Abyssinia's Samuel Johnson: Ethiopian Thought in the Making of an English Author
As a very young man, one of the most celebrated English authors of the eighteenth century translated a tome about Ethiopia. This experience permanently marked Samuel Johnson, leaving traces of the African discourse he encountered in that text in his drama Irene;several of his short stories; and his most famous fiction, Rasselas. This book provides a much needed perspective in comparative literature and postcolonial studies on the power of the discourse of the other to infuse European texts. This book illuminates how the Western literary canon is globally produced by developing the powerful metaphor of spirit possession to posit some texts in the European canon as energumens, texts that are spoken through. The model of discursive possession offers a new way of theorizing transcultural intertextuality, in particular how Europe’s others have co-constituted European representations. Through close readings of primary and secondary sources in English, French, Portuguese, and Gəʿəz, the book challenges conventional wisdom on Johnson’s work, from the inspiration for the name Rasselas and the nature of Johnson’s religious beliefs to what makes Rasselas so strange.