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  • The Divided House Trans-Divided
  • Eduardo González
Anna Brickhouse, Transamerican Literary Relations and the Nineteenth-Century Public Sphere. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 2004. xii + 329 pp.

You should keep one eye a patriot and the other an emigrant at the same time as the seaman keeps home-time with one watch and apparent with the other.

—R. W. Emerson (1831 letter to his brothers)

The best way to update the interamerican or "transamerican" political perspectives chosen by the author in her prologue to this path-breaking work is to look back in the rearview mirror of Hugo Chávez's recent demonizing of George W. Bush at the UN in contrast with her discussion of Ronald Reagan's proclamation of the 1983–84 "Bicentennial Year of the Birth of Simon Bolivar." Since Reagan's high noon and across the writing of Brickhouse's book and in the wake of 9/11 a hardening of such regional gestures and substantive geopolitical agendas has taken place with respect to Venezuela and Mexico in particular. From the mild stuff of Reagan's ghost writer's eulogy to Bolívar (rendered inside-out, as a partner of incipient hemispheric globalization, instead of a leader and promoter of two equal hemispheres, one Southern American and another Northern, facing off in mutual hegemonic bilateral parity) to Chávez fueling up his populist base by claiming that the twin towers at the World Trade Center were destroyed by elements inside the US government—meaning by Bush himself. The tirade came in response to the Bush Administration's increasing opposition to Chavez and his lifeline support of Cuba in [End Page 433] what is seen by Washington as a regional satellite Caribbean version of the trans-Asian Iran-North Korea Axis of Evil. (In the meantime, Mexico's bleeding cheap labor diaspora to the North under the effects of NAFTA serves, on the eve of the midterm 2006 elections, as the impact point for nationalist anti-aliens fear mongering and Clash-of-Civilizations sermons.)

Writing in earnest about cultural politics and interlocking political realities places an ethical burden upon authors and readers. In Brickhouse's writing the burden is felt in the claim that "[. . .] we [Americanists in particular] have long organized our dominant narratives of US literary history [. . .] as part of a discrete national story rather than an international anthology of conversing and competing contributions" (2). By contrast—written at a high pitch of Romantic divided-soul passion—an ethical burden of the sort is felt in Gloria Anzaldúa's ringer: "'Admit that Mexico is your double, that she exists in the shadow of this country, that we are irrevocably tied to her. Gringo, accept the doppelgänger in your psyche'" (220). To which some Hispanophone readers could well add: "¡acéptalo, chingón!" Yet, in cooler tones of sober scholarship, the assumption of the burden to compare in depth and across internal and external borders entails the seasoned and locally tested learning of the Spanish language and at least some of its vernacular tongues, just as generations of high-profile Americanists have failed to do and to apply to their discipline as it rose into academic hegemony last century.

The small ethical and character lesson from which Brickhouse's book branches forth is simple: one does not need to command Spanish in order to mimic Anzaldúa's cross-borders summons, just as one needs Spanish in order to achieve what Brickhouse achieves in her comparative histories as she takes the Chicana strange-soul-inside-your-own-mero-soul unheimlich injunction to a higher level of knowledge and passion in reading layers of borrowed and even stolen authorship between US and Caribbean and Mexican writers.

Brickhouse's literary history falls into six sites or stages of reiterative teleology. It starts in the 1820s, with the mixture of Hispanophile cross-cultural learning and visions of Manifest-Destiny among US intellectuals who published, most prominently, in the North American Review. Among them stood Emerson, certainly not in love with things Hispanic yet very interested in keeping track of his brothers' commercial activities in the Caribbean. In Brickhouse's view, the advice (placed at the head of this review...


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pp. 433-437
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