Poststructural sand castles (LARR 2002)

Here is another old article to review. It is in JSTOR so I can live without the paper journal, and it is in Scribd. Many others index it or refer to it, so I see I am not wrong to have marked and kept this text.

As you can see, it is a review essay of several key texts. Do postcolonial and poststructural theory help to understand the multicultural reality of the Western Hemisphere? is the article’s question.

Sommer’s Proceed with caution points out that many “minor texts” use rhetorical strategies that prevent their mastery/conquest by outsiders (cf. R. Menchú, but there are many other examples). This disruption of the outsider’s desire to conquer and master meaning is very important and worth thinking about.

Mignolo’s Local Histories/Global Designs is also about understanding the self and world as conceived from a resistant place. Both he and Sommer set their projects up against poststructuralist theory. These theorists use 3d world subject and text as static objects that articulate a theoretical difference at a distant remove from the discourses that shape individual Latin American bodies and texts (203). See what he has to say about “polylanguaging.”

R. de la Campa in Latin Americanism also keeps poststructuralist theory at arm’s length. He seeks to identify its blind spots for Latin America. (What does he mean about the “unprotected text”? I have this book and never read it, and it is on my list.) The questions, again, are how one relates to the world and how the world is related to one. Borges’ liminality, his cerebral essays and detective stories riddled with epistemological twists filled with their own sense of violence (de la Campa’s words, quoted on 206), speak to his experience of the deeper contradictions that inform a Latin American culture laden with ludic uncertainty.

De la Campa sees in La ciudad letrada discussions of modernista poetry and later novels techniques that rupture master narratives and destabilize (our understanding and naturalization of) hierarchies of difference in colonial relations.

Another book I never read is the collection Reclaiming Identity (realist theory and the predicament of postmodernism). These authors do believe in identity (unlike the poststructuralists who insist on its indeterminacy), just not naively. And they are not just replaying strategic essentialism; they say their postpositivist realism comes from the ground up (they are not dividing knowing theorist from unknowing activist).

Then there is Cathy Jrade on modernismo, modernity, and the development of Spanish American literature. She notes that modernismo was political unlike European modernism, richer and more complex, although its optimism no longer seemed viable after the early 1920s. Industrial modernization seemed to overwhelm poetry, and the irrational and the esoteric became a kind of refuge.

Aldama (our reviewer here) says all these works have deep contradictions, just like the modernistas (revolutionizing art, yet serving in conservative ambassadorial posts, for instance). Latin American postcolonialists want to radically alter capitalist reality, yet depend upon it. Theorists insist that the world is a text, and think that destabilizing master narratives will empower the powerless.

As de la Campa says, “Latin American literature and criticism are perhaps best understood as a transnatinal discursive community with a significant market or research and sales in the industrial capitals of the world.” Theorists, to get tenure/promotion and so on, must produce work that replaces real political action with its textual ersatz. Theory must claim a power to transform reality through the textual and the theoretical, and to empower people. It is a sand castle.

Aldama denies that there is no outside to the text, and denies that this denial is naive. He is against the idea that we have to come up with “subversive” readings necessarily. He is against wishful thinking.



This entry was posted in Colonialisms, Hispanism, Modernities, Postmodernism. Bookmark the permalink.

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