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Santiago Colás. Postmodernity in Latin America: The Argentine Paradigm. Durham: Duke UP, 1994. xiv + 224 pp.

This book traces specific effects of postmodernity on Latin American political and literary developments that have been the subject of growing discussion among Latin Americanist critics in the past several years.

The particular value of Colás’s book resides in its showing how a given Latin American literary elite has dealt with particular modes of modernization and hybridization, integration, and fragmentation to constitute their own specific postmodern configurations and resistances. But Colás suggests how the literary works he discusses point to bases for political developments which may resist current structures of power.

Colás is one of the first U.S.-based Latin Americanist specialists to seriously examine a wide range of theorists seeking economic and political linkages with the new cultural constellation signalled by Lyotard. Indeed, while Jameson’s critique of postmodernity as the cultural dominant of Mandel’s “late capitalism” is clearly central to Colás’s own work, Colás has also bothered to study Mandel directly and turned to David Harvey’s critique in The Condition of Postmodernity to underpin his consideration of Latin America’s evolving reality. This move gives a stronger level of concretion to his work than most other contemporary postmodern works, making his book especially significant.

Latin American transnational processes as central to the area’s postmodern transculturations haunt this book, with the key issues having to do with shifts in global economic, social, and political relations—the changing internal and external transformations affecting the mixed [End Page 861] and uneven modes of production and circulation characteristic of underdeveloped capitalist areas; the collapse of the supposed alternative (or macro-narrative) to capitalism; the controlled redemocratization processes and potentially contestatory social movements emerging in the context of neo-liberal trade relations and agreements. But Colás then takes this objectivist sociological background and seeks effective linkages to cultural and literary concerns following, and in some ways deepening, routes explored by such critics as Roberto Schwartz, Jesús Martín Barbero, Nelly Richard, Beatriz Sarlo, and Néstor García Canclini.

Colás sifts through the conflicting perspectives of researchers who either uncritically espouse or reject the postmodern mantle for the area and end with a limited and distorted understanding of Latin American postmodernity and its literary representations. In the end, he posits the Argentine case as a specific instance and paradigm for literary and broader Latin American world.

One of his initial and abiding concerns is to counter the hegemonic first-world view of Latin American literary postmodernity as relating in some sort of homogenous way to western postmodern fictions in general. Metropolitian critics like Linda Hutcheon facilely lump Latin American writers of distinct generations and projects together with a wide array of non-Latin American writers in their postmodern literary pantheon.

In response, Colás posits Argentine literary works as particular expressions of symbolic resistance against and within successive phases of Argentina’s political life as contextualized by the nation’s insertion in dependent and uneven modernization processes. In his central chapters of literary analysis, Colás traces the emergence of a Peronist left in the wake of the Cuban revolution and then turns to the periods of dictatorship and redemocratization. So Julio Cortázar’s Hopscotch is an extreme example of literary modernism; Manuel Puig’s Kiss of the Spider Woman represents a transition toward postmodernity in the dictatorship phase; and Ricardo Piglia’s Artificial Respiration exemplifies Argentine postmodernity as new forms emerge in relation to the new context.

In the last analysis, this ambitious effort to take on contemporary social science and literary thought in working through a conception of Latin American and Argentine postmodernity marks both continuity and a break with the work of recent critics in plotting Argentina’s [End Page 862] social, cultural, and literary history. Colás then seeks to suggest extensions of his critique beyond national borders, to consider the applicability of his achieved “paradigm” to Central America and other areas and to testimonio as well as other generic modes that are seen in relation to social resistance movements which...

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