Safety of the Sea?

In many of the books we have read so far, the sea is portrayed in different ways. I thought it was interesting how in the Chronicle of the Narvaez Expedition the sea almost seemed to be viewed as safety, despite the fact that so many of the men died while on the water. Cabeza de Vaca writes that, “in my opinion we should go back on ship and sail in search of land and harbor better adapted to settlement” (11). He disagrees with the governor who thinks that they should journey inland, and wants to stay on the boats where they have supplies, and the familiarity of the sea. Additionally, later on after multiple deadly encounters with natives and near starvation, de Vaca writes that, “staying in this country seemed to be very dangerous, we again took to sea” (28). Even though the sea has proven to be incredibly dangerous for them, it is seen as safer than the hostile, unknown land that they attempt to traverse through. They constantly try to use the sea as a way to escape the land that they have nearly died on multiple times. The sea is something that they understand how to navigate while the new land is not at all. Relative to the land, the sea is considered safe; it is their only hope for survival at that point. He writes, “so great is the power of need that it brought us to venture out into such a troublesome sea” (24). The men are so desperate that they are forced to navigate the ocean rather than remain on the land and surely die.

Cabeza De Vaca & the Treatment of Indigenous People

After reading the Narváez Expedition, one major idea stuck out to me. I was surprised how Cabeza De Vaca writes about the natives that he encounters. All other explorers from Iberia seem to hold a much harsher attitude and view compared to him. He seems to also write about how he tries to protect them from future Spanish explorers. You would think that a Spanish conquistador, who was captured by natives, would have a lot of animosity towards them. He does the opposite, however, and simply tells what saw. He even shows the reader how caring and compassionate the natives are by how they give him and his shipwrecked men water and food to survive.

Cabeza doesn’t have that much of an old european world bias in his writing and clearly is trying to simply report what he saw and experienced. When he writes about the natives, he writes without opinion or bias embellishment.  That is why his work seems very truthful. In fact, he might be one of the only european writers from this time who writes about the indigenous natives in America without painting them as blood thirsty idol worshiping savages. Ultimately, I feel as though Cabeza should be remembered for accurate writing of the natives, and not just for his famed survival story.

Finding Humor in Misery

In this pleasant tale of the Narváez Expedition, the readers gets many examples of extreme hardship and terror that the explorers faced. Sometimes, though, the extremity of these trials make them seem almost comical. The writing, as well, is very comical at times, almost sounding as if the speaker has some sort of dark humor in his writing.

The first passage on page 37 is the best example of this humor: “… five Christians quartered on the coast were driven to such extremes that they ate each other, until but one remained, who, being left alone, had no one to eat him.” We established last class that one of the purposes of these chronicles was to explain the loss of so many lives, which would explain why de Vaca includes a reason in this passage why the last man didn’t die (because there was no one left to eat him, obviously). However, looking at the chronicles as just that, chronicles, these odd additions to the tale make the reader take a double-take.

In relation to mapping, while de Vaca maps their journey with multiple dates and times, these strange anecdotes and explanations jumble the storyline up together. So, while comical, oftentimes de Vaca’s attention to detail only makes the story more confusing.

Rebirth in Chronicle of the Narvaez Expedition

The motif of rebirth appears several times throughout Chronicle of the Narvaez Expedition. In specific passages, the rebirth that Cabeza de Vaca depicts seems Biblical in nature. When the Spanish explorers approach land in one part of their journey, the sea is especially rough. Cabeza de Vaca explains, “the next wave overturned the boat. The inspector and the two others clung to her to save themselves, but the opposite happened: they ended up underneath the boat and were drowned” (32). This passage evokes Jesus’ message from the Gospels that “whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for [Jesus] will find it” (Matthew 6:25). The men who survive the overturning of the boat are “thrust” by the sea, “half dead,” onto the beach (32). Cabeza de Vaca explains, “the rest of us, as naked as we had been born, had lost everything” (32). The men who are still alive wash back up onto the same beach. His description of himself and the other men as “half dead” as they are moved by the sea toward land suggests a sort of death. Once they hit land, however, his descriptions transform such that the men become “ as naked as [they] had been born.” The imagery in this scene is interesting when placed into the larger context of the expedition. The men who survive this journey seem to work miracles among the native peoples, such that these events parallel the works of Jesus’ disciples in Acts.

