The U.S. Area Studies’ Frame of Intelligibility of Latin American Studies

(or, tanto monta, monta tanto: Rolena como Fernando).

By Fernando Gomez Herrero  (fgh2173@gmail.com).

 

 

This is about the theme that will not go away: the capture of “foreignness” by cultures of scholarship, particularly in relation to the “nativism” of the immediate circumstance or the timespace of 21st century U.S., call it imperial if you wish. This is also about the (de-)associations between historical sensibilities, within if not against large bureaucratic-institutional settings, obviously incorporating a variety pack of schools and approaches, practitioners and reader responses, native and foreign, in the home of the brave, never to be left alone. This is finally about the academic configuration of Spanish-language instruction, and / or Latin Americanity, surely the strongest unit, or the unit with the most potential, with or without “ironies” or “unintended consequences,” and the quotation marks will become explicit further down in these pages directly concerned with one piece by Rolena Adorno, a recognizable name particularly in the subfield of “colonial studies.” She will emphasize the sign “literature” or “literary criticism” inside such studies, and probably “culture,” but if the former term is losing momentum and impact, assuming it once first had it, while the latter term is hollowed out tremendously in its commercial overuse (and who can afford to neglect the commercial dimension?). One early anecdote: the career-center person in a certain University of some name and fame, did not hesitate to ask the graduate student, with no hint of irony and loads of consequence, “colonial studies, what’s that?” Welcome to the profession.

The article in question: “Havana and Macondo: The Humanities in U.S. Latin American Studies, 1940-2000,” [“Havana and Macondo” from now on] written by Rolena Adorno. It is included in the collection of essays under the title The Humanities and The Dynamics of Inclusion Since World War II, edited by David A. Hollinger (Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 2006; pp. 372-404). This is an end to a project of the Boston-based institution American Academy of Arts and Sciences, of which Adorno is a member. Such institution may not have a strong international name recognition, but it does signify domestically, which is what matters. The issues addressed in such collection are obviously meaningful in relation to the ecumenic sign of “the humanities,” and the name remains odd in the U.S. streets, continue kicking your tin can a decade after the previous welcome, virtually interchangeable with humanist, humanism and humanitarian, and all these weak. Yet, the main question is here for us to explore the relation with the specific modality of the humanities, the subsection Latin American Studies, most typically conceptualized inside the world coverage by the name of “Area Studies” (the immediate platform of observation or circumstance, the U.S. is not considered a “(world) area,” and this “out-of-world-placeness,” perhaps not quite “otherworldliness,” is symptomatic of many things, some of which will be touched here somewhat). One early question to tickle the ribs: How many members with Spanish last names, other than Cuban provenance, do you think will share a permanent seat in the section “literary criticism” with our noted Yale colleague? Closer to 2, 22, or 222? Adorno’s significant colonial-studies scholarship is situated, willingly by her also, in the  literary branch (she would gladly keep her distance from the disciplinarity of “history” and “social-science,” but also from tendencies such as “postcolonial studies,” or “cultural studies,” perhaps only accepted in the blandest and most generic sense, and our moment is such that college presidents with law degrees and even technology and engineering entrepreneurs give lip service to the importance of the liberal arts). Be this as it may, the “unintended consequences” and “ironies” are borrowed by our colleague from the social sciences, incongruously, perhaps also in the political sense of the expression (more about this later). In any case, the humanities representative borrows the basic template, perhaps mode / mood also, although much more piano, piano, from one critical representative of the social sciences, much beloved by me, which is putting the humanities in the ancillary position of having to borrow what does not appear to be in their constitution in the first place. Call it interdisciplinarity, if you wish. And how often do you see the borrowing gesture working the mojo of the return the other way round? That is the way the cookie crumbles apparently, and culture bites has already included a second example in relation to Greenblatt’s most recent book The Swerve: How the World Became Modern (2011), also a colleague of Adorno, but not of Cuban origin, in identical section in the aforementioned institution. A second anecdote, old-timers in the profession –the so-called baby-boom generation—used to project, but candidly?, how much better the situation is now in comparison with how things were, and this was more the case five or ten years ago than now, which made you then more and no less worried. I would rather have you talk about the bad new days and less of the good old ones we never had. Truism: the establishment does not like sustained expressions of discontent, particularly of an articulate, intellectual kind, and that is one of the reasons of the hollowing out of academicism instead of a decisive, invigorated upswing. There is abundant concern and modulated discontent in Hollinger’s volume and this is to be much appreciated, accordingly.

Adorno’s “Havana and Macondo” is the last article in the fourth and the final section titled “Area Studies at Home and Abroad.” This double adverb is something of an equivocation since the focus is American higher education or university setting, with or without the inclusion of foreign voices sometimes operating in foreign localities as it is the case with Adorno’s essay: it is about “here,” and not “there,” if you know what I mean. All the chickens come “home” to roost here. There are no fat capons flying in the opposite direction going funny places. No Du Bois’s gesture of renunciation at the end of his life in Adorno’s piece for example. This would be unthinkable and radical and perhaps it is needed, if only as utopian possibility of the imagination so that we are never cornered to believe de facto or de iure that we are always already self-sufficient institutionally. And this is probably the strongest intuition coming out of “Havana and Macondo” in the end: the naturalization of the institutionality of the profession of the humanities, add the peanut and the butter, the Latin and American, with a bit of Spanish and Hispanic, if you wish, and even though there is some claim of dialogue, you know this euphemism for controlled spaces as well. Will the last ones come first in the end of time? Perhaps. In the meantime, the previous three sections of The Humanities and The Dynamics of Inclusion Since World War II address the question of commonality and the role of the scholar, the mixed legacy of the European dimension in relation to émigré intellectuals, particularly in relation to the discipline of philosophy, and early dilemmas appertaining to Catholic, Black and Women scholars. The title of the volume begs the question of the negative opposite to the theoretical good name of inclusion, pick your favorite (exclusions, obstacles, dilemmas, etc.), and one of the most biting articles will have to be the first one by John Guillory about the consolidation of social hierarchies in the vicinity of the education industry in a general process of streamlining, if not liquidation of the humanities, and of “failure” of something more than the notion of “General Education” (pp. 25-49). Other incisive reflections are by David C. Engerman about the configuration of Russian Studies (pp. 314-4), hard to believe how powerful such units were not so long ago; Leila Zenderland about American [read: U.S.] studies (pp. 273-313); Bruce Kuklic about the field of philosophy (pp. 159-188); and John McGreevey about the normalization of the Catholic faith and its representative universities in a country that used to think of itself as Protestant, and perhaps still does (pp. 189-216). In essence, Adorno’s attitude is dutiful and hardworking, if much more benign and benevolent, always polite and proper, a bit too much?, more on the innovations, the “consolidation,” and the “growth” of her specific field, Latin American literature, than on the lingering difficulties, the persistent dilemmas and the hard obstacles, making perhaps good of the impression that the numbers of allies in influential places remain very small, and that many more would be needed for an insurgency, not to mention a revolution of the studies of culture side by side conventional geopolitical investment in world coverage, which is the main frame of intelligibility to be put on the table. It was Europe in the Wilsonian moment, and it was Soviet Russia in the Cold War as it appears that all eyes are on China now, with India and Japan kind of in there, and this has nothing to do with the intrinsic quality of the Coco Chanel perfume, or the marmite on your bread, the vodka and the caviar, the Dim Sum or the sushi and the curry, but with the all- American practical pro-business attitude that seeks the companionship of the strongest rival and competitor, Europe receding to junior-partner, docile status of relative benign neglect in the same civilizational package of the West. What follows will develop the “abroad” of the Latin American location always already from the “home” of the North American standpoint.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Be optimistic for a change and think the opposite of “consolidation” and “growth” (I still remember the self-promotional use of “vibrant” for upbeat prose and I thank Adorno that she does not do it quite like that, because there could be none whatsoever, things can only get worse, and it is fair to kick your tin can in the US streets and wonder if a little bit of coverage is necessarily better than none of it whatsoever (better to imagine fat capons in the sky than the permanent seat at the dinner table of conventional area-studies allocation, particularly in relation to Adorno’s field of preference?). In Adorno’s carefully crafted essay, your youthfulness should not expect therefore apostasies from official belief systems, but also no powerful and drastic, even theatrical gestures of explicit discontent in our penurious times. Instead, be reasonable and realistic and wait for a piecemeal reconstruction of the relevant scholarship inside the institutional map that includes private universities, the fingers of one hand are enough, mostly on the East Coast of the proud nation. In other words, she plays essentially close to (institutional) home and she plays it eminently safe, so safe a hypothetical anti-Hispanic conglomerate would not object to such findings of Latin American literature with consolidation and growth and all. The institutional map is small, and the departmental map is smaller, and one wonders if the academic business is fundamentally about institutional reproduction with this or that type of content figuratively tied up around some kind of vanishing center. Isn’t the liberal ideology about the free flow of ideas irrespective of the content of the ideas?, which is another way of saying that the content of the ideas is banal and the idealism, a mirage of such banality. What appears to matter is something else and John Guillory in the aforementioned article gives one kind of answer, which I happen to find persuasive. Adorno does not venture into these sociopolitical waters of the immediate institutionality and she will have her good reasons. Or, is it about keeping a buttoned-up and straight-laced demeanor, the stoic mannerisms, of not saying anything if you have nothing nice to say, also in these impecunious times? But then one falls for the swinging of the liberal ideological disposition in relation to the immediate timeframe of the (post-)Cold War and the rock & rolling of the floating boat holding a few good individuals, never many, and producing exactly what kind of knowledge production. Because, this must be about “humanistic” knowledge in late capitalism, particularly in relation to the theme of functional or even subjugated foreignness. Isn’t the referentiality of “Area Studies” always towards an “outside” of the immediate circumstance (or another timespace or “history,” or the non-English into the “foreign languages,” etc.)? Yet again, Adorno’s attitude is one that naturalizes institutionality, that does not say anything bad about it, and such attitude cannot contemplate the fragility of field constitution and processes of deterioration or de-institutionalization. Not a tiny weeny little bit of Guillory here, thank you very much. Such is the abyss never to contemplate in public, much less jump over to the other side in the fierce style of a sexy heroine running away from the bad guys in a good action movie. There are no bad guys in Adorno’s story-telling of the history of the Latin American profession in the U.S. In fact, there are no bad guys in history, in Latin America or elsewhere, not in Macondo, not in Havana, since the 1980s, at least for her generational moment, which is where the true story of the academic profession really begins, and this is her core interest. I wonder if this eminently quiet rendering goes along nicely with the by now commonplace of firing the scholarly salvo, the need to decolonize fields of scholarship, which took place in such Hispanic and Latin American Studies vicinity, during the Reagan years (more about this later).

