The vitality of discourse: shifting approaches in Latin American cultural studies.
The contemporary conversations on history, literature, identity and progress in Latin America move beyond the conventional dichotomies of First World/Third World, "Same" and "Other," or inclusion/exclusion that have dominated Latin American theoretical and cultural discourse. These are debates that emerge after the disappearance of cold-war mappings and as theories that once centered around such binaries lose their currency. The articles included in this volume should be considered in the context of such evolving approaches to literary and cultural discussion.
As several of the articles evidence, the "Other" has been displaced or recentered. Rather than engaging in discourses that reflect the influence of an external or foreign "Other," we are confronted with the encounters of discourses generated within nations. Such a critical approach that allows for the consideration of relations of power between multiple people groups and social strata within cities like Medellin or nations like Nicaragua, can be as seen in Luis Cano's discussion of Jorge Franco Ramos' novel Rosario Tijeras (1999) and Jose Maria Mantero's discussion of the memoir writings of Ernesto Cardenal. Cano explores the struggle by male characters to possess Rosario, Franco's female protagonist, who, by extension, represents the struggle between various layers of society for appropriation of the city of Medellin. In Cano's exploration of the feminization of violence in the novel, various types of violence embroil the figure of Rosario. The critic problematizes previous interpretations of Rosario as a feminine incarnation of power and agency by underlying a more insidious form of violence represented in the novel and embodied in her experience, a violence described as "the silence to which those dispossessed of the official language are condemned" (John B. Thompson qtd. in Cano).
In mentioning the "official languages" controlled by hegemonic groups, a discussion about the recentering and re-formation of cultural hegemony also arises, as evidenced in Mantero's study of the memoir writings of Ernesto Cardenal. Mantero evaluates the poet's efforts as Minister of Culture under the Sandinista regime to redefine and redistribute culture among "el pueblo." Referencing cultural theory from Alberto Moreiras' Tercer espacio, Mantero describes Cardenal's conception of "el pueblo" as a "third space" where the leadership of the Sandinistas and the subaltern of the pueblo could coincide. Mantero explores the complexities of Cardenal's social and humanistic project. The critic shows how this notion of "pueblo" becomes manipulated as an object of power as it is increasingly identified with the Sandinista movement, resulting in the exclusion of other societal elements. Throughout this discussion, a clear example emerges of how revolution and political change--even that which aims for more equitable power distribution--can create new hegemonies and fringes within a nation.
The continual rethinking of theoretical discourses has been necessary to keeping pace with the multitudinous shifts and changes experienced throughout the region. Such changes have occurred intranationally through revolutions, regime changes and population shifts, but have also occurred internationally as Latin American nations emerge onto the global sphere. Theoretical reconfigurations should not only consider Latin America as a geographical area or culture, but also as a "scene" within the movement of globalization, considered in terms of the market, diaspora, late capitalism and transnationality. We see the importance of transnational reimaginings in Junyoung Veronica Kim's article that explores perceptions of Japan in Latin America through analyses of Renato Ortiz's sociological work Lo proximo y lo distante and Augusto Roa Bastos' novel, Madama Sui. Kim traces evolving Latin American perceptions of the orient as she explores the appropriation of the image of Japan as a model for modernization in both works, contesting Ortiz' claim that globalization undoes orientalizing paradigms. While Japan is seen as an exemplar of 20th and 21st century modernization, it is also simplified and idealized. Kim's article evaluates the search for new modernization paradigms, as applies to Latin America, while underlining the continued danger and mutations of Orientalizing thought--which obviates the component multiplicities and complexities of national identity--in the context of a globalizing world.
Attempts to describe and theorize the creation and recreation of identity as a perpetual product of a multiplicity of sources, especially with the emergence of plural modernities and transmodernities, have shaped intellectual discourse in Latin America in recent decades. In their attempts to develop more germane debates, which consider the very specific and complex contexts, histories and transformations of Latin American societies, scholars have come closer to approaches that blur the lines between disciplines and consider not only a plurality of voices but also a plurality of cultural forms. The necessity of such attempts can be traced as far back as 1940, when Fernando Ortiz, in creating the term transculturation (Contrapunteo Cubano, 1940), sought to move beyond the limitations of contemporary terminology (eg. acculturation) and better describe the convoluted give and take of societal transformations at work in his native Cuba. Initially used by Ortiz to describe socioeconomic phenomena, Angel Rama would take up this term forty years later (Transculturacion narrativa, 1982) in his analysis of Latin American literary and cultural discourses and in his discussion of the ability of Latin American cultures to selectively (re)define themselves. The 90s would begin with Nestor Garcia Canclini's seminal work, Culturas hibridas (1990), which sought to articulate the processes of cultural reconversion and hybridity at work within Latin American societies in the encounter between traditional elements and various modernities.
