The Other Writing is an interrogation of the notion of "the other" from within rather than from outside the Latin American tradition. The study aims to put into question some received ideas about what is "other" and about what constitutes Spanish American writing, which European and Anglo-American critics have situated (naturally, as it were) as other in relation to their own currents and concepts. Kadir's book responds to those received ideas by reading Spanish American writing not as other in relation to other "mainstream" or dominant traditions, but as other to, or different within, itself. Kadir aims to show how Spanish American texts dramatize their own otherness, how they are always "other-wise." When, in the first sentence [End Page 389] of the introduction, he states that "To be other-wise means to be wakeful to the otherness within as well as mindful of the other as other" (1), and, in succeeding pages, repeats the term in provocative ways, Kadir suggests that Spanish American writing is always not only "wise to" or aware of what it means to be other, but also "wise to" or aware of the problematical nature of the concept of otherness itself.
Kadir discusses, in the following order, the writing of Jorge Luis Borges, Octavio Paz, Carlos Fuentes, Gabriel García Márquez, Mario Vargas Llosa, José Donoso, and Diamela Eltit, all except the last of whom are recognizable as "canonical" Spanish American authors. Kadir's study demonstrates how Spanish American writing leads one to the question of "the other" and that it is a question to which literature rather than theory may provide the most instructive responses. The study highlights the heuristic value of Spanish American writing, and describes the lessons that one particular reader (that is, Kadir) has learned about reading in general and about reading Spanish American literature in particular.
Conceptually, the book is challenging and complex; rhetorically, it is elegant and expressive. It contains not only intricate speculation about important theoretical ideas; it is also an impressive critical performance. Kadir talks about and performs the type of interrogation and response about which he hypothesizes at the outset. More important, perhaps, for the Spanish American enterprise, is Kadir's effort to resituate talk about Spanish American writing, to remove it from the position of the subordinate other and to read it as but one among many other traditions—that is, as a tradition that is other to other (mainstream) traditions just as they are other to one another.
Kadir addresses directly the question of mainstream versus marginal traditions in his interrogation of the notions of "emergent literatures" and "emergent cultures" in the study's initial chapters ("Otherwise Reading and Writing," "Orbis Tertius: Colonial Discourse and Emergent Cultures," and "Surviving Theory"). He asks—and tries to answer, even if only provisionally—some key questions about critical and cultural concepts such as "the other" or "otherness," which have recently been deployed around the Spanish American context. He considers how readers have utilized (profitably or not) such concepts to make sense of the Spanish American tradition.
Kadir draws attention to the forces that contribute to the legitimization of different literary and cultural traditions, and to how the reception and interpretation of Spanish American writing has been shaped by such forces. He aims to explain the role that Spanish American writing has been made to play within the larger frame of Western culture. His initial discussion of "emergent literature" and "emergent culture," noted above, is therefore pivotal. Kadir talks about the labels, categories, concepts which, he reminds his readers, have played no small role in defining how Spanish American literature and culture are viewed beyond, but also within, their own borders. Indeed, his discussion points up how dominant (that is, Eurocentric) views on Spanish American cultural and literary production have distorted the [End Page 390] Latin American tradition overall. This part of his study is an especially thoughtful and much-needed corrective to many prevailing discussions that continue to restrict and reduce rather than explore and expand...