Be this as it may, we are here dealing, and please keep a critical sense of humor, with the beginning of history, or the history of what matters, i.e. academic professionalism, here in relation to the “minority” field of Latin American literary scholarship in the home of Uncle Sam. Mind you: the film of it is not dense and thick, and the onion of this “history” is typically sliced up in thin slices, typically in one-to-three decades. This intense thinness is what affects your livelihood, professionally speaking. In “Havana and Macondo,” history begins with the Cold War, pointedly with the 1960s, and the gravitational force finds a “third space” very near where Adorno makes a living, still to this day say situated somewhere between Boston and New York. This is the immediate institutional space that matters mostly and with and around it others, domestically speaking (news must have reached you of the appointment of Adorno by President Barack Obama to the National Council on the Humanities, the advisory board of the National Endowment for the Humanities, where she represents the world of Hispanic Studies). So it is important to pay attention to who is visible talking about what and who is not. I would still like to argue that the chapter arrangement informing The Humanities and The Dynamics of Inclusion Since World War II holds something of a hierarchical meaning, the allocation of a mostly Spanish-speaking Latinity as an afterthought so to speak, and I will make sure to pull the question out of the notebook next time I coincide with the editor of the volume in a collegial gathering either in between Boston and New York, Havana, Macondo or Calcutta. I don’t think I will be the only one to hold true that “minority” or “peripheral” fields of knowledge production have to piggyback on the bigger shoulders of more influential fields inside academic politics, inevitably inside the big game of geopolitics, and the connection is never a direct one inside bureaucratized spaces, or at least the smaller kids will give it a try. And here polemics is perhaps always, I find, a sign of strength, even if the desired short-term goal is not achieved. The “game” could be of course one of not letting oneself be entirely shaped by geopolitical considerations, one of faith to “error” and “deviation” say, and this is one of the “subversive” desires of the article in question: “gaming the system,” as the current lingo has it. But, how genuinely, and how seriously, that is the question. Does Adorno’s scholarship allow for such genuine “bad behavior” outside official US geopolitics? Despite the reference to  Immanuel Wallerstein, who is up there in my own pedestal of unconventional scholarly inspiration, I would have to say that I don’t think so.

What are then the liberal arts, or the humanities, if not one of these funny “minority” creatures? What are Spanish-language endeavors and Latin American studies, particularly of the historical, colonial variety, if not a rare and precious cultural variety, of the same “peripheral” type genus? How common is it to have at least one good pre-19th century specialist per institution of higher learning in the land of the free? Feels like historical being is of the essence of Man in Hegelese accordingly? Vigorous epistemic diachronicity of the subordinate language? In the little pond, specialization has been swallowed up by a certain kind of generalism inside an embedded, structural discontinuity that is much more than a mere theme (subjects and objects of knowledge production, inside the current working conditions of precarious employment, publishing venues, etc.). Think of a vanishing center, a center that cannot hold, imagine a vortex, and you have the reason of existence of The Humanities and The Dynamics of Inclusion Since World War II, the best of it is still the rigorous concern for inherited obstacles that are difficult, if not impossible to overcome. Still, you will find no lamentations and no protestations from the only “Spanish” representative in the rich anthology that contains quite a few loud statements. Adorno’s is ground zero of intellectual and social discontent. Zip. Nil. Nada de nada: nothing “bad” is said about anything under the sun on planet earth, now that our post-Cold-War set-up has eliminated the old-fashioned nomenclature of the three worlds, and the label of the Third World is indirectly alluded to, when it has not been wiped out, like blood under the carpet. But it is still here, or at least its ghost, whenever Latin America is still largely imagined, not quite part of the “West” in conventional English-speaking settings largely unfamiliar with labels such as Indias Occidentales and postcolonial post-occidentalist proposals, and I know these are too many syllables for your average spelling bees. Adorno’s double predilection: to defend the specificity of literature and the permanent location of Latin Americanity in US Academy. Worthy goals indeed even if you feel inclined to Virilian explorations of our post-literacy contemporaneity. And about the “Latin” over there, or over here? Perhaps our dear colleague feels this is the most she can do, or wants to do. My fundamental critique is that this is not enough, that much more has to be said and done, even if the short-term goal is not immediately achieved, particularly in light of the bittersweet cultural bites of colleagues, more bitter than sweet mind you, included in the anthology propitiated by the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.

