Exoticism as Strategy
The relations of power between the United States and Europe, on one hand, and the United States and Brazil (extrapolating, the United States and Latin America), on the other, changed in the course of the nineteenth century, as did the various American literatures; the elements isolated in the literatures of independence (the treatment of history, of place, of otherness) took on different configurations. In Brazil and Latin America such elements tended to persist; in the United States they became residual in mainstream literature and more characteristic of regional or “minority" writing.
Outside of the Americas, literatures of exoticism which serve definitions of national or cultural identity continue to be written and to declare inequalities in the distribution of power between interconnected self and other. We see the complex relation between power and identity, writing and power when Antônio Cândido examines the links among the French Enlightenment, Portuguese literature, and a fledgling, nationalist Brazilian literature at the end of the eighteenth and the beginning of the nineteenth century (Formação, chap. 1) or the connection between literary movements in France and the United States and a Brazilian literature suddenly caught in a shift from an exoticism of hope to one of “underdevelopment" ("Literatura e subdesenvolvimento"), or when Kwame Appiah, in “Out of Africa," examines how contemporary Africa writing is often read as a representation of African identity against a powerful and defining European (or Euro-American) culture.
Appiah sees cultural identity too (like nationality at the beginning of the nineteenth century) as constructed. Thus “African" culture is an abstraction whose manifestations in any number of very different populations have in common only that they are called African by those who do not belong to any of them. This “Africa" could argue against the powerful cultural discourse that determines it only in the very terms, positive or negative, of that discourse.1 European elaborations on African customs (such as their codification into what is called Ashanti law) can at the same time preserve and distort them, turning a flexible and contingent aggregate of judgments (orally transmitted) into a (written) monument then seen by Africans as in authentic opposition to European legal institutions. Yet, in Appiah’s view, the impulse to elaborate a definition of cultural identity is all but inescapable when unequally powerful cultural discourses come into contact. Though it often yields an “ersatz exoticism," it can also operate what Antônio Cândido sees as an adjustment “in depth" which turns “dependence" into “interdependence." He calls attention to a vast movement, beginning (for Latin America) in the thirties, which promised the creation of a “cultural interdependency" between the centers and the peripheries of cultural power ("Literatura e subdesenvolvimento," p. 155). Cultural identity can develop as a difference that rejects “demonization and subjection" and realizes that the difficulty is “not that [ideologies, like cultures,] exist antagonistically, but that they only exist antagonistically" (Appiah, “Out of Africa," p. 175).
The preceding chapters followed the formation of a European discourse of the Americas and then saw how that discourse was used to contest power, define an American identity, and claim power in turn. Cooper and Alencar showed how the initial discourse about the Americas was variously adapted in the Americas and that its different forms still circled questions of the division between nature and culture, the contact with difference, the importance of history and writing. In Mario de Andrade’s work we see not only a reformulation of this discourse from the periphery but also a sign that the centers from which the discourse of power emanates have been relocated.
