Barbaric Intercourse: Caricature and the Culture of Conduct, 1841-1936


Barbaric Intercourse tells the story of a century of social upheaval and the satiric attacks it inspired in leading periodicals in both England and America. Martha Banta explores the politics of caricature and cartoon from 1841 to 1936, devoting special attention to the original Life magazine. For Banta, Life embodied all the strengths and weaknesses of the Progressive Era, whose policies of reform sought to cope with the frenetic urbanization of New York, the racist laws of the Jim Crow South, and the rise of ...

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Barbaric Intercourse tells the story of a century of social upheaval and the satiric attacks it inspired in leading periodicals in both England and America. Martha Banta explores the politics of caricature and cartoon from 1841 to 1936, devoting special attention to the original Life magazine. For Banta, Life embodied all the strengths and weaknesses of the Progressive Era, whose policies of reform sought to cope with the frenetic urbanization of New York, the racist laws of the Jim Crow South, and the rise of jingoism in the United States. Barbaric Intercourse shows how Life's take on these trends and events resulted in satires both cruel and enlightened.

Banta also deals extensively with London's Punch, a sharp critic of American nationalism, and draws from images and writings in magazines as diverse as Puck, The Crisis, Harper's Weekly, and The International Socialist Review. Orchestrating a wealth of material, including reproductions of rarely seen political cartoons, she offers a richly layered account of the cultural struggles of the age, from contests over immigration and the role of the New Negro in American society, to debates over Wall Street greed, women's suffrage, and the moral consequences of Western expansionism.

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Editorial Reviews

American Literature
Barbaric Intercourse is extensively researched, offering both a wonderful archive of caricatures and a model for reading and understanding them. Banta situates these images within a dense historical context, showing how they engage and deflect the major social concerns of their day. . . . One learns not only about individual artists and editors but also a good deal about nineteenth- and early-twentieth-century British, and especially American, social and cultural history.”

— Shawn Michelle Smith

Textual Practice
This is a timely book, an entertaining book and a book that will cause the map of graphic satire to be radically restructured. There is much to praise and ponder in this magisterial work.”

— Marcus Wood

American Literary Realism
A magnificent study of the rules of behavior governing social intercourse as seen through the cartoons and caricatures in popular periodicals. . . . Whether she is reading the images of monsters on the loose in London or of monstrous behavior in the Philippines . . . Bantu skillfully explores the powers of these visual images.”

— Patricia Okker

Textual Practice - Marcus Wood

“This is a timely book, an entertaining book and a book that will cause the map of graphic satire to be radically restructured. There is much to praise and ponder in this magisterial work.”

American Literary Realism - Patricia Okker

“A magnificent study of the rules of behavior governing social intercourse as seen through the cartoons and caricatures in popular periodicals. . . . Whether she is reading the images of monsters on the loose in London or of monstrous behavior in the Philippines . . . Bantu skillfully explores the powers of these visual images.”

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780226036922
  • Publisher: University of Chicago Press
  • Publication date: 1/28/2003
  • Edition description: 1
  • Edition number: 2
  • Pages: 464
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 9.00 (h) x 1.20 (d)

Meet the Author

Martha Banta is a professor emeritus of English at the University of California, Los Angeles. She was awarded the Bode-Pearson Prize for Outstanding Contributions to American Studies in 2002 for her lifetime of achievement and service within the field. She is also the author of four previous books, most recently Taylored Lives: Narrative Productions in the Age of Taylor, Veblen, and Ford.

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Read an Excerpt

Barbaric Intercourse: Caricature and the Culture of Conduct, 1841-1936

By Martha Banta

University of Chicago Press

Copyright © 2003 Martha Banta
All right reserved.

ISBN: 0226036928

CHAPTER 1 - Origins

The Big Cut

Each week the staff of Punch gathered around the famous Mahogany Table to make a key decision: which of the drawings submitted by its artists would be named the "Big Cut" for the next issue. Cut and cutting mean several things. Cut initially referred to individual items of pictorial humor that appeared in Punch; later, that term was replaced by cartoon--a word revamped from its original reference to the preliminary sketches Renaissance artists executed in preparing largescale designs for tapestries or murals. Cutting also refers to the business Punch was in--that of carrying on traditions of satire that, "like a polish'd razor keen, / Wound with a touch that's scarcely felt or seen." In addition, "making the cut" alludes both to the lively competition among the staff artists over whose work would take the prize as the featured image for the week and to the editors' supreme power in making the final choice.

