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Literature > Latin American and Caribbean Literature

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The Learned Ones Cover

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The Learned Ones

Nahua Intellectuals in Postconquest Mexico

Kelly S. McDonough

They were the healers, teachers, and writers, the “wise ones” of Nahuatl-speaking cultures in Mexico, remembered in painted codices and early colonial manuscripts of Mesoamerica as the guardians of knowledge. Yet they very often seem bound to an unrecoverable past, as stereotypes prevent some from linking the words “indigenous” and “intellectual” together.

Not so, according to author Kelly S. McDonough, at least not for native speakers of Nahuatl, one of the most widely spoken and best-documented indigenous languages of the Americas. This book focuses on how Nahuas have been deeply engaged with the written word ever since the introduction of the Roman alphabet in the early sixteenth century. Dipping into distinct time periods of the past five hundred years, this broad perspective allows McDonough to show the heterogeneity of Nahua knowledge and writing as Nahuas took up the pen as agents of their own discourses and agendas.

McDonough worked collaboratively with contemporary Nahua researchers and students, reconnecting the theorization of a population with the population itself. The Learned Ones describes the experience of reading historic text with native speakers today, some encountering Nahua intellectuals and their writing for the very first time.  It intertwines the written word with oral traditions and embodied knowledge, aiming to retie the strand of alphabetic writing to the dynamic trajectory of Nahua intellectual work.

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The Legacy of Christopher Columbus in the Americas

New Nations and a Transatlantic Discourse of Empire

Elise Bartosik-Velez

Why is the capital of the United States named in part after Christopher Columbus, a Genoese explorer commissioned by Spain who never set foot on what would become the nation's mainland? Why did Spanish American nationalists in 1819 name a new independent republic "Colombia," after Columbus, the first representative of empire from which they recently broke free? These are only two of the introductory questions explored in The Legacy of Christopher Columbus in the Americas, a fundamental recasting of Columbus as an eminently powerful tool in imperial constructs.


Bartosik-Velez seeks to explain the meaning of Christopher Columbus throughout the so-called New World, first in the British American colonies and the United States, as well as in Spanish America, during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. She argues that, during the pre- and post-revolutionary periods, New World societies commonly imagined themselves as legitimate and powerful independent political entities by comparing themselves to the classical empires of Greece and Rome. Columbus, who had been construed as a figure of empire for centuries, fit perfectly into that framework. By adopting him as a national symbol, New World nationalists appeal to Old World notions of empire.

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Life in Search of Readers

Reading (in) Chicano/a Literature

Manuel M. Martín-Rodríguez

Martín-Rodríguez begins this writing with an examination of the Chicano movement of the 1960s and 1970s, when the creation of Chicano-owned or controlled publishing enterprises made possible a surge of Chicano/a literature at the national level. He then concentrates on Chicana literature and "engendering" the reader and on linguistic and marketing strategies for a multicultural readership. Finally, Martín-Rodríguez provides a very thorough list of Chicano/a literature which he studied and he recommends for the reader to consider.

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Locating the Destitute

Space and Identity in Caribbean Fiction

Stanka Radović

While postcolonial discourse in the Caribbean has drawn attention to colonialism’s impact on space and spatial hierarchy, Stanka Radović asks both how ordinary people as "users" of space have been excluded from active and autonomous participation in shaping their daily spatial reality and how they challenge this exclusion. In a comparative interdisciplinary reading of anglophone and francophone Caribbean literature and contemporary spatial theory, she focuses on the house as a literary figure and the ways that fiction and acts of storytelling resist the oppressive hierarchies of colonial and neocolonial domination. The author engages with the theories of Henri Lefebvre, Michel Foucault, and contemporary critical geographers, in addition to selected fiction by V. S. Naipaul, Patrick Chamoiseau, Beryl Gilroy, and Rafaël Confiant, to examine the novelists’ construction of narrative "houses" to reclaim not only actual or imaginary places but also the very conditions of self-representation.

Radović ultimately argues for the power of literary imagination to contest the limitations of geopolitical boundaries by emphasizing space and place as fundamental to our understanding of social and political identity. The physical places described in these texts crystallize the protagonists’ ambiguous and complex relationship to the New World. Space is, then, as the author shows, both a political fact and a powerful metaphor whose imaginary potential continually challenges its material limitations.