With parody, deflation, demythification Macunaíma decenters a Brazilian discourse of power as proposed by Alencar. His world is openly fragmented: cultural elements refuse to coalesce into a definite narrative shape and even the narrative itself shows the disjunction between the cultural elements and the technological and economic world in which and for which they exist. For Mário de Andrade this harlequin world is the true representation of Brazilianness, and coherence is not necessary for identity.2
But whereas this incoherence is still determined by its contact with a center of power (the English owners of the gun and whiskey orchards, the French proponents of modernism, the German scientists who research Macunaíma), a different form of decentralization takes place in the United States as it begins to impose its own cultural power on the world it had once challenged. One hundred years after independence, when Henry James finished The American, the United States had become, as in Cooper’s Notions of the Americans, a prosperous, economically and militarily powerful nation. Nevertheless, for James the question of its cultural power was still open, still important enough to place at, or close to, the center of several novels and stories. In The American, Christopher Newman has amassed a fortune (in bathroom appliances), but has not acquired the cultural and historical depth denoted by paintings, castles, cathedrals, and a wife from the old French nobility. Between his success and his failure lies the distance separating the new nation from the cultural power it had tried to claim for a century. Yet Newman’s moral victory over the corrupt Bellegardes, themselves defeated in the marriage market and in politics, sounds the familiar themes of European decadence and American redemption.3
Like his predecessors, James treats questions of history and cultural power through the marriage plot, where, in reverse gender assignment but traditional gender function, New (American) man attempts to conquer himself a wife from the Old World. John Carlos Rowe, carefully highlighting all the historical connections and implications Newman misses in his siege of the Bellegardes, contends that the prototypical American New Man fails because, deprived by birth in the New World of the equivalent of historical depth, he cannot see where the European cultural fort was best defended or where it could be breached ("Politics of Innocence"). Implicitly, the novel rejects Cooper’s strategy of simply positing a historical depth for the new nation; it also rejects the more general New World strategy of choosing among various ways to establish historical depth. The American battles for authority on the opponent’s field and confronts European history head on, even at the cost of the marriage itself. Just as Valentin refuses the historically authorized advantage of class in the duel with Kapp, marking his essential nobility and sealing his defeat, so Newman refuses the advantages of money and will, signaling that he deserves to marry Claire, and that he will be unable to do so. His burning of the document that incriminates the Bellegardes is more than equivalent to Valentin’s shooting wide of the mark, more than a sign of the curious kinship between the deathseeking nobleman and the energetic Newman: it turns back against Europe the historical inscription of the Americas by Europe. The new man forgives the crime of the European family whose acceptance he had desired and burns the written record of that crime. Like the English owners of the whiskey trees, however, Mme de Bellegarde does not care. James links history with the marriage plot to probe the possibility of an alliance between a historically constituted European self—the Bellegardes and their circle never doubt that Newman is other—4 and a historically innocent representative of the New World. The impossibility of the marriage is a direct consequence of historical innocence: Newman doesn't “get" the historical context that conditions the Bellegardes and so he also doesn't “get" how to use the written record of their history.5
James produces one last twist, however: his own claim to parity, based on the writing of that cultural object The American. Newman may be naive and incapable of reading the terrain on which he battles for parity, but Henry James, who creates the novel and its hero, is quite capable of making it contain both Newman’s abortive claim and the historical sophistication Newman lacks.6 And as his stature grew, nationally and internationally, James provided some of the early signs that the battle for parity might have been won.
After World War I, when the United States established itself as a world power, the question of defining national consciousness retreated from the center of its literature. Even when it arises, as in The Great Gatsby, with F. Scott Fitzgerald’s evocation of Manhattan as the first Europeans might have seen it, the question takes on a new guise. Newly rich, Gatsby aspires to history and privilege, but his model is the American East. His America still looks up to Oxford, but Oxford is now within reach of an American nobody victorious in the war. Appropriately, Gatsby now imitates (almost farcically) the original successful American abroad—Benjamin Franklin—with his list of steps to self-made success. His ambitions and strategies recapitulate efforts to claim cultural parity explored in an earlier literature of national identity, but the centers of cultural exchange in the novel are now the American West and the American East. The confrontation between nature and culture, the question of marriage between members of the same world (Daisy and Tom) or of different worlds (Daisy and Gatsby) are not asked about Europeans and Americans, however defined, but about different kinds of Americans. Unlike the young men whom Cooper charges with forming and preserving American society, Tom does not represent an ideal of civilization derived from Europe. He is a thoroughly American cad, and the opposition between him and Gatsby or between him and the narrator, Nick, is an intranational affair.
Fitzgerald reshapes the traditional framework in which an earlier American literature of national and cultural definition claimed cultural competence, still including the attempt both to acquire historical depth and to deny its importance (probably the most-often-quoted exchange in the novel is that in which Gatsby asks incredulously why it should be impossible to replay the past, to negate history).7 Emily Miller Budick therefore places Fitzgerald in a line of development that leads to William Faulkner in one direction and reaches back through Emerson and the transcendentalists to Cooper and Brown (pp. 143–58). But Fitzgerald does not simply rewrite his predecessors; by examining cultural fault lines within the United States, he documents one consequence of acquiring discursive power: the awareness of differences at the source of that discourse, so that it is no longer necessary to forge a single, coherent image of national identity.