Nineteenth-century periodical editors knew that selecting "cuts," large and small, involved practical business decisions of the kind it takes to survive in the marketplace, where they, together with their rivals,snatched at the coattails of public interest. The importance of such decisions to the commercial enterprise had been fully recognized by James Mill in 1824. Further, an essay of 1911 by William James shows that it is not only editors who are pressed to make decisive choices. For James, the "cuts" by which we achieve "conceptual interpretation" are the means by which we are able, humanly, to respond to the "big blooming confusion" of "the perceptual flux" of "immediate sensible life"--the world's "much-at-onceness." Being one of the Jameses, however, William adds the caution that "the cuts we make are purely ideal."

This study dwells upon those aspects of the human enterprise pictorialized between the 1840s and the 1910s in weekly periodicals devoted to the comedic and satiric. It focuses on the Big Cuts brought into public view in the years when the English and Americans lived under, through, and sometimes in resistance to, the numerous worlds overseen by the likes of Queen Victoria and President Theodore Roosevelt. But what might members of the generations after Victoria and Theodore extract from the twentieth century--which, in William James's words, "is in itself an undistinguishable, swarming continuum, devoid of distinction or emphasis"? What might their senses make, "by attending to this motion and ignoring that," of "a world full of contrast, of sharp accents, of abrupt changes, of picturesque light and shade"? And what role would satire and the comedic play in aiding the mind to make its own crucial Big Cuts?

One compelling candidate for centerfold position, placed at the heart of the twentieth century as edited by history and illustrated by one of its sharpest pictorial imaginations, is Guernica. Picasso's 1937 black-and-white rendering of the modern barbarism that suddenly drops out of the skies in the form of fire bombs may well be the ultimate Big Cut. The Minotaur, monstrous half-man, half-beast; the ravished women and slain children; the allegorical arm that thrusts a candle out into the night to silhouette the horrors of the devastated landscape; the wreckage of burning homes amid scattered corpses; the rearing horse terrified by the deeds of civilized nations at war; the prone figures overlaid by newsprint that shrieks their story to the world: these are the arts of the fantastic, the satiric, and the caricature compressed into one raging image of protest.

It is Picasso's cartoon we recall, not the account posted by the journalist G. L. Steer from the town of Guernica to the London Times and the New York Times on April 28, 1937; just as it is the "cuts" by John Leech, Dicky Doyle, Charles Keene, George Du Maurier, John Tenniel, and Bernard Partridge appearing over the years in Punch that outlive the print matter that filled its columns; just as it is the weary bodies of Bill Mauldin's dog-face soldiers we recall long after we forget the news stories about General Mark Clark's debacles during the Italian campaign of 1944.

Wylie Sypher singled out Guernica as the prime example of the Modern Comic. He called it "a shocking comic strip," "a bad dream" lacking the "logic and sobriety" of our waking moments; he considered Picasso's rendering the perfect example of "how the ridiculous journalese of painting can be an idiom for modern art." A similar response (though for quite different political reasons) to representations that thwart compliance with the "reality" preferred by the waking self was applied to G. L. Steer's journalistic report for the London Times by Douglas Francis Jerrold, descendant of Douglas William Jerrold, one of the founders of Punch. Jerrold denounced Steer's article, calling it blatant fabrication, and denied that the town of Guernica had ever been bombed. This latter-day Jerrold found "logic and sobriety" only within the worlds concocted by Franco, Hitler, and Sir Oswald Mosley. The fact that the journalism of Steer and the cartoon by Picasso had no truth-value for men like Douglas Francis Jerrold in 1937 would have confounded Douglas William Jerrold's belief in 1841 in the purpose and power of popular journalism and the radical traditions of caricature and cartoon.