Another interesting element of the rebirth that Cabeza de Vaca and his men seem to undergo is the way in which the speaker describes their ‘death’ as a process that levels the Spanish with the natives. Cabeza de Vaca recounts, “I spent nearly six years in this country, alone with them and as naked as they were” (43). I’m not sure exactly what to make of this. Is it a moment where Cabeza de Vaca humbles himself? Or is he using the natives as a benchmark of ‘death’ preceding a resurrection?

Tone and Mystery in Cabeza de Vaca’s Writing

While Cabeza de Vaca’s Narvarez Expedition differs from Columbus’s Four Voyages in many ways, I was most struck by the difference in tone and description. In my opinion, the events in Cabeza de Vaca’s voyage were far more dramatic, yet his language remained relatively sparse and straightforward. Columbus, on the other hand, spends a majority of his work describing the world around him in extensive detail despite the fact that he encounters very little compared to de Vaca. Similarly, de Vaca’s work focuses far more on description of actions and encounters rather than on descriptions of his surroundings. Thus, Columbus’s work seems far more alarmist than de Vaca’s because he spends far longer describing events.

I accredit de Vaca’s sparser approach to the fact that he wants to convey how jaded his journey made him. The hardships that he faced and the exhaustion that these events brought on, in turn, create an heir of mystery within the work that opens up possibility for reader speculation regarding the existence of Cibola.

Mapping Morality on a Physical Space

I’ve always been fascinated when writers assign a certain objective moral quality to a physical space.  Take, for example, The Lusiads, where de Camões links certain geographical areas to various deities and mythological creatures both good and bad.  In The Narvaez Expeditions, Cabeza de Vaca is almost more direct in his moral designation of the Florida/Texas/Mexico landscape, at first calling it “a land so foreign and evil and so utterly without resources of any kind to stay or leave” (22).  This seems to be a very Western way of interpreting geography; if a landscape lacks the resources to survive in the way one is accustomed, it is deemed “evil.”  What about the Native Americans who inhabit this “harsh” swampy place?  There is no information anywhere in Cabeza de Vaca’s account about the natives viewing their own landscape as malicious or “evil.”  Rather, they cope with their difficult circumstances by moving from place to place in search of different foods and often enduring long stretches of starvation.

I think mapping morality is in large part a way of responding to “otherness.”  If we cannot understand what it’s like to be someone else or to live in a completely different kind of place, we can irrationally ascribe some general quality to the “other” that puts us in the right.  It’s a constraining and dualistic way of thinking that only leaves room for one “right answer,” and it lends itself strongly to colonialist thought.  Although Cabeza de Vaca ends his journey largely on the same side as the Native Americans, we can still see the ominous portent of colonialism in the way he anthropologically analyzes their cultural customs and physical characteristics.

Mapping Spring Break through Driving

So, for Spring Break I was hanging out around on campus, getting caught up on sleep, relaxing, and video game playing. I you check out my google map you can see how I spent my break and what mapping means within the specific video game I was playing throughout the two weeks. To not risk repeating myself too much, I’d like to write about my (minimal) driving experience I had during break.

I’ve always been aware of, but never consciously thought about how I understand directions when driving, or even walking somewhere. This break, though, I started to think about I directionally map myself when I’m travelling anywhere. I’m an incredibly visual person, and when I end up walking or driving anywhere, or even when I’m doing a math problem or something, I try to visualize the map or floor plan or graph that I’m working with in my head. So when I’m driving I try to copy in my head either a map I’ve seen or a gps I’ve used of the directions I need to get where I need to go.

This makes using a gps kind of difficult with me in any long-term event. Don’t get me wrong, I love using gps because then I don’t have to think as much, but when I do use the gps then I don’t end up paying as much attention to my surroundings as I probably should. In terms of thinking of a map within my head, then, I only think of the gps route I use and not other roadways or streets so then I end up getting easily confused if I have to take a different road than the memorized gps route. For most people this probably isn’t a bother, but I just like to know where I am and where I’m going spatially, and having a map or a layout of where I am helps me to feel more comfortable or less anxious when travelling or whatever. It’s definitely interesting, and makes me think that I should get some road maps to study or something of the area.

Group Mapping in the Renaissance

I found it to be more of a challenge than anything to create a physical map of the Unknown Island when we didn’t actually have much information to go on. When Kelt and I decided to go the 3D route, I thought it would make representing the island easier because then we could show how the main character and the woman moved through physical space on a model like a cube, or globe, or the eventual boat model.

