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Textual Iconicity and the Primitivist Cosmos: Chronotopes of Desire in Travel Writing about Korowai of West Papua


Department of Anthropology UCSD, MC-0532
9500 Gilman Dr.
La Jolla CA 92093-0532


The figure of the primitive circulates globally as a projected other of self-conceivedly modern people, who through it wrestle with their own historical conditions. But what makes representations of the primitive persuasive? This article examines genre, register, and voice features of a highly repetitive sample of travel narratives about Korowai and Kombai people of New Guinea published in high-circulation magazines and newspapers. I suggest that the genre's effectiveness turns on cultivation of iconicity among three event-worlds: a chronotope of narrated travel, a chronotope of author-reader relations, and a mythic chronotope of the civilized and the primitive. In a “hall of mirrors” effect, dense networks of intratextual iconicity make broad primitivist stereotypy, narrow travel events, and the textual event of travel writing performance support each other's believability, vividness, and claims to attention. [chronotopes, travel writing, iconicity, repetition, temporality, narrative, myth]