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  • Literary Cultures of Latin America: A Comparative History
  • Raymond L. Williams
Mario J. Valdés and Djelal Kadir, editors. Literary Cultures of Latin America: A Comparative History. 3 volumes Oxford University Press 2004. xlii, 668; xxii, 716; xxii, 754. $505.95

The literary history of Latin America, its different regions, and its nations has been written intensely and extensively over the past four decades, with the now classic tomes written in the 1960s and 1970s by Fernando Alegría, John S. Brushwood, Jean Franco, and Seymour Menton, among others. Later, more revisionist literary histories have been edited or written by David W. Foster, Roberto Gonzalez Echevarría, and José Miguel Oviedo. These three volumes, however, differ radically from any of the literary histories to have appeared in the past four decades, for this ambitious and massive project is a more broad and all-encompassing analysis of literary cultures (rather than 'literature' discretely defined) of Latin America than any extant study. In several ways, it represents a combination of traditional literary history and cultural studies.

Valdés explains in his introduction that the inspiration or general direction for this project came from Pedro Henríquez Urena and his landmark book published in 1945, Literary Currents in Hispanic America. Valdés considers Henríquez Urena's book the only previous history of literary cultures of Latin America. Valdés underscores related priorities for his book: writing a social history of heterogeneity and incorporating comparative practices. He also harks back to Albert S. Gérard's argument (in a book published in 1984) that areas such as Medieval Spanish should include not only Medieval Catalan, Old Spanish, Old Portuguese, and Latin, but also Arabic and Hebrew. In the spirit of Henríquez Urena and Gérard, then, this project conceived by Valdés and Kadir is a broad, all-encompassing, and open-ended comparative history of literary culture in Latin America.

The first part of this comparative history of literary culture, volume 1, establishes the geographic, demographic, linguistic, and social dimensions of Latin American literatures as social discourse. This part contains sixty-five in-depth articles by authors from throughout Latin America on topics such as the foundations of Brazilian literary culture, the production of culture in New Spain, and a Zapotec text. [End Page 188]

In volume 2, which opens with an introduction by Walter D. Mignolo, the focus is collective cultural constructs, with articles on related topics, such as cultural modalities, discursive modes, institutional sanctions, and cultural centres. Volume 2 contains fifty-seven incisive and well-informed pieces on subjects ranging from the reading public in the seventeenth century and museums in Brazil, to Mexico City, Bogotá, and Recife as cultural centres.

Wander Melo de Miranda writes the introduction to volume 3, which is the story of identity and focuses on modes of representation and the cultural web that connects Latin America, Europe, and the United States. The fifty-four informative and enlightening pieces in this volume range from topics such as spectacular landscapes in baroque Spanish America and the Brazilian construction of nationhood to Chicano theatre today, Puerto Rican literature in the United States, and scenes of the twenty-first century.

This impressive academic tour de force, conceived by co-editors Valdés and Kadir, along with their associate editors Linda Hutcheon and Maria Elena de Valdés, knows no precedents. Even their model, Henríquez Urena's Literary Currents, is only a brief and modest proposal for a totalizing project such as this. In addition to their own lucid writings contained in this project, Valdés, Kadir, and Hutcheon selected an impressive network of intellectuals to serve as coordinators, collaborators, and authors. The production of this unparalleled comparative history owes much to the contributions of Walter Mignolo, Wander Melo Miranda, Luisa Campuzano, Hervé Théry, Beatriz Garza Cuaron, Beatriz Resende, Cynthia Steele, Eloisa Buarque de Hollanda, Randolph Pope, Eduardo F. Coutinho, Doris Sommer, Alberto Moreiras, and others. As leaders in literary and cultural studies, these scholars have conceptualized and produced a major contribution to our cultural understanding of the region that Carlos Fuentes has identified as Indo Afro-Ibero-America.

Books that propose to be inclusive invite...


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