I was very wrong about it being easy, I think. At least for me. Kelt and I had so many ideas that we wanted to try to do from 3D printing, to painting, to creating texture on the model itself, like a diorama, to try to use a bunch of senses and try to create the Unknown Island. But then when it actually came time to make the model, we found that we didn’t quite have the time or resources to create something that completely matched our vision. To me it was frustrating in many ways, but also eye opening because it showed me that 2D representations of 3D concepts can be easier because there’s only one sense really, sight, that is used. I think I would, or at least be aware of, in the future how time, resources, and also a lack of complete knowledge/information that we had from just the story itself influences how we can manipulate the information into a model of some sort. I take this group project as a learning experience, and I think I can better appreciate how Renaissance map-makers had to try to create something out of incomplete knowledge of the world. “Easier said than done” is definitely the operative phrase here.

The Epic Circle in the Lusiads

To start off with, the only other epic, at least classically, I think I’ve read is Beowulf. So my conception of an epic poem is something where a hero goes out and experiences a, well, “epic” journey filled with monsters and other hardships. The Lusiads was much different for me to read.

While I was reading, I was at first struck by in the first couple of Cantos how un-heroic (by Beowulf standards) de Gama was. The only reason he got out of the sticky situations set for him by Bacchus and the Muslims was because of Venus coming in to save the day for him. This was incredibly interesting for me because this overarching line of narrative throughout the story follows the same cyclical epic narrative structure where we see the hero is in some sort of grave danger before a “battle” of some sort ensues and the hero is saved and goes back home, but our hero-character isn’t the one who is doing all the fixing, only the gods.

But then I made it to Canto three through most of five where the narration changed to de Gama’s first person account of first Portugal’s history then of his own journey thus far. This telling made the story seem, to me, at this point more of a self-promotional tale than this epic journey of the gods. Don’t get me wrong, I thought this was interesting and enjoyable, but de Gama’s words made the narration of the epic more personable in the way that we see how the human actors interacted in each situation rather than the event/Bacchus plot/Venus counter-plot pattern we had seen thus far in the book.

So with this switching of narration among other instances, such as de Gama’s crew enjoying downtime by telling stories of the English, makes the story a lot more vibrant and nuanced than from what I can remember from other epics being, like Beowulf. What I mean by this is that in the over-aching third person story arch in the Lusiads, we see both a general epic narrative circle encompassing the whole story, but we also see a smaller version of this circle within each plot and counter-plot by the gods. And then with the internal stories that the characters recount to each other within the book, we also see the same pattern of “normalcy” to strife and back to “normalcy” with a few variations as the traditional epic narrative structure.

From what I remember of Beowulf, this narrative structure repeats itself two or three times with the different parts of the epic, but in the Lusiads the structure not only repeats itself but changes and is varied based upon which narrator is speaking and about which character the narrator is talking about. This makes the Lusiads incredibly interesting narratively to me, but also interesting when thinking of a story as a map or diagram. In my mind I see this story as a kind of web of interconnected circles where each narrative plays off of the others either thematically or in terms of who the characters were in the sub-stories. It makes me think of the Renaissance way of doing latitude/longitude lines where they were all based off of one centralized location or star (where in this case Venus was constantly referred to as a shining star of beauty). In all, then, the Lusiads both made and remade the traditional structure of an epic that makes it an interesting read.

Who’s Mapping?

I was fascinated to see the different ways our groups interpreted this assignment.  Each of us seemed to focus on a different structural strategy, whether it was cyclical, circular, dualist, or 3-D.  It was also really interesting to hear that most of us enjoyed the brainstorming process more than the actual finished product.  This reminds me of the phrase “The journey is more important than the destination.”  A coincident?  I think not!  Both of these short stories take a nontraditional approach to the adventure/map story, not really “going” anywhere but showing that happiness and wisdom can be found right where we started.  And to think that we are all so perplexed at the beginning of this assignment as to how to map the stories…  Little did we know that the stories had already mapped us!  We’ve focused a lot in this class about how we as readers and writers map a text, but we’ve hardly ever talked about the reverse process.  Texts can dramatically influence how we think and act, inspiring us to adopt new values, take up new passions, view life differently–the list goes on and on.  Not only do books show us the way to new life paths, but they take us there! (whether we realize it in the moment or not…)