- Subversions of the American Century: Filipino Literature in Spanish and the Transpacific Transformation of the United States by Adam Lifshey
Adam Lifshey’s Subversions of the American Century: Filipino Literature in Spanish and the Transpacific Transformation of the United States assembles a literary tradition that has escaped sustained critical attention in Philippine studies, Hispanic studies, and American studies: Filipino literature in Spanish. By focusing on Spanish literature written in the Philippines under US colonial rule in the early twentieth century, the author makes this peripheral body of texts central to literary studies, thus issuing a historiographical challenge to the ways that the late nineteenth-century nationalist “Propaganda Movement” adumbrates most understandings of the Philippine Hispanic. Lifshey’s focus on Spanish Filipino literature produced in response to American transpacific expansion prompts an unexpected yet necessary conversation with American studies. Lifshey claims that “the corpus of Filipino literature in Spanish produced under American hegemony” (14) is American literature, rendering “the concept of ‘Filipino American’ redundant” (13).
Although the book’s stated primary contribution is to American studies, Lifshey himself is a member of Georgetown University’s Department of Spanish and Portuguese. In the study of Spanish and Portuguese literature, the geopolitical organization of knowledge has historically depended on the epistemological balkanization of the Hispanic world into Iberia and Latin America, obscuring articulations of Hispanic culture that do not fall within this rubric. As his book title suggests, Lifshey’s project subverts such a paradigm to consider other kinds of Asiatic Hispanic identities and texts. In a stunning, albeit implicit move, the book demonstrates how literary erasures also occur simultaneously at the intersection of competing imperialisms (Spain and the United States) and scholarly fields of inquiry that respond to, are critical of, and are emblematic of such colonial projects (Hispanic studies and American literature). By subverting the "American Century," Lifshey raises a number of productive and provocative questions: How are our epistemological rubrics affected by the protracted conditions of multiple intersecting colonialisms whose points of contact are often disavowed in American studies? How are such disavowals constitutive of efforts to produce and sustain critiques of "American Empire"? And, even more [End Page 225] pointedly, why do American studies scholars overlook Filipino literature in Spanish written under US occupation, when cultural hybridity, linguistic mixture, coeval and overlapping sign systems have been a hallmark of the mutable signifier "America"?
While Lifshey’s study of Filipino literature in Spanish allows for riveting epistemological introspection, the genealogies of American studies that the author draws on to furnish his critique remain unclear, especially at the beginning. By “American studies” does Lifshey mean to engage Filipino American studies critiques of US colonialism? Does he mean to engage the transnational turn of American studies, which considers US history and foreign intervention as a form of empire? Or does he mean archipelagic Philippine historiographical engagements with sequential colonial projects? Because there is no sustained review of “American studies” as a field, it becomes difficult to situate his apt, witty, and surprising close readings qua critical interventions. As the monograph progresses, Lifshey clarifies that his critique is aimed at branches of American literary studies that promote a monolithic and geographically biased canon of US literature. Indeed, in his third chapter and critical centerpiece about the marginalized literary figure Guillermo Gómez Windham, Lifshey argues that “the Americanness of stories ... does not depend on the plots of their texts but on the person of their author” (90). Because Philippine authors such as Windham fell under an American imperial sphere of influence, his work should be considered just as rigorously and routinely as American expatriate literature written in Paris and Madrid (Gertrude Stein and Ernest Hemingway, for example).
Lifshey’s first two chapters stage an important recuperation of the infamous Philippine intellectual Pedro Paterno. Often cast as a traitor in the annals of Philippine historiography, Paterno, working in Spanish and Tagalog, encodes subversive messages through theatrical performances (La alianza soñada [1902...