gentle ways,
A spirit with no shadow of scarcity
The people are therefore shaped by abundance against scarcity, in the urbane fullness of their courteous life style, in opposition to the depression of poverty and its shadows. Nature is a decoration for the city, the backdrop for a ‘Mexican spring.’ Inside the horn of abundance is another horn of abundance. April scatters flowers, the poet says, another cornucopia of names: ‘here with a thousand beauties and gifts/the sovereign hand gives them all.’ This divinity that grants the beautiful and the useful is another cornucopia, perhaps its very Idea, and lavishly provides its flowery language.
Tasting the Letter
Max Hernández in his suggestive psychoanalytic exploration of the life and work of Inca Garcilaso de la Vega (Memoria del bien perdido: conflicto, identidad y nostalgia en el Inca Garcilaso de la Vega (Memories of the Lost Good: Conflict, Identity and Nostalgia in Garcilaso Inca de la Vega) Lima, IEP, 1991) dedicates a chapter to ‘Writing and Power’ where he devotes a detailed discussion to the fable of the Indians, the melons and the letter. He notes that the owner of the garden in Pachacamac is called Solar, a name which alludes both to the Sun, the native God, and also to the landholding of a noble Spanish family. But, it is also the case that the conquistador owns land at the religious centre of the native peoples. Another scene underlies the story: the temptation of forbidden fruit. To taste it, says Hernández is to ‘put the letter to the test.’ He concludes that the letter operates more as an instrument of repression than as a tool of knowledge. There is a further irony: ‘the person writing the anecdote is an Indian. With his pen, writing recovers its liberating power.’ Hernández indicates a central mechanism at work in Garcilaso’s account: transference, the permanent displacement of symbolic equivalences. Perhaps the Inca learned this mechanism in the humanist tradition, from Petrarch or even Dante. After all he deploys the cadences and symmetries of Neoplatonic discourse. The most important of the equivalences that he makes, that of transferring the lost Inca empire to the realm of a future political utopia, allows him to articulate that future. The humanist habit of narrating by means of examples constructs a sufficient proof, converting historical truth into a moral lesson for the present. Actions and events thus become models of thought: knowing history means remaking the present. Garcilaso seems to have realized very early on that his history could only become intelligible and take its place in the greater history of Spain in the Indies through this network of transferences and equivalences. Each act and individual becomes an exemplary, inclusive moment where accounts are settled: loss is turned into profit; scarcity into abundance and the displacement of the subject creates its new written identity. Garcilaso’s work is that Letter: the transfer of knowledge to wisdom, memory to account and biography to history. The work itself is a palimpsest: behind it’s writing we find the oral tradition, and behind history we find the fable. Behind the Indians there is Nature, their abundant mirror. The children of abundance are not in the end victims of the letter, but rather its best example. The letter that censures negates itself in discarding the Other. The letter, or so the Inca suggests, always belongs to the Other. The hierarchical letter, defined by its exclusions, is the non-sense of the new truth (Quechua and Spanish), which the fable rewrites to produce meaning and a more enduring form of writing. It is because of this semantic polyphony that a transparent reading of the fable runs the risk of becoming literal. A system of examples whose mechanism is equivalence cannot be read in this way. This is clearly the case with names. In another fable, Garcilaso gives the name of someone who has been shipwrecked as Pedro Serrano. But the anagram is a transference: the stone from the mountain (piedra = Pedro = ‘stone’; Serrano = ‘from the mountain’) is an emblem of foundation. Transferred to an American island he becomes a self-taught philosopher, in this case a Spaniard who begins again from scratch, and who learns how to live like a Native American. Something similar happens with the transference of the name of the place Pachacamac in the fable of the letter. The coincidence of the names Solar and Pachacamac (pacha is land or earth; camac, a sacred place) does not appear to be coincidental. Between ‘sun’ and ‘earth’ the melons are already American.
