- Cosmopolitan Desires. Global Modernity and World Literature in Latin America by Mariano Siskind
In the rapidly growing fields of World Literature and Global Modernisms, haunted each by their own type of provincialism, Mariano Siskind’s Cosmopolitan Desires. Global Modernity and World Literature in Latin America brings a breath of fresh air. A solidly researched monograph offering an alternative view of the workings of world literature and its conceptualization from the peripheries of the world-system, Cosmopolitan Desires is a major contribution to current debates on global literature from the field of Latin American studies.
In Cosmopolitan Desires, Siskind argues the need to historicize world literature, both as a concept and as a practice, while offering “an invitation to think about the differential specificity of marginal renderings of the world, vis-à-vis the worlds devised in metropolitan locations” (18). His main argument is that Latin American (and by extension all peripheral) cosmopolitan writing is constituted by a “desire for the world.” Siskind defines this “world” as a fantasy, an imaginary discursive space from which Latin American cosmopolitan (male) writers see themselves excluded because of their own particularism. Peripheral cosmopolitanism, moved by the desire to belong to a utopian universal modernity, emerges then as a sort of therapeutic narrative of universality to work though the trauma of marginality and exclusion. Nonetheless, for Siskind this cosmopolitan desire is effective and productive, for it “widens the margins of cultural and political agency and illuminates new meanings by reinscribing cultural particularities in larger, transcultural networks of signification” (21–22). [End Page 228]
The book’s appendix is comprised of Schuessler’s English-language rendition of The Last Judgment (translated from Horcasitas’s Spanish translation from the Nahuatl); it will no doubt be exceedingly useful in the university classroom and for scholars of early Mexican theater. The fascinating insights Schuessler advances throughout the book are interrupted at points by the prose’s occasional recursivity, which slows the unfolding of the book’s argument. Despite this minor criticism, Foundational Arts offers researchers and students alike a thorough and up-close look into early New Spanish artistic mestizaje.
Part two of the book moves back in time to the gap between Holmberg’s novel and the 1920s and consists of three chapters entirely devoted to modernismo, which Siskind rightly considers the first comprehensive attempt on the part of a generation of Latin American writers to theorize and engage with the literatures of the world. In the opening chapter, Siskind explores the many instances in which modernistas posited the existence of a world literary space and imagined their place in it. Mastering an impressive archive of texts by both central and marginal writers, Siskind unveils and analyzes a rich and complex tradition of thinking Latin America in relation to the world. Modernismo, concludes Siskind, is constituted by an unresolvable contradiction between a particularistic, identitarian drive and a cosmopolitan, universalist one, a tension that permeates the production of the movement, and that ultimately defines the difficult predicate in which all marginal cosmopolitanisms find themselves.
Two case studies compose the last two chapters. Ruben Darío and Enrique Gómez Carrillo, center and periphery of modernismo as codified in a century of criticism, serve Siskind to explore the scope and the limits of modernismo’s cosmopolitanism. Ironically, in Siskind’s reading, Darío, the cosmopolitan face of the movement, seemed unable to think of modernity and indeed the world as anything but French so that his originality and his worldly modernity resided in Darío’s becoming “Latin Americanly French” (214). Marginal Gómez Carrillo, on the other hand, becomes the subject of a richer, more daring narrative of cosmopolitanism [End Page 229] through his many travel writings beyond Europe. In Siskind’s persuasive reading, Gómez Carrillo was not merely imitating a hegemonic orientalist view, “but regularly contradict[ing] it by opening up a counter punctual space of cosmopolitan contestation” and by “producing a discourse of marginal cosmopolitanism that posits a world beyond Paris and London” (228). Moving between reproduction and resistance, showing an exceptional...