“Havana and Macondo” has the strong feel of an encyclopedic entry. Hence expect virtues and flaws accordingly. It reads a bit like an addendum to The Cambridge History of Latin American Literature (2005) [Cambridge History from now on] edited by Enrique Pupo-Walker and Roberto González Echevarría, with whom our author holds many solidarities. The mode and mood in the article is –how to say it politely?– very Rolena: history is institutional history and it is so through and through, with no fissures, and naturalized in such a way that there is no hint of trouble in the pipelines or glitch or single note indulging in dissonance (perhaps the reference to Wallerstein to be included later?).  There is ample use of citations in reduced Ivy-League circles in relation to the most controversial and certainly most salient issues, yet touched upon ever so gently as never to disturb the gentle sleep of the managerial class next door. There is always discreet self-positioning, in a secondary position say, and larger diachronic vistas are largely coming through the Cuban channel of communication in the same department of Spanish and Portuguese at Yale; the mood, neutral, as if tiptoeing along with the breeze through the tulips in privatized spaces of social and historical privilege: no big desire of the theoretical possibility of anti-institutional intellectuality hinted at here (and what is Wallerstein if not a big “trouble-maker”?). Will our esteemed colleague wish to mount an epistemic insurrection? I fail to see, I must say, any fractures in the US house of knowledge production coming from this perspective and I remain open to stay corrected. The language is upbeat in a kind of mid-west type of upbeat: Spanish-language study … “has gained its proper place in the humanities enterprise as the means by which to know the Latin American literary canon and to explore the contestatory visions that have arisen around it in relation to the social realities of today” (p. 393). The comparison is with –what else but?– French, virtual academic ghost of what it was by the time I write these pages in comparison to its former intellectual strength, go ask some French colleagues if they let themselves get caught dead in the corner of old-fashioned departmental entities such as “Romance Languages and Literatures” (the label remains institutionally functional, virtually unintelligible at the street level). Obstacles to bilingualism are not addressed (the very word “bilingual” has become a loaded term put in the corner in favor of “dual-language;” in “liberal” Massachusetts, for example, “[m]any programs for English-language learners were thrown into disarray in 2002, after Massachusetts voters abolished widespread use of bilingual education, which allows students to learn subjects in their native tongue until they are nearly fluent in English. The new law stresses teaching all subjects in English, using a student’s native tongue sparingly;” “US finds statewide school problems,” by James Vaznis, Boston Globe, Sept. 17, 2011; the U.S. House of Representatives passing bills for “official English, (“Should English be the Law”, by Robert D. King, http://www.theatlantic.com/past/docs/issues/97apr/english.htm). And there is a peculiar American mindlessness about the official status of a common cultural good, heritage or patrimony, that when activated appears to go mostly in one monolingual way, at least in most visible channels of communication. What to say, always politely about the “foreign languages” in the home of the brave? Who is willing to jump into the fray? It is of course much more than “language learning.” Those interested in these language issues may turn to the lecture series “Talking Heads / Cabezas Parlantes” delivered at Oberlin College (2010-11):

1) “Three Big Problems with Modern Foreign Languages;”     (www.fernandogomezherrero.com/blog/?p=49);

2) “Avatars of the Spanish Language in the Home of the Brave;”     (www.fernandogomezherrero.com/blog/?p=82);

3) “Fear of a Hispanic Planet” (www.fernandogomezherrero.com/blog/?p=171);

4) “Apropos Harvest of Empire” (www.fernandogomezherrero.com/blog/?m=201106).

“Havana and Macondo” is no disclosure of any discomfort, irresolution, quarrel, or pain. It is instead a conventional academic repression of these nouns. All is quiet on this side of the Western front in the securing of a permanent seat in US higher education for Latin American scholarship in the vicinity of Spanish-language studies. The article has the feel of a presentation in high society of a still relatively young field of “foreign” studies to the “natives” who might have ventured into one or two novels of magical realism in translation. The intellectual attitude: a “conservative” disposition towards the defense of the specificity of the literariness of the Spanish-language-mostly object of study circumscribed inside the general rubric of Latin American literature, with or without some indigenous languages such as Quechua or Aymara in the case of Adorno’s scholarship, typically not “strategic” as the security-based, foreign-affairs rubric has it. Spanish is largely not strategic or priority language either. Latin American literature is arguably a significant player in the variation games of the foreign-language difference in the U.S., and perhaps one could radicalize this observation by stating that this is the one and only habitat where the Spanish language circulates officially in the US above the bare-level of grammar exercises and elementary literacy. Since Adorno wants to defend the “literature” side of colonial studies, I offer one early provocation: does subalternity signify mostly fictionally inside conventional institutional spaces of higher learning? And what would the claim of “literature” do in such historical subaltern domains? I feel that Adorno transculturizes the name of “literature” clinging to the small purchase it currently has in American and global societies without wanting to venture deeply into critical investigations that might well put the name in a bad and more limited space, call it minority if you wish. And yet careful with the American lingo: there are minorities and minorities…

I miss a bit the tinkering with the Cold-War Area-Studies template and its conventional categories. Think of this one: U.S. Latin American (area) studies and the intersection with Spanish-language studies. The territory covered here is mostly in the eminent domain of fictional letters or “literature” (the Portuguese side of things is conveniently referred to her Yale colleague K. David Jackson, also in the recurrent Cambridge History). Most would agree that the post-Cold-War is cat’s cradle of categories and formats that are perceived to be obsolete. Yet no sustainable replacements are yet visible inside the general push towards internationalization and globalization of “world literature.” If the academic language of “cultural difference” is not sufficient, the U.S. street language of “racial profiling” may give you some suggestions for the allocation of objects and subjects of knowledge production in our disorienting moments.  In relation to these cognitive mappings, I would characterize Adorno’s position as insufficiently Kalimanesque and anti-Mignolesque (more about this later): the automatic identity of the Latin American problems informing the inside interests of the discipline [of Latin American cultural studies] (the endnote 132 on p. 404) implies the identity of the discipline with the problems inside some circumscribed timespace. I would quarrel with that identity which is still commonplace practice, or assumed belief system, or default mechanism to make sense of an area-studies portion of the whole world cake that does not dare speak truthfully its epistemological premises any longer. “Latin America” is thus “out there,” mind you, or at any rate, “in dialogue” with the self-declared representatives by the name of “Latinamericanists,” and this is all fine and dandy as long as they or we stick to their turf without disrupting anything big or anything else. Assertion which, again, falls flat on its ugly face when one considers the multi-directional or multi-referential behavior of the sign “Latin America” among many other signs, within the areas and the studies of area-studies, unless you are happy to assume the fallacy of univocity that Latin Americans know most of their Latin American reality out there and that the best thing one scholar can do in here in the U.S. is to be faithful mirror of nature, and be a connector, a purveyor, a provider, to give escort service of such problematic “reality” for our enlightened self-interest. This is unreal, global village of rigid insides and outsides, yet in relation to what third point of observation caught in between the U.S. and Latinamerica?, but also of  the tautological, literalist game that insists on the identifiable, positive location of the identity, always within bounds, of the subject position and the subject matter, or content, in relation to underrepresented fields, yet mostly with the intent, not necessarily a good one, of keeping them identifiable, in their proper, official place of relative, partial or local meaningfulness, when not “minority” and “peripheral,” often with smiling faces, as a way of keeping them down and out of centers or cores. Areas of the world according to what dominant, non-literary perspective and organizing principle, if not the immediate U.S. Foreign policy? What “unintended consequences” will Adorno be defending if not in relation to the intentionality of central command (I use military language with a hint of Le Carré-spy-novels feel)? The post-Cold-War delivers the acute crisis of Area Studies model –something Immanuel Wallerstein among others—have emphasized a long time ago in direct reference to the social sciences (endnote 17, p. 395; Wallerstein is included in relation to a volume edited by Noam Chomsky in 1997; now this is an old reference which does not appear epistemologically and politically congruent with the main drive in “Havana and Macondo,” while also keeping the “trouble-maker” MIT faculty at some distance). There is a Peruvian Spanish slang term that carries disruptive meaning here: brichero, from “bridge,” typically used in relation to the local Peruvian person, typically male, who is willing to have intercourse, in all the senses of the word, with visiting foreigners). What kind of cultural mediation is brichera Adorno doing with the historical Peruvian merchandise of Guaman Poma de Ayala on the U.S. and by default also the international platforms? Think of intercourse in all directions, of traffic and networks, of supple frames of intelligibility, of the apparent boundary-free of the worldwide web, and it appears to me that most, if not all the claims to specificity, exceptionalism or uniqueness are not persuasive any longer, if ever. And yet how to push harder the native-and-foreign (con-)fusions in relation to the arts and sciences?

