Sunday, May 29, 2011

Romantic Savages: Highlanders, Indians and Sheiks


As Colin G. Calloway notes, "In some ways, of course, the histories of Highland Scots and American Indians are so different as to render comparisons superficial" (10) and a further comparison with the history of Arab sheikhs would have to be even more superficial still. Nonetheless, since the romance genre's depictions of Native Americans, Scottish Highlanders and sheikhs are often based on superficial stereotypes, I wondered if Calloway's research might shed some light on why heroes from these groups have been so popular that they are each recognised as having their own romance sub-genre.

Calloway's book is titled White People, Indians, and Highlanders: Tribal Peoples and Colonial Encounters in Scotland and America and examines the similarities and shared histories of Indians and Highlanders.1 He begins by explaining the source of his title:
In the 1730s the trustees of Georgia colony recruited Highlanders from the north of Scotland to serve as farmer-soldiers on the frontier against the Spaniards and Indians in Florida. When war broke out between Britain and Spain, General James Oglethorpe raised a corps of Highland Rangers to fight alongside his English colonists and his Creek, Yuchee, and Chickasaw allies. The Highlanders spoke Gaelic, wore kilts, and wielded broadswords. Oglethorpe described his force as "White people[,] Indians and highlanders." He offered no explanation for his comment; pairing American Indians and Celtic Highlanders together as nonwhites made sense to eighteenth-century Englishmen, as it did to many Scottish Lowlanders. (xi)
Calloway's book
identifies parallels between the experiences of Highlanders and Indians in their respective homelands; it relates multiple stories of encounter between Scots and Indians when they fought, traded, and married in North America, and it does both within the context of relations with colonial power (whether British or American) and far-reaching social, economic, and cultural changes. (xii-xiii)
Since my interest is in the depictions of Highlanders and Native Americans in romance novels, I will focus here on some of the parallels Calloway identifies. There are plenty of them, as is apparent from the beginning of his introduction:
They were routinely described as wild, savage, barbarous, primitive, lawless, warlike, treacherous, vengeful, lazy, dirty, poor, superstitious, and always in need of instruction and improvement. They were the tribal peoples who inhabited the northern frontiers of Great Britain and the western frontiers of North America. They had more in common than the derogatory terms applied to them.
[...] Some authors identify "a mutual respect and deep affinity" between Highlanders and Indians "based on parallel warrior traditions, a clan-based social structure, and above all a profound independence of spirit." (3)
and
Like Highlanders, Indian people inhabited landscapes that were etched with the experiences of generations, held memories of the past, and were alive with the spirits of their ancestors. They read the landscape like a historical text. (6)
and
Despite differences between clan and tribe, many contemporary observers saw Highland and Indian ways of life as fundamentally similar. They lived in tribal societies with a strong warrior tradition, they inhabited rugged homelands, and they were accustomed to deprivation and inured to hardship. (9)
Many of these parallels also exist between them and the romance genre's sheikhs, as can readily be illustrated by a few quotes from E. M. Hull's The Sheik:
  • Independence - As the Sheik declares: "The French Government has no jurisdiction over me. I am not subject to it. I am an independent chief, my own master. I recognise no government. My tribe obey me and only me."

  • Clan - The Sheik's "tribe worship first and foremost their Sheik." And, like the Highlanders and Native Americans described by Calloway, they "are accustomed to deprivation and inured to hardship." In describing their lifestyle Diana also throws in some derogatory adjectives which, as we have seen, have been applied to Native Americans and Highlanders: "The wild tribesmen, with their primitive ways and savagery, had ceased to disgust her, and the free life with its constant exercise and simple routine was becoming indefinitely dear to her."

  • Warriors - "The tradition of reckless courage and organised fighting efficiency that had made the tribe known and feared for generations had been always maintained, and under the leadership of the last two holders of the hereditary name to so high a degree that the respect in which it was held was such that no other tribe had ventured to dispute its supremacy, and for many years its serious fighting capacities had not been tested."

  • Rugged Homelands - Romance sheikhs generally have a connection to the desert. In Hull's novel Diana Mayo's attraction to the desert is almost as intense as that which she will come to feel for the Sheik himself:
    they glanced slowly around the camp spread out over the oasis—the clustering palm trees, the desert itself stretching away before her in undulating sweeps, but seemingly level in the evening light, far off to the distant hills lying like a dark smudge against the horizon. She drew a long breath. It was the desert at last, the desert that she felt she had been longing for all her life. She had never known until this moment how intense the longing had been. She felt strangely at home, as if the great, silent emptiness had been waiting for her as she had been waiting for it, and now that she had come it was welcoming her softly with the faint rustle of the whispering sand, the mysterious charm of its billowy, shifting surface that seemed beckoning to her to penetrate further and further into its unknown obscurities.
Other ethnic groups may have been described as "wild, savage, barbarous, primitive, [...] lazy, dirty, poor" but they have not become popular as romantic and noble savages, even though they share certain characteristics with Highlanders, American Indians, and sheikhs.

Isobel Chase, in her The Tartan Touch (1972) explicitly compares Aboriginal Australians to Highlanders, and her Scottish heroine begins by articulating one of the prejudices that exist about the former:
"Do the humpies where they live have to be quite so dreary?" I wondered aloud. "Are they just feckless?"
"No," Andrew said firmly. "They're a lost people, and it's mostly our fault."
I sighed, nodding my head wisely. Hadn't I seen the way the crofters were leaving the land at home? "Ay," I said, "it always is the fault of those who don't live on the land. But dirt poverty is dirt poverty and has to be changed." (126)
The Aboriginal Australians clearly have a rugged homeland, but in this depiction they lack both independence and a warlike nature. African Americans, particularly in a historical American context in which they were slaves, would perhaps be considered to lack all four of the features listed above which are shared by what one might term the "noble savages."

I wonder if independence and aggressive/competitive attributes (either in a warlike or business setting) are felt to be particularly necessary in a male non-White character if he is to qualify for the status of romance hero. These seem to be characteristics which are particularly associated with masculinity and the alpha hero.2

Given that in the world of fiction a single author may spawn an entire genre or subgenre, it would be unwise to ignore the importance of Sir Walter Scott, James Fenimore Cooper and E. M. Hull in giving us the Scottish, Indian and sheikh romance sub-genres:
What Scott did with Highland Scots, Cooper did with American Indians by portraying noble savages who embodied heroic traditions that were fading away before the relentless advance of a modern civilization. (Calloway 248)
E. M. Hull's The Sheik wasn't the first book to romanticise the desert and its inhabitants but "the publication of the novel and the release of the film starring Rudolph Valentino in the eponymous role unleashed 'sheik fever' in the western world" (Teo).

