Literature and the state: Julio Ramos, Desencuentros de la modernidad

That’s a now old and famous book, but I have some old notes of mine on a page of an old review whose author I don’t know. So we will write them here before I recycle this piece of paper, to stimulate thought.

  • Martí confronted a capitalist modernity that disarticulated the institutions that theretofore had assured the authority of the writer in Latin American society. From here Ramos traces a broader problematics on the situation of literature and humanities in AL at the turn of the 20th century
  • Paz thought of literature as a compensatory modernity, in a place that was not modern, but Ramos says it is unevenly modern. Literature is trying to become autonomous, or to clarify its field of social authority, but on the other hand, its institutionalization is impossible as such. Thus, in Ramos’ book, we get an archaeology of the institutional genesis of Latin American literature.
  • The prologue discusses Martí’s prologue to Pérez Bonbalde’s poem of the Niagara, one of the first reflections on the relationship of literature and power in Latin American modernity. He says Martí senses a crisis in the system of literature: letters had occupied a central place in the new societies of Latin America, but now it is a critical discourse, against Law which had now been established. So literature’s authority is the resistance to modernization it offers, says Martí–long before Peter Bürger and so on.
  • But, says Ramos, that resistance — that pugna that has opened between literature and the state, is what makes the autonomization of literature possible. Underlying this are a series of aporias which, if studied, may explain the formal heterogeneity of Latin American literature, that is, the proliferation of hybrid forms that dis-order the categories of genre and other canonical aspects of literature as institution…
  • I don’t have the whole piece but the reviewer is going to explain the book; the first part discusses the relationship between literature, state and national “civilizing” project in the construction of the social imaginary of the new countries…

My notes were that this is then the beginning of that literature-nation-state question in the avant-gardes. I said to see also Eric Lott’s critique of Hollinger, “American nationalism against Blackness.”

So yes, I have been working on these issues for a long time and I see why I had this piece of paper. I will meditate.


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