Given the suspect nature of "journalese" in general, and satiric reportage in particular, it may be unexpected to find Henry James standing ready to testify to the value history attains once the methods of journalism and caricature merge in "the stream of time." This is what James had to say in 1890 while musing about the pictorial world created by the great nineteenth-century caricaturists and cartoonists:

As we attempt, at the present day, to write the history of everything, it would be strange if we had happened to neglect the annals of caricature; for the very essence of the art of Cruikshank and Gavarni, of Daumier and Leech, is to be historical; and every one knows how addicted is this great science to be discoursing about itself. Many industrious seekers, in England and France, have ascended the stream of time to the source of the modern movement of pictorial satire. The stream of time is in this case mainly the stream of journalism; for social and political caricature, as the present century has practised it, is only journalism made doubly vivid.

Prompted by the delight he takes over Honore Daumier's art for Le Charivari and the cartoons of John Leech and George Du Maurier for Punch, James reflects upon the commonly held view "that journalism is the greatest invention of our age." Filled as journalism is with "inexhaustible life," its protean reach "touches the fine arts, touches manners, touches morals"; it provides "the criticism of the moment at the moment, and caricature is that criticism at once simplified and intensified by a plastic form."

Let us pick up on James's insights into the nature of the critiques of manners and morals created by the merger of journalism and caricature, as each passes through the immediate moment to flow into the stream of time. Caricature and journalism exist as autonomous aesthetic work within their own textual worlds, yet react as both abstraction and objective fact to the extra-textual worlds that lie outside the pages of their published format. Critiques molded by the conjoined forces of the venue (the public press), by their expressive devices (the caricature and the cartoon), and by their elected modes (the satiric or the comic) have the force to impose one of the reality-principles considered most appropriate to the modern mood (the fantastic and the uncanny), guided throughout by the fluctuating rules of decorum practiced by equally fluctuating cultures of conduct. To overlook these connections is to deprive ourselves (whether as cultural historians or as lay participants) of a vital means for confronting the "monotonous and inexpressive chaos" which both Jameses tried to read despite their understanding that interpretation is an impossible, yet all-important task.

What determines which particular cartoon merits selection as the week's Big Cut, given that it must surmount the limitations of the very topicality that defines its existence?

By the force of its selection, the Big Cut wrenches free from the turbulent surface of "news." It is history under the guise of journalism; as art, it is journalism's rejoinder to the impact of fleeting events. Furthermore, because it lays claims to present meaning without fully realizing what that meaning might prove to be in the long run, it is part of the process by which the Uncanny both hides and discloses its presence. Often unaware of exactly what it has to record, the Big Cut--with its unsettling juxtaposition of the familiar and the unfamiliar--inscribes what history has in store for us, whether we are ready or not for its sudden revelation.

Caricature and cartoon are constantly subjected to the disjointed rhythms of the outside world; however, they still enjoy the stability of established pictorial conventions. A wealth of traditional patterns of representation lie ready for use, whether to skewer recurrent absurdities (presidential campaigns or death and taxes) or to respond to an unexpected war or revolutionary upheaval (the Napoleonic menace, the Brutal Hun, or the manic Bolshevik). The happiest moments for the caricaturist and cartoonist come, however, when they release satiric passions that attempt to exceed the boundaries of the formulaic. Throughout the nineteenth century, spurts of energy circulated throughout the pages of Punch over the Kaiser's "dropping the pilot," immortalized by John Tenniel's cartoon of Bismarck's dismissal from power, and the comings-in and goings-out of Gladstone and Disraeli. The elation of the chase infected Thomas Nast's portrayals in Harper's Weekly of the rise and fall of the Tammany Tiger. Life's staff of contributors took inspiration from the tainted-beef scandals of the Cuban campaign, the U.S. Army's faltering moves against Aguinaldo's troops in the Philippines, and the far-off tussle between the English and the Boers. It was the boredom of peacetime that posed problems for the satiric fantasist. The cartoons of James Gillray and George Cruikshank had approached genius in their pictorial assaults upon Little Boney, but once the restoration of the Bourbons "cut off the supply of excitement" to the popular imagination, "a reaction took place, and the chord was unstrung; exhaustion succeeded to fever, and the waking consciousness of an over-night's debauch of wine and dice."

