Academic journal article Hispanic Review

Proceed with Caution, When Engaged by Minority Writing in the Americas

Academic journal article Hispanic Review

Proceed with Caution, When Engaged by Minority Writing in the Americas

Article excerpt

"Be careful of some books. They can sting readers who feel entitled to know everything as they approach a text, practically any text with the conspiratorial intimacy of a potential partner." We are thus warned at the beginning of Doris Sommer's most recent book. Reading has always been a challenge, and Doris Sommer challenges readers to become acquainted with our shortcomings as well-intentioned readers of minority texts. Sommer reveals how minority texts are intentionally opaque in order to mark difference. Reading becomes a challenge in which contemporary critics need to go beyond our very good liberal intentions to "understand" and sympathize with minority texts. Through an examinations of writers such as Inca Garcilaso de la Vega, Toni Morrison, Rigoberta Menchu, Cortazar and Vargas Llosa, Sommer shows how minority writers intentionally mark difference creating refusals to be understood and stratagems to refuse readers to "understand" or assimilate them. It is not that such writers do not want to be understood, but rather, that they avoid being misunderstood. In this way this book serves as a warning to critics of literature to be aware of the other because the other is aware of how we are going to be approaching their text.

Through a provocative analysis, the author gives us insight into how minority writers set up barriers to avoid universalist interpretations to manipulate their readers. Her book includes an introductory chapter which develops a theory of "A Rhetoric of Particularism" that is offered optionally to the reader. Those interested in delving into the theory of reading particularist texts can go ahead and indulge in Sommer's articulation of this most interesting theory. For those other readers that are more interested in getting to see how such a theory works, Sommer gives them the option of stepping directly to her deconstruction of these writers. The theoretical chapter will be of great help to graduate students who are aiming to formulate a strategy to determine their competence as readers and who are interested in teaching how to read difference intended in contemporary minority texts. The rest of the book is divided in three parts and should be read by readers who want to avoid falling into the well-intentioned mode of reading and who might deceive themselves into becoming co-conspirators of these writers. …

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