Phìladelphia: Temple UP, 2001. 222 pp. ISBN 1-56639-865-7 (hardcover); ISBN 1-56639-866-5 (paper)
The ten essays collected in this volume use literature, history, and the visual arts in Mexico to study the effects which the notion of nation has over cultural productions and artifacts in an age of globalization. The indefinite article of the title is important in as much as it signals the prospective reader that the current trend to globalization is neither new, nor the only one the world has witnessed to date. In "Notes on Globalization as a Philosophical Issue" (Fredric Jameson and Masao Miyoshi, eds., The Cultures of Globalization. [Durham: Duke UP, 1998] 56), Jameson identifies four possible positions with regards to globalization: 1. that there is no such thing as globalization; 2. that globalization is nothing new; 3. that globalization is related to the world market as the ultimate horizon of capitalista and that this relationship is new in degree but not in kind; 4. that globalizatìon is an intrinsic feature in a new, multinational stage of capitalism. Of these four positions, the editors of The Effects of the Nation seem to subscribe, in part, to the second notion, that "something like globalism always has been at work. At the same time, following Jameson, the editors also acknowledge that this phenomenon, at present, has unique and new characteristics. Jameson defines globalization as "a communicational concept, which alternatively masks and transmits cultural or economic meanings" (Cultures 55). To the interaction between the local and the global, The Effects of the Nation adds the nation, which can be seen as being re-casted in globalism, at the same time that it is challenged by it. The essays in this volume inquire into and present the effects of the three terms in tension: the local, the global, and the national--in the cultural products and movements of a particular nation-state, Mexico.
Thematically, the essays follow a chronological order examining Mexican art and literature throughout the twentieth century. According to the introduction, the essays can be divided in two groups. Those of the first half of the book (essays 1 through 4) look back in time, concentrating on aesthetic and critical issues associated with modernism of the twenties and thirties. The second group (essays 6 through l0) looks forward to themes related to postmodernism and contemporary points of reference. The fifth essay "occupies a liminal space" (15) between both halves.
In the first chapter of this volume, "Mexican Art on Display," Olivier Debroise examines Mexican aesthetics and politics from the post-Revolutionary period to the Chiapas rebellion of the 1990s. Its focus is not Mexican art or art history but rather the depiction and production of the entity called "Mexico" as presented through art exhibitions both in the country and abroad. Debroise traces interesting parallels between the mestizaje in the visual arts and the modernization of crafts, the excavation of Teotihuacán and the rejection of neo-classical canons in aesthetic judgments from the 1920s onwards. The role that mestizaje or miscegenation played in the construction of a Mexican identity since that time was expressed in political terms illustrated in the peaceful coexistence of a modern nation built on an ancient past. The author finds a mixture of high-art and folk elements in Mexican visual production and, more importantly, in the visual display and presentations of Mexican art-works. The combination of high and folk elements meant that Mexican art was, and is, evaluated in sensual terms rather than intellectual or conceptual ones. The art was classified always as a mixture of modern and ancient myths and pre-Columbian aesthetic forms, not as a sophisticated manifestation of modern, urban, avant-garde movements. Debroise concludes with a pessimistic note, since even now-a-days, contemporary Mexican artists are still mixing both kinds of elements, thus perpetuating what the author calls "official clichés" (34).
Juan Bruce-Novoa's study, "Mathias Goeritz: Emotional Architecture and Creating a Mexican national Art," examines the decade of the 1950s in Mexican culture, when the country, in general, and its cultural discourse and products, in particular, were being assimilated by the international markets. In Narrative Innovation and Political Change in Mexico, John Brushwood characterizes this period's transformation of national themes as a "cosmopolitanization of regionalism," which, beginning in the 1940s and continuing in the following decade, "anticipated the Aleman government's projection of Mexico into the international scene" (33). Bruce-Novoa's chapter opens at this time, examiníng what García Ponce identifies as two traditíons in Latin American art. The first one has an indigenous background, the second, particularly in the countries of the Southern Cone (Argentina, Chile, and Uruguay), is based in European models. This second tradition, in Bruce-Novoa's view, allowed artists such as Goeritz to remain "Mexican" even when they did not appeal to the mythical past and its iconic references. Goeritz arríved in Mexico at the right time, that is, when the government was projecting the country's image onto the international economic and cultural scene. This shift from a heavy emphasis on forms and themes of the past to the international art circuit allowed Goeritz, and others, to introduce and insert their cultural products in ways that did not play the populist game, nor did it ignore the need for a national cultural identity. Goeritz's life and works anticipated those of the artists who came of age in the 1950s and 1960s. In turn those younger artists provided the essential context to understand Goeritz's contributions to free Mexican art from the "tyranny of the institutionalized school of Mexican art" (51), complicating facile distinctions between the local and the global, the telluric and the international, positive and negative cultural values, globalization and local resistance.