Another notable feature of Garcia Canclini's work is his attempt to fuse discursive theory and empirical reception studies to create what Roman de la Campa calls "a new cultural studies paradigm" (71). Since the 1960s, theoretical discourse in Latin America has become increasingly interdisciplinary in response to the wide spectrum of cultural, political and social transformations shaping Latin American nations and societies. It has developed in response to the necessity of considering the inter-determinacy of social, political and cultural spheres. The study of such hybridity has led to more hybridized theoretical practice. Milvet Alonso's article on the September celebrations in Queretaro, Mexico, falls within this wider discursive field, navigating across disciplines in its study of the hybridized performance of transcultured indigenous, colonial and civic elements. Referencing Diana Taylor's influential work in the field of performance theory, Alonso crafts an engaging discussion of Queretaro's conchero dancers as well as the city's celebration of Mexican independence, in which she illustrates the importance of performance in the construction and perpetuation of a pluricultural Mexican identity. The article examines how traditional indigenous and colonial religious practices are incorporated into contemporary civic commemorations that celebrate, on the local and national level, the foundation of Queretaro and Mexican independence. Alonso's discussion explores the confluence of multiple layers of identity that vie for symbolic and performative representation and (re)production.
The past three decades have seen the recognition and development of a uniquely Latin American field of cultural studies. Under such auspices, April Trigo defines "the cultural" as the "historically overdetermined field of struggle for the symbolic and performative production, reproduction and contestation of social reality and political hegemony, through which collective identities evolve" (4). This understanding of the cultural as a field of struggle for representation implies an inextricable connection to the political, which has intrigued, motivated and significantly influenced literary production in Latin America since colonial times. A salient feature shared by many of the articles gathered in this volume--as seen in Cano's discus sion of Rosario Tijeras or Jaume Peris Blanes' approach to Julio Cortazar's "Reunion"--is the consideration of how literary works take part in larger social and political movements and conversations.
Central to discussions on the relationships between cultural and political spheres, is the role of the intellectual and her/his work as it relates to the formation and elicitation of a collective memory or identity. The articles in this volume consider a variety of texts that participate in such social, political and cultural exchange, including the memoir, testimonial literature, fiction and performance. It becomes clear that across genres and disciplines, the intellectual--as the writer, the critic or the historian--holds the power to (re)interpret the past, (re)imagine the future and influence audiences. Historically, the intellectual has been defined by her/his relationship either to knowledge or to power, the two concepts not being mutually exclusive. While Rama, in La ciudad letrada, points out the historical entanglement of various Latin American letrados across political, cultural and societal spheres, emphasizing the power of written discourse in the formation of Latin American societies, Gramsci argues that the role of the intellectual is to interpret and articulate the voice and experience of the people. In Latin America, however, a region composed of many nations each with their respective multiplicity of voices, it becomes apparent that an elite intellectual group may not fully understand or have lived the experience of the masses. This point is clearly seen, as previously discussed, in Mantero's discussion of Cardenal's involvement in the Sandinista movement.
Whereas the discussion of Cardenal illustrates the way one privileged individual defines a larger group, Erica Frouman-Smith, in writing about Liliana Heker's intimate novel, engages in the discussion of a genre that provides an opportunity for the marginalized to share her or his own personal experience. Literature's potential function as a way to meditate on the horrors of dictatorship and to make sense of betrayal are explored as Frouman-Smith considers Heker's firsthand experience of events during the Argentine dictatorship in El fin de la historia. Frouman-Smith explores testimonial literature as one way in which Latin American authors can conceive of their personal and national histories. For the writer, the engagement with this genre functions both as a personal form of catharsis and as a means through which to share her or his individual story with the outside world.
The power of personal experience is not just limited to testimonial writing but also extends to other forms of literary production, such as fiction. La nada cotidiana and "Reunion," examined by Juli A. Kroll and Peris Blanes provide examples of fictions that share significant elements with the genre of testimonial literature, specifically catharsis, firsthand experience of traumatic national events and the textual embodiment of that experience. Central to the genre of testimonial literature is that the individual's story is mediated by an interlocutor; for these authors, it seems that the fictionalization of experience performs a corresponding function. While Zoe Valdes' narration of Patria's experiences in La nada cotidiana is informed by her own personal experience of economic hardship and scarcity during Cuba's Special Period, Cortazar reinterprets an event from Che Guevara's testimonial accounts to create a poignant, humanized story that reflects on loss.
