- Anti-Literature: The Politics of Representation in Modern Brazil and Argentina by Adam Shellhorse
In the watershed moment in Brazil's cultural life brought about by the 1922 Week of Modern Art in São Paulo, Manuel Bandeira's poem "Os sapos" was read aloud by Ronald de Carvalho and was met by a strong reaction from the public. Mocking the precious language and frozen conventions of the Parnassian "frogs" so successful in the country's poetic production of the era, the poem concluded by paraphrasing a folkloric song about another frog, the sapo-cururu, who would sob, alone and lonely, in the cold by the river. The combination of what Mário de Andrade would later call a "right to permanent aesthetic research" with an attention to marginalized individuals would remain a relevant problem in decades to follow. Almost a century later, after the very institution of literature, its relation to state ideologies, and the place of the subaltern in Latin American writing practices [End Page 520] have been so intensely questioned in past decades, Adam Joseph Shellhorse's Anti-Literature: The Politics and Limits of Representation in Modern Brazil and Argentina offers a timely contribution to the issues advanced by Bandeira. Even though the poet's work is not an object of study in this book, thinking about Bandeira and Shellhorse as belonging to this same history allows the reader to envision the potential breadth and productivity of anti-literature as it interweaves a range of literary and critical projects in twentieth-century Latin America, as well as to have a sense of some unresolved issues concerning the specificity of the anti-literary as outlined below.
In a robust and theoretically sophisticated reassessment of what it means to write today about Latin American literature, and most specifically Brazilian production, Shellhorse explores what he identifies as an "anti-literary counter-tradition" to "literature as a cultural institution in Brazil and Argentina" (163). From the author's post-hegemonic standpoint, in which literature's ability to produce unified views of the nation and its "historical representational project" (6) have found a point of exhaustion, when the affective and multisensory dimensions of literary texts come to the fore and the politics of textual experimentation addresses the subaltern and the feminine by exploring multimedia avenues, the space for an anti-literary production would be set to emerge. While these elements resonate with the works of a number of contemporary theorists with whom Shell-horse engages in order to develop the concept of anti-literature, perhaps none is as consequential as Jacques Rancière and his work on the politics of aesthetics. By evoking Rancière's central contribution to the study of literature in his very definition of anti-literature, Shellhorse renders visible the relational nature of his concept, which finds its most compelling facet in its questioning of certain, but not all, discussions of the literary. For example:
Against the [literary] regime's claims to national popular synthesis and its disavowal of composition, anti-literary works challenge and rearrange the sensible encoding of the real. … For anti-literature, as experimentation, constitutes a procedure of the sensible that investigates and redistributes, through its form, the social-political. Form converges with critique such that representations of the social become reflexive, affective, polyvocal.(23)
Conceptually, it addresses necessary questions regarding the materiality of texts as sites that, through affect rather than through a representational regime, reshape and question power dynamics in the sociopolitical arena. Methodologically, it leads, in broad lines, to the path followed by the author in each chapter: through an attentive reading of each of the works at stake in the sociopolitical context of [End Page 521] their production, Shellhorse proceeds to a formal analysis that reveals the political dimension underlying formal devices.
Anti-Literature is composed of six chapters. It opens with Clarice Lispector's late novel, A hora da estrela (1977), in which a keen focus on the writing of the subaltern and the feminine through the lenses of textual experimentation, such as the use of...