A narratively rich version of the fable is the one given by Ricardo Palma in ‘The Letter Sings’ in his Peruvian Traditions, which adds further information to the story. It is revealing that a historian like Garcilaso should use narrative resources and that a narrative writer like Palma should try to turn the fable into a documentary account. In his first version of the story, Palma, evidently following Inca Garcilaso writes ‘the melon grove of Pachacamac’. In the second version of 1883, however, he changes it to Barranca. It seems that Palma has discovered the history of the encomendero: ‘Antonio del Solar was in1558 one of the wealthiest inhabitants of the City of the Kings (Lima). Although he was not one of Pizarro’s men at Cajamarca, he arrived early enough that when the repartición of the Conquest happened [the dividing up of the land and the Indians and their assignment to different Spanish lords] he received a good share. This consisted of an ample lot on which to build his house in Lima and two hundred fanegadas (about 120 hectares) of fertile land in the valleys of Supe and Barranca, and fifty mitayos or Indians put into his service.’ In the first version we read ‘twenty fanegadas’ and ‘in the valley of Pachacamac.’ Had Inca Garcilaso changed the name of the place to Pachacamac in order to give a mythical value to the land? Similarly, the fable of writing has the open character of the sign: it is indeterminate and associative, implying several different meanings, and cannot be exhausted by a single reading. There can be no better emblem of the triggering force of this New World writing. The American subject is so new that writing finds a new beginning putting all its previous values to the test. In the end this becomes an eloquent example of the power of writing: not only its literal power against the Other, but also, more acutely, its paradoxical and ironic power in the hands of the Other. A fable about origins proves that there are no origins, since the story is in many parts. But it also proves that without the Indians there would be no story: their innocence is that of the neophyte, the illiterate, who will soon be instructed and taught how to read and write. Along the itinerary of the ‘melons’ they will take possession of writing, ‘the letter’. The signs of what is new in nature will lead them to the new signs of exchange. The fable which seems to be about dual tensions is in fact about the construction of a triangle, the three sides of an inclusive figure: the Indians, the encomendero and the writer; Spain, Pachacamac and the melons; orality, writing and power; censure, transgression and education…Its ultimate lesson is that the fruit of abundance is shared out in writing.
The chinchona tree is the emblem of botanical abundance on the national coat of arms of Peru. It had a legendary reputation as a treatment for fevers and its fame spread across the royal houses of Europe and led it to be included in pharmacopoeias and in the Royal Pharmacy. Between 1634 and 1786 the fame of chinchona, or the quina tree, which grew in the mountains of Ecuador, Peru and Bolivia went beyond mere medical interest and botanical curiosity to become part of literature. Joaquín Fernández Pérez of the University of Madrid in his article ‘The Relations between Linnaeus and Mutis: the Problem of the Determination of the Chinchona Tree’ has produced a history of the numerous contradictory attempts to investigate, classify and study this particular tree, whose bark was exported to Europe via Cadiz (see Enrique Martínez Ruiz and Magdalena de Pazzis Pi Corrales, eds Charles Linnaeus and Enlightenment Science in Spain, Dirección General de Investigación de la Comunidad de Madrid, 1998, 75-109). Linnaeus, whose doctoral thesis topic was fever, had a lively curiosity about quinine and the chinchona tree thanks to José Celestino Mutis, a citizen of Cadiz, who had moved to New Granada. Mutis sent Linnaeus a drawing of chinchona bark together with some dry leaves and flowers. Linnaeus replied that ‘he had never seen’ the flowers before, and that they ‘gave me an idea of this extremely strange genus.’ Linnaeus had already named an American flower Mutisia, in honour of his correspondent. ‘I have never seen a stranger plant: its stem is like clematis, and its flower like signesia.’ For a naturalist like Linnaeus whose classificatory system saw nature as a symmetrical, harmonious and systematic order, these rare and strange plants found their place in the Species Plantarum: chinchona or quinine, Fernández Pérez tells us, is found between Bellonia aspera and Coffea arabica, coffee. It received the name chinchona here: this refers back to Peru and to another fable of origins, which assumes the logic of revelation, that epiphany of knowledge of the new which characterizes the histories of taste and knowledge of the goods of the New World. Once more, we are in debt to Ricardo Palma for the genealogy of a story constructed as history. In the ‘tradition’ entitled ‘The Countess’s Powders’ Palma tells how the Viceroy Luis Jerónimo Fernández de Cabrera Bobadilla y Mendoza, Count of Chinchón had been sent by Philip the Fourth to Lima, but soon after his arrival his wife had fallen sick with tertian fever. Palma tells us that the story is set in 1631. Providentially a Jesuit announced that he had a remedy that would save the countess. Thus the remedy was first known as ‘Jesuit powders’. But Palma included another tale within this story of origins, a move characteristic of the fable: the more inclusive they are, the more realistic they seem. According to Palma, ‘When he was suffering from fever, an Indian from Loja called Pedro de Leyva, in order to quench his thirst drank from a stream on whose banks grew some chinchona trees. Thus saved, he gave other people who had the same illness water from jugs in which he had placed husks from the tree. He came to Lima and told a Jesuit about his discovery, and it was he who cured the Viceroy’s wife, thus granting humanity a greater service than the brother who invented the powder.’ Without mentioning Palma, Fernández Pérez gives us another explanation, with a warning that this seems to have a literary rather than historical. Towards 1630, the magistrate of Loja suffered malarial fevers and a Jesuit called Juan López gave him the medicine with which he had cured himself thanks to an Indian called Juan Leiva. In this version the chinchona is called ‘fever tree.’ Fernández Pérez says that the story about the countess of Chinchón, comes from Sebastian Bado’s book Anastasis corticis Peruviae seu Chinae defensio (1663). Various historians of medicine surmise that in reality the countess was never ill. But Palma (sufficiently well informed to mention Linnaeus) had already restored her health: at the end of his ‘tradition’ he explains that in his first version he had attributed the experience to the count’s first wife. In fact it was his second wife who had been ill and then been cured. These philological fables even require two wives for their genealogies of substitutions and equivalences. In fact, the history of the countess gave rise to a literary saga of no little importance. In 1982 Jean de la Fontaine published a volume of verses entitled Poem of Quinquina, and the Countess of Genlis popularized the story of the discovery of quinine in her play, Zuma, ou la decouverte du Quinquina (1817), with the twist that it is a servant of the Countess of Chinchón, who kept the medicine, at first confused with poison, a secret. This polarity of medicine/poison is not unexpected: it declares the strangeness of the American fruit. Fernández Pérez compounds this combination of versions of the plant’s discovery, with a list of its various names: Pulvis Eminentísimo Cardinal de Lugo, Pulvis Lugones, Pulvis Cardinalis, Pulvis Patrum Scil. Jesuitarum, Pulvis Jesuiticus. Obviously these names refer to different genealogies. For its part, science will later discover the various families of the trees of the ‘cloud forests’, whose species, a number of them hybrid, answer to new names. Commerce, on the other hand, was not slow in transplanting the best variant of quina, yunga, outside Peru. The Dutch transplanted the Peruvian tree to Asia and produced a plant with greater quinine content, says Fernández Pérez. This beneficial plant continues to add a complex textuality to its emblematic character. This was typical of its inclusion into European classificatory systems, where American goods are decoded through legendary genealogies. That representation also belongs to the repertoire of abundance. Here hidden objects like gold, silver, pearls and other metals have to be worked for. As such they declare the potential, latent state of an elusive and secret wealth. Gold, it was thought, moved below the earth, amidst metals that sought to mix together and become gold. This archaic and almost alchemical vision expresses the wonder that was felt in the face of an unknown nature and its seemingly inexhaustible goods. Various 19 th century enterprises were no less adventurous for being more practical: the clandestine efforts of the English to rear alpaca in Australia and Africa, the attempts to grow the potato in various countries and the Dutch effort to improve quinine.
Is abundance an account that imitates the fertility of American nature, even if it exaggerates its panegyric character? Or is it a matter of a story of stories, of a tropo-graphy which reproduces its own representation? Historically productivity is based on available labour: change in the property regime gave value to accumulation and trade rather than to distribution and community. But even the fertility of the novel produce from the New World, this notion of a marvelous nature and an extravagant fertility are based on the ideas of communal self-sufficiency and the collective good. The anthropologist John Murra after studying the reports on population and tribute in the Andes colonies, claimed that the ‘inspection books’ documented a ‘vertical’ agricultural system. Here the community managed distinct ecological levels - from the cold lands of the mountains to the warm environments and the valleys of the coast. Thus agricultural labour is periodic and alternates its focus: cultivation goes on throughout the year. This regime required a detailed administration, but guaranteed the collective good and prevented hunger. But both the encomienda, based on exploitation and forced labour service, and the plantation, based on slavery, obliterated communal production and generated their productivity through poverty. When Guamán Poma de Ayala explains that in the Andean world, the newborn had already been assigned a piece of land for cultivation, he was discussing a past that had already been lost but that still inspired the model of the communal good. So even someone who did most to denounce post-Conquest hunger, like Guamán, relied on the metaphor of abundance: it was memory that contradicted the present. And Las Casas warned that the encomendero would be morally condemned for having enriched himself by making the Indians go hungry. This intrinsic tension between abundance and scarcity shapes the very notion of the natural history of the Indies, to the point where these binary yet intimately connected representations provide the discourse for the subjects of America. The historian John C. Super in his book Food, Conquest, and Colonization in Sixteenth-Century Spanish America (1988) writes the following:
