Research question du jour

“La representación literaria del incesto se liga íntimamente con la realidad histórica del mestizaje en Cuba. En una sociedad esclavista colonial la estratificación racial aseguraba la sobrevivencia de una minoría a base de categorías raciales exclusivas. En algún momento había que reprimir el concubinato racial para restaurar el patriarcado. La mera existencia de una clase media mulata pone en peligro los intereses económicos de los criollos. El incesto en la novela enfatiza el choque cultural y social entre estos dos mundos. La invocación del castigo del tabú detiene el ciclo del mestizaje y ofrece un modelo burgués de la familia como un posible futuro modernizador.”

That is not my writing but it is based on some writing done in a class I taught. Then I listened to the reworking by telephone so I am a secret collaborator. Here is my research question: if in Cuba the mulatos were a threat, what about the criollo-mestizo bloc that exists elsewhere? I will have to study this. My essay now has María and Cecilia Valdés in it but it may get more. If it does I can cover a lot of ground, do thick writing, and as part of the same (and not a different) project discuss the late 20th century issues I wanted to discuss originally.

I think I should look at Portocarrero again to see if this essay would be helped by what he has to say.

In her essay, Karen Monteleone quotes the passage from Doris Sommer our class disagreed with vociferously.

“Miscegenation was the road to racial perdition in Europe, but it was the way of redemption in Latin America, a way of annihilating difference and construction a deeply horizontal, fraternal dream of national identity. It was a way of imagining the nation through a future history, like a desire that works through time and yet derives its irresistible power from feeling natural and ahistorical.” (Sommer 39)

The problem with this is that Sommer has utterly bought the line on race and mestizaje that is sold to schoolchildren and the general populace in Latin America. It is like presenting the patriotic histories of the United States one learns in elementary school as research. Sommer is hard to argue with since she has done so much historical research on the lives of the authors and on European literary history, but her book still assumes, at bottom, that literature reflects reality and the author (even though she does bow to the idea of literature constructing “reality” and not simply serving as its at least partial mirror), and that the schoolbook homilies about mestizaje and nation that have abounded since the 1930s or 1940s are true.

Monteleone continues: “Nelson Osorio caracteriza la vanguardia latinoamericana como un “proceso global de reajuste ideológico cultural” (234) que ocurrió durante la época de entreguerras.” This reajuste changes the place of the mestizo and mulato in popular imagination and a lot of work is done in the art world to accomplish this (here there is a lot of interesting work to cite, that Hedrick book among many others). This is also a place my work on Brazil comes in.


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