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Reviewed by:
  • Cartografías utópicas de la emancipación by Beatriz Pastor Bodmer
  • Ronald Briggs
Pastor Bodmer, Beatriz. Cartografías utópicas de la emancipación. Madrid/ Frankfurt am Main: Iberoamericana/Vervuert, 2015. 247 pp.

Pastor Bodmer's book-length essay proposes utopianism as the ordering principle for a new look at the sprawling but interlocking bibliography of the Spanish American independence movement. Focusing on a canon in which utopian novels in the tradition of Thomas More are notably lacking, Pastor Bodmer argues that an absence of narratives set on imaginary islands does not necessarily equate to an absence of utopian thought.

Ernst Bloch's distinction between "amber" and "electricity" serves as the touchstone for Pastor Bodmer's expansive definition of utopianism. In his introduction to The Principle of Hope, Bloch had argued that "all freedom movements are guided by utopian aspirations" and that utopianism connoted "thinking directed towards changing the world" rather than the creation of isolated, ideal societies safely beyond the reach of the rest of human civilization. Tracing the etymology of "electricity" to the Greek word for "amber," Bloch suggests that defining all utopianism by the single novel that gave the concept its name would be as wrongheaded as refusing to consider electricity outside the parameters of its original meaning. [End Page 494]

This formulation is crucial for Pastor Bodmer's approach, and in the book's introduction and first chapter, she takes pains to demonstrate how an expanded definition of utopianism can be specific enough to serve as the central axis of a new critical approach. Defining her project against what she calls "arqueología de la utopía," Pastor Bodmer seeks to analyze a line of thought that saw history as "movimiento, transformación, y cambio incesante," attributes she associates with electricity rather than amber (17).

The resulting utopian canon combines some of the usual suspects—Simón Bolívar, Francisco de Miranda, precursors such as Condorcet and Turgot—while also paying extra attention to more marginal figures like Juan Bautista Mariano Picornell, Fray Servando Teresa de Mier, Juan Germán Roscio, and Juan Pablo Vizcardo y Guzmán. Pastor Bodmer also provides fresh readings of Andrés Bello's poetry and Henri de Cristophe's architectural projects. What unites this diverse group of creators and creations is a commitment to "movimiento, transformación, y cambio incesante" as something more than agitation for more rapid historical progress. In Pastor Bodmer's vision, the utopian consciousness seeks moral and political redemption and thus transcends any linear historical narrative.

Pastor Bodmer's utopian cartography defies national and linguistic borders too. The public and personal lives of Picornell, Mier, Miranda, and Vizcardo, born respectively in Spain, Mexico, Venezuela, and Peru, converge in the publishing centers of London and Philadelphia, where a burgeoning Spanish language press is shaping a pan-Hispanic readership. In historical terms, Pastor Bodmer's study is not breaking new ground, as recent works by Rodrigo Lazo and Eugenia Roldán Vera have convincingly demonstrated the influence of Philadelphia and London-based publications in the Spanish-speaking world. What Cartografías utópicas de la emancipación adds to the discussion are fresh readings of this eclectic canon of thinkers in the historical context of this "gran espacio de las ideas" created in transnational print by the tireless networking of exiled intellectuals (111).

The recovery of Picornell, who led revolutionary conspiracies in Spain and throughout the Americas before becoming a Spanish agent and disappearing into still-loyal Cuba, is especially valuable. Following in the footsteps of the Venezuelan critic and intellectual historian Pedro Grases, Pastor Bodmer provides close and perceptive readings of the web of proposals, manifestoes, and popular songs attributed to Picornell or his supporters. What makes Picornell utopian rather than merely progressive, she argues, is his insistence that the republic to come should harmonize history rather than simply further it. Picornell's revolutionary vision would provide, as she puts it, "resolución simbólica a todos los conflictos y contradicciones que han hecho necesario la revolución" (82).

This essentially aesthetic evaluation of Picornell's revolutionary project—it will resolve chaos into harmony—circles back elegantly to Bloch, who refers to "polished utopian...


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pp. 494-496
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