Travel to Identity in the Mid-Nineteenth-to-Mid-Twentieth-Century Contact Zone of New Mexico: Knowledge Claim Tests and Platonic Quests

by Dean, John E.

Abstract (Summary)
This study assesses narrative representations of Euro-American and Native American travel and encounter in New Mexico. The primary purpose of the work is to explore the construction and authority of knowledge claims and identity through late nineteenth- and early-to-mid twentieth-century Euro-American and Native American travel to, and within, the contact zone of New Mexico. I examine Willa Cather’s Death Comes for the Archbishop, Mabel Dodge Luhan’s Edge of Taos Desert: An Escape to Reality, Kate Horsley’s Crazy Woman, and Leslie Marmon Silko’s Ceremony as travel texts. I argue that, in stasis, the protagonists in these four works would not have a clear understanding of who they are or if what they claim to know has foundations strong enough to withstand tests by other strong claims to knowledge. Because the Euro-American and European traveler often holds hegemonic claims to knowledge of New Mexico, it is important to examine these claims to knowledge in a postcolonial framework that critiques the essentialization and Orientalization of New Mexico and its people. In such an examination, Western claims to knowledge often fall apart when countered by the Native American experience. As different claims to knowledge collide, a truer representation of New Mexico and its people is uncovered. Travel is movement through geographical and psychological spaces. Physical travel acts in congruence with psychological travel as geographical experience informs internal processes. This study introduces the platonic quest as a new unifying thread that links together each of the four primary works I discuss. The platonic quest has mostly been understood as an intellectual journey toward truth. However, I expand upon the platonic journey to show that it may also be played out in geographical space. A comparative study of Cather’s Death Comes for the Archbishop, Luhan’s Edge of Taos Desert: An Escape to Reality, Horsley’s Crazy Woman, and Silko’s Ceremony demonstrates that New Mexico’s history of travel and encounter is not a completed project, but an ongoing narrative that continues to shift and grow as Western female and native female voices revise androcentric/normative travel accounts that have claimed representational authority.
Bibliographical Information:


School:Indiana University of Pennsylvania

School Location:USA - Pennsylvania

Source Type:Master's Thesis



Date of Publication:05/08/2008

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