Inevitably, however, times when passion is sanctioned are followed by periods that slacken into complacency. It takes a specific crusade, backed by a particular moral intent, to heat up the satirist's art, as when the temper of the Radical Republicans flared over the betrayal of the freedmen's cause by the Southern Democrats and the federal government. Yet the combative energy expressed in the pages of Harper's Weekly in the 1870s reached a point of disenchantment, exhaustion, and the end of Thomas Nast's Big Cuts.

Although pictorial satire is bound by topical particulars that make time of the essence, the satirist also finds work to do within broadly demarcated areas of human existence that answer to no time limit ("the poor are always with us"; "lo, how the mighty are fallen"). The Big Cuts return again and again to seemingly eternal and irresolvable tensions captured by the concrete particulars of the caricaturist's art: clashes between deserving worker and grasping plutocrat; agitation between the sexes; contentious international relations; awkward class realignments; sartorial fads in and out of favor. And always there as a subtext, ready to erupt into Big Cut status, were society's excluded: the new immigrant, the victim of the lynch mob, the banished, vanished Indian.

In London's Punch and New York's Life, essential (essentialist) concerns, reliant on normative terms appropriate to their times, broke through as a series of pictorial inquiries: "What is 'English'?" "What is 'American'?" "What is 'civilized'?" "What is 'barbaric'?" and the most basic anxiety of all, "Where can we feel safe?"

Henry James realized that journalism (loosely clustered topics seizing current attention) is history, but that journalists are not historians (pattern-makers searching for evidence of long-term continuities). Nonetheless, certain periodicals made fumbling attempts to formulate historiographies of their own. The questions of how history works and where its forces are taking us subtly shaped the visual and verbal texts and subtexts of cartoons and editorials. Journals were guided by ideological urgencies that prompted them to make history as well as to see it. For most comic weeklies, however, the randomness of historical sequence and the skittishness of society-in-process meant that staff artists reacted willy-nilly to whatever they "found." Neo-Platonists by default, they were "discoverers" of pictorial forms partially hidden within the historical matrix, rather than "creators" of new historical impulses. The weeklies' editors could respond to a quicker beat of time than that which slowed down the publication pulse rate of the monthlies and quarterlies. The advantages of speed to the mark claimed by ten-cent weeklies such as Life and its ever-weakening competitors, Judge and Puck, was threatened by the appearance in the 1890s of Pulitzer's and Hearst's penny dailies. As chapter 7 will show, many weeklies, including Life, had to struggle to keep from being overwhelmed by brash new appeals for the attention of the popular public: the Sunday supplement comic strips of the big urban newspapers and wares on display at the new nickelodeon theaters. For three decades, however, Life held its own in America, as Punch had done in England since the 1840s, because of the adeptness with which its staff had learned the tricks of its particular trade.

Consider the erratic, eclectic material that fed nineteenth-century pictorial journalism: outward appearances and inward qualities fixed by the caricature's gaze; dynamics of social behavior whose gestural nature is caught at unguarded moments by the cartoon. Acting as urban eyes on the prowl, comic periodicals "read" and "represented" evidence taken from the crowded streets, although they often stated their desire to protect the sacred privacies of home and domestic virtue from contaminants seeping in from the outside world. Also consider the credentials held by the investigative agents who staffed the mainstream weeklies: they were white males because that was the only sex and race thought capable of full participation in history.

In contrast, as shown in chapter 5, the alternative periodicals sponsored by the socialist cause or by the New Negro community encouraged anyone with passion and talent to produce words and images intended to shape history, not merely to endure it. The amount of engagement varied even in the mainstream periodicals. For artists whose sole motive was to draw pictures (and to earn a good wage), personal commitment to mandated editorial positions was sketchy at best; when assigned topics for the Big Cut, they did the work, drew their pay, and went home. Those who paid attention to the political or social implications of their art can be roughly separated into two groups: those like Thomas Nast or Art Young, prosecutorial investigators dedicated to opposing the status quo; and those like George Du Maurier or James Montgomery Flagg, flaneurs who strolled through the week's world, picking up impressions limited to the entrenched conservatism of their mind's eye.