Calloway suggests another consideration to bear in mind when trying to understand why particular denigrated racial or ethnic groups have been granted "noble savage" status:
Nations with an imperial past need to explain themselves and make palatable the experiences of the peoples they colonized. Even as Britain and the United States worked to destroy tribal ways of life, they created romantic images of the people and distorted their history. Images of Highland Scots and American Indians were constructed and transformed to suit changing needs and tastes; historical experiences were reconstructed and reremembered. When British and American colonizers and beneficiaries of colonialism looked again at the peoples, cultures, and environments they had assaulted, altered, or destroyed, they viewed them with a kind of "imperialist nostalgia." (240)
Maybe the histories of some "peoples, cultures, and environments they had assaulted, altered, or destroyed" are less easily "reconstructed and reremembered" for incorporation into the romance genre?

A final factor affecting the creation of a "noble savage" stereotype may be the extent to which certain non-White groups can be constructed as White, almost White, or at very least less Black than some other group. As Calloway notes, "Highland Scots had to earn the privileges that came with membership in the white race in America" (234) and E. M. Hull's Sheik turns out to be of European, rather than of Arab origin, though
His mother was a Spanish lady; many of the old noble Spanish families have Moorish blood in their veins, the characteristics crop up even after centuries. It is so with Ahmed, and his life in the desert has accentuated it.
According to Stephanie Burley "a certain amount of ethnic otherness is desirable in heroes, but the boundaries of acceptable otherness are clearly drawn along racial lines" (327) and "The fact that 'Native American' is an acceptable romanticized racial category, where African American is not, gestures towards a color-palette of white desire" (334).
-------
  • Burley, Stephanie. "Shadows & Silhouettes: The Racial Politics of Category Romance." Paradoxa 5.13-14 (2000): 324-343.
  • Calloway, Colin G. White People, Indians, and Highlanders: Tribal Peoples and Colonial Encounters in Scotland and America. Oxford: Oxford UP, 2008.
  • Chase, Isobel. The Tartan Touch.
  • Hull, E. M. The Sheik. Project Gutenberg.
  • Teo, Hsu-Ming. "Historicizing The Sheik: Comparisons of the British Novel and the American Film." Journal of Popular Romance Studies 1.1 (2010).

1 My thanks to Robin/Janet from Dear Author whose mention of this book in a tweet alerted me to its existence.

2 As Calloway notes, Europeans deemed "issues of war and trade" to be "areas of male responsibility" (55). As he observes, however,
Depictions of tribal peoples as inherently warlike and living in a state of perpetual violence said more about the agendas of colonial powers than about tribal realities. Highland men spent more time with crops and animals than with claymore and musket (the last clan battle in the Highlands occurred in 1688). [...] And although war was a regular and important event in Indian society, it was not a normal state of affairs [...]. It became endemic only after European contact generated new motives for fighting and new sources of international and intertribal competition. (90)

The images are:
  • a "US Postage stamp, 1922 issue"; image downloaded from Wikimedia Commons.
  • "A vintage pack of [Sheik brand] cigarettes that I saw on a shelf in a restaurant in Seaside, Oregon" photographed by Ocean Yamaha and downloaded from Flickr under a Creative Commons licence.
  • Thomas Faed's 1865 painting, "The Last of the Clan"; downloaded from Wikimedia Commons.

26 comments:

  1. "Other ethnic groups may have been described as "wild, savage, barbarous, primitive, [...] lazy, dirty, poor" but they have not become popular as romantic and noble savages, even though they share certain characteristics with Highlanders, American Indians, and sheikhs."
    ----

    I believe it's because highlanders and American Indians were featured as romantic or tragic noble heroes in cinema more than those from any other ethnic groups.

    A highlander as hero didn't become a popular trend until Braveheart (1995) and Rob Roy (1995) were released. If we were to look at the number of Scottish historical romance releases, we'll find a sharp rise in 1996/97. Up to then, it was a niche in the romance genre.

    Same with the popularity of American Indian heroes - historical and contemporary - in accordance with The Last of the Mohicans (1992), Thunderheart (1992), Dance With the Wolves (1990), Grey Owl (1990), Running Brave (1987) and more.

    The 1990s were really the decade of American Indians *and* highlanders in cinema and romantic fiction. However, for some reason, highlanders continue to be popular while American Indian heroes don't. I suspect it's because it's too close to home for some authors and readers. Rhett Butler was the ideal hero until the setting became a minefield, for instance. I suspect this is the case with western romances and American Indian romances, too. That said, it's certainly making its comeback in cinema, fiction and comics, but mostly as steampunk. Heh.

    "Gypsy" heroes and Indian princes were popular during the 1970s and earlier because - ha ha ha! - of films. There are hardly any films featuring either gypsy heroes or Indian princes since the 1980s and so unsurprisingly to me, there are hardly any in romance novels since early 1990s. Gypsy heroines and Indian princesses were more popular or common after that period.

    All that said, my theory falls apart where sheikhs are concerned. I can't think of any films that feature sheikhs as romantic heroes since 1930s so I really have no idea why or how the popularity of sheikhs continue for so long.

    In fact, sheikh heroes are more likely to appear in category romances than in single titles, so I suppose my theory is for single titles than category romances?

    (Sorry for being so incoherent.)

    Maili

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  2. "sheikh heroes are more likely to appear in category romances than in single titles, so I suppose my theory is for single titles than category romances?"

    According to Hsu-Ming Teo,

    Although the subgenre of the British-authored “sheik novel” had run out of steam by the late 1930s, the 1970s saw its revival, particularly in the form of the newly emerging erotic historical romance novel, produced primarily in the United States by authors such as Johanna Lindsey (1977) and Bertrice Small (1978). These historical romance novels found their counterparts in films and television shows of the 1980s such as the British television mini-series Harem (1986) or the Brooke Shields film Sahara (1983).

