The Americas 60.4 (2004) 638-639
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We are so used to the fact that even the masterpieces of the greatest intellectuals from the periphery go unnoticed among metropolitan circles that when a book like this one is published there is much to celebrate, although it is only fair to say that Duke University Press has been doing a good job in filling that gap lately. Undoubtedly, the Brazilian Silviano Santiago is one of the most innovative, incisive, and sophisticated literary and cultural critics from Latin America, but he is also an original theoretician. Well before postcolonial studies were born and even before postmodern thinking was en vogue in the U.S. academy, Santiago was applying post-structural premises and the contemporary shift from literary to cultural studies to rethink anew the historical problematic of how to produce a modern culture in neocolonial countries that is not a replica of Western paradigms, a problematic that has obsessed several generations of Latin American intellectuals.
In an article written in 1971 Santiago introduced several key theoretical concepts, for which he has not been adequately credited. One of these is the notion that, forced by colonial and neocolonial relations to copy an original "imposed on the other in the very place of the other," Latin American artists and writers end up dislocating the very principles of originality, unity, purity, and authenticity in which the supremacy of Western modernity is actually based. This unstable position helps to explain the cosmopolitan aspiration and universal scope of peripheral intellectuals who—caught between the global and the local, between the autochthony of nativism and the history of cosmopolitism, between the density of experience and the levity of the book—have to depart always from the outside in order to understand their reality and forge an identity for themselves. Inhabitants of a "space in-between," they must develop an esthetic strategy and a political economy capable of negotiating the neocolonial entrapment so as to create an art, a literature, a culture that will always be a copy of a dubious original but something else besides. And [End Page 638] here lies the cultural productivity of the "space in-between," a concept that will be put into circulation many years later by postcolonial and border studies. This is a literature that refers to literature, an art that refers to art, a culture produced by readers of literature and consumers of art that exceeds and supplements and destabilizes the originals revisited in endless digressions, pastiche, parody, and irony.
All the other articles included in this volume, published between 1969 and 1995, elaborate even further on these initial theoretical concepts, but demonstrate as well the increasing sophistication, thematic amplitude and intellectual maturity of Santiago's always elegantly written critical essays. More importantly, perhaps, the selection demonstrates that Santiago's usage of postmodern epistemologies does not prevent him from producing a deeply political critique of literature and culture, a critique always embedded in a profound familiarity with both European and Latin American (particularly Brazilian) critical thinking and historical processes. It is a critique firmly contextualized by social and political events, with the recurrent usage of definitely modern concepts such as "ideology" and "dialectics," considered anathema by established postmodern trends. Regarding this apparent contradiction, it is remarkable indeed that despite his pioneering role in introducing postmodernism into Latin American criticism, Santiago never lost touch with the continent's social and historical fabric. By contrast, the same postmodern apparatus was led, in less experienced or knowledgeable hands, into theoretically abstract and definitely universalizing generalizations, with results many times opposing those relentlessly pursued by Santiago.
But perhaps it is the fluency with which he navigates both postmodern and modern theoretical apparatuses that transmits the energizing effect of interpellation of Santiago's critical production, as seen in these articles. They are a...