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Reviewed by:
  • Colonialism Past and Present: Reading and Writing about Colonial Latin America Today
  • Osvaldo F. Pardo
Colonialism Past and Present: Reading and Writing about Colonial Latin America Today. Edited by Alvaro Félix Bolaños and Gustavo Verdesio . Latin American and Iberian Thought and Culture. New York: State of University of New York Press, 2002. Illustrations. Notes. Bibliographies. Index. vii, 300 pp. Cloth, $78.50. Paper, $27.95.

We have come to accept as a given the all-too-frequent calls from literary scholars to assess the state of their disciplinary fields; with similar resignation we also take note of new proposals to correct the shortcomings of current scholarship. The study of colonial literature has been no exception. The flourishing discussions about the status of colonial literary production in Latin America surrounding the Quincententary were long overdue, yet the outcome of such discussions still awaits adequate assessment. In their introduction and concluding essays, Verdesio and Sara Castro Klarén, respectively, agree that changes have fallen short of expectations. This may be why the editors are so keen in revisiting questions about colonial literary production and reception that were at the center of much discussion a decade or so ago.

What has gone wrong? Verdesio suggests that the widespread acceptance of a disciplinary approach he identifies with antiquarianism has successfully removed from scholarly discussion the historic links between the colonial past and the present. On her part, Castro Klarén suggests that colonial literary studies are still shaped and limited by the legacy of the "new criticism." Editors and contributors are confident that the perspective put forth by subaltern studies (and its Latin American incarnation) can help reshape the field. Unfortunately, this move, which amounts to little more than a ritual updating, seems to stem more from the institutional drive of literary scholars to "catch up" with academic trends than from serious methodological and theoretical concerns.

Some articles, partaking of the polemical spirit of the introduction, have a programmatic bent and manage to be both puzzling and derivative. A case in point is José Rabasa's piece on native informants in the Codex Mendoza (a nod to postcolonial studies) and the role of rumor in Carlos de Sigüenza y Gongora's account of the 1692 Indian riots in Mexico City (a comment reminiscent of David Arnold's work on the Indian plague). In the same vein, Cora Lagos's speculations on the Codex Mendoza consist mainly of a list of unanswered questions about literacy in colonial situations preceded by sweeping generalizations on the work done by ethnohistorians and anthropologists. Luis Fernando Restrepo offers a more focused and nuanced interpretation of several historical and literary narratives about the life of the mestizo Diego de Torres, cacique from Turmequé in Nueva Granada.

There are a few salient contributions. Antonio Mazzotti's article discusses the significant absence of references to the participation of individuals of mixed background in three epic poems written between the sixteenth and the eighteenth centuries. By focusing on the alliances and exclusions of ethnic and national groups as [End Page 507] represented in colonial epic poetry, he offers a compelling interpretation on the importance of this literary genre for the construction of creole identity. The creole elite is also the object of the late Anthony Higgins's essay on the representation of nature in the Rusticatio mexicana, in light of Rafael Landívar's aesthetic discussion of the beautiful and the sublime. Although one may disagree with Higgins's view of the relationship between cultural and social production, this powerful piece will hopefully inspire others to study the forgotten history of poetics in the colonies. Stacey Schlau deals with official documents concerning the case of two poor women who faced charges of ilusas in colonial Mexico. By discussing gender and class stereotypes based on a vertical perspective of power, the author leaves out any consideration of the power relations that shaped these women's family lives and social environment. Along similar lines, Mariselle Meléndez's essay deals with the normative discourse on women as glimpsed from the pages of the Mercurio Peruano.

Whether measured against the claims laid out in the introductory and closing chapters or not...


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pp. 507-508
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Archived 2004
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