European timber and American sand

A passionate traveler, Montaigne sought, in difficult journeys he made more difficult by refusing an orderly itinerary, the same process of becoming he recorded in his essays. He understood that what he found upon his travels was inextricable from the finding, and that he himself would be transformed by both.

Put another way, all this has been to suggest that a difference so distinct as to constitute the opposite of universality cannot be. As vehicles of meaning, the ships that discovered America exploded on impact. After the landfall, all there was on the beach was a confusion of European timber and American sand. Difference being an analytical concept, its objective reality lies only in its construction of subjective realities. Thus while the Aztecs and the Spanish certainly existed before their encounter, the difference between them did not. That was the creature of the conquest.

— Myra Jehlen, “Why Did the Europeans Cross the Ocean: A Seventeenth-Century Riddle”


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