Meanwhile, across the Atlantic, Ernest Hemingway’s Americans roam the world as part of a cosmopolitan set: there is no question that they belong to whatever informal structure has replaced Cooper’s international Bachelors’ Club; they are as tainted and decadent as their European companions. The Atlantic no longer separates purity and redemption from decadence. Blocked marriages between Americans and Europeans no longer stand for the impossibility of crossing the boundary between nature and culture, American and European, self and other—categories now rearranged along different axes. Male and female are irreconcilable on either side of the ocean; decadence is American or British; redemption is found in a Spanish arena or a river in the primeval Upper Peninsula of Michigan. Still discrete, the signfieds of the earlier discourse of difference are separate from the places that once had seemed to define them, uprooted, as in Rousseau’s elaboration of the concepts of nature and society.
Thus, questions of cultural identity in the traditional sense become diffuse, and the confrontation between an American self and its European definition as other loses urgency. They retreat into the literature of American regions or subcultures, where disparities of power make themselves felt. The problems of identity and value once raised in a literature that, though set in locales as specific as the Hudson Valley or the Susquehanna, made them stand for the nation as a whole, appear in Faulkner’s work within a southern society that sees itself as distinct from and devalued by the powerful industrial North. This claim of distinctiveness does not imply the relinquishment of a claim to be representative, however: eventually the imaginary Yoknapatawpha wants to stand not only for the South but for the entire nation.
Hemingway diffuses, expatriates, dislocates Americanness, but Faulkner traces the consequences, internal and external, of the shift in cultural power. Faulkner relocates the relevant oppositions of history and myth, self and other, nature and culture in a divided America. The complicated role of race in the history of the United States in general and the American South in particular and Faulkner’s preoccupation with the definition of a southern self and its place in a wider American culture,8 make the theme of intermarriage and its satellite, incest, central to his work. But as Eric Sundquist sees, Faulkner’s is not the usual optimistic presentation of a literature of cultural definition and consciousness. Neither writer nor critic holds up the hope of the South’s (the New World's) redemption and avoidance of the North’s (the Old World's) failings; that hope breaks up on the shoals of slavery. Slavery and spoliation remove the New World difference of innocence and in the end join with the increase of cultural and economic power to reduce the distance between the two sides of the Atlantic.
When Sundquist says that “Faulkner did not set out to be a historical novelist in the strictest of terms" (p. ix) and proposes that his work rests on “the twin themes of incest and miscegenation" (p. 21) he seems to negate the connections between the affirmation of historical depth, the separation of culture from nature, and the marriage plot in the literature of cultural identity. The problem seems to be psychological, for the American South is fatally “caught between two proscriptions": incest guarantees purity and the inviolability of a self defined in the shifting terms of race, but it violates the taboo that founds culture; miscegenation makes civilization possible, but it threatens the integrity of (in Leather-stocking terminology) a racially “uncrossed" self (pp. 19–23). Intermarriage appears as the return of the repressed, which must be brought to the surface lest it poison not only the suppressed South but also the entire nation. One thinks of “The Bear," with its difficult reconstruction of the blood links among three races in the New World, the past of a triracial Yoknapatawpha County, metonym for the South and for the nation. History reappears as genealogy and juxtaposes a social hierarchy based on race to the despoliation of nature. Through the Indian Ikkemotubbe, Faulkner links the problematic present of the North American South to a pre-Columbian past whose virtue is not synonymous with innocence. Ike’s respect for the original nature and people of America makes him into one more American mediator between past and present, nature and culture, but he is also as incapable of participating in the familial, social, economic, and legal structures that mark Europe’s presence on these shores as Cooper’s Leatherstocking was before him.