The next two chapters in the volume consider Mexican modernism in contrast with more contemporary periods. Karen Cordero Reiman's "Corporeal Identities in Mexican Art: Modern and Postmodern Strategies" contrasts installation works of Silvia Gruner and Gerardo Suter with Diego Rivera's and José Clemente Orozco's works of art. Cordero is interested in utilizing the references that the body, as presented in installations, makes to the national past in order to "illuminate problems of the representation of sensorial experience in the earlier works" (15). The author takes the body as a "fictional center of the artistic phenomenon" invested with a "discursive nature" (53). The author rejects a chronological and progressive reading of Mexican art in favor of a "virtual dialogue" (55) between the strategies used to represent the body in the art of the 1920s and in the 1990s. She characterizes the representations of the body in the art of the 1920s as unifying and homogenizing, in contrast to Gruner's and Suter's installations, where the body appears as ah entity that is fragmented, subjective, and polysemic. Thus, in the author's view, artistic representations can lead to ah in-depth analysis of issues of cultural constructions and interpretations and to a dialogue between the art of the present and of the past.
The figure of Diego Rivera appears again in Susan C. Schaffer's "Elena Poniatowska's Querido Diego, te abraza Quiela: A Re-Vision of Her Story." It is an essay that brings literature into the picture. The story of Rivera's abandonment of his wife, Angelina Beloff, in Paris in the 1920s, allows Schaffer to discuss the relations between Mexican nationalist art and European art of that period. Schaffer does not take the story as a given but interrogates the many narratives of that episode. The author begins with Rivera's biographer, Bertram Wolfe, and his two versions of Rivera's life, where he tells the story of the Mexican painter's years in Europe, ofhis marriage to the Russian Beloff, of his abandonment of her, and of her "hysterical" (75) reaction. Following Juan Bruce-Novoa's analysis of Elena Poniatowska's novel based on Wolfe's biography and on Rivera's life and letters, Schaffer invites the reader to see beyond the "orthodox veneer" of Poma-towska's novel (75) and to read it as a subversion of a dominant text (Wolfe's) through a series of "palimpsestic strategies" (75). Such a reading traces a parallel between Rivera's cubist images of Beloff and Wolfe writing about her as ah hysterical woman. Poniatowska's revision of the earlier versions of the Beloff story opens ah "ironic space for her subject" (15), allowing the representation of Beloff's story in a way that gives her a voice at the same time that it sabotages "the methods adopted by the status quo to fabricate representations" (93).
The fifth essay, a contribution by Jacobo Sefamí entitled "Un octubre manchado se detiene": Memory and Testimony in the Poetry of David Huerta," relates the first five essays of this volume to those of the second half. Sefamí studies David Huerta's poetry and the many links that can be found between the poetic corpus and the 1968 Tlatelolco student revolt and massacre. Sefami seeks to demonstrate that Huerta's poetry, often associated with French post-structural theories, Cuban neo-baroque tradition, and aesthetic concerns devoid of social implications is, in fact, deeply preoccupied with history--with Mexican history. In Sefamí's reading, the events of Tlatelolco become an "allegory of a moment which came to a halt" (16), and as such they take on an emblematic function that can be identified as permeating Huerta's poetic production.
The literary market, briefly described in Sefamí's essay, with regards to the publication of poetry (99), appears as the central theme of Danny J. Anderson's "Aesthetic Criteria and the Literary Market in Mexico: The Changing Shape of Quality, 1982-1994." Anderson examines the contemporary publishing world, the Mexican literary canon, and the redefinitions that the category of "literature" is constantly undergoing. Anderson's study of cultural and commercial institutions, such as the publishing houses, has two principal advantages: it keeps the focus on the larger dynamics of the cultural field as a whole, not just on individual literary pieces, and it makes evident the combined goals of the publishing houses. The have sought to establish a cultural authority while at the same time trying to successfully sell literature. Anderson's examination of recent literary production in Mexico challenges the division of literature between "light" and "serious" by taking into account the interactions between social demands, the marketplace, and the national cultural institutions' competition for legitimacy. The author proposes a third category, or non-category, which emerges from "light" literature associated with female writers but is characterized by a powerful aesthetic and social critical power.
