The Catastrophe of Modernity: Tragedy and the Nation in Latin American Literature

The Catastrophe of Modernity: Tragedy and the Nation in Latin American Literature

The Catastrophe of Modernity: Tragedy and the Nation in Latin American Literature

The Catastrophe of Modernity: Tragedy and the Nation in Latin American Literature

Synopsis

Patrick Dove is Assistant Professor of Latin American Literature and Culture at Indiana University.

Excerpt

Ever since the publication of Domingo Sarmiento's FACUNDO in 1845, literature has been viewed as playing a fundamental role in the historical emergence of the modern Latin American nation- state. The value accorded the written or poetic word by the generation of Sarmiento, Bello, and Echeverría is similarly reflected in subsequent generations of Latin American thinkers, including Rubén Darío, José Martí, Octavio Paz, and many of the "Boom” writers. In each case, and despite the possibility of considerable ideological differences, literary expression is regarded as offering an alternative, supplementary path to modernity in circumstances where the project of social and economic modernization otherwise remains unfulfilled. Recent work in Latin American cultural studies has contributed significantly to our understanding of how literature participates in the consolidation of the modern nation-state by acting as a pedagogical device, helping to secure consensus for the economic, political and military projects associated with nation- building. This book takes a different but related approach to the question of literature and nation, beginning with the premise that the thought of "nation” and "modernity” is marked in advance by catastrophe. With regard to the question of national origins, the idea of catastrophe in fact evokes two distinct facets or moments: it describes the fact of annihilation, or the process of violent clearing and reordering that paved the way for the modern nation-state, and it names a new beginning associated with the promise of the Enlightenment project, in which modernity equals the advance of the spirit of political and cultural autonomy and social justice.

The central argument of this book is that the use of tragedy as a theoretical index affords new ways of understanding how literary expression reflects on and seeks to come to terms with societal catastrophe in Latin America. It would perhaps be more precise to say that tragedy offers a certain key or attunement for reading Latin American cultural production, while providing a new interpretive frame for viewing the relation between literature and modernity in . . .

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