Other works approach these questions from different angles. As Andre Bleikasten shows, Light in August translates the matter of race into ideological terms for which notions of newness or opposition to definition from the outside are no longer necessary. Thus the origin of Joe Christmas’s dual conflict “resides not at all in actual race differences but in fantasies—both public and private—about race," for “there is no factual evidence for his mixed blood," which has been fairly invented by the “rabid racist" Doc Hines ("Light in August," p. 83). But the novel also posits the relation between a white—and male—self and a black—or female—other, inextricably intertwined, as central to the definition of a southern and, by implication, American cultural identity. If the play with the idea of hybridism in Light in August is reminiscent of that in The Pioneers,9 it cannot be removed in the later novel as it was in the earlier one, and it becomes lethal. Faulkner’s South belies Cooper’s West. In a similarly upended quotation, Faulkner demands recognition of historical depth, carried by characters who occupy the positions of what Weisbuch calls “lateness," relative to the corresponding “earliness" of Cooper’s (Atlantic Double-Cross, chap. 8). Quentin of The Sound and the Fury stands in for Chateaubriand’s decadent Europeans, who came to the New World to be cured of their excessive civilization. Faulkner’s southerners, then, claim a historical depth based on suffering which reverses the usual association between historical depth and political, economic, and cultural power. Faulkner dismembers the triad and claims (history and) culture against money or politics. But Faulkner’s South also offers its history and culture as a ballast to the power it contests, and its confrontation with the foundational crime of slavery as a more complex, more honest basis for a national claim to prominence. This literature of southern identity lacks the self-affirmation of the earlier literature of nationality but sees itself as representative because it remembers experiences ignored at its peril by a dominant culture of which by rights it ought to be a better-integrated part. As he relocates the contest for discursive power within the United States and claims the power of self-definition for the South, Faulkner reproduces the discourse of the older contest between the Americas and colonial powers, and, like the older writers, institutes a literature of the (now southern) exotic.
The reception of Faulkner’s work corroborates the sense that it mediates between the definition of a regional and a national identity. As Lawrence Schwarz shows, especially after receiving the Nobel Prize in 1950 Faulkner was seen less as a southern writer than as an American contributor to a general Western canon of geniuses which includes Joyce and Proust. This recognition reversed initial opposition to southern critics who had argued for Faulkner’s relevance to a general American culture (The Making of Faulkner’s Reputation, pp. 22–23, 26), though, as Schwarz also points out, acceptance of Faulkner as spokesman for American culture also depended on the publishing boom of the war and postwar eras, as well as on the climate of the Cold War, in which his focus on cultural rather than economic marginality provided a welcome alternative to the engagée literature of the thirties. Formally innovative, his work could be read into international modernism, and its often gloomy tone allowed it to vault straight from southern particularity to a generalized Western angst.
Faulkner was also read early on as part of an American intertextual series that includes Edgar Allan Poe, Nathaniel Hawthorne, and Stephen Crane and forms an autochthonous literary history independent of European models or ancestry. In contrast, though Jean-Paul Sarte and André Malraux granted Faulkner’s literary status without apology, the praise of other foreign critics (mostly French) focused on his exotic American otherness: Marcel Aymé speaks of Faulkner’s “savage religiousness" and looking for terms to describe his characters, “hesitate[s] between degenerate and primitive." He concludes, as one could have bet he would, that American primitivism is a welcome alternative to European pessimism, anomie, and other civilized ills.10 European praise for Faulkner’s formal sophistication was taken by American criticism as supererogatory; national cultural competence did not need legitimation from the outside. Nevertheless, such praise made it easier for Faulkner criticism to privilege formal analysis; New Critics who had begun their careers as members of the agrarian movement in the South were happy to adjust their subject and their critical stance as intellectual times came to prefer formal experimentation to a thematic focus on the problems of American identity.11 Thus one finds rearranged in Faulkner’s work and in Faulkner criticism the elements that characterize a literature of nationality, reflecting the position of these writings both inside and outside of dominant cultural discourse.
Literature by writers who identify themselves as descendants of the originally African component of the American population also display the characteristics of literatures of national definition and propose a reallotment of cultural power. In Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man identity is the central, named, problem of its unnamed protagonist; as Houston Baker, Jr., sees it in the Trueblood episode of the novel, history is a part of identity, and both are tested in a complex dialogue between the culture denied its identity and the culture denying it.12 It should be no surprise that these matters of identity and history appear together in an episode about incest, about the boundaries between nature and culture and also, for good Foucauldian measure, between sanity and madness. Trueblood and the “lunatics" that the civilized Mr. Norton meets after meeting him, are almost inescapably an exotic—and in this case a frighteningly other—spectacle, teasing the wealthy white northerner with knowledge he would rather deny about the world and about himself.