    As I commented in response to her article, I suspect that as far as category romances are concerned, the revival probably started with Violet Winspear.

    I certainly don't want to deny the importance of film and TV in creating and spreading racial/ethnic stereotypes/archetypes which have then found their way into the romance genre. What interests me here, though, is more why it might be that "highlanders and American Indians were featured as romantic or tragic noble heroes in cinema more than those from any other ethnic groups" and I think that Calloway's answer is as relevant to film/TV as it is to novels.

    As for differences between single title and category romances, in this case I suspect that might be a consequence of the nationalities of the authors. Mills & Boon did have Jean S. Macleod/Catherine Airlie writing Scottish-set romances but as far as I know, they were contemporaries. Her

    heyday ran from the 1930s to the 1970s. Most of her stories were set in Scotland, and usually featured a laird –strong and silent, kilted, slightly older than the heroine, and perhaps embittered from a previous romance – waiting for the right girl to rekindle the flame within. (Daily Telegraph.

    Hague and Stenhouse (whose article about Scottish-set historical romances I discussed in an earlier post) consider the Scottish historical romances to be primarily an American phenomenon, and I'd suggest that Native American romances are too. Single title romances are also much more a US phenomenon.

    The sheiks, on the other hand, seem to be much more a category romance phenomenon, and that doesn't really surprise me given that M&B publishes a significant proportion of UK romance authors and the "Modern/Harlequin Presents" line is edited in the UK.

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  3. Argh! Blogger ate my comment. Let's try again.

    Another similarity between American Indians and Arabs/Sheikhs (I don't think it works for Highlanders) is the prevalence of nomadic societies. Given the way Europeans conceptualized land ownership and the role it played in feudal society, social organizations in which land was not owned (and pastorally farmed) were seen as primitive. While there were settled Indian societies (e.g. the "Five Civilized Tribes") who adopted pastoral farming, many were nomadic and this failure to use the land as God intended gave Europeans a justification for taking the land without compensation.

    The 16th and 17th century historical record on American settlement (and the historiography dealing with it) is full of examples of Europeans pointing to nomadic culture as inherently barbarous.

    Great post, Laura, lots of food for thought.

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  4. "Great post, Laura, lots of food for thought."

    Thanks, Sunita. I know I haven't done much more than skimmed the surface here, but I wanted to write something about the topic even though I knew I couldn't do justice to the complex interactions of historical fact, "imperialist nostalgia," cultural prejudices such as the one you mention about land ownership, the geographical/ethnic/historical context of the readers and publishers, and the influence of film/TV/other fictions.

    I've just remembered an anecdote from McAleer's Passion's Fortune: The Story of Mills & Boon which seems relevant. It's about a synopsis submitted to M&B in 1959 by:

    new author Nerina Hilliard, a stenographer born in Ilford but raised in Australia. In her three-page letter posted from Sydney, Hilliard wove an outrageous plot. The setting is present-day Algeria. The hero is a Muslim, raised by Frenchmen, but secretly a nobleman and a member of the Tuareg tribe, descendants of a lost European Crusader army. [...] The English heroine travels to Algeria with her fiancé to seek out her her mother's Tuareg roots. She meets the hero, falls in love, is released from her engagement, and they marry.
    Hilliard admitted her proposal could cause problems. For one, the Tuareg, 'although of course deeply suntanned are supposed to be a Caucasian or "white" race. I mention this in case there might be some colour prejudices among some readers.' As for the Muslim religion, she noted the Tuareg treat their faith with 'only the most casual type of lip service', so religion would not intrude. In his reply, Boon said he liked the plot but 'one of my readers is against it'. That reader was Joan Bryant, and her reader's report is a classic document for its statement of all the cardinal rules that were broken by Hilliard. [...]

    a) Colour bar. Miss Hemming's account of this race as originally Caucasian would do for English readers, but we have to think of our South African market, too, and I don't believe they'd stand for it.
    b) Religion. If the hero is a Moslem, I don't think it helps much that he is a lax one! The Eire readers would find much matter of offence here. If, on the other hand, he is made an RC (because of his French upbringing) then we must expect roars of rage from the manse.
    (207-208)

    Two other problems were that in this period "sheikery" (208) was "hopelessly unfashionable" (208) and the current political situation in Algeria meant the book wouldn't be escapist enough.

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  5. @LauraV

    I think my answer to 'why' is a lot more simplistic (and certainly more likely to be incorrect) than Calloway's proposal: it's an escape from the rigid rules of the civilised society. I think this idea stemmed from a theory why the public rooted for criminals (Bonnie and Clyde) and other law breakers who could be seen as the underdogs. I'll ponder on this some more. :D

    I'm headdesking for forgetting the mini series of glitter (rich & famous) during the 1980s. There were quite a few sheikhs there. I also forgot about Sahara and Harem. Good call.

    But I didn't realise sheikhs were heavily featured in 1970s-era romance novels, though. I knew about Beatrice Small and the like, but I felt it was a niche as it wasn't that heavily featured, not like the hey days of the 1930s. I now realised I'm wrong in that respect. I think I was deeply influenced by the idea that pirate heroes (including corporate raiders in contemporary romances) dominated that period.

    The 1980s was also the period for the rose-tinted British Raj, such as Heat & Dust, The Far Pavilion, TV mini series and like so. But I don't think it's ever been that popular in the romance genre?

    I won't even go there with films and TV mini series set during the Happy Valley era (1920s) in Kenya, e.g. Out of Africa, White Mischief, etc, from 1980s/1990s. Mostly because it's irrelevant to this topic, I think.

    @Sunita

    "Another similarity between American Indians and Arabs/Sheikhs (I don't think it works for Highlanders) is the prevalence of nomadic societies."

    The highlands did have nomadic societies. Although still little known to the world, the best known Scottish nomadic societ is walkers, a group of Gaelic-speaking travellers. They are definitely not the Scottish version of travellers/gypsies. They made a living from such as tin trade, pearl fishing, horse trading and the like. They are just one example. Of course! :P

    Maili

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  6. The highlands did have nomadic societies. Although still little known to the world, the best known Scottish nomadic societ is walkers, a group of Gaelic-speaking travellers

    I should have said "I don't KNOW" rather than "I don't think" because I really don't. That is so interesting and makes the comparison even stronger.

