Bartolomé De Las Casas and the Passions of Language
Lira, Obed Omar
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CitationLira, Obed Omar. 2017. Bartolomé De Las Casas and the Passions of Language. Doctoral dissertation, Harvard University, Graduate School of Arts & Sciences.
AbstractHailed in our time as a pioneering voice of universal human rights and anti-colonial discourse, Fr. Bartolomé de las Casas (1484 – 1566) is widely considered a vehement, and even violent, writer. My dissertation unveils and evaluates the emotive rhetoric that Las Casas employs in his major works with the aim of converting his reader to the pro-indigenous cause, which sought to enact concrete political goals, such as the abolishment of encomienda, or the full de-legitimization of the wars of conquest. Las Casas’s rhetorical strategies, I argue, emerge from his idiosyncratic and expansive notion of conversion, a process that he understood through his homiletic and rhetorical praxis. Chapter 1 therefore reconstructs the friar’s theorizations on the emotive power of language by reading into his treatise on peaceful evangelization, De unico vocationis modo.
And yet, ever since the publication of the Brevíssima relación de la destruición de la Indias (1552), Las Casas’s impassioned language has fueled all kinds of emotive responses. As performative speech, Las Casas’s emotive speech is prone to infelicity, that is, its illocutionary force may not always achieve its desired perlocutionary effects. In order to address this issue and avoid adding yet another emotional response, my critical intervention engages with the intensity embedded in Las Casas’s language by reconceiving it as affect.
Drawing from affect theory, I postulate that intensities can be further identified as the workings of discernible affective structures, which, even as they emerge from language, nonetheless operate beyond mimetic and semiotic registers. Chapter 2 posits that the Brevísima’s affective structure is that of reiteration of the image of the abject; chapter 3 underscores the affective structure of interjection in the Historia de las Indias, which aids the friar in his effort to evoke shame but also express his and Spain’s guilt; and chapter 4 unveils the friar’s use of ethnographic digressions in his Apologética historia sumaria that reveal the ethnographer’s own enamored gaze of the Amerindian and their cultural practices. These affective structures, I conclude, can account for the myriad emotional responses that readers may experience when reading Las Casas.
Citable link to this pagehttp://nrs.harvard.edu/urn-3:HUL.InstRepos:41141151
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