Willis, Bruce Dean. Corporeality in Early Twentieth-Century Latin American Literature: Body Articulations

By Laraway, David | Chasqui, May 2015 | Go to article overview

Willis, Bruce Dean. Corporeality in Early Twentieth-Century Latin American Literature: Body Articulations


Laraway, David, Chasqui


Willis, Bruce Dean. Corporeality in Early Twentieth-Century Latin American Literature: Body Articulations. New York: Palgrave MacMillan, 2013. 234 pp. ISBN: 978-1-137-26879-2.

The story perhaps has yet to be told in its entirety: the history' of Latin American cultures is in large measure a history of the diverse articulations of the bodies--individual and collective--that subtend those cultures. From the most ancient indigenous cultures of which we have record, through the periods of conquest and colonization, to emancipation and beyond, the body in the New World has been the primary site where competing and conflicting agencies have been met. It has generally fallen to historians of culture and anthropologists to tell the story of the forces that have transected those bodies; rarely has such excellent work been done on the literary dimensions of this process than we find in this book by Bruce Dean Willis. Taking as his primary touchstone a variety of texts from the first decades of the twentieth century in both Spanish America and Brazil. Willis offers a rich, theoretically informed reading of a panoply of works, canonical as well as less familiar. The critical framework that he carefully develops, as well as his sensitive, fine-grained readings of those texts, ensures that the work will be of keen interest to Latin American cultural theorists as well as to students of both the avant-garde and early twentieth-century social fiction in Latin America.

A brief but potent introduction introduces the body, not as mere literary trope but as, simultaneously, a way of inhabiting the world, phenomenologically speaking, and a map for representing that world and making it available for social and political projects. Two fundamental concepts are introduced here, as ways of transacting the passage from lived body to representation: synecdoche, as a way of representing the body fragmentarily and sequentially, in response to particular narrative exigencies; and sparagmos, the Greek term for the dismemberment of a body. Both devices will prove useful to Willis in cataloguing the diverse functions that bodies exercise in the texts at hand.

Chapter One, "Body, Language, and the Limits of Ontology," offers an insightful juxtaposition of texts by Oliverio Girando and Mario de Andrade, with each writer setting the body to work in very different, yet perhaps complementary ways, as each writer explores the disruptive effects of the introduction of the streetcar in its burgeoning urban settings; the chapter is completed with a sensitive and persuasive reading of Fluidobro's Altazor that weaves together the themes of the dissolution of the poet's body and the text itself; an unpacking of the complex and subtle erotics of Manuel Bandeira's verse; and a reading of some lesser-known poems by Solano Trindade, in a way that brings out a distinctively Afro-Brazilian mode of rendering the body in language.

The second chapter, "Language Immersion: Return to the Original Tongue," develops readings of Teresa de la Parra's Las memorias de Mama Blanca, Mario de Andrade's classic Macunaima, and Miguel Angel Asturias's Leyendas de Guatemala. …

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