Now, “Havana” is shorthand for the impact of the Cuban revolution and Adorno’s position, not being a Cuban scholar, in provenance or focus of object of study, is one of conventional liberal toleration of the Castro regime. Her cultural merchandise comes mostly from his Yale colleague and mentor González Echevarría, a product of the Cuban diaspora. “Macondo” is shorthand for the international moment of Latin American literary success, the so-called “Boom.” The Baby Boom generation managed to manufacture the Latin Boom around the 1960s-70s. It reached me as an adolescent in Spain where I read these novels with great delight. Who has not fallen in love with Borges and did not share this love with the first love at that time? But, there is also Chile and the Sandinistas in Nicaragua and the Reagan  “contra” scandal –remember Oliver North?– and there are other writers who do not necessarily fit into the Boom marketing. Adorno walks the reader towards the horizon of parallel lines of international politics and U.S. state interests, and here the academic practice, or escort service, of the humanities is introduced as not necessarily always toeing the official geopolitical line, but probably instead crisscrossing other cultural ways, while benefitting from the visibility granted by the larger world of politics. It sounds reasonable enough. And how many members of Latin American Studies deviate and dare challenge U.S. national interests, typically the “modernizing” model in these decades, while pursuing other historiographic trajectories and unconventional or even antagonistic historicist preoccupations? I feel Adorno sins by omission with or without the highlight of the growth of Spanish-language studies in the vicinity of this “hot wind from the South” (p. 376). Read carefully the naturalized euphemism in quotation marks kept at some distance “down there:” revolutionary Left politics ever so close to U.S. state interests.

With the diachronicities explicitly borrowed from Yale quarters, the main insinuation of the piece is the ever tactful Wallerstenian adaptation in the sense of the foreign literary humanities slipping away and out of the grip of U.S. foreign policy interests (I don’t think Wallerstein’s variety of social-science critique has ever focused directly on the changes and transformations taking place in the humanities, cultural studies for example, but I may be wrong here). The trump card was not the federal programs that would “strengthen resistance to totalitarianism,” but rather… “the richly imagined worlds of Latin American literature” (p. 373). Again, who is not going to love such imaginary richness of worlds that are literary? The private funding by organizations such as the Rockefeller Foundation “did not control the outcomes, which included the 1970s broadening of literary scholarship and criticism to include marginalized or understudied areas or topics, such as colonial studies; and, in the 1980s, the full development of Latin American cultural studies” (p. 392). So, thank you for the attention and thanks to the Cold War moment that “made Latin America a permanent area study in the U.S. academic curriculum” (p. 392). Better the current permanence than the pre-1960s impermanence? Really? The point of comparison is not only with your preceding generations but with your contemporary peers going at knowledge production in other comparable fields of knowledge production. Sardonically, the worst thing that can happen is that things can get worse. The “outreach” of the “cold war strategic agenda was done by generations of academics and students who, from the start, stretched and bent its objectives to their own pursuits” (p. 392). Money people relaxed their concentration on the outcomes? The loosening of the moorings of Latin American studies from the center of private foundations and federal government strategic interests? A modality of benign neglect inside bureaucratic institutions? Better yet: the “consolidation” –pay attention to the conventional euphemism– of institutional needs in impecunious times, the intensification of the privatization of education services in times of financial crisis, the crisis of identity of education and of the humanities at large, the peculiar status of Spanish / Hispanic and Latinity dimensions, etc. What we are seeing is the re-adjustement of the “knowledge factory” to the convulsions and tensions of the present time characterized by the sliding scale of the humanities. How to smile big and wide at the horrific conditioning of the academic labor market also touching on the comparatively large units of Spanish-language studies and Latin American (area) studies? No irony: Adorno sticks to the unforeseen, “ironic” consequences of the U.S. programs that a half century ago, intended to make language and area studies “a discrete area of our official foreign relations” (p. 393), and this is the final sentence in the article. This is a conventional American use of the word irony as somewhat surprising contrast. Upon close inspection, there is little or none of it and the euphemism vanishes.

Of course, “Havana and Macondo” has virtues. The article is good general presentation of famous names largely to an English-speaking North American audience. Without overloading the dices, the names of mostly male authors are included: Neruda, García Márquez, Fuentes, Manuel Puig, and, of course, Borges, who “deepens, rather than denigrates, respect for the human condition” (p. 374). Isn’t this a tight knot of the three adjectives included earlier (humanities, humanist and humanitarian)? This is liberal ideology providing upholstery for the bare-bone furniture frame of naked political interests, and good irony against a certain type of liberalism has to be here underlined around such Spanish-named foreigners of undeniable literary dignity. Think Hall-of-Fame presentation of primary material and this is what “Havana and Macondo” mostly does. Yet, why so little thunder in this sky of the historical imagination? I feel Adorno is closer in mood and mode to Lewis Hanke than Richard Morse (p. 174-5), and yet I wish I had the brio, gusto and vigor of both more often in general in a profession that appears resigned to the ideal utopia of being left alone with the broken furniture in the basements of empty buildings. Am I exaggeration for effect only? Both historians are quoted by Adorno expressing criticism of the strategic and military interests in Spanish-language learning. Impeccable. I still think New World Soundings: Culture and Ideology in the Americas (1989) is fresh in a way Hanke’s scholarship, which I see along the lines of the whitening of the Black Legend has aged a bit, although it is still better than most things around. I suppose that you have to paint white but others paint black. Yet, there is no doubt of the scope of vision of both historians bring to the table with a keen awareness of uneven institutionalizations of North-South relations. Adorno does not include Hanke’s Do the Americas have a common history? (1964), subtitled “A critique of Bolton theory,” an important point of reference, also a collection of essays, with direct literary repercussions originally promoted by Gustavo Pérez Firmat. These are healthy moments of expansiveness in scholarly debates that appear less likely nowadays. Edmundo O’Gorman’s contestations of U.S. scholars are also important and terribly neglected moments stemming from the existentialist historicism of José Gaos, Leopoldo Zea, and Ortega y Gasset, who also contested the historicism of Toynbee, for example, whose civilizational template will resurface in an unlikely favorite name such as Samuel Huntington who did much to advance the modernizing agenda appertaining to Latin America. None of this is included by Adorno, who does not have to include everything meaningful in these handful pages. Yet, this is one rich line of historicism that has even found an outlet in early postcolonial studies (Mignolo, for example, name that will resurface soon). I am not aware that Adorno has had any interested in exploring this type of philosophy of history, or any other for that matter. In a way it feels that we have not moved forward, John Elliott recaptures the Hanke formulation in apparent ignorance of such existentialist philosophy of history, no gestures towards O’Gorman, and without warm feelings for postcolonial theory, which Adorno shares.