Invisible Man is also more overtly allegorical than the novels I have considered till now. Ellison jettisons the marriage plot, whose function of carrying the argument about contact between self and other had been naturalized in earlier novels. Invisible Man does not ask whether contact can take place but whether it will continue to be denied, whether blackness will continue to be viewed as other while it resides within the same source of power that defines it as other—in the white paint that covers the land or in the bowels of the factory that produces the paint.
Though European recognition for Faulkner, Hemingway, and other American writers sounds a distant echo of the old European cultural power over the United States, it counts less than it did a century before. Faulkner, Ellison, and other “southern" or “ethnic" writers use the modernist—later, postmodernist—idiom that places them within a more general “Western" sphere of cultural power. Domestically, however, Faulkner, Ellison, and others display a cultural disunity that is another mark of cultural power, for uniformity arises under the pressure of alien power. Within the United States the production of fictions of cultural definition claiming cultural power is displaced to the margins of fictional discourse (however well-received, these productions present themselves as marked by marginality), while the center itself now holds the cultural power to be disputed both within and outside national borders.
In the rest of the Americas the older relations of cultural power still obtain. Rehearsing once again the claim to parity of the less powerful, Carlos Fuentes remarks at the beginning of his study of the “new Hispanic-American novel" that “Thomas Mann . . . is the last great writer who can justifiably invoke the categories of his culture as universal categories." After Mann, “Europeans know that their culture is no longer central; power is displaced toward the eccentric poles foreseen by Tocqueville: the United States and Russia." Within this new distribution of cultural power the Latin-American novel of which Fuentes speaks stakes its own claim to attention (La nueva novela, p. 22).
In yet another run of literature and criticism around themes of national and cultural identity, the writers of the so-called Boom in Latin-American fiction achieve the ideal combination of treating national matters and attracting international attention which made Cooper’s work so remarkable in his time, and keeps it interesting for ours.13 Adapting the conventions of a modernism triumphant in Europe and the United States, just as Cooper adapted the conventions of romantic naturewriting and fictionalized history, these writers once again tackle urgent “cultural work" that is felt to be a necessary complement to economic and political “development." They break through the impasse represented in Macunaíma’s parody of Caminha in the “Letter to the Icamiabas." Declining parody, the novelists of the Boom appropriate the stream of written words that covered the New World from the beginning and use it to affirm and to debate the relation between word and identity, word and world, in a way that questions some of the assumptions of Euro-American writing.
Twentieth-century literature of national identity in Latin America does not repeat all the strategies of its nineteenth-century predecessor, but it develops the same material in some of the same forms. Thus the interrogation of history brings a characteristic disturbance into the hierarchical arrangement of histories and stories and the assessment of their truth values. As Retamar notes in “Some Theoretical Problems of Spanish American Literature" (pp. 84–94), this interrogation disturbs the usual arrangement and modifies the original hierarchy of genres. One sign of the process is the recovery of American colonial literature in which sermons, histories, captivity narratives receive critical attention and are made to carry a cultural weight formerly attributed only to more “literary" forms. Roberto González Echevarría analyzes the importance of the European and Euro-American discourses of late nineteenth-century science and anthropology in a twentieth-century literature in which Latin America defines national and cultural identity by appropriating, contesting, or subverting discourse that at first had classified it as other (Myth and Archive, pp. 12–13).