The study Rebecca E. Biron undertakes in "Un lugar insólito: Elena Garro and Mexican Literary Culture" focuses on three events: the treatment of the Mexican writer Elena Garro by the literary media and the establishment when she returned to Mexico after twenty years of exile in Europe, the articles that appeared after her death, and the "recent debate among feminist literary critics regarding her life and work" (143). Garro's return to Mexico allows Biron to foreground Mexican literature's "problematic relation to gender" (16). Biron's analysis of the eulogies for Garro and for her former husband Octavio Paz, who died the same year she did, shows how Garro's work was denied a consideration on its own merits and was associated with Garro's biographical information, especially with her relations to Paz. Biron's analysis of Garro's own texts, as well as the misconceptions that have silenced Garro's voice in contemporary Mexico, calls attention "toward a more critical consideration of how larger Mexican social structures inform her [Garro's] work and Mexican cultural policies" (157).
Montserrat Galí Boadella's "René Derouin: Dialogues with Mexico" gives a different perspective to the theme of exile. Boadella discusses work of the Quebecois artist René Derouin in relation to the works and the history of "traveling artists" in Mexico as well as to the Romantic impulses that guided them. In contrast to the traveling artist that visits a place and takes what is most "exotic" from it to offer to his/her at-home audiences, Boadella characterizes Derouin as a "migrant" and discusses his trajectory in addition to his techniques and critical and conceptual writings. Both, travelers and migrant share some common characteristics such as the search for a "more pure and genuine stimulus for their creation," a disenchantment with their own culture and an attitude of "nonconformity" (161). But there are differences between Derouin and his traveling predecessors,. To begin with, Derouin lives both in Mexico and in Canada and is not just "traveling" to one or the other. Moreover, Mexico allows him to work on a bicultural mestizaje concept about himself and his work. Finally, Derouin's concept of interior and exterior "territories" allows him to relate himself and his work to his surroundings, wherever he happens to be at a certain time. Taking into account these characteristics of Derouin's life and work, Boadella examines the Canadian's oeuvre, concluding that Derouin's relation to Mexico is "polyphonic" (177) and that his work has opened new pathways for future generations of American artists.
Debra A. Castillo's essay, "Unhomely Feminine: Rosina Conde," investigates the literary work of the writer Rosina Conde, work located at the boundaries of what is "the national" as well as the boundaries of gender categories. Conde, a Tijuana writer, takes as her material the lives of prostitutes and striptease workers, refusing to accommodate the binary, facile opposition of conventional views, favoring instead a "productive instability" (17). Conde's work also des-centers the centrality of "Mexicanness" as understood in Mexico City, as opposed to the provinces. She focuses instead on the fluid boundaries between her country and the United States, extending that liminal concept to all other realms of experience, not just the geographical or socio-political ones (179) in a North-American context.
The concern with the Mexican-U.S. border is central to the essay that closes the collection, Rolando Romero's "The Postmodern Hybrid: Do Aliens Dream of Alien Sheep?" Romero "crosses over" the frontier to examine the conflation of the figure of the Chicano with the alien, the literal one, as in science fiction, and not just the legal or illegal one. Such an "alien" figure appears in the American film Blade Runner as the "replicant" but also as the Hispanic alien in the figure of Gaff, played by Edward James Olmos, himself of Hispanic origin. Romero tackles issues of cultural representation, postmodernism, hybridity, and the exclusion/silencing in mainstream media of the figure of the alien, especially the one from Mexico in the United States. Speaking from outside of American academic postmodernism, Romero reminds us that "the hybrid is always within us" (210). Through the expedient of the alien, Romero also speaks of the "nostalgia for the present" (207) in modern science-fiction and of deterritorialization, "discontinuity" and "dislocation" (207) in the postmodern condition, even when it is under the effects of the nation.
The volume is ad imaginative and rich contribution to the topics related to globalization from the standpoint of a particular nation, Mexico. An "imagined political community," as Benedict Anderson would call it, the nation--Mexico in our case--is not less real than if it were a physically present entity. The proof, if any were needed, can be found in this series of essays that give testimony of the interactions between the local, the nation, and the global, and of their expressions in the arts.
Gustavo Fares, Lawrence University…