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 21stcentury 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 emphasizes the signs of “literature” and “literary criticism” inside such studies, and probably “culture,” but if the former term is losing momentum and impact by the day, assuming it once first had it, the latter term is hollowed out in its market overuse. One early anecdote: the career-center person in a certain University of some 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 generous 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 in the home of the brave, which is what matters. The issues addressed in such collection are obviously meaningful in relation to the ecumenic “humanities,” and the name remains odd in the U.S. streets, continue kicking the tin can down the road, and the sign remains virtually interchangeable with humanist, humanism and humanitarian, and all of these are weak. Yet, the main question is here for us to explore the relation with the specific modality of the humanities, the subsection of Latin American Studies, typically conceptualized inside the world coverage 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 included here). 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 in such aforementioned organization based in Boston? 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 sense of the term, 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 while turning their best endeavours elsewhere). Be this as it may, the “unintended consequences” and “ironies” are borrowed by our colleague from the social sciences (our humanities representative borrows the insight in quotation marks from one critical representative of the social sciences, greatly admired by me, despite the ancillary position of the humanities). Call it interdisciplinarity, if you wish. And how often do you see the borrowing gesture working the other way round? That is the way the cookie crumbles always on the humanities side of academic matters. 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 five or ten years ago. 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. There is abundant concern and modulated discontent in Hollinger’s volume and this is to be much appreciated.
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 on American higher education, with or without the inclusion of foreign voices sometimes operating in foreign localities. Such 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. There are no fat capons flying in the opposite direction going funny places. No Du- Bois’s gesture of renunciation at the end of an intellectual life. This utopian possibility of the imagination would be unthinkable and radical and perhaps it is still needed so that we are never cornered to believe de factoor de iurethat we are always already self-sufficient institutionally. 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 is bland euphemism for the manufactured consent of controlled spaces. Will the last ones be first in the end of time? Perhaps. In the meantime, The Humanities and The Dynamics of Inclusion Since World War IIaddresses 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). Comparably incisive reflections are the ones 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 it perhaps still does (pp. 189-216). In essence, Adorno’s attitude is dutiful and hardworking, always benign and benevolent, 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 hanging in there as well, 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 university-institutional standpoint.
Be optimistic for a change and think the opposite of “consolidation” and “growth” and Adorno is to thanked for not doing too much of a vibrant cheer-leading. Things could only get worse and it is fair to wonder, as you kick the can down the road, if a little bit of coverage is necessarily better than none of it whatsoever (what is better to imagine fat capons in the sky or sitting at the dinner table of conventional area-studies allocation, whether in relation to Adorno’s field of scholarly preference or not?). In Adorno’s carefully crafted essay, your youthfulness should not be misled into thinking about apostasies from official belief systems. There will be no powerful and drastic, even theatrical gestures of explicit discontent either in relation to our immediate penurious times. Instead, the reader is seemingly invited to 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, Adorno plays essentially close to her own (institutional) home and she plays it eminently safe, so safe any hypothetical anti-Hispanic conglomerate out there, and you trust there are a few out there, 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 yet another way of saying that the content of the ideas is banal in the last instance and that idealism is but a mirage of such banality. What appears to matter is something else and John Guillory’s aforementioned article gives one kind of answer, which I happen to find most persuasive. Adorno does not venture ever so forcefully into these sociopolitical waters of the immediate institutionality and she will have her good reasons. She is all about keeping a buttoned-up and straight-laced demeanor, the stoic mannerisms, of not saying anything if you have nothing nice to say, not matter how impecunious the 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 & roll of the floating boat holding a few good individuals, never many, producing exactly a certain kind of knowledge production. Because, this is about “humanistic” knowledge in late capitalism, particularly in relation to the theme of operational, functional or even subjugated foreignness. Isn’t the referentiality of “Area Studies” always a sign post pointing towards an “outside” of the immediate circumstance? In other words, Adorno’s attitude is one of naturalization of the institutional space, one that does not say anything bad about it, the institutionality and its externalization, and such “good” or “positive” 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, which is where the true story of the academic profession really begins, at least for her generation. 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).
We are here dealing 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. 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, 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 and is not visible talking about what exactly. I would still like to argue that the chapter arrangement informing The Humanities and The Dynamics of Inclusion Since World War IIholds 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 and why or how “minority” or “peripheral” fields of knowledge production migh ideally 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. Here, the polemical impulse is perhaps always, I find, a sign of strength, even if the desired short-term goal is not achieved. How genuinely does Adorno’s scholarship allow for such genuine “bad behavior” outside official US geopolitics? Despite the reference to Immanuel Wallerstein, who is high up there in the pedestal of unconventional scholarly inspiration, hers is not a big allowance.
