The thing about manifestos . . . (summing up/responding to Mignolo)

Anon., El hallazgo de la Virgen de los Remedios. 18th century. Pinacoteca de la Profesa, Mexico City. Image found here

The thing about manifestos is their tendency toward the use of the broad rhetorical brush. Consider:

The history of all hitherto existing society is the history of class struggles.

Well, sure, you say. But.

Mignolo’s book, The Idea of Latin America (see this post and this post for some earlier comments), is part of Blackwell’s Manifestos series of books, and so it is likewise filled with similar language:

My point here is . . . that the “idea of Latin” America twisted the past, on the one hand, and made it possible to frame the imperial/colonial period as proto-national histories, and, on the other, made it possible to “make” into “Latin America” historical events that occurred after the idea was invented and adapted. . . . The “idea of Latin” America allowed the Creole elites to detach themselves from their Spanish and Portuguese pasts, embrace the ideology of France, and forget the legacies of their own critical consciousness. As a consequence, “Latin” American Creoles turned their backs on Indians and Blacks and their faces to France and England. (67)

Well, sure–and a little later I’ll be quoting from someone Mignolo surely has in mind here, José Vasconcelos. But as we’ll see, as Vasconcelos strains to see a vision of an essentially Europeanized Mexico, the fact that he has to strain is not inconsequential. Yet throughout his book, Mignolo argues that in the long view of the history of the Americas from the Encounter on, it is only “now”–the past 20 years or so–that what he calls the decolonizing of the Americas has begun to occur at the level worth considering [read: politics and trade].
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Blogging The Idea of Latin America

Image found here.

I’m pleased to say that I’ve just begun a happier reading experience than the one I reported on in the previous post.

I’ve just finished the introduction to Walter D. Mignolo’s The Idea of Latin America, and here are a couple of things said there that made me sit up straight. Italics in the passages below are Mignolo’s own:

Dialogue, properly speaking, cannot take place until there are no more places to be defended and the power differential, consequently, can be redressed. Dialogue today is a utopia, . . . and it should be reconceived as utopistic: a double movement composed of a critical take on the past in order to imagine and construct future possible worlds. . . . “[D]ialogue” can only take place when the “monologue” of one civilization (Western) is no longer enforced. (xix)

Mignolo’s book, as will become more evident in the second passage I’ve quoted, is speaking at the level of the cultural and historical and political: his book’s central thesis is that “‘Latin’ America” (his quotation marks around “Latin,” by the way) is a European/U.S.-imposed, and thus colonizing term; his book’s intent is to engage in “decolonizing” discourse concerning this region of the world. So, his book is not quite literary criticism (but then again, neither is mine, really–it just uses literature as its point of departure). Even so, this passage struck me because my project begins in part with an extended reading of portions of Faulkner’s Go Down, Moses–specifically, the conversation Ike has with his kinsman Roth’s mulatto lover in “Delta Autumn.” In that exchange, the woman speaks of not asking Roth to promise marriage “long before honor I imagine he called it told him the time had come to tell me in so many words what his code I suppose he would call it would forbid him forever to do” and that she had stopped listening to him “because by that time it had been a long time since he had had anything else to tell me for me to have to hear” (341-342). A way to frame what the woman had at one time hoped for with Roth–and which his “code” trumps in the end–is, it seems to me, precisely the sort of dialogue that Mignolo describes here.
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“For what it is”: On the virtues of discussing the text in front of you

An illustration from Pictures and Stories from Uncle Tom’s Cabin (Boston: John P. Jewett & Co., 1853), an adaptation of Stowe’s novel for children, published the year after the novel itself. The illustration shows the Harris family reunited on free soil. Image found here.

From Carlos Hiraldo, Segregated Miscegenation: On the Treatment of Racial Hybridity in the U.S. and Latin American Literary Traditions:

Despite Stowe’s portrayal of such a complex act of passing on the past of George [Harris, a light-skinned mulatto who has dyed his skin dark to pass as a “Spanish gentleman”], she does not depict any of the mental and emotional processes through which a character in his circumstances could be expected to undergo. Her narrative never really stops to consider the destabilizing effect that George’s passing must have had on his own identity. The narrative never fully envisions how it would feel for a character enslaved because he is considered black to have to darken his skin to pass for white. Furthermore, it never explores how helping a fellow black escape the bonds of slavery by passing him off as his own slave would plausibly bring George to seriously question his own racial identity. Illustrating [James] Kinney’s pronouncement [in Amalgamation!, a survey of 19th-century American literature dealing with interracial relationships] on nineteenth-century representations of bi-racial characters, Stowe understandably demonstrates less interest in exploring the psychological ramifications of a polarized racial ideology in those bi-racial characters falling outside its parameters than with portraying the more immediate evils of slavery, such as the separation of families and the sexual and physical abuses experienced by the enslaved. (40)

I want to be respectful because Hiraldo has a book out and I don’t, and getting a book published is an accomplishment worthy of respect. Still, this paragraph, coming at the end of his book’s two-page discussion of Stowe’s novel, split about down the middle between some general comments on slavery in the novel (including the characterization of George quoted above) and some remarks directed at an article on George, strikes me as puzzling, to say the least. His reference to Kinney in the last sentence, apart from undercutting what he identifies as a weakness in Stowe’s characterization of George, also gives the game away, I think: Uncle Tom’s Cabin is here not because Hiraldo wants to offer a reading of it, but because he wants to talk about what is not in it–at least, as he understands the text.
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