- The Magellan Fallacy:Globalization and the Emergence of Asian and African Literature in Spanish by Adam Lifshey
Adam Lifshey’s text attempts what seems to be an impossible mission: argue for the inclusion and importance of Asian and African literatures in Spanish within the global phenomenon of modernity, while noting the quixotic and probably doomed nature of this project. Lifshey admits that while “the field of Asian and African literature in Spanish does not exist as such…. The Magellan Fallacy proposes its existence” (7).
Starting from the main title of the book, Lifshey traces the emergence of Asian and (indirectly) African literatures in Spanish to Magellan’s arrival in the Philippine archipelago and the subsequent colonizations by Spain, the United States, and Japan (these latter only in the case of the Philippines). Magellan’s arrival in 1521 and ensuing death at the hands of Lapu Lapu marks the birth of modernity. It is his voyage, half-completed by him, subverted dramatically by Lapu Lapu, and finished by Antonio Pigafetta, an Italian scholar and explorer who accompanied Magellan on his voyage, “that intertwines provincial and planetary powers into an irreducibility that is the definitive hallmark of the world today” (1). Magellan’s demise at the hands of Lapu Lapu, an indigenous king who resisted the former’s attempt to evangelize his small island, brings together antipodal [End Page 191] global forces that continue today, but undercuts the intended mastery and control implied by hegemonic forces. This is what Lifshey terms “fallacy,” the conviction that captains (and writers) can control the consequences of globalization.
Applying this “fallacy” to writers, Lifshey’s book aims at highlighting the loss of control experienced in the texts of Filipino and Equatoguinean authors as a consequence of the initiation of modernity. The Magellan Fallacy interrogates the reimaging of centers and peripheries through the paradoxes of colonialized elites writing their nations while residing in colonial metropoles. The text highlights the similarities in the origins and themes of Filipino and Equatoguinean literature in Spanish, not least among them their birth in colonial periods, their initial writing and publication in the metropole, their marginal readership in their homelands, and the unstable nationalisms their authors represent and attempt to portray. As Lifshey asserts, “such literature is imperative to altering our basic understandings of how marginalized arts refract modern power and recast it altogether” (4).
The Magellan Fallacy is divided into two parts: chapters one through three analyze three Filipino writers, while chapters four and five are dedicated to three Equatoguinean novelists. Chapter one examines a work by one of the founding fathers of Filipino literature, Pedro Paterno’s Nínay (1885), as an attempt at novelizing Asia within the metropole. While noting that Paterno’s fictions “are awful by any measure” and were read by very few in his day and by almost none since then, the author affirms that he should be read precisely because of his failures, seeing in them a “man for all modernity, a writer who understood postmagellanic Europe and Asia and everything in between” (29), who tried to cohere antipodal cultures in his writings and his person.
“The Imperial Shift,” the title of chapter two, puts together José Rizal’s El filibusterismo (Subversion, 1891) with Pedro Paterno’s Aurora social (Social Dawn, 1910–11), contrasting Rizal’s nationalist credentials against the dismissal of Paterno’s fiction and his embrace of colonial power. This “imperial shift,” according to Lifshey, refers to the arrival of the United States as the dominant colonial power in the Philippines, after defeating Spain in 1898, a scant seven years after Rizal’s text was published and almost a decade before Paterno’s. Separated in time by this change in imperial power, the two texts try to imagine a Philippine nation under two different contexts. Despite the changed conditions, there exist several similarities between the two books. Both authors’ engagement with locating the Philippines cartographically is suffused with inconsistencies, with Rizal’s text projecting “the Americas and Europe...