“The abundance and fertility of the land were consistent with beliefs about the abundance of foods. Enthusiastic writers described the delicious and soothing fruits, ripe for the picking, that nourished many of the settlers during the early days of conquest. Some areas were so fertile that “even if waking lost, [you] will not die of hunger [M. Jiménez de la Espada, Relaciones geográficas de Indias, I, 80]. Such views probably overstate the availability of natural foods, although it is well to keep in mind that tropical fruits continue to serve as subsistence foods in the diet of the Latin American poor today. Equally exciting to Europeans was the abundance of game and fowl. Dozens of varieties of small game -some of which had been introduced by Europeans- hid in small thickets and ran through plains and forests. Deer and rabbits were so plentiful near Quito in the 1570s that a “soldier with a harquebus could take six or seven deer at night, and it seems that the supply is inexhaustible.” In the valleys south of Quito, “twenty boys from the Indian parish with their sticks could catch three hundred rabbits by midday” [Relaciones, I, 132]. Outside Mexico City, extensive lakes and abundant natural vegetation supported much fish and game. Indians used blow guns to bring down waterfowl, bows and arrows to fell deer, nets to trap hares, spears and lines to catch fish” (14-15).
But together with this latent, immanent abundance forming the language of nature that the subject manifests and unleashes, we have other scenarios of scarcity and lack imposed by plague, illness, drought, violence and hunger. Even if the genealogy of these polarities goes back to the figures of the locus amoenus and the desert, their contemporary relevance is not just ideological, i.e. a dominant interpretation. Rather they are structuring and formative. They are constructions that shape common space and the consensus view of what might constitute an accurate setting for the colonial subject. Whilst the master manages and controls fertility, it is the serf who creates it. Yet, if the former comes to suffer the misfortune of lack, it is the latter who illustrates it with his poverty and death. The native, the Black and the poor person are the heroic subjects or children of an abundance that takes the guise of the indigenous garden or fertile orchard. But they are its victims when abundance comes to be understood as accumulation and profit, the mechanics of which are violent and disruptive. The dweller in Paradise becomes the slave of his own myth. Often both representations coincide and interpenetrate. But their cultural history does not simply confirm what we already know about colonial society and its system of production. Rather it grants us better view of the network of representations and interpretations that form consensus views, tropes, and imaginary compensations as well as the criticisms and demands of native, mestizo and heterogeneous thought. What we have is a discursive formation that operates as the cultural memory for the present, defining its meaning. Super notes that: ‘The fortunate times were those when an element of choice remained. In 1589, the viceroy from Peru responded to the measles and smallpox epidemic by enumerating the foods for the healthy and the sick. To give strength to the healthy he recommended foods of “good substance,” mutton, and fowl, and goat; those already burning from fever had to settle for concoctions of barley, quinoa, amaranth, sugar, and raisins, dressed with vinegar and oil” (“The Formation of Nutritional Regimes in Colonial Latin America,” en J.C. Super and Thomas C. Wright, eds., Food, Politics, and Society in Latin America, University of Nebraska Press, 1985, 1-23) . The example suggests that abundance requires a privileged subject, whilst scarcity imposes poverty on the other. This unequal distribution of the goods of abundance was noted by several chroniclers and writers, and often expressed with a subtly dramatic quality. In literature of a national character, already possessed of a consciousness of difference, various attempts were made to restore the sense of the natural order. This happens in the eulogy that Bello sings to the banana in his ‘Ode to Agriculture in the Tropics’. Every chronicler had observed that there was an American variety of the banana, and that the one brought from Spain grew with astonishing fertility, thus making its cultivation and reproduction easier: its bounty, in all its varieties and tastes, multiplied. It was, we might say, the most modest emblem of abundance. Bello gives all this an inflection derived from the new times:
The banana tree first
Of all the plants that Providence offered
To happy tropic’s folk with generous hand:
It asks no care by human arts but freely gives
Its fruit. It needs no pruning hook or plough.
No care does it require, only such heed
As a slave’s hand can steal from daily toil.
It grows with confidence and when it is outworn
Its full-grown children take its place.
