Rupturing Salem, Reconsidering Subjectivity: Tituba, the Witch of Infinity in Maryse Condé’s <i>I, Tituba, Black Witch of Salem</i>
Keywords: Salem witch trials, Tituba the black witch, Puritan origins in American identity, ethical subjectivity, totality and infinity
AbstractThe Salem witch-hunt, invoking the “red hunt” analogy of the McCarthy era, has been a persistent metaphor for persecution, a symbol of fanatic excess in policing the community boundaries. In American cultural history, however, Salem is regarded American only insofar as it proves un-American—as an exception to American exceptionalism. In particular, Tituba, the only non-white “witch” of the trials to whom the unleashing of the hysteria itself has often been attributed, embodies what is negated in Salem against which Americanness is to be affirmed. Maryse Condé’s 1986 novel, I, Tituba, Black Witch of Salem recuperates Tituba from this darkness not only to reconfigure American identity but ultimately to reconsider human subjectivity. In Condé’s Salem, New England Puritanism showcases the primal scene of American identity formation, in which the personal, national, and religious subjectivities are fused to form the American self as the autonomous self-possessed individual. Tituba, in contrast, exemplifies an alternative subjectivity as an embodied being constituted in relation to others. Similar to Emmanuel Levinas’s ethical subject, Condé’s Tituba highlights the primacy of the other in the formation of the human subject, ultimately rupturing the totality of history with a counter-history of silenced voices or the infinity of the other.