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The Americas 61.2 (2004) 327-328

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The Revolutionary Imagination in the Americas and the Age of Development. By María Josefina Saldaña-Portillo. Durham: Duke University Press, 2003. Pp. xiii, 366. Notes. Bibliography. Index. $79.95 cloth; $22.95 paper.

In this book María Josefina Saldaña-Portillo examines the coextensive metaphors, tropes and themes of revolutionary and developmentalist languages both during and in the aftermath of the Cold War. The author observes in the Introduction that developmental and revolutionary speech acts were largely constitutive of each other in the second half of the twentieth century and that, as a result, "a discourse of development captured the imagination of [America's] revolutionary movements, often to the detriment of the constituencies these movements sought to liberate through their anti-imperialist struggle" (pp. 4-5). For Saldaña-Portillo the intertwined sign systems of capitalist development and socialist revolution in the Americas have their origin in Enlightenment doctrines of progress, evolution and change. Both are predicated on a theory of subjectivity, consciousness and social agency grounded in human amelioration and perfectibility. As such, development and revolution are coterminous discourses sharing Kant's categorical imperative as their common root and inheritance (which the author refers to as "imperial reason"). Within this horizon Saldaña-Portillo invites us to consider the ways in which both capitalism and socialist revolution "subalternize" the subaltern; to rethink what we understand by social transformation; and "to theorize anew the possibility of . . . revolutionary unity across the Americas" (p. 16).

The book is divided into three parts. Paying particular attention to the fabrication of capital's "regimes of subjection," Part I surveys the post-World War II developmentalist speech acts of U.S. administrations from the 1944 Bretton Woods conference to Robert S. McNamara's tenure as Director of the World Bank (1968-1981). Part II analyzes the relation between revolution and subjectivity in the autobiographical writings of Ernesto "Che" Guevara and Mario Payeras, noting that "Guevara's and Payeras's representations of indigenous/peasant subjectivity and consciousness subscribe to the same key metaphors, themes, and tropes for representing peasant and indigenous formations present in the post-World War II liberal discourse of development and progress" (p. 108). Saldaña-Portillo then extends these insights into the evaluation of revolutionary rural subjection under Sandinista Agricultural Policy in the Nicaragua of the 1980s, concluding that the FSLN, like the [End Page 327] Cuban and Guatemalan revolutionaries before them, failed in part because they adhered to such normative models of subjectivity.

Part III signals a shift in the focus and development of the book, as the author brings her analysis to bear on revolutionary subjection in Zapatismo and Rigoberta Menchú's famous testimonio, both of which are considered to be critical reevaluations of the revolutionary imagination after the crisis of Cold War developmentalist socialism. Taking on the post-revolutionary discourse of mestizaje Saldaña-Portillo observes that Zapatismo's active mobilization of indigenous silence provides for consensus building around the idea of Indian difference and for the fabrication of alternative (that is, democratic) models of representation and development. Through the analysis of Menchú and the EZLN's subaltern consciousness in the wake of the Cold War we come face to face with a new threshold in the popular struggle for social justice, as the post-developmentalist revolutionary imagination reconsiders its relation to liberal modernity and its historical regimes of subjection.

The book ends with a shift in cultural terrain to the U.S. and with the transition from developmental revolutionary politics to subaltern consciousness in the North. Here the author critiques Malcolm X for reproducing the "patriarchal teleology of consciousness implicit in the developmentalist trope" (p. 278) and Gloria Anzaldúa for subscribing uncritically to the mythology of the modern Mexican state and to liberal models of choice. In accordance with her reading of Menchú and Zapatismo the author contrasts these models of subjection to the "protopolitical" poetic trope of subaltern silence in Tomás Rivera's . . . y no se lo tragó la tierra, which, she says...


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