    I wonder if the rise of the sheikh hero is related to the oil shocks and 747 hijackings in the early 1970s? I think the earliest categories predate that, but it certainly brought the character to the forefront.

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  7. In a way, the Scottish coureurs de bois/voyageurs engaged in the great transatlantic fur trade, northern/northwestern exploration, and the making of Canada on behalf of the Hudson's Bay Company and the North West Company, Sir Alexander Mackenzie et al., did lead a nomadic life. The Canadian companies also encouraged their employees to marry into local tribes.

    The trouble here is, would the general audience be actively aware of this, or the Scottish walkers mentioned by Maili?

    Kara

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  8. Okay, apparently I have to do this in two comments -- sorry, everyone, for the cumbersome length of these comments!

    Excellent post, Laura! And for anyone who has not read Calloway, I think he's one of the very best ever historians of the indigenous peoples of North America. Dawnland Encounters is still one of my favorite books on the New England colonies.

    I haven't yet read this book, and I have absolutely NO authority to speak about the Highlanders, so I cannot comment on that part of the post. I have a couple of ideas about the Sheikh aspect and a lot of ideas about the Native American aspect, but I'll try to control myself. ;D

    First, I think there are historical connections and contexts for the Romance popularity of each group represented here, although I would not argue that the connections are directly between Romance and history, but rather through a series of literary, cultural, and historical links, of which Romance is one.

    For example, I think one of the reasons sheiks became a fetishized and romanticized category was because following World War I, the British had unprecedented occupation and control of much of the Arab territories, and conquest inevitably creates ambivalence and obsession with the populations under colonial power (you see it with India, too).

    During this period there was also a surge in women's travel writing, much of which was set in the "exotic Orient," and there is a great deal to be said (and that has been said) about how the Near, Middle, and Far East become both subject and object in these writings, part of the complex iterations of gender, racial, and cultural identities during this period. Reina Lewis has written an excellent book called Gendering Orientalism: Race, Femininity, and Representation, in which she analyzes the ways in which white women were in a complicated middle position vis a vis colonial power and Otherness, and I think you see a lot of those same issues in Sheikh Romance written by women.

    As for the enduring popularity of the Sheikh Romance, I agree re. Winspear, especially since her book, Blue Jasmine, is a virtual retelling of Hull's The Sheik (without the overt rape, though), although I do not know much about the context of that connection (Laura, I'm betting you do).

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  9. As for the Native American question, gah, there is just so much to talk about here, it's a little overwhelming, I think. Just a few thoughts that occurred to me as I was reading the post and comments:

    In the IMO outstanding two volume Invention of the White Race, Theodore Allen makes an incredibly compelling case for the construction of a white racial identity vis a vis the economic oppression of different populations. One of the reasons I find his argument so persuasive is that it tracks what I've found in many colonial American documents -- namely that race is always a slippery category that more often than not resolves into less stable, more porous (e.g. cultural) differences (and late 18th and 19th C debates over racial origins compulsively demonstrate and contemplate these anxieties).

    For example, in Jefferson's Notes On The State of Virginia, TJ writes about how miscegenation between blacks and whites is aesthetically ugly, but finds pleasing miscegenation between Indians and whites. When you look at the fact that Native Americans had much more political power in the Colonies (until the end of the French and Indian War and reduction of Canada in 1763, that is), the distinction makes some sense. Indians were landholders (the European concept of real property ownership is not really applicable, except in so far as some Europeans did purchase land from the indigenous nations), in some cases slaveholders, and had the home advantage, so to speak, over Africans transported as slaves to the colonies. That whites were the ones to denigrate the status of enslaved blacks is not incidental and helps to illuminate the artificiality of the distinction Jefferson makes.

    Jennifer DeVere Brody (in Impossible Purities: Blackness, Femininity, and Victorian Culture) further insists that within the black/white paradigm, miscegenation between white men and black women was deemed much more productive (i.e. "fertile" and therefore positive) than between black men and white women, a union that was deemed, by turns, sterile, dangerous, taboo. When you factor in the structure of slavery, that construction makes a great deal of sense (perverse, horrific sense, but sense, nonetheless). Even more importantly, you can see these relationships and boundaries being constructed to account for economic and political relationships, for the fears and anxieties and impositions of power by white people. And the constructions change, depending on the context.

    A lot has been written on the romanticization of Native Americans, and among the factors noted for the shift from Bloody Savage to Noble Savage are a) white guilt, b) sentimentalization of the population to represent other forms of social and cultural and racial oppression, c) cultural fascination with Native Americans by other nations -- e.g. Germany, d) conflation of Native American peoples with the conquered territory of the colonies (eventually the United States) and the flipside of Manifest Destiny, e) poetic representation of the "wilderness" as lamentably conquered and tamed (one of Fenimore Cooper's favorite conceits). A few great books on this subject are Michael Paul Rogin's Fathers and Children, Reginald Horsman's Race and Manifest Destiny, Richard Drinnon's Facing West, and Edward Spicer's Cycles of Conquest.

    And finally (I hope!), I disagree strongly with Stephanie Burley's assertion regarding racial Otherness in Romance heroes. Not only have I read quite a few Romance novels featuring heroes who are not white or European, but I think there is also a much more complex relationship around race and culture in the genre as a whole, mirroring, as it does, IMO, those complex relationships in other literary, social, cultural, and historical contexts. I'd also argue that sometimes it's the mix of elements that makes things interesting and less stable than a simple portrayal of racial and cultural Otherness, a lack of stability that again reflects other contexts.

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  10. "it's an escape from the rigid rules of the civilised society"

    That does presuppose that

    (a) the societies depicted are actually uncivilised, and that sort of judgement is likely to be based on a great many preconceptions/prejudices such as the one Sunita mentioned about how "social organizations in which land was not owned (and pastorally farmed) were seen as primitive."

    (b) the "non-civilised" societies don't have rigid rules. I rather suspect that they did because there are very few societies without rules. However, as you and Kara point out, there are probably many aspects of these societies about which "the general audience" knows extremely little, so the facts don't necessarily get in the way of the construction of romantic "Others."

    I count myself as part of the "general audience," by the way, because I don't know much about the history of the Highlands etc. I only know enough for the depictions to raise questions in my mind, but not enough for me to be sure which parts are anachronisms, which are pure invention etc.

