Academic journal article MELUS

Counter-Chronicling and Alternative Mapping in Memoria del Fuego and Almanac of the Dead

Academic journal article MELUS

Counter-Chronicling and Alternative Mapping in Memoria del Fuego and Almanac of the Dead

Article excerpt

Recent definitions of nationalism amount to a charge that Eurocentric narratives of economic development and hierarchical racial classification accrue around the very idea of "nation." At the same time, descriptions of late twentieth-century global restructuring suggest that nation-states are less determining of lived realities than we might have been lead to believe. Both these claims raise questions about using nationalism as an anti-colonial or anti-imperial strategy for liberation: can one invent a nation and a national history without replicating the European model and its problematic consequences? Is nationalism useful in the face of what some call the "imperial" power of global corporations? (Barnet and Cavanagh 13-18). Yet the deployment of anti-colonial and anti-imperial nationalism in some cases constitutes a strategy of survival. U.S. American Indian communities' usage of the word "nations" to refer to political and kinship systems modified by colonial encounters (and not easily translated into English) and to assert sovereignty over reservation territory is a strategic dismantling of the cultural symbols of U.S. nationalism and state control. Indigenous movements in other parts of the Americas are sometimes similar in this regard, though not necessarily linked to reservation systems. African American or black nationalism and terms such as "Queer Nation" point to historic moments in which inventing some sort of nationalism is necessary for survival in the face of no territorial sovereignty at all.

As an exploration of the dilemma of whether to deploy the strategy of nationalism, this paper offers a comparison of two recent publications that re-write the history of the Western hemisphere or the Americas: Eduardo Galeano's journalistic trilogy, Memoria del fuego: Los nacimientos (1982), Las caras y las mascaras (1984), El siglo del viento (1986) [Memory of Fire: Genesis, Faces and Masks, Century of the Wind], and Leslie Marmon Silko's novel Almanac of the Dead (1992).(1) Emerging from Uruguay and the United States respectively, these are both voluminous publications that provoke epistemological crises about how we distinguish history from fiction and that resist the tendency to write Eurocentric nationalist history. They resist this tendency by countering an early mode of historiography often used to legitimize a particular "imagined community" (Anderson 6): the chronicle. At the same time, they offer an alternative mapping in the form of the textual construction of categories of people that, while seemingly national, are imagined as porous and provisional communities, rather than sealed and eternal communities, transcending time and context. Thus, they may be said to reinvent what "nation" means, dislodging it from Eurocentric narratives.

Memoria del fuego is a three-volume compendium of short narratives about people and events from locations all over the Americas, beginning with a brief non-chronological "pre-Columbian" section, and then listed by year from 1492-1986. Each narrative is, at most, two pages long, and endnotes are provided for the source of the information or story presented. In other words, the textually inscribed figure of Galeano is as an editor, compiler, translator, modifier, and interpreter of previously published texts. These texts range from the fields of history, anthropology, literature, and journalism, and are translated into Spanish from a variety of European languages (some of which themselves contain translations from non-European or indigenous languages). Thus it is not easy to categorize this collection as "history" or "fiction." The covers of the paperback Spanish editions of all three volumes do not label them one way or the other. The English paperback edition labels volume I "mythology" and volumes II and III "fiction." These inconsistencies provoke an epistemological crisis about the authority of the text's version of history and the authority of any version of history. …

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