The Inverted Conquest: The Myth of Modernity and the Transatlantic Onset of Modernism (review)
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Reviewed by
Mejías-López, Alejandro. The Inverted Conquest: The Myth of Modernity and the Transatlantic Onset of Modernism. Nashville, TN: Vanderbilt UP, 2009. 248 pp.

Drawing from abundant research, especially in the archives, The Inverted Conquest describes and interrogates how Spanish American modernismo became a literary phenomenon that swept through artistic and intellectual circles in Spain to establish itself by 1900 as the first literary current from Europe's former American colonies to assert its dominance in the metropolis. Modernismo has been consecrated as such, to the extent that it has become commonplace, with respect to prosody in the Spanish-speaking world, to speak of a before and after Rubén Darío, the phenomenon's most acclaimed figure. With Darío visibly at the lead, the modernistas revolutionized Spanish poetic meter and shook the former metropolis's literary world with the currency of their knowledge of European (mostly French) cultural objects and literary and artistic tendencies; their taste for cosmopolitan travel, lifestyles, and poses; the unabashed eroticism of some of their works for the times; and their obvious delight in art for art's sake. Given the consensus on modernismo's impact in Spanish and Spanish American letters, why might it now be worthwhile to return to the heat of the debate about this literary phenomenon, when its influence was beginning to demand attention in literary and intellectual circles in Spain?

For a start, Alejandro Mejías-López's detailed account of this impact and the [End Page 497] controversies that its poets and writers ignited suggests that despite modernismo's canonical status there remains unfinished business for its literary historians and critics: namely, the need to counter the persistent "othering" of modernismo in European, Anglo-American, and even some Spanish American theorizations of modernisms and modernity. Professor Mejías-López goes so far as to claim that the marginalization of modernismo appears to be a "precondition" for such theorizations in order to establish "that indeed modernismo is not modernism" (2). In light of burgeoning research over the last fifteen years that takes the Atlantic world as an analytical framework and the turn in European and US modernist studies over the last decade toward examining the field in a global context, Mejías-López does well to take advantage of these paradigm shifts in several disciplines to situate the modernistas. Instead of rigidly hierarchical structures and relations of power, the new transatlanticism affords concepts amenable to poststructural and postcolonial theorizations, such as circuits, ebbs and flows, traces, displacements, and deterritorializations. Hence, through frequent though mindful culling of Pierre Bourdieu's concepts of literary field, literary revolution, and symbolic capital, The Inverted Conquest elucidates complex networks of transatlantic correspondence, readership, and critical practices, and renews the way in which modernista challenges to the authority of the Spanish literary field might be articulated. But the book's "conquest" motif does not end here.

Mejías-López's study consistently tackles what he terms Europe's "myth of modernity," that is, the common supposition that this continent had enjoyed homogeneous, evenly distributed, and equally powerful processes of modernization during the nineteenth century. Exploring the relationship between this myth and the marginalization of Spanish American modernismo, the book analyzes late-nineteenth-century notions of modernization on both sides of the Atlantic by juxtaposing, in one among several convincing examples, Latin America's early adoption of republicanism and, with the exception of France, Europe's enduring monarchies. Furthermore, Mejías-López's focus on the uniqueness of Spain's geopolitical and socioeconomic situation—one subject to economic and artistic challenges from some of its former colonies and to marginalization from its European neighbors to the north—not only helps to debunk myths of modernity on both sides of the Atlantic but also complicates both Eurocentric and postcolonial critical approaches to modernismo.

There is much to commend in The Inverted Conquest. The study communicates the ebullience of a literary phenomenon that emerged and traversed the Atlantic at a time when Europe's enormous trade in Latin American raw materials contributed to the emergence of the Old Continent's belle époque and its concomitant, economic neocolonialization of...


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