    Anyway, getting back to your suggestion that Highlanders etc appeal because they provide an "escape from the rigid rules of the civilised society" this still doesn't explain why some "non-civilised" societies have greater appeal than others. This would make me think that, even if you're right, there must be additional factors at work.

    "The 1980s was also the period for the rose-tinted British Raj, such as Heat & Dust, The Far Pavilion, TV mini series and like so. But I don't think it's ever been that popular in the romance genre? "

    Hsu-Ming Teo's written another article, "Romancing the Raj: Interracial Relations in Anglo-Indian Romance Novels," which

    examines Anglo-Indian romance novels written by British women during the period of the Raj. It argues that these love stories were symptomatic of British fantasies of colonial India and served as a forum to explore interracial relations as well as experimenting with the modern femininity of the New Woman. With the achievement of Indian independence in 1947, British interest in India as a locus for romance rapidly declined, thus demonstrating that these novels were never concerned with India but with British lives and British colonialism.

    It's online in History of Intellectual Culture 4.1 (2004).

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  11. "sorry, everyone, for the cumbersome length of these comments!"

    I'm always grateful when people take the time to share their expertise with me and other readers of TMT, and given the length of my own comments, I prefer to think of long comments as "information-filled" rather than "cumbersome" ;-)

    "I would not argue that the connections are directly between Romance and history, but rather through a series of literary, cultural, and historical links, of which Romance is one."

    Yes, I'd agree. Maili mentioned the connection with film/TV and in my post I included photos of items which I hoped would suggest that the romance genre's depictions of Highlanders, sheikhs, and Native Americans exist in a wider cultural context.

    For example, I think one of the reasons sheiks became a fetishized and romanticized category was because following World War I, the British had unprecedented occupation and control of much of the Arab territories, and conquest inevitably creates ambivalence and obsession with the populations under colonial power

    I have the impression that there had been a fascination with the Middle East for quite a while. Admittedly, though, for much of that time

    The harem was the defining symbol of the Orient for Western Europeans [...]. What the West thought it knew about 'the East' was that, there, women were kept as chattels, imprisoned in segregated spaces, the slaves or sex-toys of their masters. From this image derived one of the key meanings of 'Oriental' in European languages: unfettered masculine power. (Tate Britain)

    The romance genre does mention harems, of course, but there's much more focus on the desert, and the sheik as a nomad. Rachel Anderson states that

    it was Robert Hichens, writing in the early 1900s, who first made a romantic speciality out of deserts. His books - The Garden of Allah (1904), The Call of the Blood (1906), The Spell of Egypt (1910), In the Wilderness (1917) - though they were called romances, had only a minimal story-line and love interest, usually of a sentimental kind, and the real appeal was his revelation of desert mysteries. (181)

    She adds that

    Another desert charmer, and contemporary of Robert Hichens, was Kathlyn Rhodes, popular as a writer of school-chums stories, who also 'painted with her pen, vivid pictures of the fire and passion of the East' in such romantic novels as The Relentless Desert - 'a novel set in Egypt which burns with the passion of the desert'. (183)

    Re Winspear, I haven't read Blue Jasmine yet. I do have a copy of her Palace of the Pomegranate (1974) and it's quite similar to The Sheik although at the start of the novel the heroine is a virgin wife (her husband then dies in a sandstorm) and she is duly abducted by the hero who had been acting as their guide in the desert.

    ---
    Anderson, Rachel. The Purple Heart Throbs: The Sub-literature of Love. London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1974.

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  12. I disagree strongly with Stephanie Burley's assertion regarding racial Otherness in Romance heroes. Not only have I read quite a few Romance novels featuring heroes who are not white or European, but I think there is also a much more complex relationship around race and culture in the genre as a whole

    Burley's article, interestingly, focuses on a "three-volume Silhouette Desire mini-series, The Men of the Black Watch" (325). The heroes are actually "members of a clandestine law enforcement agency called the Black Watch" (325) and they aren't Highlanders but nonetheless

    The watch symbol and the well-known variety of tartan known as black-watch plaid gracing the covers and spines of James' mini-series harken back to a long tradition of European racial and ethnic taxonomy. (329)

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  13. Laura: yes, yes, yes, the East had been a source of imagined fascination for the West since, well, since there was a perception of East and West, lol.

    I was thinking specifically about the link between Hull and the genre Romance novel, and I agree that the desert mysteries of the early 20th C are important, as well. In fact, I'd even back up another step (at least) to take a look at the emergence of literary Modernism and its critique of industrialization, the urban landscape, and the perceived soullessness those things produced, as well as its promotion of the individual. That's one of the reasons I read Hull's novel as a Modernist work, despite the broad romantic narrative running through it.

    There are just so many substantial shifts that occur at the beginning of the 20th C and especially with the advent of World War I that IMO have a really strong influence on the development of the Sheikh Romance hero -- has anyone done substantial work on that evolution from a historical and political perspective?

    Re. Burley, without a doubt, there are myriad Romance novels that replicate certain racial, cultural, and ethnic hierarchies. I haven't read the James mini-series, and Maili will have much, much more to say about that whole subject than I. But I still think we need to be cautious about accepting the argument that books reinforcing certain stereotypes do not, at the same time, provide a challenge to them. My own experience as a reader has been that the more defensive a book is about promoting bright lines of difference the more insecure those lines really are. Which is why I'm always wary of the 'Romance simplistically replicates race and gender norms' arguments. Not that I don't get pissed off regularly at books in the genre I read, but I think the genre as a whole is more ambivalent about many of these differences than simplistically anything (and here I'm responding to Burley, not you, Laura).

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  14. This strikes a chord in me, from an anthropological perspective. I have often noticed the tropes that contribute toward "sexualizing the Other". The Other must have hyper-masculine characteristics, but not be "too" different. I think this uber-warrior aspect is a way the disenfranchised hero can be a part of the Phallus/Patriarchal construct. Moreover, his very ethnicity becomes the "challenge" he has to overcome.

    I've also started noticing more and more Irish heroes for the same reason ... but it may be a trend set by Nora Roberts, since the Irish have some dissimilarities to the NA/Highland/Sheik categories.