Like their predecessors, Latin-American authors of this latest burst of self-definition on a world stage stress the exoticism of their settings. Responding to a shift in power, this exotic world exists now in opposition not just to Europe but also to the United States. Thus the protagonist of Alejandro Carpentier’s novel The Lost Steps is torn between his desire and need for personal renewal in contact with nature and his ability to be an artist in decadent but civilized New York. Appropriately, his predicament boils down to the problem of finding enough paper on which to write down the music that gushes from him when he leaves the city and its semieducated women for the jungle and an unlettered earth mother, Rosario.14 For Echevarría, the protagonist’s need for paper and writing, like all the other instances of writing in the novel, gloss the position of the written word at the foundation of a Latin-American history and identity, carved from the first documents of conquest and colonization which simultaneously deny the historicity of the pre-Columbian past and bring it into the Western world (pp. 1–4, 10–15). In the jungle village the composer finds the point where modern America begins, and where it breaks away from its origins. His notebooks, ceded to him by the civil authority of the village, had been intended for archives: in their civil function they belong to the same series of documents as the marriage contract the composer imposes on Rosario, who wants to live with him but not marry him, the code of law that excludes and punishes a leper who disturbs the peace of the Edenic village, and even the mark on the tree which indicates the entrance of the path leading to it through the jungle. In the unlettered village with Rosario the composer gains access to the sources of his creative power, and he also becomes incapable of living without writing. The violence of that primitive world, expressed in disease, rape, and murder, his realization that a threnody is at the origin of the music that makes his life meaningful, and that his music forcefully imposes form on barely distinguishable humanity oozing into death, deprives the primitive of the allure civilization had given it and draws the composer back to New York. His choice cannot be happy though, for the happiness promised by the call of origins, of myths, of the unwritten, remains on the incommunicable side of a clear boundary between past and present, myth and history, story and document, art and archive. The novel refuses to be limited by such boundaries; it argues that these oppositions not only depend on each other but invade each other. In this sense The Lost Steps proposes not the usual revaluation of the terms in which cultural definition is stated but a change in how their relationship is posited, an alternative to the usual oppositional structure in which they are said to operate. It is in this sense that one can think of the recent New World novel not as a forum where national or cultural identity is once again asserted by drawing boundaries around myth and tradition and laying claim to history and writing but as a form that questions the need to draw such boundaries. One can ask with Echevarría whether “the coeval births of the novel and the history of Latin America [are not] related beyond chronology" (p. 6) in something like a perception that it may not be possible to distinguish between them.
Carlos Fuentes’s Death of Artemio Cruz and his massive Terra nostra also adapt the historical novel to an examination of national and cultural identity, but of all the novels that came out of that flourishing Latin-American literature of the sixties and seventies, it was Marquez’s One Hundred Years of Solitude that received the most attention and was considered the most representative. It is also the one that most clearly integrates history, incest, and writing to assert cultural identity and difference. Alfred Kazin spotted this function in Marquez’s work and its rejection of definition by a more powerful culture when he reviewed Leafstorm and Other Stories for the New York Times Book Review in 1972. He wonders “if the outbreak of creative originality in Latin America, coming after so many years of dutifulness to Spanish and French models, doesn't resemble our sudden onrush of originality after we had decided really to break away from the spell of England."15 Other critics prefer to stress Marquez’s debt to early accounts of the New World such as Pigafetta’s or Columbus’s, where the encounter between two worlds produces epistemological shocks best rendered in the author’s trademark deadpan surrealism, which turns a block of ice into magic and views finding a galleon in the jungle as a normal event.16 Others emphasize the faithfulness of Marquez’s apparently fanciful rendition of Colombia’s history, including the disappearance without a trace of an entire village’s worth of plantation workers and recorded, though not publicized, details illustrating the pressure of extranational economic and political power over the nation and culture where the novel arises.17
It is possible to account for or even to discount the strangeness of Márquez’s novel through reference to recorded events, but the device by which it ends intertwines writing and event, present and past, in a way that makes such accounting problematic. Like the rest of the novel, its end is a reading: the mysterious text left behind by the magus Melquíades, which is also the text of One Hundred Years of Solitude, is deciphered by the last of the family whose history—mirror and microcosm of Colombia and, by extension and implication, of Latin America—is told in that same text; this reading interlocks functions whose separation had founded the concept of American otherness. It reminds us that the novel is a written document and all its characters are fictional, that we are reading a modernist text, classed and valued within a literary series that includes Faulkner but also Franz Kafka or Vladimir Nabokov (whose works make their own cases for the centrality of writing from the margins). It establishes the novel as a history, drawing on the historical documents that underlie episodes in its fictional space and also drawing attention to its kinship with the writing of history, which is a part of the foundation of the polity with which it aligns itself. In this way, like M. C. Escher’s drawing of a hand that draws itself, it stands for the connection, implicit in previous fictions of nationality, between writing and the very existence of the New World. The text also refers to a modern view of the relation between word and world, however, and thus calls into question the definition of the New World as other.
