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  • Anti-Literature: The Politics and Limits of Representation in Modern Brazil and Argentina by Adam Joseph Shellhorse
  • Javier Uriarte
Shellhorse, Adam Joseph. Anti-Literature: The Politics and Limits of Representation in Modern Brazil and Argentina. Pittburgh, PA: U of Pittsburgh P, 2017. xiv + 258 pp. Figures. Notes. Works Cited. Index.

In spite of its title, this is a book about literature. The prefix is certainly provocative, and it could be misleading in times when, especially in the United States academic system, and sometimes even in departments of Hispanic or Latin American studies (fortunately, only a minority), the study of literary texts is considered outmoded or unfashionable. In reality, Anti-literature is about a new way of understanding the subversive potential of literary and cultural production, and of reading it. Drawing from the recent critical work by John Beverley, Alberto Moreiras, Jon Beasley-Murray, Erin Graff, Gareth Williams, among others, the book's argument performs a systematic critique of a somewhat mainstream or static way of approaching literature and cultural artifacts. The prefix anti in the title of the book does not imply, as some could think, that literary texts have no value or should not be studied; instead, Shellhorse argues against a certain way of conceptualizing literature. The book, thus, rejects the notion of literature as an institution or as an institutionalized entity, as a vehicle of mere representation, or as a way of giving "voice" to the subaltern. Literature should not be understood as "representing" a singular and comprehensive identity or subjectivity (the book proposes an "exodus from identity"); much less, that of the state understood as a comprehensive entity that can express its power through literary texts. Anti-literature performs a critique of the Latin American boom as a coherent unity with a consistent political message to communicate: "it is time to move beyond the examination of Latin American literature from the standpoint of the Boom subject and its authorial proclamations by returning to mediation, affect, self-reflexivity, the minoritarian legacies of the avant-garde, and the problematic of anti-literature" (134). In short, this is a book that challenges us to read in different ways.

Through the analysis of different cultural artifacts, the book emphasizes the importance of non-verbal systems of communication, and that of experimentation and visuality, in order to re-conceptualize what we conceive as "literature". At the same time, Anti-literature rethinks some notions that are central to the cultural history of Latin America, such as that of vanguard; most importantly, it discusses the social and political dimensions of cultural production, proposing new ways in which the latter can be connected with politics, the masses, and popular culture. It suggests that affect can be an important instrument to approach cultural products; in fact, it is through affect, and not through the clear expression of any "meaning," that these artifacts intervene in the social and political spheres and engage their audience. Analyzing the work of concrete poet Haroldo de Campos in Chapter 5, Shellhorse affirms that in his poetry "what is at stake is not representation but the unleashing of new affects" (120), and, in more general terms he states that one of the central claims of the book is "that anti-literature never arises from representation, but with a specific concern with [End Page E19] affect" by creating "new modes of perception and feeling" (167). This notion of affect and its role in the relationship between film and spectators, alongside the concept of parody, constitutes also the center of Chapter 2, in which film scripts and novels by celebrated Argentine critic David Viñas are discussed. While Viñas is of course a major figure in the intellectual history of Latin America, this chapter focuses on his less known creative work. But this interest in marginalized or little-known works or authors is not a constant in the book, since Anti-literature also deals with two of Brazil's most canonical writers: Clarice Lispector (Chapter 1) and Osman Lins (Chapter 5). Many of the texts discussed are in fact part of the institutionalized field of literature against which the book reads them. The engagement of Lispector and Lins with form as...


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