restricted access Lusophonia vs. Lusutopia, MLA vs. MTA
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Lusophonia vs. Lusutopia, MLA vs. MTA

I do not mean to suggest that we cease to be Luso-Brazilianists and become comparatists.

—Francis Rogers

This epigraph, which comes from a 1953 article by one of the key figures in the rise of lusophone studies in the United States, should strike us as paradoxical: the discipline named already displays a hyphenated identity—encompassing both Lusitania (Portugal) and Brazil—that would seem to make comparative approaches inevitable.1 I should explain that Rogers is referring not to comparison within his discipline, but to the analogy between Portuguese and other "single" languages that have spread to four (or more) continents and become the official and literary languages of vastly different cultures. (In the case of Portuguese, the four continents are Europe, South America, Africa, and Asia, [Portuguese is a co-official language of East Timor and Macau].) Rogers is saying that the comparison of seemingly analogous situations of world languages in postcolonial contexts is intellectually suspect, and in any case more than any one scholar can handle. But I wish to read the quote on its surface, as it were, as pointing out the tension between Lusophonia and Lusutopia. Unlike English, French, and Spanish, the Portuguese language finds no place in the MLA divisional structure but it is rather called forth only in the dash that connects Lusitania with Brazil.

The lusophonic approach reads the dash between "Luso" and "Brazilian" as a connector between two vastly different cultures that are related through the fact that they share a language. There are, of course, very pragmatic reasons for this connection: knowing the language is a necessary gateway to both cultures. But the dash can also be read disjunctively, as highlighting the doubleness of the name and the fact that the phonic connection is [End Page 211] (Lus)utopian, creating a nonplace where comparison operates. Interestingly, translating "dash" into Portuguese yields "traço" or "tracinho"—the trace. The trace suggests absence and presence at the same time. It reminds us as well of those literatures that are missing from the formulation "Luso-Brazilian," which are usually referred to as "lusophone African."

The idea of global comparison voiced in the title of this collection of articles invokes the dialectical relation between comparative and world literature, the utopian construction of a topos (the world) through an approach to literature that is nongeographical and supralinguistic. How does such a project fare when it kicks against the pricks of divisional slicing and dicing, such as those practiced by the premier organization in our field, the MLA? Elsewhere in this cluster, Françoise Lionnet provisionally answers this question: "The MLA should reexamine its binary separation of English from so-called foreign languages. The vibrant contemporary presence of many languages right here in the United States makes the MLA's basic structure increasingly irrelevant. Linguistic diversity has always existed on the ground in the United States. . . . But its role has been invisible to literary scholars who specialize in monolingual traditions reinforced by the MLA's separate domains" (221). Lionnet's statement defines the trace nature of polylingual reality on the ground. Were our episteme to be dominated by topographies of language, then we would need to organize so as to overcome these separate language domains. At its highest levels, however, the MLA is organized phonically, according to languages, then chronologically, and only then topically, that is, either by the topography of place or by topic.

So, the "MTA" of my title does not signify the New York public transportation system that faithfully brings the valiant workers of the Manhattan MLA headquarters in to their work and then carries them back to home and family at the end of the day. The MTA in my title alludes to a heterotopical version of the MLA, the Modern Temporal/Topical Association, wherein "topos" is taken both in its basic meaning of "place" and in its metaphorical one of "topic." My point is that while the "L" in MLA can sign both "language" and "literature," the way the organizational structure of the MLA addresses its work has as much to do with temporae and topoi as it does with l-words...