Exceedingly rare is the book that effects a marked shift in the terms and nature of existing disciplinary debates. Even more rare is the book that evinces such critical possibilities with--simply and only--a collection of close, rigorous, readings of historical and narrative texts. The present book will no doubt be counted among these.
Drawing from the essayistic and narrative production of Luis Alva, Ignacio Altamirano, Rosario Castellanos, and Elena Garro, Lund advances a critical examination of race in nineteenth- and twentieth-century Mexico—a topic much studied in Mexico, to be sure. Lund's study nevertheless offers a critical departure from previous studies that take race as a self-evident reflection of human difference. Instead, and more productively, Lund takes up the question of race itself as a philosophical and political category, "a cultural-political problematic . . . that impinges on social relations" (p. xi). In other words, Lund goes beyond a mere duplication of the narratives ascribed to already existing racialized groups, and instead inquires into the ways in which the category of race itself became an agent of racialization and then enlisted existing naturalized identity positions into the very production of Mexican national history in the first instance. It is less a study of narratives of historical conflict and asymmetrical relations between and among distinct racial groups in Mexico than it is a critical examination of how race itself became integral— more accurately, indispensable—in plotting the narrative (always literary) of Mexican nation-state formation from the Porfiriato to the era of Lázaro Cardenas.
Lund's pathbreaking study has two marked strengths. On the one hand is the conceptual link he makes between the question of race and the problem of land, arguing that "race becomes meaningful in the real world only as it operates at the historical division of material resources and the institutional vigilance over that division" (p. xiv). Racialization becomes the discursive, aesthetic, index through which to trace historical assertions (and/or competing claims) of the rights to land resources by various historical actors in Mexico. Thus, the ideological work of racialization in modern Mexico is inextricable from the always-unequal distribution of territory that conditions its sovereignty. For this contribution alone Lund's study represents a critical intervention unparalleled in Mexican Studies, and provides a most fertile and critical opening through which to further questions of race and state-formation not only in Mexico but throughout Latin America. [End Page 117]
The second remarkable feature of Lund's book is its critical methodology. Four chapters comprise the book, each devoted to a figure of modern Mexican letters (Alva, Altamirano, Castellanos, and Garro) who is known to have played a key role in the institutional debates about race in their time. However, this study goes far beyond a mere re-reading of some of Mexico's most celebrated works, such as El zarco, Oficio de tinieblas, and Los recuerdos del porvenir. Lund's project does not aim merely to reorient the critical tradition of the specific narrative works discussed here, but to, in effect, "re-territorialize" it—to view state-led appropriations of race as questions of land. As such, and again most productively, each chapter constitutes a dialectical engagement between a specific historical crisis over territorial control in Mexico, the discourse of race that grounds and informs it, and the literary work that aims to render it into a seamless, normalized historical narrative (yet can never do so).
The chapters that comprise this book do not constitute yet another set of literary readings: they are themselves critical investigations into discrete historical conjunctures in Mexico wherein government policy, civic debate, and literary production all worked to reveal the vacuous core inhabiting the production of modern racial identity and nationhood. Each discussion can stand alone; yet, considered together, the investigations in The Mestizo State offer a near-conclusive demonstration of the active, constitutive role of race in narratives of modern state formation.