- The State of a Field in Five Books
Judging by the quality, coherence, and diversity of the monographs surveyed in this book review essay, Latin American literary and cultural studies enjoy excellent health, the contraction of the academic job market notwithstanding. Inasmuch as the sample considered here may be representative, a number of tendencies emerge. Single-author, national tradition monographs seem to be on hiatus. Ditto for book-length analyses of masterpieces, in the manner of Josefina Ludmer on One Hundred Years of Solitude. Brazil is finally conferred the prominent role it deserves. While the influence of a generation of Southern Cone exiles wanes, Mexico emerges as the new darling of US-based Latin Americanism. As a critical paradigm, cultural studies are superseded by interdisciplinarity. Theory is integrated within, but also subsumed by, literary criticism. Methodologies are eclectic. Archival visits intensified in the years leading up to COVID-19. Northwestern University Press consolidated its standing next to the more established imprimaturs of Pittsburgh University Press and University of Texas Press. [End Page 103]
A demure contrarian with a stand-on-the-shoulders-of-giants demeanor, Adam Shellhorse manages to cite or acknowledge many authorities in the field while also defying critical consensus at every turn. Anti-Literature: The Politics and Limits of Representation in Modern Brazil and Argentina (2017) studies a host of works across media from the two countries (chiefly Brazil) that oppose an understanding of literature as patrimony of the nation-state or mechanism for the resolution of difference. The definition of what "literature" is, for "anti-literature" to be its other, elliptical and indexical. At the onset, Ángel Rama is hinted at as anti-literature's other (5, 21). The gesture returns at the level of the authors studied, when Domingo Faustino Sarmiento appears as David Viñas's other (58), and so on. Though unmentioned, Shellhorse's corpus would find an antagonist in Jorge Amado, a preeminent Brazilian novelist that once gravitated around the Spanish American literary boom, and in the hagiographic, textual-based literary criticism that marked his generation. Aside from the intriguing Brazilian-centric rearticulation of Latin Americanism, this erasure and phantasmatic vilification of the critical practices of yore follows in the footsteps of the agonistic ethos of Alberto Moreiras, Brett Levinson, and Jon Beasley-Murray. And yet Shellhorse resists the production of obsolescence. While nodding at the purported impasse of Latin Americanist criticism, Shellhorse vigorously demonstrates the exhaustion of exhaustion.
"Figurations of Immanence: Writing the Subaltern and the Feminine in Clarice Lispector," the first of six chapters, achieves a seemingly impossible task: to rehabilitate the aloof upper-class Brazilian experimentalist Clarice Lispector (1920–1977) for progressive politics. Navigating between the Scylla and Charybdis of l'art pour l'art and engaged writing, Shellhorse argues that Lispector neither politicizes nor de-politicizes language, but somehow empowers it. Her writing, and Anti-Literature as a whole, seek to reveal "a new capacity of language in the work, a new design for language that includes its feminine dimensions" (23). In other words, undecidability and proliferation are critiques of power in themselves. Shellhorse brackets the question about the author's site of enunciation and disavows identitarian concerns. This works well for the chapter's close reading of A hora da estela (1977). Had it considered A paixão segundo G.H. (1964), where the protagonist famously stumbles upon a cockroach in the maid's room, Shellhorse might have been inclined to revisit identity and intersectionality.
Chapter 2, "The Letter's Limit: Anti-Literature and Politics in David Viñas," offers an...