Bello has brought together abundance with its natural subject: if nature lavishes this good without requiring great efforts, the slave can cultivate it in his brief leisure from work: the banana tree is this freedom’s emblem and an example of duration and succession. Since society does not alleviate his servitude, the banana tree, as the first republican emblem, sets his tiredness aside. In this panegyric to a fruit that combines worlds and times, the setting announces a subject redeemed by abundance under the new order.
A Venezuelan opinion poll revealed that the great majority of the population thought that their country was rich but that it had been impoverished by political corruption. Thus, there is an extraordinary mismatch between the actual poverty of the country (at the end of the 20 th century more than half the population lived in poverty) and the personal and social expectations based on the consensus that the country is rich. This explains a number of phenomena: the recent social disruptions, the new waves of emigration (a Gallup (1999) poll revealed that Venezuelans express a greater willingness to emigrate than any other people in the world) and the widely felt contempt for public life. One might imagine that a similar poll in virtually any country of Latin America would have the same outcome: we are a country that is naturally rich, but has been impoverished by bad administration. Underlying this consensus is the notion of a generous nature, abundant in material resources with a fragile institutional structure, which is captured time and again by foreign interests and internal exploiters - by the ‘bad government’ already denounced by Guamán Poma. The Italian explorer Antonio Raimondi famously said that Peru was ‘a beggar sat on a golden bench.’ Today one could not quite so easily separate the realm of natural resources from their exploitation, since they are imbricated in a global economic rationality, in which monoculture or mono-production create new dependencies and inequalities.
In the 19 th century Latin America was much given to polemic and engaged in a long debate about how the nation and the state should be constructed. The Enlightenment was the source of much of this programme, and the Creole leadership saw itself as the privileged product of the ideals of independence and the republican modernity of the age. This was the reason, according to Benedict Anderson in his Imagined Communities that the Venezuelan patriots saw the United States Constitution as the legacy of the times and included it almost verbatim in their own Magna Carta. One of these extended debates concerned the fate of the natural abundance of the continent in the light of social development. The comparison between the countries of Latin America and the United States turned out to be crucial for this discussion. Martí believed that the future of the American republics would be compromised by North American expansionism, and that the two worlds were not merely different but antagonistic. Sarmiento thought that the progress that the United States had made should be imitated, and he endeavoured to transplant the model to Argentina: education, migration and transportation. Martí thought that the citizen of the independent republics would be the man from the countryside, who would stand in opposition to the decadent town. Sarmiento, by contrast, believed that the citizen was the man of the city, the herald of civilization in the face of rural barbarism with its authoritarian tradition. In the journal of his travels through the United States, the great Francisco de Miranda observed with some alarm that public men were not always cultivated and often lacked social graces. Even women had a modest social presence. Soon, North American abundance would be represented as the source of its egalitarian democracy, as if there were a necessary correlation between disposable wealth and a social order that lacked great class differences. In Latin America, by contrast, after the long decades of caudillismo, dictatorship and dependence class inequality and the fragility of the institutional structure would be seen as the cause of the endemic poverty that had succeeded squandered abundance. Many intellectuals gravitated to irrationalist or even racist positions as they tried to think through the crises that beset Latin America. After the failure of his presidential term, Sarmiento himself concluded that race imposed limits to rapid progress in Argentina. At the turn of the 20 th century, there were many who preferred to jettison the North American materialist model in favour of a newly valorized idealist Latin culture. This line of thought begun by Rodó in his treatise Ariel, and hence known as ‘Arielism’, had a longstanding influence on the lettered and ruling elites. Repeated failure was not due to the Messianic hopes and illusions of the intellectuals, it was felt, but to the incapacities of the people. In Lima and Caracas, prominent figures in public life concluded that the ‘native race’ was doomed to disappear since it was defective and that the ‘browns’ were ungovernable. Latin America displayed a lack of aptitude for modernity and would always ‘arrive late at the ‘festival’ of civilization.’ A theory of failure is thus built on an unfolding destiny of scarcity and lack. Such propositions demonstrate how difficult it was to elucidate the character of the crisis, and reveal how inadequate were the methods used to read the crisis.