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  15. @Kyra Kramer: Your comment reminded me that Theodore Allen wrote a section in his book called "The Irish Analogy," in which he compares the treatment of the Irish by the English to the treatment of black and "red" peoples:

    [quote]The pre-eminent Anglo-Irish historian William Edward Hartpole Lecky (1838-1903) noted how the people of the English Pale in Ireland came to "look upon the Irish as later colonists looked upon the Red Indians." Or consider the remarkable insight of W. K. Sullivan, Irish historian and President of Queen's College, Cork, who analogized the role of the non-gentry Protestants in Ireland and the "poor whites" in America. Karl Marx applied the analogy in pursuit of the unity of working people of all countries:

    "The ordinary English worker hates the Irish worker . . . [and] in relation to the Irish worker he feels himself a member of the ruling nation. . . His attitude is much the same as that of the 'poor whites' to the 'niggers.'" (p. 29, Invention of the White Race, Volume 1) [end quote]

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  16. @Robin,

    I actually did quite a bit of work about/on Ireland! I completely agree with Allen. The dissimilarities I was thinking of is not their "savage Otherness" but the fact they (as a group) clawed their way to the top of the American social hierarchy, vis-a-vis their ethnicity. As a result, the Irish hero is often a contemporary hero, seldom a historical one. While it is one thing for a heroine to unite with a valiant warrior it is another thing for her to join with a member of an oppressed group who is having to scrape a living in the slums of NY or a London "rookery". I studied Irish masculinity and I theorized that their reputation as "brawlers" and the almost ritualistic drinking by younger Irish men was a (leftover now) way of reclaiming masculinity compromised by English colonization. Ireland is lovely in that it is a formerly colonized place that did not try to reestablish masculinity by becoming a "rape-prone" culture. Of course, this is a vastly oversimplified way of explaining what I mean, so I hope nothing was obfuscated in the telling!

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  17. I still think we need to be cautious about accepting the argument that books reinforcing certain stereotypes do not, at the same time, provide a challenge to them.

    That's something that Teo's argued in relation to the sheikh romances in another essay, "Orientalism and Mass Market Romance Novels in the Twentieth Century":

    it appears as though Western romance writers and readers at the turn of the twenty-first century are determined to engage with and humanise Arabs amid continual panic over Muslim terrorism and the binaries of identity generated by constant warfare between Western and Arab societies.
    Of course, as Said has shrewdly observed, such representation is always an attempt to control what is feared; it is 'a certain
    will or intention to understand, in some cases to control, manipulate, even to incorporate, what is a manifestly different (or alternative and novel) world'. Yet if an abiding orientalism and American imperialism form the historical context of the resurgence of interest in contemporary sheikh romances, these novels nevertheless differ significantly from the fear, contempt and scorn heaped on Arabs in American popular culture. Certainly the sheikh is initially portrayed as authoritarian, backward and unenlightened in terms of gender relations and with a tendency towards tyrannical behaviour.
    Yet the Middle Eastern potentate is not completely demonised beyond redemption by a good, liberated Western woman. British imperialism's Christianising and civilising mission of the nineteenth century lives on in these novels.
    (259)

    I think Burley's point, though, is that the existence of these stereotypes create particular groups of "Others" who are acceptable/sexy and that this leaves out other groups of "Others" who are not. In the romance genre, that means that Highlanders, Native Americans, sheikhs and, I'd argue, Italians, Greeks and Spaniards, are the acceptable and sexy "Others" whereas other "dark" ethnic/racial groups, such as African Americans, or Aboriginal Australians are (with some exceptions) omitted from the mainstream of the genre.

    ----
    Teo, Hsu-Ming. "Orientalism and Mass Market Romance Novels in the Twentieth Century." Edward Said: The Legacy of a Public Intellectual. Carlton, Victoria: Melbourne UP, 2007. 241-62.

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  18. Ireland is lovely in that it is a formerly colonized place that did not try to reestablish masculinity by becoming a "rape-prone" culture. Of course, this is a vastly oversimplified way of explaining what I mean, so I hope nothing was obfuscated in the telling!

    If you're looking at √Čire itself (as opposed to people of Irish origin resident in the US), then presumably you have to explore the implications for masculinity of having a struggle for independence as well as the implications of The Troubles in Northern Ireland?

    The pre-eminent Anglo-Irish historian William Edward Hartpole Lecky (1838-1903) noted how the people of the English Pale in Ireland came to "look upon the Irish as later colonists looked upon the Red Indians."

    That attitude persisted and wasn't limited to "the English Pale":

    'No blacks, no Irish' or 'No Irish need apply' signs were apparently not uncommon sights in the 1950s. In fact, they occupy a central place in the collective memory of the Irish in Britain, often featuring in the personal testimony of migrants as emblematic of the reaction to large-scale Irish settlement in post-war Britain. (Delaney 123)

    for example,

    I remember coming across from Ireland to England in 1953, as a nervous and frightened nineteen year old. Work was very easy to find, but accommodation was a different matter. Unbelievable now, but I am sure there are many who remember the now famous signs that were placed in lodging house windows. No Blacks, No Irish, No Dogs.
    Mrs Kate Foley., Birmingham, England.
    (BBC)

    ---
    Delaney, Enda. The Irish in Post-War Britain. Oxford: Oxford UP, 2007.

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  19. Anyway, getting back to your suggestion that Highlanders etc appeal because they provide an "escape from the rigid rules of the civilised society" this still doesn't explain why some "non-civilised" societies have greater appeal than others. This would make me think that, even if you're right, there must be additional factors at work.

    Cooper contemporaries Lydia Maria Child and Catharine Maria Sedgwick wrote revisionist captivity narratives (Hobomok and Hope Leslie), in which the Indian husband is presented as a more sensitive choice and the "non-civilised" society as a liberating option for a white woman vs. the patriarchal puritanical "civilised" society of their own times.

    I think it is noteworthy that Cooper, Child, Sedgwick et al. were writing romanticized tales about the "vanishing" "noble savages" at a time when the East was already "conquered and tamed", and the native tribes were no longer a threat. It would take another century or so for the noble but ah-so tragic Apache and Sioux to become part of this "vanishing noble savage" myth. The other Dark Others of the continent, the African Americans and Mexicans, in contrast, were not "vanishing", rather the contrary, I think. In a way, their dark heroes still posed a threat to the white hegemony. In the very least, they lack that "tragic", "vanishing" aspect to make them "safe" heroes.

