“Originary Debt (1816)” attempts to begin a negative genealogy of Spanish American letters from the nineteenth century to the present by arguing that from its origins, Spanish American literature imposes duty-debt (deber) as the principle of its order. From the very prologue of what is arguably the first Latin American novel, El periquillo sarniento (Fernández de Lizardi, 1816), literature marks itself as traversed and constituted by the exigencies of economy and thus by a necessary relation to a reading public that through consumption will restitute the original financial expenditure of writing and publication. It is this monetary and moral inscription, as obligation, that organizes Latin American literary history. Fiction is submitted to the demand of money as the figure of its relation to what it hopes to bring forth: the people. Centering on a reading the prologue to Lizardi’s novel, this article suggests that this reading public, the people—as a truth that is both extrinsic and intrinsic to the work—forms the reason or duty of the modern literary enterprise.


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pp. 43-56
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