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Reviewed by:
Aldama, Frederick Luis. Postcolonial and Latino Borderland Fiction. Austin, TX: University of Texas Press, 2009. 198 pp.

Frederick Luis Aldama’s 2009 A User’s Guide to Postcolonial and Latino Borderland Fiction is well worth reading although readers will undoubtedly [End Page 156] find a number of its claims controversial and some of them puzzling. The title of its Introduction reveals its basic contribution to both Latina/o and Postcolonial Studies: “Putting the World Back into Postcolonial and Latino Borderland Fiction.” Aldama’s main contention is that too often poststructuralist and post-colonial critics have indulged in what he calls “textualist idealism” (72) or what I, in defense of idealism, might prefer to call textualist nominalism whereby the assumption is made that through the word games of fiction, novels in particular but not exclusively, the world is changed. Throughout the introduction and the six chapters of the book, Aldama questions and challenges the (merely) “symbolic forms of resistance” (71) in the elision of “word” and “world” that he identifies in the teaching of and the scholarship on postcolonial and Latina/o fiction.

His critique of textualist nominalism that places, he argues, an excessive confidence in a constructivist view of language and culture and in history as a process that can be altered by these published works entails a universalizing humanism. Aldama’s neurobiological humanism (some critics might call this species-ism) emphasizes “our universal nature of emotions along with our universal fiction-making capacity” (11). He deploys this claim to make several other critical moves. He explains the power of fiction, via its numerous narrative techniques (21-48), to “organize, frame, and richly texture characters, times, and places” (3) and to enlist readers’ universally shared cognitive abilities in empathetically imagining people, scenarios, and situations beyond their own experiences. At the same time, he underscores the limits of fiction to necessarily alter “material reality” (73), “the divide-and-conquer global capitalist system” (102), and its institutions enforcing particular arrangements of that material reality that oppress millions, even billions, of people around the word (the world’s poor, for example). On the basis of the distinction he draws between ideas and labor defined as “organized class struggle” for rights, unions, access to education, free medical care, public transportation services, and the “freedom of organization, expression, and representation for all” (74), he argues against the collapse of fiction into reality: “[t]he tasks at hand are to study the aesthetic function of postcolonial and Latino borderland fictional narratives and to avoid confusing their realism (their generic mode) for reality” (4). In dissuading readers, writers, scholars, and critics from what Aldama considers naïve notions about assumed continuities between identity, representation, political intervention, and socio-economic transformation, he attempts to accomplish several objectives: 1. to establish a more intellectually honest assessment of both the power and the limitations of fictional narrative with regards to its world or society (re)constituting capacities; 2. to explore the particular strengths of postcolonial and Latina/o borderland narrative techniques for engaging readers in the struggles and resistances of the people and communities evoked through words (and, in the case of comic books, visual images) arranged on pages (3); 3. to posit that and demonstrate how “ethnic-identified [End Page 157] fictional narrative (novels, short stories, and comic books, in this volume)” actively engages “with world fictional narrative fictional genres, storytelling modes, and techniques” (2); and 4. to navigate amongst the following colliding and combining factors: the individual uniqueness of their authors’ lives and talents, the cultural particularism of the texts produced, the cross-and-transcultural and “transgeographic” (105) elements of these productions, and the species-based “universal capacity for emotion and cognition” (2). Aldama summarizes his ultimate intended critical intervention thus:

Such study must acknowledge as well the contextual and pragmatic dimensions of this fiction – the existence of real-life authors and artists doing the creating and real-life readers and viewers doing the engaging – and acknowledge that while author and reader, artist and viewer are as unique as the full and limitless range of experience our world allows, as a species we share a deep, universal capacity for emotion and cognition...


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