Naming and Conquest

  • Joel Kovel
Keywords: Race, Imperialism, Inequality


What is past is never wholly past, because the past lives on through recollection and reflection. Columbus' landing in the New World and the catastrophes this set into motion can never be undone; but our consciousness of the event and its sequelae can be expanded, with real effects on the present and future. The quincentennial anniversary of the event that ignited Europe's conquest of the world is an auspicious occasion for just such a conscientization. Nobody with any feeling for the human costs of Western imperialism should celebrate this year. We can, however, commemorate acts of resistance—including the works of intellectuals who have undertaken the critique of empire. In 1992 the general reflection on the quincentennial can bring to light what may have been overlooked in 1986 or 1976. Two superb works from those years—Peter Hulme's Colonial Encounters, and Francis Jenning's The Invasion of America—have recently come to my attention, and I should like to pass on some of their wisdom here.