«By Robert Hilliker M. A., Brown University, 2003 B. A., University of British Columbia, 2000 Thesis Submitted in partial fulfillment of the ...»
expectation that the French would enjoy the protection of these allies. Radisson, on the other hand, perhaps affected by the violent outcome of his youthful identity confusion, resists such engagements, preferring to resolve conflict diplomatically.
Following the interplay between these two features of Radisson’s mode of operation through the course of the “Fifth Voyage,” we can see how these two traits ultimately reinforce each other. The political environment surrounding this voyage was particularly heated, with England and France gearing up for King William’s War. The status of their North American colonies and territories, including Hudson’s Bay, played an important role in the burgeoning mutual hostility. During Radisson’s voyage for the French, he had to deal not only with local Native American groups, but also with a group of New Englanders engaged in illegal trading, and with a group from England that included the father of the New Englanders’ captain as well as several other men Radisson knew from his first stint with the Hudson’s Bay Company. The situation was volatile, but Radisson managed to negotiate things so as to avoid a violent outcome, while simultaneously guaranteeing the success of his mission to trade for as many furs as possible.
Near the beginning of his narrative, however, when Radisson first encounters Native Americans in the vicinity of his trading camp, his hewing to Native American practices
and his steadfast desire to avoid bloodshed seem to be firmly at odds:
I asked them who was their chief commander, speaking unto him unknownst to me. He bowed the head, and another told me it was he that I talked unto. Then I took him by the hand and, making him sit down, I spoke unto him according to the genius of the Indians, unto whom, if one will be esteemed, it is necessary to brag of one’s valor, of one’s strength and ableness to succor and protect them from their enemies. They must also be made to believe that one is wholly for their interest and have a great complaisance for them, especially in making them presents; this amongst them is the greatest band of friendship.… I said to him in his language, “I know all the earth. Your friends shall be my friends, and I am come hither to bring you arms to destroy your enemies. You nor your wife nor children shall not die of hunger, for I have brought merchandise.
Be of good cheer. I will be thy son, and I have brought thee a father. He is yonder below, building a fort where I have 2 great ships.” (170) Radisson makes his understanding of the native way-of-life and way-of-thinking—the “genius of the Indians”—a point of boastful pride here, but in speaking according to that genius he emphasizes that he is empowering them to “destroy their enemies,” indicating his accession to the potentially violent demands of kinship. The words he directs at his reader, however, do not quite line up with those he uses for his Native American audience, emphasizing the importance of “strength” in providing “succor” and “protect[ion]... from their enemies.” Further, Radisson’s bald statement that “they must be made to believe that one is wholly for their interest” implies that he is engaged in a duplicitous performance, rather than offering an earnest statement of his true intentions, in his dealings with the natives. The overall effect of this passage, then, is to place Radisson’s engagement with Native American customs and his commitment to nonviolence in tension; the reader cannot finally decide whether Radisson’s negotiations are merely an act, or whether he indeed means to help these people destroy their enemies.
Perhaps our first indication that such an either/or reading is not the best way to make sense of this passage comes two pages later, when Radisson first encounters a group of New Englanders who have come to trade for furs. Radisson sees their ship before they see his, and he then hears them “pronouncing some words in the Indian tongue, which they read in a book.” Slyly testing their abilities, Radisson “sp[ea]k[s] to them in the Indian tongue and in French” (172), but they do not understand him, revealing their lack of practical knowledge. Following so closely upon his own successful negotiations with the Native Americans, this failure to understand suggests that the New Englanders are, in truth, the ones engaged in an empty display, though Radisson’s understanding of their language hardly guarantees his truthfulness. Still, Radisson’s repeated generosity to the New Englanders and the English, providing them with biscuits, other food, and even gunpowder, suggests that he is dealing in good faith (177, 183, 189, 194).
In the end, Radisson’s dealings with the English and the New Englanders cast the interaction between Radisson’s ethos of non-violence and his reliance on the “Indian genius” for negotiating relations in a yet more complex light, making that relationship somewhat more clear, though still difficult to parse. While Radisson deals favorably with his English and Anglo-American counterparts, he also takes stock of their resources while carefully cultivating in them a mistaken notion of his own by withholding information. Ultimately, he plans to seize the New Englanders’ ship, “which,” he notes, “was a lawful prize, having no commission from England nor France to trade” (173).
However, he insists that he will “not attempt anything rashly, for fear of missing [his] aim,” stressing his particular conviction to “avoid spilling blood” (173).
Part of Radisson’s rationale for avoiding violence is that he lacks “men sufficient to resist with open force” (175), but later in the narrative, when he has an opportunity to overtake the English through direct and violent confrontation, Radisson prefers to put off the confrontation—a decision which his brother-in-law criticizes (188). In disagreeing with his brother-in-law, Radisson places a stress on their relationship, since his refusal implies that the bonds of kinship are less important than his duty to an Englishman who has been acting contrary to his interests and those of his kin. Radisson’s Native American allies
give voice to this logic after he complains to them about their dealings with the English:
“Thou hast made us presents to make thine enemies become ours, and ours to be thine.
We will not be found liars” (191). And yet, Radisson’s own application of this logic is precisely what leads him to disagree with his brother.