As in other novels of national identity, incest shadows One Hundred Years of Solitude. It presides over the origin of the Buendías and falls on writing, history, and nature in the novel’s implicit definition of national and cultural identity. The incestuous, monstrous offspring of the last of the Buendías is eaten by that natural tropical scourge, ants, as the last of the Buendías finishes deciphering the manuscript that gives him being and takes his life.18 All the strands developed in one hundred years of an American literature of national definition and cultural consciousness come together in the last pages of One Hundred Years of Solitude.19 This internationally recognized, exotic novel20 once again places a work claiming cultural parity in a market—or within a horizon of expectations—against which, and with the cooperation of which, such claims have been presented and granted since the American nations were established.
The Boom during which writers of Latin America broke into the international cultural market shows us once again the necessary component of exchange in the literatures of national definition. The debt of this literature to the innovations of European and American modernism echoes earlier American debts and once again makes cultural independence depend on cultural contact. The role of the United States as a source of cultural pressure and as a market for exoticism is a reminder of the relation between exoticism and power. Faulkner, provider of exoticism for internal consumption, becomes a source of inspiration for a Latin-American literature of national identity, legitimating the exotic from inside the discourse of power in a way reminiscent of Chateaubriand’s for the earlier American literature of independence. Just as romantic disaffection opened the way for the affirmation of an exotic self against its European definition as other, so do fissures in cultural coherence within the former English colony open the way for a similar affirmation in the southern part of the New World.
But history does not repeat itself exactly, nor is there a necessary pattern to the differences. The more recent literatures of national identity are akin to those of the past, but they rethink and reformulate the characteristics that connect them in their own ways. At the same time, they exert their own influence, fostering an exotic renewal within established American literary forms, offering some of the technical and subject-matter innovations that would be taken up by writers such as Robert Coover or Thomas Pynchon.21 Whether these innovations will become an integral part of a dominant cultural discourse depends on the contingencies of history and on the future distribution of political, economic, and cultural power.
Literatures of cultural or national identity are born of the confrontation between cultural entities of unequal power. The product of an interaction, they raise questions of history and writing, of the relation between culture and nature which defines a culture, of the relation between self and other. For themselves and for the other that confronts them, they bring to the fore the problematic character of these distinctions. Their existence is a criticism, not always welcome, of their own and the other’s basic assumptions about history, about self, about origin, dressed in the acceptable guise of the exotic.
1 “Indeed," Appiah writes, “the very invention of Africa (as something more than a geographical entity) must be understood, ultimately, as an outgrowth of European racialism; the notion of Pan-Africanism was founded on the notion of the African, which was, in turn, founded not on any genuine cultural commonality but on the very European concept of the Negro." ("Out of Africa," p. 164).
2 Notions of disjunction, maladjustment, or incoherence are central to Roberto Schwarz’s analyses of Brazilian literature and culture. (How central can be seen in the interview reprinted as “Cuidado com as ideologias alienígenas," in O pai de família, pp. 115–22).
3 For a discussion of how marraige, market, and power are related in The American, see Carolyn Porter, “Gender and Value in The American.”
4 Inspecting him through her “antique eyeglass, elaborately mounted in chased silver," as if he were a latter-day Chactas or one of the Hurons examined by Montaigne, old Mme de la Rochefidèle, who had always “wanted greatly to see an American," decides, against her expectations, that Newman is not very unlike other human beings (The American, p. 145).
5 The theme of incest, expected in a novel about marriage between differences, appears, attenuated and almost unexpected, in Valentin’s protestations that he will not marry because he loves Claire: “I arrange it [not marrying] by adoring you, my sister,’ said Valentin ardently" (p. 169). In one revision of the novel, as well as in the last act of the play made from it, there is the intimation that Mme de Bellegarde had an affair with M. de Cintré, Claire’s deceased husband (Royal A. Gettman, “Henry James’s Revision," p. 474; Leon Edel, “The Revised Ending of the Play," pp. 487, 488).
