chapter  2
CONQUERORS OF TRUTH
Pages 22

Recently a number of studies have been published which focus on the first moment of encounter between Europe and the indigenous inhabitants of the New World, attempting to reconstruct the transformation in European cultures-the philosophical and moral effects of self-discovery-at the moment of first contact.1 A powerful motif from this work emerges in the image of cartography. As the indigenous peoples and landscapes came under the control of the colonists, a system of thought evolved through which the emergent categories of mastery-of instrumental reason-could themselves be conceptualized. New dreams were possible. The process of mapping the colonial terrains and peoples created new structures of meaning-displacing or destroying previous meaningsystems-and indeed created a new truth. (One might reflect in passing that Mao Zedong, born in Hunan in 1893, did not even see a map of the world until he was twenty.)2 With his usual eye for such things Conrad described the European explorers ‘conquering a bit of truth here and a bit of truth there’.3 This is a valuable insight. Out of colonialism developed new narratives and new epistemological categories which may still be our own. Conquest entailed not only mastery of peoples and ecologies, but also the conquest of truth itself.