- Archives under the Table: U.S.-Based Spanish American Literary Culture
Among the many themes that are not discussed out loud regarding the study of Spanish American literature in the United States are: A) the role of theory/criticism written exclusively in English, with nary a reference to interpretations written in Spanish, B) the ideological and professional implications of choosing one language over another, and C) the almost total disregard for interpretations written in Spanish and published south of the border, or Spain. These are inseparable themes, and it is churlish to review single issues or polemics among particular individuals, lest one regurgitate the tautologies that are generally marshaled for intransigent stances at MLA-type panel discussions, or any official venue whose sessions supposedly work with a certain Anglo-Saxon decorum, until the participants exit and criticize colleagues in typical academic ex parte fashion. Just like the survival of Spanish – the purported millennial language of the profession in which many of us native Latin Americanists started cursing and writing until coming to the United States – “The Survival of Literature in the Age of Globalization” may be a tad too ambitious a topic in which to engage without pontification or singing “We Are the World.”
The fact is that there are two cultures for the interpretation of Spanish American literature in the United States. And the problem is not that they do not get along or have achieved the importance of the polemic between C-P. Snow and F.R. Leavis, but that cowardice and cynicism are still part of the academic modus operandi. The predicament is that those cultures do not “dialog” with one another or in the same language; and if they do, negotiation toward nothingness appears to be the norm and end result. If one of them was a cultural revolution that displaced [End Page 117] traditional interpretations considered conservative, the other was a larger, global and economic revolution that decimated the natives to the point that first-world exegetes felt compelled to save Latin Americans from themselves. Needless to say, the endless U.S.-based critical thinking about this condition is actually “foreign” in Latin America, where professors generally hold more than one job to earn a living. All one has to do is attend a conference there in which the main speakers are United States-based academics, even if they were natives, to see that the two revolutions have created atomized, perversely segmented interpretive constituencies.
Sadly, it was only toward the end of his life that the Peruvian critic Antonio Cornejo Polar expressed his displeasure at this state of affairs, generally taking sides with the criticism written from Latin America and in Spanish. I have always wondered what ideologically different critics like the late Ángel Rama and Emir Rodríguez Monegal would have said about the present state of literature within Latin Americanism, had they lived to see their brood, real or imagined, tend to create their own cultures and go off on tangents that do not ultimately better or clarify the situation. In 2006, my El error del acierto (contra ciertos dogmas latinoamericanistas) examined some of the problems inherent in creating centralized interpretative monocultures, and the positive reaction to those essays and my invitation to those whom I criticized have not prevented the proverbial “eloquent silence” of the usual suspects. To be fair, this stillness may have to do with the unavailability of texts published in Latin America, another archive still under the table, even when Amazon and other sites can basically retrieve any book published in the Americas.
Fortunately, Tzvetan Todorov’s La littérature en péril, Antoine Compagnon’s La littérature, pour quoi faire? (both brief volumes are available in Spanish), and Yves Citton’s Lire, interpréter, actualiser. Pourquoi les études littéraires, all of which were published in 2007, gave one hope that the tide was about to turn regarding the study of literature, at least in France, which in the early nineties revamped teacher training to reward excellent teaching (Spain, sadly, is replicating the American system). That same year Ronán McDonald’s The Death of the Critic added a full-length book to the...