Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Exploring New World's and making them Old

In the Norton Anthology introduction of Michel de Montaigne in his Of Cannibals we read, “Contrary to popular conceptions, although it was a period of expanding intellectual and geographical horizons, the Renaissance was, on the whole, a profoundly intolerant age.” This notion is a surprising one to me and the more I thought about it the more it made sense. Every empire at the time was searching for Brave New World’s but only in the name of wealth and colonialism. New people and worlds were destroyed rather than explored. In Shakespeare’s Tempest the character of Caliban comes to my mind. We are presented with a monster and we are left with that label. However, I would always find myself pitying Caliban. He was a native of the island and was for all intents and purposes, enslaved by the newcomers to his island. Thinking about our own day and age, I would like to believe that we are more open minded and better off in our own modern day renaissance than those of the old. However there are events happening today that I feel are relevant to this topic.

In our American society we have a large collection of people of different races, beliefs, and creeds. Are we just as intolerant as people before us? On the news the Charlestown Massacre shows us the ugly face of racism still plaguing our society. The only actions I perceived to have been taken after this event were friends and families of those affected were drawn together and the rest of the state moved to remove a flag. Zeba Blay of the Huffington Post wrote, “The people of Charleston rejoiced after South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley called for the removal of the Confederate flag at the state capitol, and rightly so… Yet it's important to remember that this gesture, while significant, does not fix the underlying issue: deep-seated, institutional hatred and inequality.” I don’t claim to have the answers on how to fix racism and hatred in America. I only wish to bring forth the idea that the old renaissance and our modern age renaissance should try to be different in that while one explored new worlds and destroyed them, the other should explore them, embrace them, and seek mutual understanding.

Works Cited

Blay, Zeba. "Taking Down The Confederate Flag Won't 'Solve' Racism." The Huffington    Post. 
      TheHuffingtonPost.com, 23 July 2015. Web. 08 Sept. 2015.

Connell, Eileen. "The Norton Anthology of English Literature: The 16th Century: Topic 2: Texts
      and Contexts." The Norton Anthology of English Literature: The 16th Century: Topic 2:
      Texts and Contexts. Norton and Company, n.d. Web. 08 Sept. 2015.


  1. Great connection between the past and the present. I'd be interested in reading a more in-depth comparison of this.

  2. I've been thinking about this issue of understanding as well. I wonder if there is such a resistance to empathy and open mindedness because doing so would force them to give up a major part of their identity. Demonizing cannibalism identified them as civilized and demonizing blacks also identifies them as civilized. Relinquishing superiority seems to be a very difficult thing for people to do.

  3. It is interesting to note how the destruction came about during Renaissance expansion. Much of it was caused by diseases brought by the Europeans that native populations had no resistance to. Whether these were transmitted intentionally or not is another matter. Personally, I think that a distinct lack of knowledge of micro-organisms and the source of diseases would indicate that much of this destruction was unintentional. Besides the diseases, a lack of communication and fear led to unneccesary deaths through border skirmishes and expansion conflicts that could have been resolved peacefully. I think that this second point is the one which we can try to avoid in these days as we attempt to understand each others' point of view.

  4. I also think it's interesting how many of Shakespeare's plays bring up (perhaps inadvertently, perhaps not) the question of racism. To me it's not so much a matter of "should this" and "should that," but a question of whether a particularly enlightened individual such as Shakespeare might have been inclined toward a less racially-divided worldview. Definitely something worth discussing.