6 According to Gettman, Newman is not “obtuse" in the first version of the novel, and the 1907 edition revises certain passages to make his “awareness of the attitudes and motives of others" more evident (pp. 470, 471).
7 “I wouldn't ask too much of her" says Nick; “‘You can't repeat the past.’ ‘Can't repeat the past?’ [Gatsby] cried incredulously. ‘Why of course you can!'" (The Great Gatsby, p. 111).
8 Eric Sundquist links both when he speaks of “the single and most agonizing experience of his region and nation . . . the crisis and long aftermath of American slavery" (Faulkner, p. 6, my emphasis).
9 Oliver evokes the possibility of intermarriage, but his “Indianness" is socially constructed and, in the end, does not count.
10 Aymé, “What French Readers Find in William Faulkner’s Fiction," p. 4, quoted in Schwarz, The Making of Faulkner’s Reputation, p. 3.
11 Sundquist notes that Faulkner criticism has been mostly formal, in keeping with the novelist’s own statements about his writings; he has been adopted into the camp of early twentieth-century modernism, closely tied to the New Critics. Sundquist’s focus on Faulkner’s treatment of what he calls his most important subject, race, appears, then, to challenge this critical tradition.
12 Baker identifies some of the same oscillations between self-definition and definition by others which we have seen in literatures of cultural identity.
13 Some critics hate the term, “Boom," both for its financial connotations and for the implication that the literature came out of nowhere rather than being the logical development of a long and respectable history of Latin (or Spanish) American writing. In Transculturación narrativa en América latina, Angel Rama, courteous and erudite, addresses the continuities in the literatures that gave rise to the Boom and its innovations with his notion of “transculturation," the process by which not only the urban, generally culturally progressive elites but also those parts of the continent less affected by internationally current patterns of thought, commerce, and writing, adapt, transform, and assimilate cultural change.
14 Carpentier orginated the “magical realism" that is one of the hallmarks of the Boom, all of whose participants acknowledge his primacy in setting the terms of a common attempt to develop a literature of cultural definition across national borders. His books have an international readership; even biographically, he mediates between the more powerful cultures of Europe and the United States and the less powerful ones of Latin America.
15 Reprinted in George R. McMurray, ed., Critical Essays on Gabriel Carcía Márquez, pp. 26–29, 27.
16 Humberto Robles, “The First Voyage"; Michael Palencia-Roth, “Prisms of Consciousness."
17 McMurray quotes Lucila Ines Mena, La funcíon de la historia, to the effect that many “fantastic" events in the novel are solidly based on the political and historical realities of Colombia (Introduction to Critical Essays, p. 8). Echevarría refers to Iris M. Zavala ("Cien años de soledad") and to Selma Calasans Rodriguez ("Cien años de soledad") for Marquez’s debt to the chronicles of conquest and colonization (pp. 3, 11, 22).
18 According to Echevarría, “the self-reflexiveness of the novel is implicitly compared to incest" (p. 27). There seems to be more to it, however, than comparison.
19 Emir Rodriguez Monegal uses his analysis of these last pages to place the novel in the history of a continental Latin-American literature and link it with works as apparently different from it as those of Borges ("One Hundred Years of Solitude: The Last Three Pages").
20 D. P. Gallagher recommends the novel as “funny, eccentric, full of dotty characters described in a straightforward way" ("Gabriel García Márquez," pp. 114–15), as “exotically tropical" (p. 115), and details its relation to topical truth, its presentation of Macondo as linked, through Melquíades with the depth of history, and as representing as in other Latin-American novels, the overwhelming impact of tropical nature, whose cycles “invalidate historical development" (p. 124).
21 John Barth’s deconstruction of American history in The Sot-Weed Factor (1960) precedes One Hundred Years of Solitude. I have not seen Barth mentioned among U.S. writers who inspired Latin-American writers.