IT IS PERHAPS DIFFICULT now for the West, where the miraculous has long been banished by rationalism, to imagine the crisis of knowledge precipitated 500 years ago on both sides of the Atlantic by the Spanish conquista. From the European perspective, other imaginary worlds, divine and profane, had long preoccupied the Greco-Judaic consciousness, but these had been the product of a fixed world order. Confronted by a reality challenging the projections of space and time that he had structured through his mythic texts, the European was suddenly no longer the privileged subject of knowledge. The savagery with which he set about eradicating peoples and their symbolic systems and inscribing his own within their territories cannot be explained simply on the basis of his ambivalent desire for the unknown, or for economic gain; it was also, as Tzvetan Todorov suggests in The Conquest of America,

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