It was these theories that Lezama Lima was responding to in his short treatise on cultural history American Expression (1949), where instead of the subtractions or deductions of scarcity, he proposed the additions and combinations of the ‘image’ and what he called ‘eras of the imagination’. He articulated cultural production and historical experience in exemplary artistic objects: culture shaped the epoch and was defined in terms of abundance, pleasure in the world, fullness of forms and Baroque instrumentality. In the Labyrinth of Solitude (1950) Octavio Paz developed a nationalist theory that was rooted in the 19 th century, in which la Malinche, Cortés’s companion and interpreter, became the emblem of national betrayal by allowing herself to become the conquistador’s lover. In ‘The Children of La Malinche’, Paz elaborated his thesis that the origin of Mexico was traumatic, resulting in a continuing bastardy or illegitimacy, that condemned Mexican individuals to an essential solitude and loneliness. It was only in the last decade of the century through the work of essayists like Margo Glantz, Roger Bartra and Carlos Monsiváis that the national allegory of La Malinche was de-dramatized and understood as a trope of nationalist manipulation.
In the United States an equivalent figure would be Pocahontas, who was also an intermediary between the colonizers and the Indians, also a translator and wife to an English colonist. But she is an emblem of modernity, a sign of exchange and mediation: a civilizing force—despite her conversion into a Disney’s cartoon. The North American historian David M. Potter attempted to articulate the national consciousness of abundance and the ‘character’ of their country. His book People of Plenty, Economic Abundance and the American Character (1954) is limited by its attempt to base itself on the psychological behaviorism of its time, but its interest lies in its project of comparing the situations of the two regions. That rapid comparison allows him to affirm the peculiar status of abundance in the United States, which he sees not as deriving from natural resources but as a product of economic organization and technological advance, human daring and achievement. In the United States, moreover, belief in that prosperity would lead waves of immigrants from all over the world to come to the country and confirms the sense of the future. Potter summarizes matters in this way: “Abundance has influenced American life in many ways, but there is perhaps no respect in which this influence has been more profound than in the forming and strengthening of the American ideal and practice of equality, with all that the ideal has implied for the individual in the way of opportunity to make his own place in society and of emancipation from a system of status” (91). Inevitably, the historian’s vision is produced by the optimistic spirit of his times and at moments he cannot avoid the complacent gaze of a Candide. Even when he discusses racism, he dismisses it as mere prejudice, and cannot see that behind abundance lie the signs of scarcity. Hence, there is no room in his republic for the African American population and the other ethnic minorities, whose problematic relationship with welfare, real and symbolic, throws the rationality of the system into doubt. In fact, these minorities are invisible because they lack a discourse. Potter articulates the values and horizon of expectations of North American exceptionalism, which nourish each other, but his comparisons with other countries only serve to confirm the essentially benign quality of his model of well-being. He does not bother to discuss the 19 th century notion of ‘manifest destiny’, nor the United States’ 20 th century imperialist phase. This well-being also consumes a great part of the world’s resources. Behind the model lies the practice of colonization, with its idea of ‘empty space’ gained from the natives for the purpose of generating new products. This contrasts with the Spanish practice of exploitation in the New World. The Puritan colonists came to the United States to inhabit and cultivate the land. The Spanish came to exploit and to garner tribute, to get rich and leave. This sentence comes from Hegel, from his Lectures on the Philosophy of World History (1830), where he is talking about Spanish-America: his generalizations are as laughable as his specific observations. However, he was one of the most important proponents of the thesis that the native populations were inferior, existing in a state of immaturity equivalent to childhood. Still in a process of becoming, nature itself produced little and that badly. He writes with an unintentional humour: ‘I even recollect having read that a clerygman used to ring a bell at midnight to remind them to perform their matrimonial duties, for otherwise it would never have occurred to them to do so.’ Unburdened by need, these natives lived in a state of innocent sloth. And even the mestizos and Creoles were not full individuals: only a part of them derived from Europe. The North Americans, on the other hand, were more European and therefore more advanced. And not even food is as nourishing in America as it is in the Old World: ‘although America has huge herds of cattle, European beef is still regarded as a delicacy.’ The cultures of Mexico and Peru have reached a certain grade of development, Hegel asserts, ‘but only to the effect that it was a purely natural culture which had to perish as soon as the spirit approached it.’ As the outcome of beliefs, engravings and stories that propagate these and similar versions, documented at great length by Antonello Gerbi in his study La polémica del Nuevo Mundo (The Polemic on the New World) they say more about those who cultivate them than about the object in question. But they also say something more important: the place of the subjects of the New World in European discourse is the modern place of the Other. That is the different people who populate the American world have become the unresolved enigma of the Western subject, which is maintained by their image, but no longer by their similarity. Modernity will start with the transatlantic Subject.