This is an interesting juxtaposition: the historical moment of modernization / development and dependency theories inside the social sciences finds the parallel track of the humanities. And here, one disposition is towards a Latin American exceptionalism against the “Yankee imperialism” (p. 380). In any case, it is still less common to find authors who pay tribute to the theoretical springs of Leon Trosky in relation to the uneven and combined development formulations in his history of the Soviet revolution! Our moment appears to want to de-emphasize specificities and exceptionalisms, hence the whole emphasis on networks and pan-relationalities. In defending the uniqueness and originality of fictional letters and the arts, Adorno includes the names of Picón Salas, Carpentier, “lo real maravilloso,” also in relation to the celebration of hybridity and mestizaje, and José María Caicedo in relation to the very naming of “Latin America (p. 379). I still think it is important to do diachronic interrogation of toponyms, the very name of “America” for example, originally a misnomer that has survived the erosion of time passing, still resisting mono-continentality in the Spanish language and shockingly bi-continentality in the standard English language and this mixing is not entirely by free choice. This is always certain to bring healthy awkwardness in the classroom: the diachronic explanation of the name of your country (United States of America)! Of course, maintaining bilingualism and awareness of different trajectories of intellectual life will deliver many possibilities. This is one: never to go gentle into the continental name appropriation by the proud nation. This type of inquisitive historicism makes the jingoism of the belief in the first, best and freest country in the history of the earth a bit more difficult. To give but one parallel: this self-appropriating is a bit in the same style as the stronger nations in Europe make themselves continental spokespersons for the benefit of a third party. Institutionally, Spanish –but also Hispanic, Latinity– is neither conventionally European nor conventionally American in this typically reduced sense. This is important in relation to the dividing line of the 1960s, the “boom” of Latin American letters gradually displacing the European quota of Spanish diversity amid conventional template of European languages, literatures and cultures in the North American academy. Who doubts that this is the early modernity of our postmodernity?

There should be no fears in coming to terms with the perception of an undeniable de-Europeanization of U.S. society inside which its still conventionally Eurocentric academic units operate. And there are all sorts of reasons for that (geopolitics, economic, social migration patterns, etc.). Logically, there is a reconsideration of the historical and social relationship between America and Europe inside the matrix of sameness and difference, and all other continents are implicated, if only by default. Against Octavio Paz who emphasized the sameness in a retrieval of a certain Europe peculiar to a post-revolutionary Mexican context, Adorno gives more space to the “prevailing and more polemical” of the difference, yet in back-and-forth traffic, mixings and interconnections, certainly accelerated tremendously since Paz. The emphasis is then on the difference among three big units (US within North America, South or Latin America, with overlap, and Europe). Always borrowing the telescope of his Cuban colleague at Yale, the focus is on the distinctiveness, specificity and individuality of Latin American literature “linked with the struggle for political and cultural independence” (Echevarría in the cited Cambridge History, p. 380). In a not entirely humorous aside, think of the branding strategies under late capitalism: you want your (scholarly) product to stick out from the rest still within a comparative frame or measuring rod. We can theorize an abstract (de-)differentiation mechanism, accordingly. There is a certain blurring but boundary-crossing is not really welcome with big fuss by most establishment figures, at least on the East Coast side of the most Western nation of the frame of the West, rubric typically appropriated by political leaders of big nations in moments of historical mindfulness. In what must have been a 1970s thing, like electric jazz, but also disco music, this game of grand differentialist signification apropos continental dimensions, say Latin American literature as such, is played out mostly on Cuban terms with another Roberto on the Castro side of politics: Fernández Retamar, the director of Casa de las Américas, also established in the 1960s. This is the historical moment of a certain type of synthesis, of nomothetic bind of no less than entire continental spaces of idiographic creativity. It is also the moment of the emergence of the Third World in between First and Second (Carl E. Pletsch’s famous article of 1981 is a commonplace here). In 1975, Fernández Retamar publishes his Para una teoría de la literature hispanoamericana y otras aproximaciones. Isn’t this a perfect parallel to González Echevarría’s Myth and Archive: A Theory of Latin American Narrative (1990)?  What are the Calibanesque ruminations a kind of Hegelian variation of Master and Slave dynamics vis-à-vis the more geopolitically dominant entities of Europe and the U.S.? Adorno does not include references to Prospero, Ariel and Caliban, despite the citation that “we are all children of Castro” (p. 376), legitimate and illegitimate, in the sense of how big this geopolitical factor of one official enemy nation of collectivist leftist ideology has been, present perfect verb form, in the institutionalization of Latin American Studies in U.S. universities. The point is well taken: each generation should want to have at least one revolution to shake things up, professionally!

I will say it like this now: the professionally meaningful past, or history that matters, appears to have been one of more or less successful synthetic efforts of a differentialism of continental proportions, and one could see how and why this is perhaps more difficult to achieve sixty years later, or even desirable (think of the Jamesonian allegorization of worlds of difference and philosophical globalizations: how the Third World has to signify in this way as opposed to the First World signifying in quite another; or how the sansculottes in France are revolutionary force versus the repressive role in revolutionary Haiti, typologies for North and Latin American situations, etc.). I only see positions called “post-colonial” for lack of a better trying to mount global readings that could activate substantial destabilizations and I still think that this is vital for positions called “Hispanic / Spanish / Latin,” again for lack of a better word. But this is not Adorno’s game, at least in my acquaintance with her work for the last decade. In Wallerstenian language, this nomothetic impulse inside fields of idiographic modalities of knowledge production (the humanities) may feel today impossibly Gargantuan, perhaps foolhardy, at least of that continental-essentialist variety of the 1960s aforementioned, as though the human sciences were trailing their inferiority complex behind the social sciences and the natural sciences so to speak. But perhaps is also inevitable when “European” positions always already claim “international and global” histories! (and I know a thing or two about it since I am currently sitting in and witnessing from up close a working group of such rubric). What is the force of sameness that brings diversity of authors, geographies, styles, themes, etc. together? And a big jump: what is geopolitics is not the bringing together by the most powerful of such disparity at least at the official level? Think about the etymology of “fasces:” the binding together of a bundle of rods, the unification of forms. History (or the collection of old forms) follows the latest new forms of contemporaneity always already pressing interests, objectives, goals, etc. What is the perspective that seeks such massive identity of forms, if not one that is responding to a non-identity in indifference (Latin America is what is not (quite) Europe, what is not (quite) the US, etc.)? Primary focus on group behavior will have to complicate this allegorical-synthetic picture of big units, typically taught in hurried semester-long courses. Post-colonial post-modernisms appear to go in the direction of the debilitation of this type of all unifying “theory,” and towards the increasing interpenetration and fragmentation of timespaces and/or social groups in them with or without good reasons. And what about postmodern postcolonialisms?

Perhaps one can also contemplate the de-Hegelianization of humanistic endeavors in the new century side by side the previously mentioned de-Europeanization, always with an eye on Uncle Sam’s university houses of knowledge production. I remember reading Celestina’s Brood: Continuities of the Baroque in Spanish and Spanish American Literature (1993) by González Echevarría early in my graduate years at Duke and thinking that this type of scholarship would mostly, or perhaps only, be possible in the U.S. Who would dare cover five hundred years of assumed literary continuity on both sides of the Atlantic? And from what standpoint if not some kind of continuity that one can call your own national upbringing left behind somehow as in the Cuban case? But Eastern European émigrés were near founding the house called “comparative literature” also at Yale in a very ambitious initial impulse much more encompassing than any national-literature obviously (how else would a minor nationality address its assumed civilizational horizon in the American displacement?). Wellek for example, but also Jakobson’s formalism, not to be reduced to the “spiritual property of the Slavicists,” are generating a comparative literature stemming from the European experience, and this anti-exclusivist and non-possessive disposition appears supremely salutary, at least on the surface of it (pp. 327-331). And I must say it has little to do with comparative literature departments or programs I have run into on the West Coast of the proud nation. Incidentally, Adorno appears disinterested in this immediate history, she appears to have no warmth for comparativisms of a certain institutional kind. She fails to mention the 1992 anniversary of the Discovery / Conquest of America around which time she got the Yale appointment (I think I recall some comments by her favorite colleague about such moment and how difficult it was to find a convincing Mexicanist; Mexicanists are always difficult to find since they bring with them a proximity that “America” finds uncomfortable!, shouldn’t Spanish departments in all historical and social logic be 90% Mexican and Mexicanist against some European and Latin American legacies? Or is this one utopian projection of times to come, certainly more congruent with the immediate circumstance?, and I do not have “to be” Mexican to imagine this). These are troubled waters for everyone to get into, Adorno included, who does not want to get into.

