The Americas 61.2 (2004) 267-268
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Scholars seeking to unite the richness of Latin American history with the insights of postcolonial theory face two challenges, according to Mark Thurner. From one side they must contend with entrenched claims of Latin American chronological and cultural exceptionalism. From the other, they must confront a canon of postcolonial theory developed in relation to Southeast Asia and Africa. This collection of essays by a talented groups of scholars seeks to shed modernization and underdevelopment narratives that cast nineteenth-century Latin America as a "not yet" society (of delayed political and economic development), or, worse, as a society characterized solely by its deficiencies (especially its failure to transition fully into capitalism and republican democracy). In place of the "not yet" and the "deficient," the authors draw upon a postcolonial conceptual framework to unearth the locally and historically specific roots and idiosyncrasies of nineteenth-century Latin American political society. They then offer their historical findings as grounds for the revision of current postcolonial theoretical models. The writing in some of the essays can be obfuscating, but as a whole the collection is well written, engaging, and compelling, with the refreshing air of an exciting debate.
After a series of thought-provoking introductory essays, the first half of the volume addresses the ways Latin America was constructed as part of the Spanish empire, and subsequently as sovereign, creole-led nations. Jorge Cañizares-Esguerra teaches us how eighteenth- and nineteenth-century scholars defended the Americas against Continental critiques by pointing out European epistemological limitations, contrasting this with the insights offered by extended creole presence and mastery of native languages. Javier Morillo-Alicea studies the organization of imperial archives to shed light on the way Spanish imperialism changed over time, and the degree to which it correlated with, rather than diverted from, British and French models of imperialism. And Thurner traces how creoles discursively constructed Peru as a nation, with themselves (rather than the indigenous masses) as the inheritors of ancient Inka glories.
The second half of the book is led by Marixa Lasso's engaging analysis of how creole elites erased from the history of the nation the degree to which the masses of [End Page 267] the independence wars understood and struggled for republican democratic institutions. She also demonstrates that postcolonial racism in Venezuela was not a simple holdover of colonial patterns, but a new creation born of the wars and their aftermath. Peter Guardino's essay dovetails with Lasso's analysis, as he traces the breakdown of the short democratic honeymoon in Oaxaca that followed Mexican independence. Andrés Guerrero argues that, despite nineteenth-century creole nationalists' claims to the contrary, colonial patterns of racism continued into Ecuador's postcolonial era. Categories of race disappeared from official state archives but, as mandates circulated from the center to the periphery and from the state to the growing private sector, regional elites charged with executing these mandates were invited to fill in the blanks with race, so long as such categories disappeared again when documentation circulated back up into official state records. Finally, Mauricio Tenorio offers insights into the issues explored throughout the collection, and into their potential implications. His essay appears at the start of the collection, but it would have worked better at the end, for Tenorio builds upon the discussion to raise new intellectual challenges and to critique scholars' tendency to privilege subaltern voices—privileging the subaltern in this way, he argues, risks reproducing the old search for authenticity and the "real" nation. The collection also contains two additional essays that, despite substantial merits, fit awkwardly into the collection as a whole.
In sum, this is an outstanding collection of essays. It would have benefited from more careful consideration of what to include, what to exclude, and what order to present the essays; and the Introduction and some chapters are weighted...