The Americas 57.2 (2000) 306-308
[Access article in PDF]
This essay collection arrives at an interesting moment. Just as popular protests against economic and cultural "globalization" are gathering force in the United States, this book makes the claim that fears of cultural homogenization may be overblown. The editors write that the phenomenon they call "globalization or postmodernity" (p. 3)--an odd conflation of terms--has not flattened out those features of the cultural landscape that make Latin America "fundamentally different" (pp. 3-4) from any other part of the world. The contributors to this volume, nearly all of whom are professors of literature, sometimes disagree with each other in their theoretical approaches or methodologies, as editors Eva Bueno and Terry Caesar point out in the tightly-written introduction, but they are all engaged in attempts to understand the place of Latin American popular culture in a world whose cultures may or may not be increasingly homogenized. Thus, the book's title may be slightly deceptive: these literary critics aim to revindicate the importance of the local in Latin American cultural studies, rather than cheerlead for some new global utopia (a word whose literal meaning, of course, is no-place).
Imagination Beyond Nation arrives, too, at a moment of intense productivity in Latin American cultural studies in English. The past few years has witnessed the advent of a new journal for Latin American cultural studies in Britain and innumerable cultural-studies conferences in the United States and elsewhere. Many recent scholarly monographs in English have applied cultural-studies approaches and theories to the study of Mexico, Brazil, Argentina, the U.S.-Mexican border region, and--to a lesser extent, perhaps--the rest of Latin America. Latin American scholars of mass media, popular culture, and related topics, like Carlos Monsiváis, Nestor García Canclini, and Roberto Schwartz, have had their work translated into English and, perhaps coincidentally, seen their influence spread rapidly among younger scholars in the United States. And a number of recent essay collections on Latin [End Page 306] American popular culture have added increased visibility to the field while helping to define what has become nearly a canon of research practices and practitioners: one thinks, here, of William Beezley, William French, and Cheryl Martin's Rituals of Rule, Rituals of Resistance, Gil Joseph and Daniel Nugent's Everyday Forms of State Formation, Gil Joseph, Catherine Leogrande and Richard Salvatore's Close Encounters of Empire, John King and Ana López's Mediating Two Worlds, and John Beverly, José Oviedo, and Michael Aronna's The Postmodern Debate in Latin America, among others. Imagination Beyond Nation, then, enters into a lively and relatively young field of study, but also one which has already produced some very distinguished work.
Does this anthology add much to this crowded field? The articles' quality is wildly uneven. The less interesting essays here can be ignored, as they do little to illuminate the art forms or media products which they discuss and in some cases do not seem to bear a very close relation to the theme of the anthology. But the better essays in Imagination Beyond Nation--and even one or two of the less convincing pieces--deserve and repay attention. These articles suggest new directions in the study of some regions, as well as new methods and sources for conducting cultural studies more generally.
For example, James J. Pancrazio's essay "You're All Guilty: Lo Cubano in the Confession" compares a series of mediated political spectacles (protests against planned Miami performances by a Havana film star, Herbert Padillo's self-accusation in a Cuban courtroom, and so on) to the Tomás Gutiérrez Alea film Fresa y chocolate, Guillermo Cabrera Infante's collection of autobiographical essays Mea Cuba, and the Alejandro Carpentier novel El harpa y la sombra. Pancrazio sees these events and texts as linked by the theme of confession...