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  • Border Literary Histories, Globalization, and Critical Regionalism
  • José E. Limón (bio)

We are all, of course, only too familiar with "globalization" understood as a multinational corporate/economic world phenomenon, or more specifically, as Robert Eric Livingston reminds us, as "economic discourses commonly termed neoliberal embodied and administered by institutions such as the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank." But, Livingston continues, "ethical and political discourses . . . likewise aspire to global significance" (145). Today, such is also the case for critical discourses in American literary studies, which, in another time, were almost fully grounded and bounded within the US. Such a critical globalization in American literary studies is in the same universe as "the transnational," "the post-national," and "border theory"—interpretive tendencies that while discrete, nevertheless share the same basic impulse and mission of decentering American literary studies away from a nation–state focus and identity.

The purpose of this essay is to critique this tendency with some cautionary observations and with a focus on literary histories that speak to the US-Mexico border area, principally the respective works of José David Saldívar and Ramón Saldívar.

1. Literary Globalization

As a specific academic formation, the globalization of American literary history has its arguable beginnings in Carolyn [End Page 160] Porter's 1994 review essay, "What We Know that We Don't Know: Remapping American Literary Studies." Approximately the first two-thirds of her review, however, are only a run-up to the question of globalization. In this first part, she reviews critiques of American literary history focused on contemporary American critical works which still take the US as their central focus (albeit now at some considerable critical distance from that older tradition variously identified as the consensus school, American exceptionalism, myth and symbol, etc.) even as they also critically try to account for the post-1960s "new" American studies and its espousal of race, ethnic, and gender reconfigurations. However, these first studies seem unsatisfactory to her as articulations of a globalized American literary criticism, and so she concludes her review by examining a book that, for her, is far more germane, namely José David Saldívar's The Dialectics of Our America: Genealogy, Cultural Critique, and Literary History (1991); in a very real sense, Porter is positioning Saldívar as an early and perhaps first example of how American literary histories should be done in the global moment.

Saldívar's work also offers another feature of a globalized American literary history, namely its clear orientation toward Latin America and the Caribbean including the demographic extensions of these areas in the US, an orientation not lost on Porter, who, while noting other world linkages, particularly Asia, also lends emphasis to the Americas. For Saldívar, the globalizing path to Latin America also passes through Mexican America as he links what he calls "Chicano Border Narratives as Cultural Critique" (49) to writers in Latin America and the Caribbean such as Alejo Carpentier and Ntozake Shange, all under the umbrella of José Martí's rubric of "nuestra America" (5), and thus in critical opposition to the US. The rubric of opposition or "resistance" to the US, often construed as the American empire, has also become a feature of critical globalization, such that we can now add this second layer of definition to the "critical" in critical globalization by including a correlated attack on American exceptionalism.1 Such a linking and critical outlook also characterizes José Saldívar's second and very influential book, Border Matters: Remapping American Cultural Studies (1997). Here he brings together a great variety of mostly Chicano and Chicana writers and artists under the rubric of a dynamic US-Mexico border, that is now also understood as another way to critically globalize or remap American studies: "the invocation of the US–Mexico border as a paradigm of crossing, resistance and circulation . . . that has contributed to the 'wordling' of American Studies and further helped to instill a new transnational literacy in the US academy" (xiii). [End Page 161]

After these initial works, the globalization of American literary history has massively proliferated both in conceptual statements and substantive studies, with a large and influential number of such...


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