The debates that play out between writers and intellectuals show an awareness of social, political and cultural implications of artistic and critical work. Frouman-Smith outlines Heker's insistence that personal experience is essential to the creative process when writing about a traumatic memory. This approach, however, is at odds with Cortazar's ideas on the engagement with such social and political dialogues as discussed by Peris Blanes in his article. Following the critic's argument, it becomes clear that Cortazar advocates that the intellectual has the potential to participate in the political sphere through writing as she/he has the opportunity to instigate a literary revolution that parallels a political one. In "Reunion," the Argentine author recognizes the inextricability of social, cultural and political realms, and the implications this entanglement has on the intellectual's role. We see the humanization of militant themes and the universalization of a particular revolutionary experience in his literary rendering of testimonial accounts. Cortazar's technique of rearranging testimonial writing into a new piece of fiction is one that is still productive for present-day writers as they reflect on socio-political events that are relevant to modern-day processes of reconciliation and cultural transformation.
Literature, like other forms of cultural expression, is not only a powerful medium for self-reflection but also an accessible stage for the reinterpretation of social and political events. This dynamic is also an intrinsic theme to many of the articles in the section, reflecting literature's involvement across social and political spheres. Kroll's analysis of Valdes' novel, La nada cotidiana, portrays the tedium and paranoia of Cuba's Special Period as the existential crisis of a dystopian present. The way in which Kroll frames her argument invites a reconsideration of past utopias once envisioned by the Cuban revolution, thus opening up the possibility that literature can suggest alternative realities and lead to creative resolutions. Her discussion traces how creativity and birth, represented in literature, can also be interpreted as a possible resolution for the post-revolutionary existential crisis. The concept of utopia is an ever-shifting question in social, political and critical debates, inherent to the idealistic nature of utopia itself. As Trigo states, "if utopia is basically a necessarily evasive horizon, it needs to be permanently re-inscribed in our critical practice" (8). This task of re-inscribing horizons has been one of the many important roles of the intellectual in Latin America.
In the consideration of this selection of articles written by critics, and primarily for critics, we would like to point to the powerful role and responsibility of the critic within the context of shifting cultural, social and political discourses in Latin America. If "the cultural" is conceived as "a field of struggle for the symbolic reproduction of social reality," as previously suggested by Trigo, the critic, then, plays a significant role in the mediation and valuing of such symbolic reproduction. The critic holds substantial power to choose which texts and cultural productions--in other words, which voices--are included or excluded from cultural studies. Furthermore, the critic has the ability to identify problematics within literary and theoretical discourses. The present political climate, the globalizing world and the decentralizing of power and ideologies have placed in the hands of Latin American intellectuals the task of sorting through the gamut of changes experienced in the past half century. As Octavio Paz states in his essay, "The Exception to the Rule," "Literature is the expression of a feeling of deprivation, a recourse against a sense of something missing. But the contrary is also true: language is what makes us human. It is a recourse against the meaningless noise and silence of nature and history." Literature, inextricable from the societal and the political, emerges as both a means to express and rewrite history.
De la Campa, Roman. Latin Americanism. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1999.
Gugelberger, Georg and Michael Kearney. "Voices for the Voiceless: Testimonial Literature in Latin America." Latin American Perspectives. 18.3 Voices of the Voiceless in Latin American Literature, Part 1 (Summer, 1991). 3-14.
Levinson, Brett. "The Death of the Critique of Eurocentrism." Orientalism and Identity in Latin America: Fashioning Self and Other from the (Post)Colonial Margin. Erik Camayd-Freixas, ed. Tucson: University of Arizona Press, 2013.
Miller, Nicola. In the Shadow of the State: Intellectuals and the Quest for National Identity in Twentieth-Century Spanish America. London: Verso, 1999.
Paz, Octavio. Corriente alterna. 2a ed. Mexico: Siglo Veintiuno Editores, 1968.
--. "The Exception to the Rule." Five Works. New York: Arcade Pub., 2012.
Trigo, Abril. "General Introduction." The Latin American Cultural Studies Reader. Alicia Rios, ed. Durham: Duke University Press, 2004.
Sarah Booker and Christine Martinez
University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
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|Author:||Booker, Sarah; Martinez, Christine|
|Date:||Dec 1, 2014|
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