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At the heart of Ericka Beckman’s Capital Fictions is a reimagining of magical realism. This concept tends to be either acclaimed or critiqued for its attempt to capture an experience of uneven modernity and of cultural hybridity, its positioning of Latin America as producer of objects (literary and material) that are both unfamiliar and eminently consumable. For Beckman, however, magical realism is more usefully descriptive of the global economic system in which Latin America finds itself enmeshed. Magical realism, in her provocative suggestion, defines capitalism itself: a rationalized irrationality which must generate delirium to keep itself afloat and in movement across regions. Engaged in turning raw materials into desirable objects, it relies on the creation of large fictions to sustain both production and consumption. As Beckman suggests, part of what it produces are local spokesmen; this riveting book uncovers how Latin American elites in the export age and beyond have fallen prey to promises centered on the region’s raw value, and it charts how those elites have in turn peddled narratives of riches to be earned through capitalizing on those materials through full insertion into global economic markets. Engaging in flights of fancy which generated and/or devolved into cycles of boom and bust, the concern of writers and politicians alike in this period—in which writers often were politicians and vice versa—was how to realize the real, as if by magic, and make it fly.
Focused on the imbrication of aesthetics and economics, putting in play both conceptual clarity and literary sensitivity, Capital Fictions brings nuance to prior scholarly analyses of politico-literary configurations in the post-independence period. Significantly, it adds an economic dimension to reflections on Latin American connections to world literary systems while emphasizing that economics often has less to do with determinism than with dreams and desires. Beckman’s ambitious project involves imagining the modes of representation shared by economics and literature alike and probing the ways in which they both undergird and unsettle one another. After a lucid introduction, the book’s five chapters convincingly plot different phases of this relationship, from what Beckman terms “export reveries” and “import catalogs” in the late nineteenth century, through stock-market fictions around the turn of the century, to crises and critiques in the first three decades of the twentieth century. The discussion is framed by two related dynamics. The first is the economic world system that turned the continent into the locus of raw materials in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, a system that too often disappears from view in mappings of the continent’s literary and political histories, here beautifully illustrated in the map reproduced and discussed in the introduction. The second is the figuration of consumption patterns in literary texts that, as Beckman compellingly argues, should not be dismissed as mere Europeanizing evasions but studied for what they tell us about [End Page 612] the constitution of Latin American modernities.
Mary Louise Pratt’s now-classic study Imperial Eyes: Travel Writing and Transculturation (1992) coined the term “industrial reverie” to designate the investment—at once economic, libidinal, and aesthetic—made in the Latin American landscape by nineteenth-century visitors. Beckman reorients this term by envisioning this same matter from the viewpoint of local elites dreaming of its futures; her term for this, which structures her study of a range of political, economic, and literary texts from the late nineteenth century, is “export reverie,” the production of a delirious discourse that attempts to call modernity into being through the force of fantasy. The surprising figure at the center of this discussion in the first chapter is the Cuban writer José Martí, usually taken as a linchpin for resistance to plunderings of Latin America but here shown to be engaged in the rhetorical production of Guatemala as a site for investment. The second chapter connects Martí to two other modernistas, his compatriot Julián del Casal and the Colombian José Asunción Silva, both of whom are usually generally associated with an...