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  • Amazonian Intertextualities
  • Malcolm K. McNee
Lúcia Sá. Rain Forest Literatures: Amazonian Texts and Latin American Culture, Cultural Studies of the Americas, Volume 16. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2004. 325 pp.
Candace Slater. Entangled Edens: Visions of the Amazon. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2002. 332 pp.

Given its fragmented and peripheral integration into the world-system and the synecdochic power inscribed onto its physical geography, Amazonia as a diverse and textually rich human landscape is still largely unknown to outsiders and even increasingly forgotten by its inhabitants. As the Bolivian-Amazonian poet Nicomedes Suárez Araúz expresses it, Amazonia as a homeland “is a plain of amnesia.”1 Two recent works in English, Lúcia Sá’s Rainforest Literatures and Candace Slater’s Entangled Edens, while dramatically diverging in terms of their approach, thus share an urgency in outlining some of the historical and contemporary contours of a literary, cultural, and, ultimately, textual Amazonia. Together, these richly developed and conceptually ambitious studies make clear that the narratives of Amazonian storytellers and writers are not only foundational to many of the canonical works of national literatures but are also vital in their interruptive challenge to the persistence of Eurocentric, colonial tropes of nature, place, and identity.

With Rainforest Literatures, Lúcia Sá makes a welcome contribution to a still surprisingly spare body of in-depth studies of the impact of indigenous texts on Latin American literatures. Despite the accomplishments of some of her colleagues in this endeavor—including scholars such as Ángel Rama, Martin Lienhard, Antonio Cornejo Polar, and Gordon Brotherston—for the most part, the general practice of literary critics and historians is to either ignore indigenous texts or treat them as romantically inspirational ethnographic data, unworthy of close, comparative readings. In response, Sá has structured her work so as to read documented indigenous narrative traditions into Latin American literary history in a broad sense and alongside a selection of twentieth-century Brazilian, and in a final case, Peruvian writers. Thus, not only does she provide highly valuable historiographical and critical readings of chronically forgotten South American Indian literatures or literary systems, she again highlights the narrative transculturation involved in the establishment of modern Latin American literature. In addition, she demonstrates that attention to intertextuality with indigenous literatures can reveal profound critical insights and innovative readings of the works of canonical writers. [End Page 141]

Sá’s study is organized into four parts based on four major tropical lowland macro-ethnic/literary systems: the Macro-Carib, the Tupi-Guarani, the upper Rio Negro Tukano-Arawak, and the Western Arawak. Within each of these four sections, an opening chapter introduces the indigenous texts. Sá outlines their translation, documentation, publication, and other forms of mediation by a variety of figures, including soldiers, adventurers, missionaries, naturalists, linguists, anthropologists, and the Indians themselves, and she describes their common narrative structures and elements. These chapters are extremely valuable in their contribution to literary historiography, and they repeatedly highlight sticky questions of authorship and authenticity. Subsequent chapters in each section provide broad historical overviews of the influence of these texts on Brazilian and Spanish-American literature, touching on literary movements and writers from the South American continent and beyond. Four chapters, one from each section, model a practice of close reading and interpretation of individual works based on attention to their intertextuality with native precedent. These works include Mário de Andrade’s Macunaíma, Darcy Ribeiro’s Maíra, Raul Bopp’s poem Cobra Norato, two plays by Márcio Souza, “Dessana Dessana” and “Jurupari, a Guerra dos Sexos,” and Mario Vargas Llosa’s The Storyteller. Though certainly not a shortcoming in her work and its focus on writers who have achieved a secure place in and beyond their respective national canons, it should be noted that among this selection of writers, only Márcio Souza is an Amazonian writer, and one whose first works were written and performed for Amazonian audiences.

Beyond a simple recognition and celebration of the transculturation involved in the creation of these works, Sá hypothesizes four ideologically distinct models that govern these textual encounters, and she effectively makes clear that involvement with indigenous texts does not always...


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