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Sunday, April 11, 2010

The People on the River: Post-colonialism and Angela Carter's "The Infernal Desire Machines of Doctor Hoffman"

This lengthy passage from Angela Carter’s The Infernal Desire Machines of Doctor Hoffman outlines the solicitation, exploitation, devastation, and marginalization of a native people (the River People) by an invasive people (the Jesuits):

"Here and there, in the dry tundra and even the foothills, the Jesuits set the Indians, who were all sweet-natured and eager to please, to build enormous, crenellated churches with florid facades of pink stucco. But when the Indians had completed the churches and had gazed at them for a while with round-eyed self-congratulation, they wandered away again to sit in the sun and play tritonic melodies on primitive musical instruments. Then the Jesuits decided the Indians had not a single soul among them all and that wrote a definitive finis to the story of their regeneration.
But not all the Indians died. The Europeans impregnated the women and the children in turn impregnated the most feckless of the poor whites. The blacks impregnated the resultant cross and, though filtered and diffused, the original Indian blood finally distributed itself with some thoroughness among the urban proletariat and the occupations both whites and blacks deemed too lowly to perform, such as night-soil disposal…They were the bogeymen with which to frighten naughty children; they had become rag-pickers, scrap-dealers, refuse collectors, and emptiers of cess-pits -- those who performed tasks for which you do not need face.
And a few of them had taken to the river, as if they had grown to distrust even the dry land itself. These were the purest surviving strain of Indian and they lived secret, esoteric lives, forgotten, unnoticed" (69).

The Indians are initially taken advantage of, their skills as artists and artisans used selfishly by the Jesuits until obsolete. Once devoid of utility (in the eyes of the Jesuits), the Indians are reduced to soulless bodies, good for nothing, and are either killed or impregnated or driven away. The Indian blood is diluted and thinned out and mixed around and spread about until it settles like sediment at the bottom of the societal hierarchy, down where nobodies do menial labor for next to nothing, where people quit being people and become rats or ghosts. And the Indians who run way, who work to distance themselves from the intruders, are quiet and alone and acutely peripheral. They close themselves off from the outside world, are ruthless in their separation, never let anyone in, shun anyone who leaves and tries to return. They (i.e., the Indians) are a people either pressed down or pushed out by their oppressors, post-colonization. This entire chapter (chapter 3) is an abridged and sadly barely (if at all) exaggerated example of post-colonialism and the possible outcomes that it may hold for a group of people.

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