At the Threshold to the New World

Equator Crossings, Sunsets, and Claude Lévi-Strauss’s Tristes Tropiques

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Michael Bies Leibniz Universität Hannover

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This article deals with representations of equator crossings in travel literature. Focusing on the accounts of European travelers to Brazil, it considers descriptions of crossing-the-line ceremonies that were performed on board ships since the sixteenth century and shows that, since the late eighteenth century, writers have increasingly staged crossings of the equator as an individual and private experience. Furthermore, it addresses the relation of travel and knowledge that descriptions of equator crossings establish by referring to distinctive epistemological approaches to the New World and by producing a “liminal knowledge” characteristic of travel narratives. The article draws on travel literature from the sixteenth to the twentieth century, paying special attention to the postromantic description of an equator crossing in Claude Lévi-Strauss’s famous memoir Tristes Tropiques.

Contributor Notes

Michael Bies is postdoctoral researcher in the German Department of Leibniz Universität Hannover. His research interests include questions of representation in the sciences “around 1800,” the relation between literature and anthropology as well as theories and representations of work. Recent publications include Im Grunde ein Bild: Die Darstellung der Naturforschung bei Kant, Goethe und Alexander von Humboldt (Göttingen: Wallstein, 2012); co-edited with Michael Gamper, Literatur und Nicht-Wissen: Historische Konstellationen 17301930 (Zurich: Diaphanes, 2012); and coedited with Michael Gamper and Ingrid Kleeberg, Gattungs-Wissen: Wissenspoetologie und literarische Form (Göttingen: Wallstein, 2013). E-mail:

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Interdisciplinary Journal of Mobility Studies