There is an exhaustion of anniversary moments and historical celebrations of any type do not come easy for us anymore. González Echevarría recreates a panoramic vision of literary-criticism type based on Carpentier’s peculiar vision of literary history (Baroque and modernism put in the same mojito so to speak). Do you want to go with it if you are not from the same particular Caribbean background? Still, there should be no stinginess: how many would dare come up with comparable diachronic vision to such mono- or bi-continental distinctiveness while having a convincing acquaintance with European creativity? (Leila Zenderland gives us a parallel situation regarding the configuration of “American Studies” vis-à-vis European literature, pp. 273-313). I still feel Europe produces less identitarian soul-searching in humanities fields, except for some self-serving “minority-diversity” positions cutting thinner onion layers inside recognizable national-literature positions, but it appears the same logic of “culture difference” shaking hands with “racial profiling” for a foreignness or an otherness. But there is otherness and otherness. It is telling to witness how British scholars landing on this side of the Atlantic typically make a living adopting a big Europeanist perspective within an assumed Western template, and through they want to reach the sky of world history and global united nations (call them the postmodernist children of Toynbee). Our immediate times appear to be one of Balkanization of former Empires let us say, of break down of national “consensus,” a bad word in the first section of The Humanities and The Dynamics of Inclusion Since World War II, of ruins of “History,” thus in the singular and capitalized, and consequently of smithereens of these once desirable theoretical impulses not quite making yet towards sustainable synthesis. You will perhaps accept the following informality: our colleague’s account is sweet, so sweet it hurts your teeth kind of sweet, in ironic contrast with the strength of The Humanities and The Dynamics of Inclusion Since World War II which portrays a sobering account of the cohabitation of studies and politics and the brutal disorientation informing what appears to be the streamlining, if not “final solution,” of the profession of the humanities, apparently incapable of remonstrations of self-worth and significance in the new century. What will happen with “Hispanic Studies,” the modality officially represented by our esteemed colleague of the Baby-boom generation born, I think I remember correctly, in Iowa in the mid-West, remains to be seen.

The careful essay has the virtue of inclusion of quick references to encyclopedic precedents that allow for comparative reconstructions of larger vistas and situations. The names of Picón Salas and Henríquez Ureña are mentioned in relation to the set-up of histories of Latin American literature. Imbert’s Historia de la Literatura Hispanoamericana (1954) is considered the most significant endeavor before González Echevarría’s Myth and Archive: A Theory of Latin American Narrative (1990) side by side the monumental Cambridge History. There is undeniable legacy here in relation to a certain historicism that clings to the noun “literature.” Baroque and colonial are adjectives that here find a place in the vicinity of Hispanic and Latin American dimensions. It is probably “the” place, at least in the U.S. Irving Leonard produces his Baroque book in 1959, which does not manage to raise the epistemic desirability of the Baroque, always already with a negative marker around it, so to speak, at least in the English-speaking world (English authors such as Greenaway and Jarman reach out to this Latin legacy for creative anachronisms of contemporary destabilization, Americans cannot do this sort of thing, still finding these horizons prohibitive and forbidding, not quite their own frame of intelligibility of historical things, but something “exotic”). Theorize that, if you will, in a way that it would have to be for us much less elegant that the HenryJamesian moment. But, the 1960s is also the moment of [literary] “theory,” Adorno reminds us, and by that one must assume a certain self-reflexivity in the business of humanistic interpretation. Inevitably, there is the Borges seduction among English-speaking audiences opening the door to the vigorous Boom visibility coming from the third world inside the frame of the cultural cold war. Half-humorously, we may now well be in the moment of bust of the cultural (post-)Cold War, for example, in the clear debilitation of the interpellation of “literature” in contemporary societies, in the “culturalization” of social relations, which Adorno does not wish to address in public. Our moment is more of a cat’s cradle of disparate and still disunited tendencies under the rubric of inter- or trans-disciplinarity, of hypothetical “post-Area-Studies,” that in some environments I have seen is code for juxtaposing academic units, making academic positions redundant and hiring cheap academic labor on a ad hoc basis addressing as they say “interesting issues,” say water scarcity and you will have one environmental science guy, one natural-science guy, one humanities guy and the plumber putting it together for two or three years and see how many customers go there. It is not a joke. As always, Adorno is polite diplomatic figure tireless in the promotion of the deserved status of contemporary Latin American literature in the English-speaking world, no easy sound bite is forthcoming about the specific field of “colonial.” After toasting with amiable college presidents and friendly administrators to the God Save the humanities, we all need to sober up (John T. McGreevy reminds us of the 12.7% of degrees in the humanities in 1993, as opposed to 20.7% in 1966, 20 years later, 4.7% by 2020, and how many fingers by 2040?; p. 207).

Hence, Adorno gives us the academic proof of the historical pudding at least in relation to some circles: historicity is triggered by contemporaneity, in case you had any doubts, and not the way around, so colonial dimensions emerge from 1980s’ so-called “culture wars,” Latin American visibility within the template of the Third World from the Cold War / Boom moment, etc. and foreignness is activated retroactively, retrospectively from the “nativist” concern and the 1960s timeframe at least in relation to the narrow eminent domain of academic professionalism. Such issue of “colonial” Adorno puts it in relation to the search for beginnings and origins “as far back as possible” (p. 385). O.k.: background of the “most important” moment of nation-formation and the continental dimension for “smaller” nations that cannot go solo. It sounds antiquarian and bland enough. No funny hairs will get tasseled at that. Implausibly, Adorno distinguishes cultural origins and colonial past, “not as history, but as fiction or as textuality per se.” Splitting hairs and I do not know what “per se” stands for. I am sure “per se” will fail to give a convincing answer as to why on earth to play it stand-alone.  Still, add salt and pepper to reach the 1970s-1980s, Adorno’s generation’s professional moment, and you are already within your lifetime: the birth of colonial studies so to speak. Ever faithful comrade in the González Echevarría’s Carpentier line of thought (p. 385), Adorno puts herself as founding mother of colonial Spanish American literature, citing her work on the indigenous Andean writer Felipe Guaman Poma de Ayala (1535-1616), also propped up in the Cuban manner (p. 386). The word “indigenous” is not used often. And I wish to anticipate the subtle polemical thrust in “Havana and Macondo” which will be kept for the final pages, as a bit of a cliffhanger. By now it should be obvious that “Yale” is the glue in between both localities, Havana and Macondo, one real, but menacingly foreign and of awkward access for most Americans due to visa restrictions, the other fictionally real, in the manner of the magical-realism formula, forbiddingly foreign in the original Spanish language for most Americans. Make no mistake: validations do run through Ivy-League institutionality and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.

