Reading Testimonial and Film
in the Latin American Canon
SOPHIA A. MCCLENNEN
In many ways John Beverley's text Against Literature (1993) has been the benchmark for the practice of cultural studies regarding Latin America. Yet interestingly, both adherents of Beverley's theories and the author himself seem to be unable to truly incorporate cultural studies theory when actually formulating a praxis for the study of such “new” additions to the canon as testimonial and film. As the title of Beverley's work suggests, many practitioners of cultural studies have positioned their work “against literature” in the sense that literature is devalued in favor of other types of cultural production. 1 In other cases, against literature has meant that cultural studies scholars have found themselves defending the critical “correctness” of work on literature.
Regarding the study of Latin America, literature may have lost ground in the U.S. canon as traditional “high brow” texts have been substituted by other forms of cultural production, but the “value” and “power” of literature within the canon has not been significantly altered. 2 In fact, many textual newcomers to the canon find themselves in the unpleasant position of second-class objects of study where their validity as canonical works is consistently a point of debate. Recently a colleague asked me about the difference between a movie and a film, implying that the term “film” was only a “cover” for the study of material intellectually inappropriate for serious scholarship. The role of the non-traditional in the canon is made all the more problematic because most Latin Americanists state, on the one hand, that the dominance of “high” literature must be shifted and yet they seem to be unwilling or unable to actually accept the ramifications of such change. In fact, Beverley seems to waver on this point when he states that