Treasure Island: a reply to ms.

Wendy Katz’s ‘Introduction’ to the Centenary Edition (Edinburgh UP, 1998) comments that ‘inquisitive readers have attempted to match the historical data with the fictional dates in the text to establish, among other things, a time for the journey of the Hispaniola, conceivably about 1760’. However, I will have to wait until Friday before I can get to a library which holds a copy of the journal article she refers to, since Glasgow Uni doesn’t hold it. But I think her point is that: it doesn’t matter!

Now the reason *I* don’t think it matters is that Treasure Island is not set in ‘real’ history but in ‘textual’ history: the prefatory poem makes this clear, the island belongs to ‘the old romance’ and with ‘Kingston, or Ballantyne the brave, // or Cooper of the wood and wave’. Turning the romancers into pirates, Stevenson turns Treasure Island itself into an act of piracy committed on ‘history’ understood as linear, sequential, progressive, etc.

So like the fact that the flora of the island are Californian, not Carribean, accuracy of correspondence to a real topography or history is by the by. After all the story of the book, as opposed to the story in the book, begins with Stevenson’s founding act of cartographic invention. That writing as an act of legislation precedes its representational function is also one of the lessons Jim must learn, as he becomes his own author within the novel. What he also finds out is that such self-creation is necessarily violent, and deeply anarchic. The foundation of the law depends on the murderous suspension of the law.

But perhaps this is also what mark means: Treasure Island doesn’t simply refuse or cancel its referential dimension; it negates any privileged position we might ascribe to it. Treasure Island names itself, as well as the island within it: but if we search for the buried treasure of the text, for some hidden correspondence, like the pirates we will find ourselves facing a pit from which the gold has always already been removed.