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Tropes of Enlightenment in the Age of Bolívar

Simón Rodríguez and the American Essay at Revolution

Ronald Briggs

Publication Year: 2010

In Tropes of Enlightenment in the Age of Bolívar, Ronald Briggs shines a much-needed light on the writings and life of Simón Rodríguez, early tutor to the hero of Latin American independence Simón Bolívar and an accomplished essayist in his own right. Bolívar and Rodríguez's lives intersected often after those early years. When Bolívar swore his life to Spanish American independence on a hill outside Rome in 1805, Rodríguez was there to witness the historic moment. And when Bolívar needed to shape the new government of Bolivia, he enlisted Rodríguez to serve roles in developing both its educational system and its infrastructure. The book, released during the bicentennial of the early wars for Latin American independence, boldly places Rodríguez in the pantheon of important writers who influenced philosophical thought during the upheavals of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, including Ralph Waldo Emerson, Noah Webster, and Tom Paine. Beyond merely providing the first in-depth analysis of Rodríguez's writings and life work, Briggs also reveals an innovator of style as Rodríguez shaped the utility and vitality of the essay as an emerging form of argument. Tropes of Enlightenment in the Age of Bolívar is an essential study of a unique and playful writer who is finally revealed as a foundational figure in Spanish American independence and an influential thinker in the larger field of hemispheric studies.

Published by: Vanderbilt University Press

Title Page

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pp. iii

Table of Contents

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pp. vii-viii

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pp. ix-x

This project began at New York University, and I am grateful to the following for their help: Eduardo Subirats, Gerard Aching, Any critical recovery of Simón Rodríguez would be impossible without the pioneering work of Susana Rotker, who died in an accident in 2000. Rotker’s articles on Rodríguez placed his writing in a critical spotlight they had never enjoyed in the U.S. academy and established the first set ...

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Introduction: A Hemispheric Insider Takes the Essay

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pp. 1-20

It would be misleading to call Simón Rodríguez (1769–1854) a forgotten figure in the history of Venezuela, especially since the 2000 Constitución Bolivariana established the era of independence as an ideological and spiritual source of national identity. Forever remembered as “the Liberator’s teacher” (el Maestro del Libertador), Rodríguez is a recognizable face and a common source of pithy quotes on murals from Caracas to the shores of the Orinoco...

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1. American Asylum and the Rhetoric of Escape

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pp. 21-57

When he referred to “America” as “an asylum for mankind” in his 1776 pamphlet Common Sense, Thomas Paine gave an old political concept new life in the particular context of the struggle for independence (Thomas Paine 30). Characterizing the entire Western Hemisphere as an antechamber to European history, an escape valve whose discovery on the heels of the Protestant Reformation seemed...

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2. Harmony in New World Nature and Old World Eyes

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pp. 58-98

The political promises embedded in European conceptions of New World space, that is, the American dream of exploration and rebirth, come inextricably tied to what we might call the American nightmare— the fear of becoming lost in the chaos of that space. Even an early pro-independence newspaper, Bolívar’s own Correo del Orinoco, launches its defiant inaugural issue with an attempt...

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3. Education, Republican Values, and Intellectual Independence

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pp. 99-137

While any examination of Rodríguez’s ecological thought presupposes a critical recovery of his most neglected texts, a reference to the Caraqueño’s thoughts on education demands a shift in the direction of the Rodríguez remembered popularly in the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela and recently recovered by the government itself. Bequeathed the honorary title Maestro del Libertador (the Liberator’s teacher), Simón Rodríguez haunts...

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4. The Quest for a New World Language

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pp. 138-160

Max Weinreich’s famous dismissal of the distinction between a dialect and a language—“A language is a dialect with an army and a navy”—draws its comic tension from the geopolitical pressures any discussion of language presupposes. An essential definition of language, it suggests, is nothing more than an ex post facto attempt to justify crass political realities in something other than crass political terms. In Spain’s case the military realities of conquest and discovery...

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5. The Political and Artistic Avant-Garde

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pp. 161-184

In his Recuerdos literarios, Chilean intellectual Jos

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Conclusion: A Hemisphere Created for the Page

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pp. 185-194

If, as Jorge Luis Borges asserts, every new writer “creates his precursors” (crea a sus precursores) (109), forcing a reimagination of the literary past on the part of readers and critics, then the recovery of Simón Rodríguez cannot help but produce repercussions. In the case of a writer so long forgotten, the re-creation of the canon necessary to accommodate his work invites another imaginary history, one in which Sociedades Americanas became a widely cited touchstone...


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pp. 195-212


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pp. 213-228


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pp. 229-238

E-ISBN-13: 9780826516954
Print-ISBN-13: 9780826516930

Page Count: 248
Publication Year: 2010

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Subject Headings

  • Rodríguez, Simón, 1769-1854 -- Philosophy.
  • Rodríguez, Simón, 1769-1854 -- Literary style.
  • Latin America -- History -- Philosophy.
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