Intellectuele toe-eigening en discursief geweld in Focquenbrochs Afrikaense Thalia (1678)

Keywords: Afrikaense Thalia, Afrikaense Brieven, Focquenbroch, early modern travel writing, Elmina Castle, intellectual appropriation

Abstract

In 1668, the Dutch medic and poet Willem Godschalck van Focquenbroch left Amsterdam for the African Gold Coast to become “fiscaal” (a kind of public prosecutor) on behalf of the Dutch West India Company (WIC) at Elmina Castle in Guinea, which was a bulwark of the Dutch transatlantic slave trade. In his posthumously published Afrikaense Thalia (African Thalia, 1678), a collection of poems and letters containing the well-known Afrikaense Brieven (African Letters), Focquenbroch testifies to his life and work in Elmina Castle through his alter ego “Focq”. In this article, I use Stephen Greenblatt’s notions of “wonder” and “possession” to demonstrate that Focq’s descriptions in the Afrikaense Brieven can be read as an expression of his initial wonder for, and subsequent appropriation of Guinea and its inhabitants. I argue that Focq’s literary-intellectual appropriation of the African Other, which at first sight seems rather innocent compared to the brutal physical appropriation of African people by the Dutch colonists, can nevertheless be considered violent at a discursive level. Focq’s conviction that he is superior to the Guineans because he possesses written language enables him to frame his writing in a discourse which stresses the superiority of the own culture and the culturelessness of the African Other. As such, Focq degrades and instrumentalizes the African Other in order to glorify and preserve the Self.

Author Biography

Tom Laureys, Ghent University, Ghent, Belgium

Tom Laureys is als doctoraatsbursaal verbonden aan de Vakgroep Letterkunde (Afdeling Nederlandse Letterkunde) van de Universiteit Gent, Gent, België.

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Published
2020-07-03
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Research articles