    This strikes a chord in me, from an anthropological perspective. I have often noticed the tropes that contribute toward "sexualizing the Other". The Other must have hyper-masculine characteristics, but not be "too" different.

    The "exotic Other" hero could be a) a white man adopted and raised by the "natives", exotic but still familiar enough: Tarzan, Hawkeye, the Sheik, this combination of white genes and learned native ways making him the most formidable warrior around; b) a western-educated "native": Uncas, most (?) HP sheiks, the Braveheart character i.e. a kind of a "translator" between the two worlds; c) a half-breed: the "Cassie Edwards" breed of heroes, comes with a notion that as an outcast between two worlds, he has to be twice as hard.

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  20. I think it is noteworthy that Cooper, Child, Sedgwick et al. were writing romanticized tales about the "vanishing" "noble savages" at a time when the East was already "conquered and tamed", and the native tribes were no longer a threat.

    That does seem significant and certainly in the romance genre it would seem that the "Other" needs to be both a threat and not a threat in order to fit a pattern which exists in the romance genre as a whole and which Jayne Ann Krentz has described:

    The stories make it clear that women value the warrior qualities in men as well as their protective, nurturing qualities. The trick is to teach the hero to integrate and control the two warring halves of himself so that he can function as a reliable mate and as a father. The journey of the novel, many writers say, is the civilization of the male. (6)

    As you and Teo point out, the sheiks are sort of a threat and thus have warrior qualities; they re-emerge "amid continual panic over Muslim terrorism and the binaries of identity generated by constant warfare between Western and Arab societies" ("Orientalism" 259). Yet they're not a threat because it's apparent that they can be "civilized"; they're often white, part-white or at least partially westernised via their education.

    ---
    Krentz, Jayne Ann. "Introduction." Dangerous Men and Adventurous Women: Romance Writers on the Appeal of the Romance. Philadelphia: U of Pennsylvania P, 1992. 1-9.

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  21. the Indian husband is presented as a more sensitive choice and the "non-civilised" society as a liberating option for a white woman vs. the patriarchal puritanical "civilised" society of their own times.

    This would seem to accord with the idea that the romance genre is struggling with how to define masculinity so that it incorporates both the "warrior" and the "nurturing" elements. If white men seem too stern/warrior-like, then a more nurturing "Other" (who still has some warrior tendencies) may make an appealing "Other" but if white men are seen as weak, then a more warrior-like "Other" may have greater appeal. Billie Melman, in her book about Women and the Popular Imagination in the Twenties suggests that

    'Sheik' [...] in popular Western imagination [...] came to stand primarily for a new image of masculinity. In the idiom of the period 'sheik' signified a virile, sensual male, a priapic, violent lover who masters females by sexual prowess and physical force. [...] The new idiom became current at exactly the same time as the 'flapper' entered popular myth, and a causal relation between the two developments may therefore be assumed. The image of the desert lover was a reaction against the twin stereotypes of the modern young woman and her male counterpart. Alongside the image of the youth as a sexless androgyne, there emerged that of the male and the female as antipodal yet magnetic poles, drawn together solely by the power of sex. And alongside the stereotype of the emasculated man, there developed the myth of the male possessed with extraordinary physical powers and a talismanic potency. (89)

    In this period

    'Civilised' Englishmen and European men tend to come off badly in the desert romance. They are pleasant but unexciting, and sexless, rather anaemic figures in comparison with the colourful, hot-blooded Arab or the European masquerading as an Arab. The English knight-errants are no match for the Amazonian heroine. To dominate the modern cold virago, brute force, not chivalry, is needed. (101)

    So it seems that stereotypes concerning the racial/ethnic "Other" may be constructed to respond to contemporary concerns about white masculinity and femininity. The sheik of the 20s isn't identical to the sheikh of the late 20th-century and early 21st century because we exist in a different political climate (the threat posed to the West by the Arab "Other" is probably considered to be greater) and also there is less concern about white women becoming too strong and needing to be tamed by strong men.

    ----
    Melman, Billie. "1919-28: 'The Sheik of Araby' - Freedom in Captivity in the Desert Romance." Women and the Popular Imagination in the Twenties: Flappers and Nymphs. Houndmills, Basingstoke, Hampshire: Macmillan, 1988. 89-104.

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  22. @Kyra Kramer Wow, what a fascinating thesis! I don't have a strong enough grasp of the history to make a substantive comment beyond that, but it's a very interesting argument. I know that Allen talks about how the fact that the Irish were considered white in the US points to the artificiality of the racial construct, and when you look at the early days for the Irish in America, you can see the preference for making the Irish hero a contemporary hero. The masculinity aspect is quite provocative, though (in an engaging way).

    @Laura Vivanco: I only presented a tiny, tiny bit of Allen's argument on the Irish, and if you haven't read his book, I highly recommend it, since his historical analysis and reach is astounding.

    As for Burley, I agree that there are some categories of Otherness that are not deemed romantic for the purpose of genre Romance, but I don't agree they always fall along racial lines. I do, however, think we (general we) need to do more work on the construction of whiteness in Romance, which, as you know, is rarely deconstructed in these discussions.

    Regarding the Orientalist critique Said established (and which is, of course, still incredibly helpful), I really appreciate Reina Lewis's interrogation of that paradigm from the perspective of white femininity, which, as she points out, both reifies and challenges Said's paradigm. For example, in Gendering Orientalism, she discusses Lucy Snowe from Vilette “and [how] the tendency to displace imperial relations onto European differences gives the woman writer or artist the chance to avail herself of a colonial superiority that may well elude her in the colonial field itself but can be appropriated, by proxy, in the textual domain of an Orientalized Europe”(38). From her position vis a vis those over whom she would have no authority at home (i.e. white men and imperial/colonial power), she now has an outsider's perspective and therefore some power of arbitration. However, in relation to the Otherness of the East, she still represents a version of imperial/colonial power, although even that can be complicated depending on her conduct within that context.

    Ultimately Lewis argues that “[t]he contradictions of women’s challenges to imperial power indicate the splits within imperial discourse and its imperial subject” as opposed to “Said’s monolithic Orientalist discourse”(41). I'm VASTLY simplifying it here, but I find her analysis incredibly compelling and a necessary nuancing of Said's paradigm.

