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Capital Fictions

The Literature of Latin America's Export Age

Ericka Beckman

Publication Year: 2012

Between 1870 and 1930, Latin American countries were incorporated into global capitalist networks like never before, mainly as exporters of raw materials and importers of manufactured goods. During this Export Age, entire regions were given over to the cultivation of export commodities such as coffee and bananas, capital and labor were relocated to new production centers, and barriers to foreign investment were removed. Capital Fictions investigates the key role played by literature in imagining and interpreting the rapid transformations unleashed by Latin America’s first major wave of capitalist modernization.

Using an innovative blend of literary and economic analysis and drawing from a rich interdisciplinary archive, Ericka Beckman provides the first extended evaluation of Export Age literary production. She traces the emergence of a distinct set of fictions, fantasies, and illusions that accompanied the rise of export-led, dependent capitalism. These “capital fictions” range from promotional pamphlets for Guatemalan coffee and advertisements for French fashions, to novels about stock market collapse in Argentina and rubber extraction in the Amazon.

Beckman explores how Export Age literature anticipated some of the key contradictions faced by contemporary capitalist societies, including extreme financial volatility, vast social inequality, and ever-more-intense means of exploitation. Questioning the opposition between culture and economics in Latin America and elsewhere, Capital Fictions shows that literature operated as a powerful form of political economy during this period.

Published by: University of Minnesota Press


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p. 1-1

Title Page, Copyright

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pp. 2-5


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pp. v-vi

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Introduction: Capital Fictions

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pp. vii-xxx

Consider the following scenario: a Latin American dictator, in order to stay in power, sells the Caribbean Sea to the United States. The entire body of water is then carried away to irrigate the deserts of Arizona. To replace the lost sea breezes, the North Americans provide the Caribbean nation with a gigantic wind machine. ...

I. Boom

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Chapter 1: Production: Imagining the Export Republic

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pp. 3-41

In 1872 an article entitled “Las riquezas de Bolivia” (“The wealth of Bolivia”) appeared in the New York–based, Cuban-owned newspaper La América Ilustrada.1 The anonymous article confidently identifies Bolivia as “one of the richest countries of this rich land of América”: ...

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Chapter 2: Consumption: Modernismo’s Import Catalogues

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pp. 42-80

Chapter 1 investigated the capital fictions surrounding the production of export commodities in late nineteenth-century Latin America. As regional economies become more integrated into global networks of exchange, fantasies of production had to compete with a new aesthetic sensibility. ...

II. Bust

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Chapter 3: Money I: Financial Crisis and the Stock Market Novel

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pp. 83-120

According to the economic laws through which Latin American countries were incorporated into the global commodity lottery at the end of the nineteenth century, a nation was rich on the basis of its natural resources. While dormant, this wealth could be “awoken” by the magical touch of human labor, ...

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Chapter 4: Money II: Bankruptcy and Decadence

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pp. 121-157

I begin this chapter by telling the story of a ghost that ran across the Colombian nation at the end of nineteenth century: the ghost of Colombia’s First National Bank, el Banco Nacional. By 1894, this National Bank had become virtually insolvent, emitting far more paper currency than it could secure in metal reserves. ...

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Chapter 5: Exploitation: A Journey to the Export Real

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pp. 158-190

By the 1920s, Spanish American literary texts began to offer a new way of envisioning export economies by way of a current known as regionalism. In the aftermath of the urban-based and intensely Europhilic literary movements of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, particularly modernismo, ...

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Conclusion: Return to Macondo

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pp. 191-198

In 1908, the legendary Colombian Liberal and general Rafael Uribe Uribe delivered a speech to the Agricultural Society of Colombia. The subject of the conference: “El banano” (The banana). The-hundred-page speech offers a wealth of information about the crop, with sections devoted to origins, uses and byproducts, ...

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pp. 199-202

It gives me great pleasure to acknowledge the debts I accrued in the process of writing this book. This book began as a dissertation under the direction of Mary Louise Pratt and Richard Rosa, the two teachers from whom I have learned the most. Mary continues to provide me with a model for rigorous and politically engaged scholarship. ...


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pp. 203-230


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pp. 231-244


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pp. 245-254

E-ISBN-13: 9780816681884
E-ISBN-10: 0816681880
Print-ISBN-13: 9780816679195

Page Count: 272
Publication Year: 2012