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Rodriguez Garcia, Jose Maria. The City of Translation: Poetry and Ideology in Nineteenth-Century Colombia.

Rodriguez Garcia, Jose Maria. The City of Translation: Poetry and Ideology in Nineteenth-Century Colombia. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2010. xxix + 247. ISBN: 978-023-061-533-5.

During the second half of the nineteenth century, Colombia's federalist organization turned the country into a patchwork of independent and poorly interconnected states. Rafael Nunez, elected President in 1880, spearheaded the conservative political movement known as the Regeneracion (1886-1904), which sought to remedy the ills of federalism and liberalism. The Constitution of 1886, drafted and sworn in during Nunez's rule, enforced state centralization and the country's ideological homogenization by imposing Catholicism as the official religion. The grammarian, poet, translator, and staunch Catholic Miguel Antonio Caro (1843-1909), who contributed decisively to the form and content of the new constitution, continued Nunez's ultraconservative project during his presidential term (1894-1898). The intricate connections between Caro's philological work and his key political role in Colombia's Regeneracion provide the focus of Jose Maria Rodriguez Garcia's The City of Translation.

Rodriguez Garcia demonstrates how right-wing letrados such as Caro used literature and literary translation to abrogate liberalism as a political option without explicitly derogating constitutional freedoms. In doing so, he provides a fascinating account of the ideological tapestry that conservative fundamentalists, including Caro, wove by combining their knowledge of philology, literature, theology, and jurisprudence. As the author argues in the four chapters that comprise this study, what Angel Rama famously called the "lettered city" was not a liberal, forward-looking phenomenon everywhere in Spanish America, as the case of late nineteenth-century Colombia illustrates. In the reactionary "city of translation" that Rodriguez Garcia surveys, sovereignty is thought to originate in the transcendental authority of God. The Catholic letrado 's job is therefore not to build the nation and the state according to the republican ideal, but rather to translate the liberal and secularized earthly city into the City of God, or Civitas Dei. Within this political context, "translation" acquires diverse yet interrelated meanings: it refers to the translatio imperii idea that power is a divine right transferred from ruler to ruler rather than stemming from social pacts among citizens; it indicates the movement, or translation, from a fallen condition to a redeemed state that regeneracionistas sought to instigate in federalist Colombia; it denotes the assimilation of icons of liberalism (such as Simon Bolivar and Victor Hugo) to right-wing political agendas; finally, it refers to the practice of translation proper, specifically to the theological idea of translatio secunda, which Colombian conservative literati embraced to override or simply obliterate uncomfortable liberal meanings in their renditions of foreign poetry.

Chapter 1, "The Colombian Lettered City--Philology, Ideology, Translation," offers a detailed overview of the political and ideological maneuvers which allowed Miguel Antonio Caro to dismantle Colombia's federalist state. Caro advocated a return of political theology and fervently supported Pious IX's call for counterrevolution against secularism and modernization. This theological reaction against the central tenets of liberalism involved the use of philological skills to revise and recodify existing legislations according to Christian doctrine. Rodriguez Garcia illustrates the close ties between philological and juristic methods of edition and interpretation in nineteenth-century Spanish America by discussing the work of Andres Bello, the Chilean polymath who, in spite of his sympathies for liberal politics, Caro and his fellow regeneracionistas transformed into an icon of Catholic conservatism.

Chapter 2, "The Regime of Translation in Caro's Colombia," is, as the author indicates, the "book's cornerstone" (xxvi), since it delves into the conceptual and intellectual antecedents of the Regeneracion's central ideas while further exploring Caro's translational work in politics and literature. In his effort to turn a state of exception into the rule, Caro placed Colombia under the Vatican's spiritual authority and within Spain's cultural domain. To support his political claims, he also engaged in an active program of translation and adaptation of classic and modern poetry, including Virgil's Aeneid, which in Caro's rendering becomes a celebration of his attempt to re-Christianize Colombian politics. The chapter contains a valuable and original "short history of sovereignty" that connects Caro's theo-politics with Spanish and European political theories from the sixteenth to the late nineteenth centuries. This rich contextualization helps the reader appreciate the often neglected historical ties among literature, linguistics, and the law, disciplines that are nowadays conceived of as independent intellectual fields.

Chapters 3 and 4 illustrate the ways in which the crafters of the Regeneracion engaged in a revisionist effort to edit out liberal ideas from the writings of Simon Bolivar and Victor Hugo. Chapter 3, "Hugo, Bello, Caro," delves into Bello's partial translation and adaptation of Hugo's "La priere pour tous," which in the hands of nineteenth-century Colombian reactionaries turned into an ultra-Catholic hymn. Bello's "La oracion por todos" quickly became among the conservative elite a paradigm of Christian piety and a spiritual model for the regenerated nation. In Chapter 4, "Regeneration without Revolution --Caro contra Bolivar," Rodriguez Garcia discusses the literary cult of Bolivar in Colombia as an intellectual arena where political tensions between conservatives and liberals were fought out. He focuses on Caro's poem, "A la estatua del Libertador" (1883), a patriotic text that appropriates the figure of the hero of Independence for the crusade of the Regeneracion. Just as Caro translates poetry written in modern languages into Latin (a language closer to Christian truth than Spanish), he also "translates" Bolivar's political doctrine into the transcendental paradigms of Catholicism and Hispanism.

The City of Translation exemplifies the type of approach to culture that the American anthropologist Clifford Geertz called "thick description" due to its thorough and precise historical and intellectual contextualization of Caro's philological work and the reactionary political process that he instigated. This painstakingly well-researched book not only provides the definitive study of an area of Colombian history and culture that has received little scholarly attention thus far. It also offers a historically-grounded and truly interdisciplinary revision of Rama's "lettered city," a concept that has become an almost unquestioned and self-evident truism in Latin Americanist discourse. In its detailed critical rendering of Colombia's conservative archive, Rodriguez Garcia's volume is a welcome contribution to North American Latin Americanism and a refreshing alternative to its tendency to theoretical abstraction and overgeneralization.


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Author:Luis Venegas, Jose
Article Type:Book review
Date:Jan 1, 2014
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