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Critical Passion: Selected Essays.

Jean Franco. Critical Passion: Selected Essays. Mary Louise Pratt, Kathleen Newman, eds. Durham, N.C. Duke University Press. 1999. viii + 538 pages. $69.95 ($22.95 paper), ISBN 0-8223-2231-5 (2248-X paper).

Jean Franco is one of the most important American scholars to devote an entire career to disseminating Latin American literatures among readers of English. Her work has also been recognized as essential reading by many Latin American scholars. Thus, a collection of essays could not be more welcome than Critical Passions, edited by Mary Louise Pratt and Kathleen Newman. Besides its importance for Latin American scholarship, the collection also presents two of Franco's other passions: feminism as an anti-authoritarian critique, and the role of mass culture in our postmodern age.

Pratt and Newman have divided the book into four sections "Feminism and the Critique of Authoritarianism," "Mass and Popular Culture," "Latin American Literature: The Boom and Beyond," and "Mexico." The arrangement highlights the main topics of Franco's career and work, without, however, imprisoning them in separate boxes. On the contrary, the reader can recognize a network of secondary topics and critical attitudes which link the four sections. Latin America as theme and background, for instance, reappears in the section dedicated to feminism, just as mass culture and anti-authoritarian criticism are central to Franco's approach to Latin American literature and culture as a whole. Thus, the multiple points of entry into the book fairly match Franco's wide range of interests.

Four essays, one from each of the four parts, could be listed among the most representative of Franco's critical approach. In "La Malinche: From Gift to Sexual Contract," which displays a feminist reading of the quest for national identity and of the historic role played by Cortes's famous mistress, we can see Franco polemicizing against other authors' lack of ideological criticism, such as Tzvetan Todorov or Stephen Greenblatt. "A Not-So-Romantic Journey: British Travelers to South America, 1818-28" deconstructs the nineteenth century's key literary genre -- the travel account -- and reveals its links to the rise of international imperialism. "Pastiche in Contemporary Latin American Literature" emphasizes the importance of intertextuality as the Latin American way of writing. In this article Franco follows Silviano Santiago's important essay, named O Entrelugar do Discurso Latino-americano, about the in-between status of Latin American discourse. "Afterword: The Twilight of the Vanguard and the Rise of Criticism" works as a sort of intellectual testament, a profession of faith in poststructuralist criticism.

This last essay leads us to what could be seen as the book's most important contribution: in putting together these essays, Pratt and Newman gather Franco's legacy of poststructuralist criticism for new generations of critics. The book embodies both the achievements and failures of the last thirty years of criticism. Among the achievements, we cannot forget the development of a broader concept of the text; an emphasis on the interdisciplinary approach to cultural matters; a critique of the national framework as the sole basis for literary history; the rise of once marginalized voices, such as noncanonical genres and languages. On the other hand, in devalorizing close reading, poststructuralism might be creating in the mind of young scholars a lack of skills to continue developing literary criticism. One needs only to read Franco's approach to Clarice Lispector's novels (presented in this book and titled "Going Public: Reinhabiting the Private") to see how weak an ideological critique can be without close reading.

In one way or another, Critical Passion well represents the poststructuralist approach to literature. It is in fact a land-mark of Latin American criticism, and ought to be read by everyone who is interested in cultural matters, even those outside this field.

Marcus Vinicius Freitas Universidade Federal de Minas Gerais
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Title Annotation:Review
Author:Freitas, Marcus Vinicius
Publication:World Literature Today
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Jun 22, 2000
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