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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Initial response to “Miscegenation” post

[Update: some obvious errors corrected; some phrasing now (I hope) a little clearer]

I’m truly appreciative of the thoughtful, thorough, and challenging responses to my previous post. You have given me much to think about and re-think. I’ve been quiet on this end in part because of teaching duties but mostly because I needed some time to think through your comments and compare/contrast them to my own intentions and assumptions, examined and otherwise.

What’s meant here, then, isn’t a rebuttal but more like a sketching out of what I’m thinking about now in response to your critiques–and, of course, how my project can best be informed by those critiques.
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“Miscegenation” as (a) “domestic issue”

It seems felicitous that I’m beginning this post on April 14: 180 years ago today, Noah Webster published his American Dictionary of the English Language. I say this because the word “miscegenation,” whose usage in these pages I’ll be discussing here, is in every sense an American word. More about that later.

I’m writing this post partly out of necessity–one of its concerns is, after all, the vocabulary of its subject–and partly in response to some questions asked of me by Jennifer and a commenter, cvt, over at Jennifer’s blog, Mixed Race America. Each wanted to know whether my choice of the term miscegenation when discussing racial admixture is a conscious one, and Jennifer has a post in which she asks her readers to comment on the efficacy of using loaded language and words and phrases with difficult and painful histories.

Here are the questions Jennifer poses:

Can loaded words and contested terms be rehabilitated? Can they escape, in the case of “concentration camp” the tragic and overwrought associations with one of the worst genocides of the 20th century? Can we use a term, like “miscegenation” to simply mean “inter-racial” without invoking its etymological roots in race baiting and its historic use as a word associated with negativity, rancor, and hatred (because whenever “miscegenation” was invoked in the mid to late 20th century it was usually done in the context of “anti-miscegenation” laws, ie: laws prohibiting inter-racial marriage, or white racist Southerners invoking the fear of “miscegenation” as a rationale for school segregation.

I suppose a few more questions to consider are:

*Why is this loaded word or contested term being used in current, contemporary usage?
*What is the purpose of this rehabilitation?
*Who is trying to use this term and for what purpose?
*Is there another term that is as accurate/precise in its meaning as the contested term? Why is it important to use the contested term rather than the less loaded word?

My response is below the fold.
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The “encounter with the Encounter”: New-World-centric reading

Note: This, with a little fiddling around with wording and minus footnotes, is an excerpt from my dissertation’s introduction. Context: The intro. begins with a lengthy discussion of Columbus’s voyages and how his confusion in thinking he was in Asia arose, basically, from not seeing what was around him–by insisting that he could be no place else except Asia. From there, I make the claim that then-current (early-’90s) theory-driven readings of, in particular, Latin American texts often to my mind guilty of the same error Columbus made: that of reading the New World through the lens of the Old World. This produced readings that simply didn’t make any sense when placed within the historical, social and cultural contexts of the hemisphere. This circumstance began to change, ironically, just about the time I was writing my dissertation; Homi Bhabha’s The Location of Culture appeared in 1993 with its powerful notion of hybridity–something I would have addressed in the dissertation had I known of it. Yet another reason to return to this thing. Anyway, from having declared wrong-headed for the Americas a whole bunch of post-colonial theory, I then propose another sort of reading. That is what follows.

I don’t yet know how much of the introduction I’ll keep. At the very least, it needs some extensive rewriting to account for hybridity and for the ways that idea has been both used and found suspect. That said, the reading of the poem that closes things is the sort of strategy I employ quite often, and I think it still reads well.

This project makes the claim that it is not only possible but necessary to articulate a theory of “New-World-centric” discourse, a theory which does not merely transpose Old World theory onto the cultural realities of the Americas. Such a discourse would both produce and comment upon New World texts in a manner peculiar to (or, if you like, “indigenous to”) the region. It would, like New World culture itself, synthesize discourses from throughout the world into a heteroglossic amalgam that both blends and becomes something other than its components. Like many studies of Latin American literature, this one accepts as given the critical commonplace that New World literature is a literature of encounter, a literature of the meeting and clashing of cultures. But in the recent past many critical texts have pursued this commonplace in an equally commonplace direction. Continue reading

Casta paintings

De Espanol y Negra, Mulato - 18th Century Casta Painting.De Español y Negra, Mulato. Image found here.

The “Images” page for Domestic Issue now has three examples of casta paintings (one striking example of which you see here), a genre that was once quite popular during the colonial era but languished as an area of serious academic inquiry until the 1960s. The subject of casta paintings is simple: they depict mixed-race couples of various sorts along with their progeny; the paintings’ captions name the racial types of the parents and the type of their resulting progeny. One of the paintings is technically not a casta because it does not place its figures in a domestic setting, nor do they have progeny (it’s a formal wedding portrait) , but the husband and wife are of different races. A chaste casta painting, if there is such a thing.

I didn’t discuss casta paintings in my dissertation because at the time I barely knew of their existence. For the book project, though, they will definitely figure into it.

I will return to this subject as I do more reading and thinking about it. In the meantime, the curious should go here for a lengthy discussion.

About this blog’s title

Welcome, accidental and intentional visitors. There’s not a lot to see here yet, but that will change on down the road.

In the meantime, I thought I would say a few words about the title of this blog. When working on my dissertation, I had a look at the etymologies of signifiers for the offspring of miscegenous relationships. What follows below the fold is my discussion of the Spanish word criollo (“creole”): Continue reading