Anuac (Jun 2015)

Eskimos Enlightenment: Archeology of a clumsy view

  • Giulia Bogliolo Bruna

Journal volume & issue
Vol. 3, no. 1


Read online

The present paper retraces, in an ethno-historical perspective, the genesis of the oriented, elliptic, simplistic and reductive representation of the Eskimos in the Diderot & d’Alembert’s Encyclopaedia. Adopting an inter-disciplinary approach (historical, anthropological and textual, as well), the paper wonders upon the mechanisms which have governed the construction of the Eskimos’ image, and deciphers them considering the philosophical challenges and the ideological conditioning of the Century of Lights. The Eskimos’ image conveyed by the Encyclopaedia emphasizes their bestiality and primitivism, to stick them as the prototype of the savagery, the personification of a degenerated and shy humanity of the borders. The image of the Inuit - stereotyped, preformed and caricatured - is built through bias, omissions, and generalizations. It is intended to present them as fully antonymic to civilisation. In the Diderot and Chevalier de Jaucourt’s writing, the fierce and anthropophagic Inuit are the archetypal symbol of an extreme and terrifying anthropological difference which is the outcome of a geographical and climatic determinism. Far away the highly idealized and aesthetically-oriented image of the Good Savage, the Eskimos show-up in the writing of the Century of Lights‟ scholars a borderline humanity, deprived of any culture mark, but, nevertheless belonging to the human family.