Still, other places and other names must be included. The 1990 Literature Nobel Prize winner Octavio Paz has to be included. His work on Inés de la Cruz done while at Harvard, for example. And around it, there is a list of Sorjuanistas (p. 386). ). There is lavish praise of “one of the most internationally celebrated figures of feminine aspiration and accomplishment in the late twentieth century” (p. 387). I somehow doubt that she is equally on the same footing in the global pantheon of intellectual inspiration, more antiquarian representative of the heavy Baroque of Latinamericanist differentialism vis-à-vis European Baroque than figure from where philosophies of history of future projection may find nourishment. Paz’s liberal-ideology work itself made the comparison of the repressions of intellectual life in the colonial American Baroque and the repressions of the countries beyond the Iron Curtain. He left empty the desirable content other than the abstract celebration of individuality and creativity fighting such oppression within the Weberian template of modernization and development paradigm. I would argue that such template remains probably still largely functional, even if dented, for Adorno, with or without the indigenous dimension. But our colleague is not, I don’t think, someone to follow wholeheartedly debates considered to be of social-science province. I would polemically argue that the full-blown historicity of the Baroque on both sides of the Atlantic, is still waiting for a good interpreter after Roberto González Echevarría’s Celestina’s Brood, which is a certain kind of flexible Foucaultian genealogy of Cuban-American fidelity to modernist continuities playing the card of difference with Europe mostly. Perhaps it should be repeated that the horizon of the Baroque –Mannerism is never there– is still excessive cultural furniture, that which foreigners do, in conventional U.S. culture, also in literature and culture circles, but increasingly less so. Who dares teach such diachronic aesthetic-political dimensions, consistently in the vicinity of the second national language? For some thoughts of mine, see my collaboration with John Beverley, who I feel should have been more of a presence in this article (“Are Golden Age Studies Obsolete? A Conversation with Fernando Gomez Herrero,” in John Beverley, Essays on the Literary Baroque in Spain and Spanish America (Woodbridge UK: Tamesis, 2008; pp. 149-185; and “About the Subaltern and Other Things: A Conversation with John Beverley,” Dispositio/n: American Journal of Cultural Histories and Theories 52 (vol. XXV, 2005):  pp. 343-372).

What the shorthand of “theory” stands for is also most concretely the moment of philosophical post-structuralism going “alongside literary studies” (p. 388), and the adverbial clause speaks volumes of Adorno’s reticence to fully embrace some of these findings. “Theory” is shorthand for approaches such as deconstruction, (post-)feminism, gender and sexuality studies, ethnic studies, subaltern studies, and postcolonial studies. Hence, there is proliferation of modalities of interpretation moving away from the vanishing literary center if ever so discreetly. There is, however, less amorous detail in the listing of names and issues. The synthesis of “theory” here is also rejection, perhaps momentary, of all universalizing centers, and the welcoming of marginal expressions, which when you pause and think about it is the official liberal ideal of unimpeded self-expressivity. You can feel Adorno holding her own literary turf in the colonial-studies unit amid the remonstrances and disorders caused by such proliferation. I happen to think that the most interesting line of investigation is precisely the fracture of conventional understanding of the very sign of “literature” in early modern / colonial studies highlighted by postcolonial studies. The issue is now how to follow through, intellectually vis-à-vis institutionalizations emerging from such historical horizons and how to do things intellectually, pedagogically, etc. Two options: bring the sign “literature” closer to literacy, and even post-literacy, and also to the conventional social-science uses of the sign and run with it, epistemologically speaking. Historicize and socialize better the work of Rama, may be one formula, and this is easier said than done.

By contrast, Adorno’s position remains to this day an antiquarian neo-positivist kind of historicism operative within a certain controlled environment, without ever venturing into comparative philosophies of history and without ever jumping into such thorny issues, some of them already included (coloniality, avatars of university knowledge in the home of the brave under late-capitalist conditions, the smithereens of “literature” and the humanities with it in a global society that is constitutionally anti-textualist and anti-humanities, sustainable bilingualism, etc.). Virtuality and digitality do violence to timespaces and knowledge production cannot stay put inside conventional institutionality, call it by the old-fashioned name of university or not, particularly in a society for which book culture is not natural any more, if it ever was. But this is hot water that will get all cats wet. So I suppose that it is wise to want to stay in the dry cleaner and keep some (theoretical) distance from it, if you can afford it. My generation cannot afford the hot water and the dry cleaner and wants no distance from it.

The fallback or default position is, I suppose, the literary delineation of Latin American fictional letters normalized by her powerful colleague so often cited. Her position is also neo-Wellekian (pp. 327-331) wanting a “return to earlier but still (or again) incandescent questions such as the transcendence of literary value.” Earlier, still and again: adverbial cat’s cradle suggesting permanent abode, for her defense of transcendental literary value, always in the immediacy of colonial studies. She claims that: this “return” is another of the ironies (or successes) of the Latin Americanist humanities in the cold war era” (p. 392), and she puts it against the background of debates between Anderson Imbert and Henríquez Ureña, the good Minnesota moment of ideological inquiry, David Viñas on the marketing of Boom literature, Beatriz Sarlo and Alberto Moreiras, although these names are largely left undeveloped with barely one simple sentence. The fundamental game is always played in Yale quarters and here Adorno plays home court advantage but to the rest of the American world. There is the compare and contrast between González Echevarría and Josefina Ludmer (p. 387), the former representing literary and aesthetic values, and the second, a more sociological orientation. Adorno’s polite United- Nations mediation advocates the complementarity of both positions and her own: “To see literature as a system rather than a series of organic, but separate works; [and] to do so without losing sight of the literary and philosophical values of the text’s specificity, insisting always on close textual analysis; and to articulate literary discourse with those that presumably lie outside it but in fact permeate its core (p. 387): it feels more reconstructed structuralism to me. I am not been facetious: the undying light of the literary text to see what exactly? Lovely attention to textual detail inside the system of specificities to build what?  Transcendental humanities passing through market and ideology to achieve what success understood in what way? I can only see the horizon of “cultural difference” here without drastically altering inherited templates (I am not aware that Adorno has tinkered with the post-occidentalism of old authors such as Leopoldo Zea, one venerable example among others). Incongruously clinging to the solid “literature” of Wallerstein, I find that Adorno is saying the least damning thing one can possibly say about this phenomenally disruptive American intellectual: the “unintended consequences of area studies” (p. 387). Is this an ideological wink on the part of Adorno to her good readers? A kind of in-the-joke-you-get-me kind of thing? Of course, literary scholars do not have to promote directly and vocally immediate U.S. state interests and their professional persona, I am sure, will be allowed to play a variety of roles. But to the point of generating (intellectual, political) uncertainties, troubles, sustained dissidence, not to mention instigating the possibility of a blowback? I honestly think this defense of literature is epistemologically gone and it was gone a long time ago. Sociologically, you only have to take a good walk in the American streets and the classrooms. Pick your favorite city. The field of cultural studies, also “unintended consequence of cold war area studies,” has been an attempt to take over and try to revive an immensely debilitated field of humanistic inquiry, not without problems of its own. The whole “unintended consequences and ironies” is one way of diffusing intentionality and intellectual agency, but Adorno will never get caught in public addressing the issue of the social function of the intellectual class as such and, yes, per se. More’s “1964 lament” (pp. 387-8) is included. Adorno volunteers none.

I should not forget that there is mention of U.S. Latino that includes a telling parenthesis “(Including Spanish-Language)” (p. 388).  Check this out: “for the first time the Spanish language became a proud symbol of ethnic identity vis-à-vis mainstream Anglo-American society (p. 388). The endnote includes two articles by Ofelia García (endnote 112, p. 402). Work in progress: happy to blow the ashes in the fireplace in the home of Uncle Sam, also with my good friend Guadalupe Valdés, mentioned in the article. The 1970s see the (partial) demise of the “national interest” in the justification for funding area studies (p. 389). And this “benign neglect” (the phrase originally associated with the New York Senator Moynihan, fair to see this old liberalism being also Adorno’s?) turns into a transfer of funds and the birth of ethnic studies finding their most natural place in American studies programs. Isn’t the Latino projection ambivalent sign of the big divide with Hispanic studies as presently constituted? Where is the Mexican dimension, side by side the Cuban and Puertorrican majority groups, inside the inherited Eurocentric legacy of US universities? Interesting issues do come up if the aforementioned de-Europeanization picks up momentum in the following decades. Are “we” going for a bifurcation, the international-and-global axis through the Asian route and the domestic Latin explosion? But science-fiction projections exceed the immediate goal of these pages.

