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Manifest Perdition

Shipwreck Narrative and the Disruption of Empire

2002
Author:

Josiah Blackmore

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A new take on a famous collection of shipwreck narratives that places them at the center of resistance to colonialism

Shipwreck, death, and survival; terror, hunger, and salvation—these are the experiences of those onboard merchant Portuguese ships in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. In this book we see how the dramatic, compelling, and often gory accounts of shipwreck, collected in História Trágico-Marítima (1735-36), or The Tragic History of the Sea, challenge state-sponsored versions of events. Manifest Perdition reveals the important place of these stories in literary history and shows—for the first time—how they serve as both a product of and a resistance to Iberian expansion and colonialism.

Manifest Perdition swirls like The Tempest. Written with brio and force, it studies the wreckage of empire and the resurrection of its ambitions. Blackmore leads us through accounts of shipwreck he has culled from the flotsam of Portuguese travel writing. Meticulously analyzed, the material attests to a vital genre that exceeds its aims. Readers of Rabelais, Shakespeare, Defoe, and Melville will be especially delighted with this book. Blackmore's contribution is major and enduring.

Tom Conley, author of The Self-Made Map: Cartographic Writing in Early Modern France

Shipwreck, death, and survival; terror, hunger, and salvation—these are the experiences of the passengers onboard merchant Portuguese ships sailing the high seas in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. And this is the stuff of the stories committed to print by survivors upon their return to the homeland. These Portuguese shipwreck narratives, rescued for all time in the eighteenth century by Bernardo Gomes de Brito in História Trágico-Marítima (1735-36), or The Tragic History of the Sea, are the subject of Manifest Perdition, a work that reveals their important—and until now, largely ignored—place in literary history.

In this book we see how the dramatic, compelling, and often gory accounts of shipwreck, depicting a world out of control, challenge state-sponsored versions of events in the prevailing historiographic culture. Written during the heyday of Iberian maritime expansion and colonialism, the shipwreck narrative builds an alternative historical record to the vision and reality of empire elaborated by the official chroniclers of the realm. Manifest Perdition presents both theoretical considerations this genre and close readings of several texts, readings that disclose a poetics of the shipwreck text, of how survivors characteristically yet multifariously narrated their world.

Included is a study of the medieval Iberian poetic predecessors of the shipwreck tale, as well as an exploration of the Portuguese Inquisition’s attempt to commandeer and steer the reading of the unruly narratives. The book engages issues of literary theory, historiography, and colonialism to portray the Portuguese shipwreck narrative for the first time as both a product of and a resistance to the prolific culture of sixteenth- and seventeenth-century expansionist history.

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Josiah Blackmore is associate professor of Portuguese at the University of Toronto. He is the coeditor (with Gregory S. Hutcheson) of Queer Iberia: Sexualities, Cultures, and Crossings from the Middle Ages to the Renaissance (1999) and editor of a new edition of The Tragic History of the Sea by C. R. Boxer (Minnesota, 2001).

Book Default Image

Manifest Perdition swirls like The Tempest. Written with brio and force, it studies the wreckage of empire and the resurrection of its ambitions. Blackmore leads us through accounts of shipwreck he has culled from the flotsam of Portuguese travel writing. Meticulously analyzed, the material attests to a vital genre that exceeds its aims. Readers of Rabelais, Shakespeare, Defoe, and Melville will be especially delighted with this book. Blackmore's contribution is major and enduring.

Tom Conley, author of The Self-Made Map: Cartographic Writing in Early Modern France

In this sophisticated and well-written book, Blackmore illustrates that beneath the surface of these shipwreck narratives lie an unexpected counterdiscourse to the European colonial enterprise.

David T. Haberly, author of Three Sad Races: Racial Identity and National Consciousness in Brazilian Literature

Blackmore forcefully argues in what fashion it is possible to use these texts to comprehend the disruption of empire, for which shipwrecks meant loss of resources, both human and material. A worthwhile addition to the maritime history of Portugal, and the illustrations only add to the merit of the publication.

Portuguese Studies Review

A very rich work. Stimulating.

Renaissance Quarterly

Josiah Blackmore’s approach to the record of peril and death in early Portuguese seafaring offers much to both the literary scholar and the student of Iberian expansion. His scholarship is careful and impressive, and his discourse critical, reflective, and persuasive. This volume makes a sure-footed sweep through a variety of material amid clear evidence that this is an author who has done his own seafaring. Foulke’s concluding “Bibliographic essay” is a tour de force. His list of recommended readings is useful to anyone wishing to explore a wide span of material, both fiction and non-fiction. These two books have distinguished lessons to offer which cross the boundaries of national cultures.

Canadian Literature

This sensitive and lyrical book offers a reading of Portuguese shipwreck narratives associated with the perilous carreira da India, the maritime trading route to Asia. Blackmore’s prologue opens poetically with the shipwreck narrative of the legendary galleon Sao Joao. Beautifully written and sophisticated in tracing both detail and meaning, this book represents an important contribution to the study of travel narratives and of Portuguese maritime enterprises in the age of Empire.

Society for Spanish and Portuguese Historical Studies Bulletin

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Contents

acknowledgments

on the texts and translations

prologue: qui navigant mare

1. a shipwreckful ship
2. the discourse of the shipwreck
3. manifest perdition i: maroonings
4. manifest perdition ii: going under
5. an illustrious school of caution

epilogue: the ministers of memory

notes
bibliography
permissions

index