Mexican Literature in Theory ed. by Ignacio M. Sánchez Prado
The fifteen chapters (by as many authors) of Sánchez Prado's edited collection are arranged in chronological order according to Mexican literary subject. At the midpoint of the book, Chapter 8, Erica Beckman's reading of the possibly tedious novel, Balún Canan, gives a rip-roaring reading of racism, à la Southern gothic, and thus updates Rosario Castellanos's achievement as engaging "the liberal fantasy of the autonomous individual" (154). The prescience of that move appears in the themes of autonomy that concern Sánchez Prado's last two critics. In the penultimate chapter, Brian Whitener takes on the sticky question of whether transnational publishers and governmental subsidies can be successfully countered by the alleged autonomy of the cartonero phenomenon. In the final chapter, Emilio Sauri returns [End Page 178] to this matter of autonomy in a lively contextualization of the funding source and pre-publication audience for Valeria Luisielli's La historia de mis dientes, which gives that novel a newly intriguing edge. As for theory, the chapters in this outstanding book tend to cut both ways. They can be seen to follow routes popularized by scholars of, say, the English Department variety, or these fifteen Mexicanists can be valued for their creative independence. Fans of either model will be pleased.
Materiality is another repeated theme, stretching from the nineteenth-century works in Chapter 3 by Ana Sabau, to twentieth century texts in Chapter 6 by Carolyn Fornoff, to twenty-first-century literature in Chapters 11 by Rebecca Janzen and 14 by Roberto Cruz Arzabal. Sabau writes a scintillating review of Mexican texts that discuss pearls and water as consumer items, which leads to a meditation on the dynamics of exploitation and possession, and the way that fiction coaches law. Sabau's chapter is worth the price of the book, although it isn't—perhaps—the sort of piece with easy appeal to field outsiders. Fornoff's piece pushes Mexicanist literary environmentalism in new directions, with a provocative bibliography to match; the chapter ranges from Dr. Atl's volcanic self-portrait to the non-human aspects present in depictions of the Mexican revolution. Janzen expertly revisits biopolitics, the theoretical subject of her much praised first book, and with a much-needed nod to gender studies, she contributes a foundational piece on a high-profile novelist who nevertheless has received little critical attention, Pedro Ángel Palou. In another provocative choice, Cruz Arzabal discusses three poets' timely experiments that may not survive the present moment. Just as with Sabau's and Janzen's interests, Cruz Arzabal uses literature as a platform to contemplate the law and its shortcomings, here most explicitly in the case of NAFTA—an agreement that itself seems poised to change.
I hesitate to apply the rubric of materiality to Oswaldo Zavala's Chapter 13. His seething analysis of the unethical narco-conflict engineered by the U.S. in the mid-1980s and escalated by President Calderón in 2006, while absolutely tangible in its results, hinges on the airy persuasions of fiction. Laws were created, policing entities authorized, and an enemy devised from fictitious divisions between them and us, and Zavala himself, despite a simplified review of the theory on the state and its critics, seems unable to find a peaceful side. Zavala's Chapter 13 echoes Sánchez Prado's Chapter 5, a distinctly non-gender-studies look at Nellie Campobello's postrevolutionary Cartucho. Sánchez Prado, true to his breathtaking command of the Mexicanist field, dedicates the beginning of the essay to a panoramic vision of criticism. Sánchez Prado is much too clever to answer the implicit question about the future of literary criticism in the fifth chapter of fifteen, and instead, after teaser reviews of such prized books as Joseph North's Literary Criticism, passes to another topic: Campobello's trickster pleasure in the tall tales of Revolutionary legends that exposes the falsehoods of those exaggerations.
This foundational trauma reverberates in Chapter 7, where Bruno Bosteels leads the reader through a melodic tour of Rulfo's musings on early twentieth-century interpersonal violence. Bosteels provides one of the strongest uses of theory in the volume by way of heavy citation of Derrida. Displaying another finely tuned ear for lyricism, Christina Soto van der Plas reviews Pacheco's poetry with sly attunement [End Page 179] to the impossibility of final words in a poet of continually renewed misgivings. José Ramón Ruisánchez Serra and Pedro Ángel Palou contribute two chapters that test the limits of theory and criticism with ambitions toward writing the former. (Both are novelists and thus prone to originality.) Ruisánchez Serra provides a wonderful intervention on the poet Amado Nervo, he of the long-maligned reputation of an easy rhymer. According to Ruisánchez Serra, Nervo understood his own problem of not being fully present in his desired experiences, which intertwines with his reputation not as a writer not of exceptions (which end up being the canon, in this perceptive argument) but of the orthodox—here linked to absence. Palou in Chapter 10 employs the numerical structure of the Crack and Postcrack Manifestos to rethink the novel, with Fernando del Paso's work as one of numerous underpinnings. Fans of Palou's sharp assessment of his own times will find this list a must-read.
Up-and-coming scholar Lilia Adriana Pérez Limón's observant chapter connects disability studies to Guadalupe Nettel's El cuerpo en que nací, and in a tour-de-force that opens the volume, Laura Torres Rodríguez moves from a nineteenth-century novel by Fernández de Lizardi, who thinks about New Spain's relationship with the Spanish Philippines, to twentieth-century writer Rafael Bernal and twenty-first-century Julián Herbert. Edward Said's Orientalism inspires the discussion. This book shows that even for U.S.-residing critics, who account for all but one of the included authors, theory is not all that Mexicanist criticism has to offer. It is a resource that fuels critical interventions—ones that matter in ways more than theoretical.