I wish to conclude with the discreet mention of the 1990s debate on “colonial discourse,” surprisingly relegated to a miserable endnote (endnote 129, p. 390) with the names of Hernán Vidal, Patricia Seed, Adorno herself and Walter Mignolo. She does not synthesize her vision around discursivity and colonialism. But later in the essay, she elbows out Mignolo, probably the most noted representative of “postcolonial studies” certainly in the intersection with Latin American studies, placing him around and about the issue of identity politics (endnotes 124 and 129). This is certainly surprising, to say the least. Using one article by Ricardo Kaliman (listed as “Richard,” endnote 132, p. 404), she appears to join the critique that Mignolo’s work is not “being led by the problems of Latin American cultural reality.” A second surprise: do you want to play this game between these two Argentinians on both sides of the Americas? I will have my disagreements with my dear mentor Mignolo, but I would willingly side with him any day about the assumption of the hijacked identity of the subject of study and the object of study irrespective of multi-directionality of intervention possibilities in a variety of fields of knowledge production. Adorno scratches a bit the wall paint of the Mignolo edifice in the same landscape of colonial studies, if with a postcolonial-studies inflection in the case of the latter, by using the knife of Kaliman. The former is inside the US academy the last time I checked. The latter was trained at Pittsburgh, but makes a living in Argentina. Where does the intelligent reader think Adorno will sit? I can see certain solidarities in the American academy with positions labeled “identity-politics,” but Mignolo’s work cannot possibly be reduced to that. Most importantly, what is she doing exactly? You got it: she gets closer to González Echevarría, made antecedent in relation to mechanisms of destruction and the rewriting of the frames of historical processes that inspired her 1986 counter-offensive of decolonization. It is not really an issue of who did what first since the scholarly doing among such individuals is quite different. It is certainly an issue of addressing what “decolonization” stands for today, which is far from clear. I am not being facetious: Decolonization of what? Of the indigenous dimension? Indigenous, or native, in relation to what frame of referentiality in relation to what matrix of meaningfulness? But, surely all these previous nouns must be in the radical plural form. The Harvard computer system will allow you to “connect to the native interface,” if you use the proper codes. It sounds Virilian enough and it is as real as rain, and I love Mignolo according to my bond no more no less. As already mentioned, the word “indigenous” does not come up often in “Havana and Macondo.” There is no Guatemala or Bolivia so to speak. There is no Cusco either. And it is far from clear what that such intellectual and/or academic operation would entail for the duration in relation to cultures of scholarship inside bureaucratic-institutional settings of the corporate University system embedded inside increasingly global capitalism, currently in a process of critical re-adjusting and reconfiguration, in direct relation to the possible national interests that the sole standing superpower may be having by the time I finish writing these pages.

I cannot resist the temptation to write a passing reference to the issue of identity politics, a symptom of the bigger issue of social typologies, and also of the crudity of racial profiling in the current post 9/11 climate. Another big divide: US nationals and foreign nationals in relation to making a living in the profession of the humanities in the vicinity of Spanish-language studies and Latin American cultural (area) studies (peninsular or Iberian studies is a fellow traveler with receding presence in some places already phased out). Yet another divide, the native, near-native competence of language learning inside the uncontested hierarchy of English over Spanish. Yet another, the big divide between the teacup-storm of humanities professionals and the mass society of Hispanic / Latino populations in the U.S. typically of Cuban, Puertorrican and Mexican backgrounds and origins, and of Spanish-language heritage and questionable bilingual projection (I am wondering how genuinely the still dominant assimilation model is tested in the new century as opposed to the generations passing through Ellis Island). One can allegorize a variety of national-label positions and see who gets allocated in what institutional place doing what kind of university work. Imagine some disorder (how many Mexicans do you see professionally recognized doing literature other than Mexican, how many Guatemalans doing literature other than Central American, etc.?; change the subject matter and quantify the subjects of knowledge production; isn’t it true that foreign nationals typically play a representational role of situated “minority / diversity” fields with precious little deviations and divergences?; etc.); how many Latin Americans officially doing comparative literature?; how many Spanish-last-names and of Latin American provenance enjoy permanent seat in the American Academy of Arts and Sciences?; how to come to terms with the future projection of the current underrepresentation of the Mexican dimension, also inside academic professionalism?, etc., and add to this mix the typical petty-bourgeois configuration of education sectors, overwhelmingly so in the humanities, typically positions not wanted by the “natives,” and who can blame them?). Adorno is aware of these issues of course. In “Havana and Macondo,” she is not directly concerned with the larger social and demographic implications of such identity-politics combination games of subjects and objects of knowledge production inside and outside the “knowledge factory” (the label reaches me from Stanley Aronowitz). Ever so discreetly, Adorno plays it safe by pitting the criticism of someone who does not make a living in the American academy against somebody else directly invested in (post-)colonial studies, who makes a living in the American academy and ends up choosing the influential colleague across the aisle in the same institution for the origen of colonial things. There is a trivializing of the contributions of postcolonial studies and cultural studies in the intersections with Latin American cultural (area) studies. Seriously, who would like to stay put inside assigned boxes? Isn’t the whole messy and complicated game to try to disrupt inherited configurations that have put you in such circumscribed designations of docile subordination.

 

 

 

Finally, this is a bit of humor in relation to the “Spic and Span” in the home of the brave (for the benefit of the mostly Spanish-speaking reader of this foreign-language review article, “Spic and Span” is a cleaning product, there is also the derogatory term of “Spic” for Hispanic, and “Span” can be short and sweet for Spanish). There is a famous article by Tom Wolfe’s “Radical Chic: That Party at Lenny’s” (New York Times Magazine, June 8, 1970), poking fun at the careful choice of servants of a certain color and extraction for a relaxed gathering in a big city. Wolfe is not my political or aesthetic friend, but the cutting irony of his early journalism is worth rescuing also for our own messy times in cities and colleges around the big country: the hosts are known as the “Spic and Span Employment Agency with an easygoing ethnic humor, of course.” Wouldn’t a bit of restlessness, even revolt, be thoroughly appropriate here in relation to the conventional assignations of labels, including your table of conventional fields of study? Where do you see yourself socially in what type of social gathering compared with the 1970s precedent, which is the beginning of history of academic endeavors for “Spanish and Portuguese” sections? If Adorno does not get into these hot issues, it is vital “we” do. Some dialogue has already taken place (check out Diálogo Crítico. Foreign Sensibilities (II). “On Avatars of Historical Scholarship of the Colonial Americas in the Home of the Brave: An Interview with Rolena Adorno,” Revista de Estudios Hispánicos 39 (2005): pp. 181-203). A big interview with Rolena Adorno should come out soon. In the meantime, this article review has played game of mirrors with “Havana and Macondo,” being both of us in neither location, against the space opened by The Humanities and The Dynamics of Inclusion Since World War II, which is insufficient. In the end, I can almost see that you may think that the mistake has been so far to assume that the academic space could have been an intellectual space of radical interrogation of the here-and-now. My question to you is then, and do you have a book of corrections of such mistakes?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Any questions, or comments? Get in touch, fgh2173@gmail.com

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