In the end, however, the week's Big Cut was a matter for action by the top editors, whose decisions commonly reflected the credos by which the periodicals declared their position on the era's featured political, social, and cultural concerns. As the careers of Punch and Life make clear, their editorial credos changed over time. Since Big Cuts are shaped by the level, the kind, and the degree of comedic or satiric energy they release, it came down to the conclusions made by each periodical regarding the kind of world it believed it inhabited--a world filled with great inequities that should and could be removed as the result of its passionate attacks; a world marred by minor foibles that it might correct through gentle proddings; or a world that existed solely to offer amusement to eyes as wearily sophisticated as its own. Worlds, that is, responsive either to the satiric mode (harsh or mild) or to the comic spirit (old or new).

The View from the Terrace

G. L. Steer's journalistic report on Guernica, coupled with Picasso's pictorial rendering, forces us to confront angry images of chaos and disorder. Chaos and disorder are what Wylie Sypher, sick at heart, disclosed to be the terrible truth of the Modern Comic. Chaos and disorder are what Douglas Francis Jerrold, descendant of one of Punch's founders, refused to admit into his world; only fascistic means guaranteed him the order and decorum he craved. But chaos and disorder are what William James celebrated in the name of "the new psychology." Ours is a world that stretches beyond the "sunlit terrace" where clear facts "lie in a neat assemblage." Beyond the terrace is a world "where few outlines are pure and where uncouth forms lurk in the shadows.. . . Fantastic, ignoble, hardly human, or frankly non-human are some of these new candidates for psychological description. The menagerie and the madhouse, the nursery, the prison, and the hospital, have been made to deliver up their material." Resisting the temptation to panic, James testifies to the shift from "the classic-academic" to "the romantic type of imagination," even though this entails the loss of "clean pure lines and noble simplicity." William's brother complicates this scene even more in his essay in praise of Honore Daumier's contributions to the satiric arts. William believed that the newer psychology distinguishes the "clear pure lines" of terrace-science from the "uncouth forms" of the mind that "lurk in the shadows." Henry believed that the modern moment of pictorial satire merges the sunlit terrace with the shadows, peopling it with uncouth forms. More even than his brother, Henry anticipated the early twentieth-century absorption of the familiar by the unfamiliar that triggers our renewed interest in the Uncanny, a matter about which this book will have much to say.

The fortunes of the great caricaturists and of the major weeklies often experience a downhill slide over the years from eager radicalism toward disgruntled conservatism. But Henry James intuited something more interesting than the effects of age upon the artist's youthful political passions. Caricature, one of the most assertive attack-tools of satire, contains within itself the pull toward order that curbs release of wild brio. The art of protest that aspires to break down the rules of social conduct vouched for by hegemonic systems often entails making a pact with the very devils the caricaturist wishes to exorcise. The comic arts prefer to be impudent and irreverent when venturing into regions of the decorous; the satiric arts are more willfully savage in their desire to expose the inanities of society's accepted standards. In either case, notions of normalcy lurk nearby, else the comic and the satiric would have nothing to react against. Once a caricature's reference to "the normal" begins to signify the "inevitable" working out of some eternal law, rather than to expose the local truths that are overly conventional, the work it does "is comforting rather than disturbing to the wider social audience." 15

What then is the so-called normal state to which the comic and satiric arts aspire, and from what stage of human development must it stand apart in denial? "Civilization" is the realm of impure chaos these arts strive to redeem, in order to return to the pure chaos of the primitive heart, to the time before Time--depicted by Thomas Sullivant's "When the Snake Was Good" (fig. 1.1). Their drive to revert to a state of original barbarism (what Thorstein Veblen called "peaceable savagery" in 1899, the same year Sullivant's winsome cartoon appeared in Life) is what makes these arts so appealing while obscuring the nature of their powers. Evelyn Waugh and W. H. Auden remarked that the satiric spirit requires a homogeneous society, one that is stable and closed. However, the satirist's aim is even more dicey: he wishes to reclaim a lost savagery that lives in tension with the monotonous sameness of that civilized barbarism we do not want to let into our lives, yet do.

The business of satire is to make distinctions between what is right and what is wrong. But whose "right" and whose "wrong" must it choose, once it entangles itself in confusion over "good" or "bad" intercourse, driven by norms that rule the conduct accepted by the civilization of which it is very much a part?