By providing the English and the New Englanders with the assistance they need, Radisson places them in his debt. By incurring this debt, these groups voluntarily enter into relations with Radisson. Even though he has no proof that they will reciprocate his gifts as such, the gifts establish an ongoing dialogue between the parties, one that enables Radisson’s later success. In fact, many of the New Englanders and the English men, seeing Radisson’s beneficence, decide to join with him rather than remain with their own leaders, who prove incapable of providing the “succor” and “protection” that Radisson can offer (170). Thus, while Radisson’s generosity does not guarantee full reciprocity, he acts as though it does in order to ensure that it might actually do so in the end. Radisson thereby operates according to the “Indian genius” inasmuch as he extends his circle of friends and relations to potentially include anyone, and so he cannot allow himself to destroy his enemies since they may yet prove friends. He, too, “will not be found a liar.” As he insists at the end of his narrative, he “endeavored in all [his] proceedings to discharge the part of an honest man and... thinks [that he] did no other” (205).
Of course, the paradox is that in order to not be a liar Radisson must be one, opposing his closest kin when it comes to the destruction of their enemies, and lying to his supposed enemies while he keeps them from starving to death. Still, if Radisson, in his various negotiations, evinces something less than good faith, then it must also be said that he is hardly dealing in bad faith, either, since he still adheres to a principle of allegiance that exceeds the limited interests of those he is serving at a given moment.134 This principle of allegiance extends downwards as well as up, since Radisson accepts his responsibility for the welfare of those who serve him, and even, to a more limited degree, for those who might potentially serve him.
Radisson’s radical extension of kinship eventually threatens the exclusive nature of kinship itself. Further, it exposes the nuclear family as a product of custom rather than a natural state. Thus, while Radisson’s international relationships radically destabilize the notion of a coherent and stable national identity, they also undermine the idea that animates Rowlandson’s text: that the state of nature is a necessary adjunct to kin relations. Radisson’s respect for—and adoption of—different national customs and his adherence to a principle of non-violence serve as the cornerstones of an inclusive model of kinship that provides an alternative to the militant closure of Puritan society after King Philip’s War.
Though I am using the notion of allegiance here in an expansive sense, Radisson is powerfully held by the claims of royal allegiance, too. Thus, when one of the New Englanders, “discoursing of the privileges of New England,... ha[s] the confidence to speak slightly of the best of kings [that is, King James II],” Radisson responds by “call[ing] him [a] pitiful dog for talking after that manner and t[ells] him that for [his] part, having had the honor to have been in His Majesty’s service, [he] would pray for His Majesty as long as [he] lived” (184).
As if to underline this alternative, Radisson’s narrative offers an example of what happens when relations fail, showing us the fate of those who fail to acknowledge their social debts. After Radisson’s successful capture of the New Englander’s ship and fort, and his subsequent capture of several of the English men, Radisson returns to the English fort to find the leader of their trading mission, Mr. Bridgar, “in a sad condition, having drank to excess” (189). Bridgar, who would later press charges against Radisson, had apparently been trying to kill one of his fellow Englishmen, who “desired to stay with” Radisson (189). Seeing Radisson, Bridgar “speaks a thousand things against” him, and even threatens to kill him (189). Radisson, rather than retaliating in kind, takes pity on Mr. Bridgar, and ensures that he will be able to return safely to England. Murder, in Radisson’s ethical universe, is not the guarantor of national identity, but the last resort of someone who has been isolated from his own community.
For Radisson to forbear killing his rivals is perhaps a politically expedient act, since it would likely have proven an obstacle to his eventual return to England—and thus to his wife—yet it also highlights the distance between his conception of kin relations and that of his Puritan counterparts, who condone killing in the name of family, nation, and God.
Where Rowlandson and Mather insist on the family’s status as the symbolic lynchpin of nation, underwriting that synechdochal link with a carefully managed play of metonyms, Radisson pulls that lynchpin free and lets metonymy run wild, forming whatever alliances—political, commercial, and familial—that he can. Radisson thereby reveals family to be a product of custom, not merely, as the Puritans would like it to be, the seat of its reproduction.
It is tempting to read the opposition between these two ways of understanding kin relations into two abstract principles that can potentially provide a meta-discourse of social relations. Radisson’s emphasis on economic exchange invites the invocation of Adam Smith’s famous “invisible hand” of enlightened self-interest, working to guide human interactions on an ever upward course, while the Puritan insistence on war as the form of international relations explicitly calls upon Hobbes cynical assessment of human nature to justify a rhetorical embruting of their Native American neighbors. This reading would seem to jibe with the anthropological opposition between the lineal and alliancebased axes of kin relations and even to find support in Deleuze and Guattari’s characterization of these two axes as commercial and mythical (inasmuch as the Bible serves as a foundational mythology for Puritan society).
There is evidence in both texts to support such a reading, in particular in the characteristic grammatical oddities of each text. Rowlandson, for her part, shifts verb tenses in a dramatic fashion at various points in her narration, most notably in the description of “the amazing time” of the Native American assault on her house, when she abruptly switches from the past tense, saying, “Now is that dreadfull hour come, that I have often heard of (in time of War, as it was the case of others) but now mine eyes see it” (69). Thus Rowlandson draws attention to the diachronic organization of her experience in the text, thereby reinforcing the association with a lineal mode of kin relations. Radisson, on the other hand, produces all manner of grammatical error in his captivity narrative, particularly in his misconjugation of verbs and his misuse of pronouns; these errors may simply speak to his limited familiarity with English, but they also suggest his fluid sense of identity, as well as emphasizing the synchronic dimensions of his narrative (since the appropriate use of pronouns and verb conjugations depends on the relational context at a given moment). Ultimately, however, Deleuze and Guattari insist that the two axes of social relations operate in a complementary fashion, even if they are at odds with one another (as are Radisson’s respect of different customs and his commitment to nonviolence) and this insight is borne out by both texts.
After all, the Puritan prowess for commercial activity has been proverbial at least since Max Weber’s Protestant Work Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism first appeared in 1930.