A History of Mexican Literature offers a highly comprehensive approach to the aesthetic, social, and cultural ramifications of literary practice in Mexico, from colonial times to the twenty-first century. Consisting [End Page 992] of twenty-eight chapters written by scholars based in Mexico, the United States, and Europe, the volume also gives us important insight on forms of contemporary literary scholarship. One of the main objectives of the book is to bring together scholarly voices that are often dispersed in academic journals of difficult access but that together make visible paradigmatic changes in the field of Mexican studies. It fully succeeds in this endeavor. Read collectively, the essays approach literature through a complex lens that reduces it neither exclusively to a traditional analysis of aesthetics and form nor to an approach that views literature as a prism that primarily reflects national identity. As the introduction affirms, "this is the first history to understand Mexican literature as a cultural practice of relative autonomy, in the sense that Pierre Bourdieu assigns the term" (5). A History thus considers Mexican literature as a practice that intersects with the social and the political, but that can be read neither as exclusively political nor as fully autonomous. As a result, each chapter seeks to establish a delicate but fruitful balance between an analysis of individual literary works or authors and a consideration of the institutional networks in which literature is created and received.
The book is divided into four parts. The first three are roughly chronological (covering the periods of preindependence, nineteenth century, twentieth century, and twenty-first century). The chapters included here range in approach, from focusing on the contributions of canonical authors—such as Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz and Octavio Paz—to broader considerations of religious scholarship, print culture, cultural institutions, literary groups, performance, gender, and LGBTQ subjectivities. Collectively, these essays strike a balance between revising and expanding the existing canon and decentering a field that often privileges the literary circles of the capital over the diversity of Mexico's regions. The fourth part, entitled "Mexican Literature beyond Boundaries," questions the parameters that have traditionally constrained the study of Mexican literature. It broadens geographic and linguistic delimitations by including writers who publish in indigenous languages, as well as those who write from the "greater Mexico" that includes the southwestern United States. The last two chapters also consider how literature connects with other forms of production, such as cinema and popular culture. This closing part productively foregrounds the disciplinary conversations between literary studies, media studies, indigenous studies, and Chicano studies that today shape Mexican studies. [End Page 993]
Because of the density of the information contained in each of the chapters, all of which are extremely rich in analytic detail and cultural context, this book as a whole might not be suitable to assign for introductory undergraduate survey courses, although instructors will benefit from choosing select chapters to accompany certain readings. The volume does, however, provide an excellent resource to teach advanced undergraduates, and to assign reading material for graduate students embarking on new projects or in need of some in-depth contextualization for seminar essays. Above all, this volume will benefit higher education teachers. Anyone who gives courses on Mexican literature at the graduate or undergraduate level will find A History of Mexican Literature an indispensable resource for class preparation. It is the type of book that can easily remain open on the desk for an entire semester or more. Any instructor will find herself or himself returning to it time and time again, whether for syllabus creation, for lecture preparation, or to give feedback on individual student writing.
viviane mahieux is associate professor of Spanish and Portuguese at the University of California Irvine. Her research interests include the Latin American literary avant-gardes, the chronicle in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, journalism, and media theory. She is the author of Urban Chroniclers in Modern Latin America: The...