On August 11, 1834, the Ursuline Convent in Boston was set afire by a rabid group of antipapists. A cartoon printed at the time included two panels, one of which depicted citizens destroying the convent in moral outrage, while the other represented the Sisters of Charity at their daily task of healing the ill. The legend read: "Look at this picture, and on this." Did this pictorial pairing aid the public in separating myths that lead away from truths that nourish respect? Or did each viewer select which of the two images conformed to his favorite social fantasies, while disregarding the other?

On September 26, 1868, Harper's Weekly offered its audience Thomas Nast's "All the Difference in the World" (fig. 1.2) as a biting indictment of the attempts by the Southern Democratic party to defeat the implementation of the Fourteenth Amendment. The first panel mocks the view held by the Democratic Club that its natural constituency (shanty Irish groveling in a muck of mud, beer bottles, rats, and hogs) is superior to the hard-working Republican freedman. The second panel attacks the hypocrisy of Democrats wooing the votes of grotesque blacks who escort demure white ladies into a fashionable ballroom or who have their boots polished by political sycophants.

Nast submits his Big Cut in support of his pro-freedman, anti-Southern Democrat argument, but how easily his satiric strategy could be misconstrued by those tutored in the social aesthetics of "the normal." Images used to expose the crude race-bias corrupting southern rules of proper social conduct rest on shaky ground. Everything depends on Nast's skill in getting viewers to respond according to a finer decorum, one that redefines what beauty is and ugliness is not; one that couples political sympathy for the freedman's cause with distaste for the gauche conduct of the Southern Democrats. Nevertheless, his attack must first sacrifice the dignity of the Irish for the sake of advancing the dignity of the black man. Yet his cartoon jeopardizes that hard-won dignity by offering up, however mockingly, grotesque images that reinforce white fears about interracial intercourse. Satiric art, the weapon that breaks down old barriers, here strengthens boundaries even as it tries to dissolve them; it will continue to do so as long as that art is controlled by norms accepted as the laws sanctioned by God and Nature.

Consider Joseph Keppler's "Columbus Puck Discovering American Humor" from Puck of October 12, 1892 (fig. 1.3). Columbus's New World is not a land where "the snake was good." From the start, every form of humor imaginable was in place, ready to be used either to placate or to attack. If American humor is there to be "discovered" on the postlapsarian continent, merely awaiting the arrival of satire and its "inventions," how can comic assessments touching on future events pull free from the constraints imposed by their excessively overdetermined origins?

"How He Escaped from His Borders" (fig. 1.4) appears to point the way to comedic freedom through the dismantling of pictorial construction. By vanishing into his own "white hole," the Pierrot figure in this quietly audacious Life drawing of November 17, 1904, manages to escape the limits placed around him by the cartoonist's pen--or does he? The drawing appeared just one year before the publication of Einstein's Special Theory of Relativity, which denaturalized the mental barriers erected by Euclidean geometry. Katherine Hayles, expert in virtual reality and chaos theory, has offered her observations about this sequence of sketches:

Leaving one frame of reference or "border" allows the clown to enter a different reality. The implication is that there are different ways to see the world, defined in part by the boundaries that define the world as that kind of world and not some other kind. But the fact that the figure is a clown also seems to suggest this perception may be a circus trick, an illusion that is amusing but not epistemologically/ontologically valid. Thus the cartoon seems to hover between thinking our reality is "reality," and thinking our reality is a construction in which the definition of boundaries is a critical act. And all this in 1904!

Some of the most interesting theories about, and responses to, the fantastic employing forms both verbal and visual dwell on precisely these matters: the denaturalization of boundaries; the act of escaping from worlds circumscribed by a certain decorum into alternate worlds under the command of one's own rules; the liberating role of social floaters; and the ceaseless testing of where reality begins and ends. Life's clown of 1904 annihilates himself by disappearing from this world. But satire exists because the world of boundaries exists, however differently such thresholds are defined or defied.

Appropriate to the structuralist's approach to psychological narratives, Tzvetan Todorov focuses upon the pause, the moment of hesitation, that occurs when we are caught between the realms of the natural and the supernatural. Threshold moments are potentially dangerous in that we hover at the "frontier of two genres," ready to dissolve at the "brutal intrusion of mystery into the context of real life." The sense of menace increases even more once we realize the fantastic cannot be named until we have determined which "category of the real" to use as the basis for definition. Traditionally, "the fantastic questions precisely the existence of an irreducible opposition between the real and the unreal"; it is an art "which postulates the existence of the real, the natural, the normal, in order to attack it subsequently" (167, 173).

