Surveying the American Tropics: A Literary Geography from New York to Rio

Surveying the American Tropics: A Literary Geography from New York to Rio

Surveying the American Tropics: A Literary Geography from New York to Rio

Surveying the American Tropics: A Literary Geography from New York to Rio

Excerpt

Most literary histories are written in lockstep with national stories. It is perfectly clear what such co-ordination brings to nationalism: it makes that national story deeper and longer, more rooted in its territory. It is less clear that literary history benefits. For a start many of the books herded into such national literary histories were written long before these nations ever existed: to read, say, the writings of Christopher Columbus as part of US literature is to misplace the historical and geographical co-ordinates necessary to understand Columbus. But even within the modern era, dominated by nation-states, literature itself has rarely been disciplined by national borders. Other ways of organising can tell different stories, which can perhaps persuade us to look in different ways at the multiplicity of texts available for the writing of literary history.

In this regard the American continent offers some fine complexities, from indigenous cultures which pre-date the European invasion, through the ever-shifting pattern of colonial settlements and struggles for independence, to the present mosaic of nation-states and notional supra-national designations such as ‘Latin America’, ‘Anglo-America’, and ‘the Caribbean’, not to mention the constant patterns of migration which have created categories like Cuban-American and Nuyorican, with writers who might belong to two or three national territories—or perhaps to none at all.

In recent years new formulations have suggested some different configurations: the idea of the Black Atlantic has emphasised connections across that ocean, particularly between Africa and America; various new versions of ‘southern’ literature have rediscovered connections between the southern US states and the islands of the Caribbean; and the Caribbean itself has expanded to include the coastal regions of Colombia and . . .

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