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Love and Politics in the Contemporary Spanish American Novel

By Aníbal González

The Latin American Literary Boom was marked by complex novels steeped in magical realism and questions of nationalism, often with themes of surreal violence. In recent years, however, those revolutionary projects of the sixties and seventies have given way to quite a different narrative vision and ideology. Dubbed the new sentimentalism, this trend is now keenly elucidated in Love and Politics in the Contemporary Spanish American Novel. Offering a rich account of the rise of this new mode, as well as its political and cultural implications, Aníbal González delivers a close reading of novels by Miguel Barnet, Elena Poniatowska, Isabel Allende, Alfredo Bryce Echenique, Gabriel García Márquez, Antonio Skármeta, Luis Rafael Sánchez, and others. González proposes that new sentimental novels are inspired principally by a desire to heal the division, rancor, and fear produced by decades of social and political upheaval. Valuing pop culture above the avant-garde, such works also tend to celebrate agape—the love of one’s neighbor—while denouncing the negative effects of passion (eros). Illuminating these and other aspects of post-Boom prose, Love and Politics in the Contemporary Spanish American Novel takes a fresh look at contemporary works.

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Machado de Assis, the Brazilian Pyrrhonian

by José Raimundo Maia Neto

Machado de Assis (1839-1908) is Brazil's greatest writer and the most important Latin American writer of the nineteenth century. His subtle criticism of cherished institutions is evident to all readers, and critics have often mentioned his skepticism. In Machado de Assis, the Brazilian Pyrrhonian, however, a philosopher seriously examines Machado's philosophical position for the first time. Jose' Raimundo Maia Neto traces Machado's particular brand of skepticism to that of the ancient philosopher Pyrrho of Elis and reveals the sources through which he inherited that line of thought. He then shows how Machado's own philosophical development follows the stages proposed by Pyrrho for the development of a skeptical worldview.

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Mainland Passage

The Cultural Anomaly of Puerto Rico

Ramón E. Soto-Crespo

One-third of the population of Puerto Rico moved to New York City during the mid-twentieth century. Since this massive migration, Puerto Rican literature and culture have grappled with an essential change in self-perception. Mainland Passage examines the history of that transformation, the political struggle over its representation, and the ways it has been imagined in Puerto Rico and in the work of Latina/o fiction writers. Ramón E. Soto-Crespo argues that the most significant consequence of this migration is the creation of a cultural and political borderland state. He intervenes in the Puerto Rico status debate to show that the two most discussed options—Puerto Rico’s becoming either a fully federated state of the United States or an independent nation—represent false alternatives, and he forcefully reasons that Puerto Rico should be recognized as an anomalous political entity that does not conform to categories of political belonging. Investigating a fundamental shift in the way Puerto Rican writers, politicians, and scholars have imagined their cultural identity, Mainland Passage demonstrates that Puerto Rico’s commonwealth status exemplifies a counterhegemonic logic and introduces a vital new approach to understanding Puerto Rican culture and history.

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Mario Vargas Llosa

A Life of Writing

By Raymond Leslie Williams

In this first comprehensive intellectual biography of the prolific Nobel laureate, a preeminent scholar of Hispanic studies examines Mario Vargas Llosa’s multifaceted literary career, spanning the polemics of the Latin American literary boom through five reflective novels published around the turn of the twenty-first century.

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Market Aesthetics

The Purchase of the Past in Caribbean Diasporic Fiction

Elena Machado Sáez

In Market Aesthetics, Elena Machado Sáez explores the popularity of Caribbean diasporic writing within an interdisciplinary, comparative, and pan-ethnic framework. She contests established readings of authors such as Junot Díaz, Julia Alvarez, Edwidge Danticat, and Robert Antoni while showcasing the work of emerging writers such as David Chariandy, Marlon James, and Monique Roffey. By reading these writers as part of a transnational literary trend rather than within isolated national ethnic traditions, the author is able to show how this fiction adopts market aesthetics to engage the mixed blessings of multiculturalism and globalization via the themes of gender and sexuality.

New World Studies
Modern Language Initiative

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Masculinity after Trujillo

The Politics of Gender in Dominican Literature

Maja Horn

Any observer of Dominican political and literary discourse will quickly notice how certain notions of hyper-masculinity permeate the culture. Many critics will attribute this to an outgrowth of "traditional" Latin American patriarchal culture. Masculinity after Trujillo demonstrates why they are mistaken.

In this extraordinary work, Maja Horn argues that this common Dominican attitude became ingrained during the dictatorship (1930-61) of Rafael Leonidas Trujillo, as well as through the U.S. military occupation that preceded it. Where previous studies have focused mainly on Spanish colonialism and the controversial sharing of the island with Haiti, Horn emphasizes the underexamined and lasting influence of U.S. imperialism and how it prepared the terrain for Trujillo’s hyperbolic language of masculinity. She also demonstrates how later attempts to emasculate the image of Trujillo often reproduced the same masculinist ideology popularized by his government.

By using the lens of gender politics, Horn enables readers to reconsider the ongoing legacy of the Trujillato, including the relatively weak social movements formed around racial and ethnic identities, sexuality, and even labor. She offers exciting new interpretations of such writers as Hilma Contreras, Rita Indiana Hernández, and Junot Díaz, revealing the ways they successfully challenge dominant political and canonical literary discourses.

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