Such issues came into action once mid-nineteenth-century ethnological arguments had instilled new doubts about the boundaries between savage and civilized. And once William James had pointed out the "shadows" that lie beyond the sunlit terraces of the socially acceptable, still newer forms of satiric fantasies came into play. But back in 1845 Henry David Thoreau had claimed that the "frontier" was where one "confronted" one's own wildness. Venturing into the border regions of Walden Pond and Mount Ktaadn, he tested Concord's civil codes and America's political principles, and found them wanting. Wildness was where he ate woodchucks and satirized the faith placed by Americans in civilized existence.

Half a century later, in 1893, and again in 1902-3, Emile Durkheim immersed himself in matters of limitlessness, a condition children and savages might enjoy, but one that required anxious adults to internalize the coercive controls called "culture" by the Western nations. While World War I raged in its brutality in Europe, Bronislaw Malinowski's Diary in the Strict Sense of the Term tabulated his own war with "savage" desires and un-Western inertia. Hovering at the threshold of New Guinea, Malinowski associates his loss of "bearings," inundation by sensual thoughts, lack of concentration, and restlessness as much with his reading of popular magazines and novels ("stupid trash," "simply disastrous") as with the fact that "the niggers got on my nerves." In a series of make-shift therapies, he leafed through Punch; he devised novelistic plots filled with fantastic episodes drawn from British adventure tales; he toyed with "Platonic Ideas"--forms "incongruous yet artistic and [savage], exotic unreal, intangible, floating on the surface of reality, like a multicolored picture on the face of a solid but drab wall." But there was no escape. To gnaw at wildness, to contemplate limitlessness, and to float apart from the solid, drab wall of conventional reality meant one ventured into, not away from, the worlds of Punch and Life.

We ask, What does it look like when "savage" is placed in contention with "civilized"? We also ask, What does it mean for us to do the looking?

For all our vaunted sophistication, we should recognize not only that the popular imagination alters the identifications placed on familiar pictorial types, but also that iconic figures such as England's John Bull or America's Uncle Sam received contested readings from the moment of their creation. And we should not be overly condescending to what we view as the naive innocence of earlier artists who grouped fantastic cultural types in situations that imaged "outsiders" in confrontation with "insiders," "barbaric" with "civilized."

"A Strolling Photographer in Chinatown, New York" from Harper's Weekly of August 25, 1883 (fig. 1.5), self-reflexively places everyone in the position of looking back at everyone else. The policeman may hold the mistaken notion that he is the social arbiter in charge of this mixed gathering, but the layered relationships among the disparate groups (Irish, Jews, Chinese) are being worked out in terms that gain their energy more from the urban dynamics of the moment than from the legal codes of the city.

Recall the photographer who stands ready to capture the moment as "Columbus Puck" arrives in America (fig. 1.3)? By the time Kodak-bearing tourists streamed west in hopes of participating in fantasies of an indigenous America, the natives in Life's cartoon of January 9, 1902, "The Moqui Snake Dance" (fig. 1.6), continue to honor the rituals that define their world, upon which the outsiders--members of a U.S. government report team, newspaper reporters, a tough cowboy, and assorted vaqueros--gaze with untutored naivete while offering gesticular interpretations of the scene. Back in 1841, the inaugural issue of Punch had shown itself alert to the new anthropological sciences. This was not unusual for any Victorian comic weekly devoted to twigging social manners--acts that, by definition, raise unsettling questions about who has the right to claim civilized status. "Civilisation" (fig. 1.7) records the sorry stages by which the Botecudo is "disfigured" by the external trappings dictated by the imported barbarisms of fashion that alter his original "civilized" state.


Excerpted from Barbaric Intercourse: Caricature and the Culture of Conduct, 1841-1936 by Martha Banta Copyright © 2003 by Martha Banta. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Table of Contents

List of Illustrations
1. Origins
2. Out of Place
3. History Lessons
4. The Company One Keeps
5. Etiquettes for Anger
6. War in the Nursery
7. The Fate of Fantasy in a High-Anxiety World
Select Bibliography

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