- Magical Realism and the History of Emotions in Latin America by Jerónimo Arellano
In this compelling and engaging volume, Jerónimo Arellano feeds from one of the most "exquisite corpses" in Latin American culture and literary studies—magical realism. Arellano intersects two main areas of study: the peaks and valleys of Latin American magical realist fiction and the cultural history of emotions. He reads magical realism against the grain and rejects studying it as a by-product of colonial wonder that renders its aesthetics through a self-exoticizing neocolonial lens, choosing instead to focus on its affective orientation. His interest resides in the marvelous realia present in Latin American fiction and material culture and therefore his focus is both transhistorical and transnational. Starting from the general vantage point of the "cultural history of wonder" (xviii), his argument is twofold: One, the intersection between the history of the cabinet of wonders and of the marvelous ordinary in Latin America needs to be mapped attending to "transhistorical dissonances within transhistorical resonances" (xix). Two, the binary of a Western world [End Page 249] that represents rationalism and a non-Western sphere that stands for wonder is untenable and falsifies the way these cultural histories of wonder have developed over time and space.
The book is divided in two parts. The first one is entitled "Wonder in the Colonial Heart." The opening chapter offers a brief history of wonder as an emotion that changes not only through time but also through space (4). The "wunderkammer fever," as Arellano calls it, permeated both the Old and New Worlds. The author here shows the breadth of his knowledge on the topic as he travels alongside the vicissitudes of the cabinet across Europe within the enchantment-disenchantment paradigm. Arellano then moves into what he sees as the first sine qua non manifestation of the emotion of wonder in Latin America: Columbus's journals. Arellano finds that the Italian Almirante often refers to wonder in his journal but takes issue with interpreting Columbus's writings as first and foremost historical documents. Based on Stephen Greenblatt's work, Arellano welcomes a turn towards a "rhetoric of wonder" and adds to this an understanding of the journals as an "archive of mutable forms of wonder in nascent colonial and early modern contexts" in order to reexamine the idea of the "marvelous as ordinary" in the New World (41). The following chapter continues this thread by examining two colonial chronicles, Gonzalo Fernández de Oviedo Historia natural y general de las Indias and Jean de Léry's Historie d'un voyage faict en la terre du Brésil. Arellano believes that his "affective" reading brings about a "geopolitics of feeling" (66). The detailed examination of these two texts leads Arellano to engage with the Jamesonian notion of the waning of affect.
In the second part of the book, Arellano coins the concept of "The After-lives of Feelings" and tackles twentieth-century works. Chapter four discusses Alejo Carpentier's notion of lo real maravilloso americano. Although there has been much criticism in trying to distinguish the marvelous real from magical realism from the fantastic—and we are none the wiser for it—Arellano astutely sidesteps the debate, since his concern is not the aesthetics of either of the three but the "particular forms of sentimentality" these novels and stories bring about (105). He reads Carpentier's famous prologue to El reino de este mundo—without delving into the novel—vis à vis Gabriel García Márquez's also famous 1982 Nobel lecture and concludes that both magical realism and the marvelous real have an affective orientation that result in a poetics of feeling. For his corpus in this chapter, Arellano selects Los pasos perdidos and the short story "El camino de Santiago." Arellano argues convincingly and correctly that Carpentier's theory of lo real maravilloso "switches the phenomenological horizon of the marvelous from the interior of the subject to the exteriority of sense perception" (110)—this is not the case in García Márquez...