What are then the humanities if not one of thesefunny“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-19thcentury 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 such 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 briskly 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 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 short-term goals are not immediately achieved, against 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. 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 noise and trouble in the pipelines, no leak, no glitch or dissonance. There is ample use of citations in reduced Ivy-League circles in relation to the most salient issues, yet touched upon ever so gently as never to disturb the gentle sleep of the managers next door. There is always discreet self-positioning, in a secondary position say. 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: there is no furthering of the big desire of the theoretical possibility of anti-institutional intellectuality hinted at here. There are no fractures to the US house of knowledge production coming from this perspective. 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). There is a peculiar American mindlessness about the official status of a common cultural good, heritage or patrimony, that when activated appears to go solely the monolingual way, at least in the 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?
“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 may have ventured into one or two novels of magical realism in translation. The intellectual attitude: a “conservative” disposition towards the defence 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 languages” 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 officiallyin 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: What would the claim of “literature” do in such historical subaltern domains? Does subalternity signify mostly fictionally inside conventional institutional spaces of higher learning? I feel that Adorno transculturizes the name of “literature” clinging to its small purchase inside American and other societies without venturing too deeply into troublesome territory.
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 which are perceived to be obsolete. Yet, where are the replacements? Would internationalization and globalization of “world literature” do? Within such 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 like to quarrel with that “identity,” which is still commonplace practice, or assumed belief system, or default mechanism, that makes sense, or at least tries to, passing through the area-studies arrangements of the whole world. Such tripartite arrangement (First-Second-Third worlds) does not dare speak truthfully its epistemological premises any longer and it is still invoked as last recourse. “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. Assertion which, again, falls flat on its face when one considers the multi-directional or multi-referential behavior of the sign “Latin America” among many other signs, within area-studies, unless you are happy to assume the fallacy of univocity (such univocity will say 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 squeaky outsides, yet in relation to what third point of observation caught in between the U.S. and Latinamerica. It is also tautological and 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, never too far away from being “minority” and “peripheral,” 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 “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; the “trouble-maker” MIT faculty is thus kept at some distance). There is a Peruvian Spanish slang term that carries disruptive meaning here: brichero, from “bridge,” or broker. What kind of cultural mediation is our bricheradoing with the historical Peruvian merchandise of Guaman Poma de Ayala inside the U.S. and other 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 that most, if not all the claims to specificity, exceptionalism or uniqueness are not persuasive any longer, if they have not collapsed altogether. And yet how to push harder the native-and-foreign (con-)fusions in relation to the arts and sciences?
Now, there are two main legs to the Adorno article in question. “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 two or three decades later up to a point. Her cultural merchandise comes mostly from his Yale colleague and mentor González Echevarría, a product of the Cuban diaspora. And “Macondo” is shorthand for the international moment of Latin American literary success, the so-called “(literary) 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 of the foreign humanities is introduced as some kind of escort service 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. How many members within Latin American Studies or without would willingly deviate from U.S. national interests, typically the “modernizing” model in these decades, and pursue other unconventional historicist interests and 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). Hot wind?: revolutionary Left politics ever so close to the worst intentions of U.S. state interests.
Borrowing heavily from Yale quarters, the main insinuation of the piece is the ever tactful adaptation of the Wallerstenian insight of the “unintended consequences,” which here mean the slipping away of the foreign literary humanities out of the immediate 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 and the like). 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, what insensitive soul of a brute Yahoo yankee out there drinking from the waters of the Charles River in the liminal boundary between Cambridge and Boston would be caught up in the public record castigating such imaginary richness? The private funding offered 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 time and 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? And what about now? 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, that the modernism turns into postmodernism, that the inclusion in the book title is accompanied by its fatter cousin, exclusion, that the Spanish language does not leave its permanent abode of “foreign” in the U.S.A., etc. 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? Didn’t they patrol the fictional fields of pasture? Is this about the virtue of 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: readers may point fingers in the direction of 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 the big and wide smile 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. It is euphemism for trouble and also for problem. Upon close inspection, 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 there is also good irony within and against a certain type of liberalism wrapped 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 (pp. 174-5), and yet I wish I had witnessed the brio, gusto and vigor of these two brave Americans 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 only for effect? 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, the whitening of the Black Legend within comparative-Americanist frames?, is less so. 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 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 echoed by another Cuban-American, 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 certainly does not have to include everything meaningful in these handful pages. Yet, this is one rich line of historicism that finds an outlet (Mignolo’s early postcolonial studies, 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 explicitly any other for that matter.