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  23. @Kyra Kramer:

    Cooper contemporaries Lydia Maria Child and Catharine Maria Sedgwick wrote revisionist captivity narratives (Hobomok and Hope Leslie), in which the Indian husband is presented as a more sensitive choice and the "non-civilised" society as a liberating option for a white woman vs. the patriarchal puritanical "civilised" society of their own times.

    This was going on in traditional captivity narratives, as well. Even Daniel Boone's captivity narrative ultimately elevates the Indians over the English, and in his later years, Boone famously dismissed white society in favor of what he deemed the superior civilization of the Indian nations. That Boone's narrative was used to sell real estate in Kentucky makes it incredibly interesting, lol.

    But even look at Mary Jemison's early 19th C narrative, in which she levels some pretty harsh critiques at white society. Her narrative is probably the best selling and most reprinted of all the hundreds of captivity narratives, and she was one of the hundreds of captive women who stayed and became assimilated into tribal life.

    Still, I definitely agree with you that sentimental fiction had a love affair with the captivity device, which is one of the reasons IMO it was passed so seamlessly down to genre Romance. Captivity is, after all, the most popular and powerful American motif, I'd argue, and the (proto)American narratives were possibly as popular in England as in America, which IMO partially accounts for its use in Sheikh Romance novels featuring English and American heroines.

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  24. @Robin:

    This was going on in traditional captivity narratives, as well.

    Indeed, Cooper and his contemporaries did not pen their frontier narratives in isolation but very much in intertextual dialogue with each other. I think it was Nina BAYM who first made the argument that The Last of the Mohicans, especially in its treatment -- or rather, rejection -- of miscegenation was a direct response to Child's Hobomok and in turn found its own counter/comment on Sedgwick's Hope Leslie, to which Cooper again then replied with The Wept of Wish-ton-Wish.

    I'd argue, though, that this intertextual debate on race and interracial relationships was based on a wholly artificial construction of the "American Indian races," with some tribes such as the Mohicans elevated as racially pure "American Aryan" master race and others reduced to degenarated and subverted mongrels.

    Even today, not all Native American tribes have quite the same status as romantic savage heroes. Rather, the Native American romance heroes tend to come from a limited pool of certain tribes.

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  25. There are just so many substantial shifts that occur at the beginning of the 20th C and especially with the advent of World War I that IMO have a really strong influence on the development of the Sheikh Romance hero -- has anyone done substantial work on that evolution from a historical and political perspective?

    I've just re-visited Hsu-Ming Teo's webpage and it says there that she has current research projects on:

    Loving the Orient: Orientalism and representations of interracial love in Western culture.

    This project examines orientalist representations of Arab culture in women's 'sheik romance' novels, films and television miniseries. It traces historical antecedents of popular orientalism from medieval chivalric romances onwards, then contextualises twentieth-century spurts of interest in these 'sheik novels' against the background of 1920s British imperial ambitions in the Middle East and American involvement in the 1991 Gulf and 2003 Iraq wars. It looks at the influence of feminism and the politics of cultural pluralism on representations of Arab culture in the Anglophone world.

    'Colonialism, Race and the Mass-market Romance Novel'.

    During the twentieth century, the output and consumption of romance novels increased until romances currently comprise over 50% of the international fiction market. While a number of feminist studies have compared ideals of class, gender, romance and sexuality in British and American romances, the subject of colonialism, whiteness and race relations has been virtually ignored, while very few romances from the white settler dominions have been analysed even though a substantial number of romance authors originated from these countries. This project explores how the English-language romance novel has perpetuated and naturalised the culture of European colonialism throughout the twentieth century, leaving a legacy of race relations still evident in popular culture today.

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  26. @Laura: Thanks so much for that link!

    @Kara: I would extend that circle around Cooper even wider, but definitely the intertextuality is there.

    I'd argue, though, that this intertextual debate on race and interracial relationships was based on a wholly artificial construction of the "American Indian races," with some tribes such as the Mohicans elevated as racially pure "American Aryan" master race and others reduced to degenarated and subverted mongrels.

    IMO all construction of Otherness are artificial, and in the case of Native Americans, nationalist agendas played a powerful role in the construction of the "Indian" in America.

    In Cooper's case, the invention of the Mohicans and the mythologizing of the noble savage is clearly intertwined with his ambivalence toward miscegenation (the fact that the reader is drawn so powerfully to sympathize with Uncas and Cora suggests to me a deep ambivalence resulting in tragic death) and his construction of the American frontiersman, who IMO was intended to be a racially pure but culturally hybrid figure (and I'm sure we're of the same mind about how that feeds into the glorification/cultural norming of whiteness).

    I also agree with you re the relative status of different NA nations (e.g. the association of the Plains nations with savagery and drunkenness and the homogenization of the Western nations, etc.). However, I think there have always been counter-narratives to these stereotypes and mischaracterizations, as well as a deep ambivalence toward racial and cultural difference in America (a broader interpretation of Gunnar Myrdal's American Dilemma, perhaps). Some of these counter-strains exist in seemingly dominant narratives, IMO, and they defy many of the stereotypes we've been discussing here.

    And I think many of those counter-narratives have been overlooked, dismissed, and ignored. Some of that, of course, happens out of anxiety around diminishing the damage done to different groups over history. But I also think we need to be careful not to further disempower those counter-narratives further by inadvertently empowering whiteness to the point where there can be no effective resistance.

    It's like that debate between Maxine Hong Kingston and Leslie Marmon Silko. Kingston argued that cultural symbols cannot be owned, and that they tend to move from group to group, being appropriated and re-appropriated as they travel (similar, I think, to the model Stephen Greenblatt proposes in Marvellous Possessions). Silko argued that cultural symbols belong to particular groups and cannot be transferred or appropriated by another group.

    In some contexts, Kingston's argument can be seen as supporting colonialism or imperialism. But in another way Kingston's position could be said to undermine those discourses because the fluidity of cultural symbols means that they are never completely controlled by any single group. I obviously ascribe to Kingston's position, even though I recognize and respect Silko's reasoning, and agree with her to the extent that no two cultures can own a symbol in exactly the same way and with the same meaning attached.

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