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 act of 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 shockinglypromoting the bi-continentality in the standard English language and this divergence must surely be politically motivated (“Latin” as opposed to what, you might want to ask, if not something like “Anglo”?). This point of difference in relation to the immediate circumstance is always certain to bring healthy awkwardness in the classroom: the diachronic explanation of the name of your country (United States of America versus the estados unidos mexicanos, for example)! Of course, maintaining bilingualism and awareness of different trajectories of intellectual life will deliver similar 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” aspect of the difference, the back-and-forth traffic, mixings and interconnections among various cultural domains, 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 also with Europe). Always borrowing the telescope of his favourite 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 persistent boundary-crossing is not really welcome without big fuss by most establishment figures, at least on the East Coast side of the most Western nation of the frame of “the West,” the said 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 if not some kind of portable 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!
Now I will say it like this: the professionally meaningful past, or the history that matters, appears to have been one of more or less successful synthetic efforts constructed around a marked differentialism of continental proportions, and one could see how and why such clarity is more difficult to achieve sixty years later. 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 of vital importance 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 in the last decade. In Wallerstenian language, this nomothetic impulse inside the humanities (typically, idiographic modalities of knowledge production if we follow Wallerstein) appears today impossibly Gargantuan, perhaps foolhardy, at least against previous continental-essentialist variety of the 1960s. Muddy (epistemic) waters: Do the human sciences still trail the social sciences and the natural sciences? But it is perhaps inevitable when “European” positions always already make “international and global” claims to history-making, even in their retreat. What possible forces of sameness could bring diversity of authors, geographies, styles, themes, etc. together? Could globalization do such a feat? Would geopolitics of the powerful nations attempt it?
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 such operation appears to follow the same logic of “culture difference” shaking hands with “racial profiling” for a foreignness or otherness. But it may change soon. Adorno’s careful essay has the virtue of inclusion of quick references to encyclopedias 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. Undeniably, she is presenting an assumed legacy in relation to a certain historicism that clings to the noun “literature.” Baroque and colonial are adjectives that find its “proper” place inside Hispanic and Latin American dimensions. 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 forcefully in public. Her “Havana and Macondo” is an exercise in public relations mostly in the Anglophone United States. Our moment is one of a cat’s cradle of disparate and disunited tendencies under the rubric of inter- or trans-disciplinarity, of hypothetical “post-Area-Studies,” easy prey for managerialism cutting down on costs, merging and juxtaposing academic units, making academic positions redundant and hiring cheap academic labor on a ad hocbasis addressing as they say “interesting issues,” water scarcity for example. Adorno remains 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).
Adorno gives us the academic proof of the historical pudding: 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 starting from the “nativist” concern and the 1960s timeframe at least in relation to the eminent domain of academic professionalism in the vicinity of the Spanish language. The “colonial” issue Adorno puts it in relation to the search for beginnings and origins “as far back as possible” (p. 385). It sounds antiquarian and bland enough. 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. Still, add salt and pepper to reach the 1970s-1980s, Adorno’s generational moment: the birth of colonial studies so to speak. She remains ever faithful comrade in the González Echevarría’s Carpentier line of thought (p. 385), putting 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 with or without a subtle polemical thrust in “Havana and Macondo” to be announced soon. “Yale” is the glue in between both localities, Havana and Macondo, one real, a 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 on the same footing in the global pantheon of intellectual inspiration within the Baroque of Latinamericanist differentialism vis-à-vis European Baroque. What the shorthand of “theory” stands for is also 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 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 noisily or in her case discreetly. There is less amorous amalgamation in the listing of these names and issues. “Theory” is here rejection, perhaps momentary, of all universalizing centers, and the welcoming of marginal expressions, which is after all official liberal ideal of the right to self-expression. Adorno is holding her own literary turf in the colonial-studies unit amid the remonstrances and disorders caused by such disaggregating proliferation. Adorno’s position remains to this day, might I say it, 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 vigorously with both feet first into such thorny issues, some of them already perceptible even unavoidable ((post-)coloniality, avatars of university knowledge in the home of the brave and elsewhere under late-capitalist conditions, the smithereens of “literature” and of the humanities with it in a global society that is constitutionally anti-textualist and anti-humanities, the utopia of sustainable bilingualism (English and Spanish), etc.). Virtuality and digitality upset timespaces and knowledge-production processes 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 very 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 fall back 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.” Her defence is for the 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, let us say it one more time, in home quarters, Yale. 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 sounds more like reconstructed structuralism to me. I am not been facetious: the undying light of the literary text to see what exactly? Ethereality of textual production. Lovely attention to textual detail inside the system of specificities to build what? Transcendental humanities passing through market and ideology to achieve success understood in what way? I can only see the horizon of “cultural difference” here yet 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 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 defence of literature is epistemologically gone. It has been 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 academic class as such and, yes, per se. More’s “1964 lament” (pp. 387-8) is included. Adorno volunteers none.
There is one 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 friend Guadalupe Valdés, mentioned in the article. The 1970s see the (partial) demise of the “national interest” in the funding of area studies (p. 389). And this “benign neglect” turns into the birth of ethnic studies finding their most natural place in A