The Politics of Philology: Alfonso Reyes and the Invention of the Latin American Literary Tradition

By Good, Carl | Hispanic Review, January 1, 2005 | Go to article overview

The Politics of Philology: Alfonso Reyes and the Invention of the Latin American Literary Tradition


Good, Carl, Hispanic Review


CONN, ROBERT T. The Politics of Philology: Alfonso Reyes and the Invention of the Latin American Literary Tradition. Lewisburg: Bucknell UP, 2002.

In this important and rigorous study, Robert Conn analyzes a critical figure who, along with Pedro Henríquez Ureña, was largely responsible for shaping the twentieth-century Latin American literary-critical tradition. And yet, as Conn reminds us, Reyes's work (like that of Henriquez Urena) has not been subjected to a sufficiently rigorous and systematic critical scrutiny. Although no critic of Latin American literature and culture can be unaware of Reyes's centrality to the literary and academic life of the first half of the century, the ideological dimension of his project has gone relatively unattended. As Conn observes, the few treatments of Reyes that exist tend to fall into the trap of celebrating this critic-statesman's humanistic values precisely within the very terms that he himself successfully worked to foment. Thus, Reyes has most often been portrayed as an affable humanist whose congenially voracious appetite for literature and philology helped encourage a tradition of scholarship, but his legacy is usually depicted in ideologically neutral terms. His shaping of academic institutions and activity; his influence on the twentieth-century essay tradition; his promotion of serious philological scholarship; and his encouragement of a greater sense of national, continental, and Hispanist intellectual identity have all been conceived as the products of a great reader and thinker but one who shunned ideology in his efforts to foster academic dialogues of rational openness and inclusion.

This trend in the reading of Reyes, along with the effects of other, similarly neutralizing tendencies in the reception of Reyes, constitutes what Conn refers to as a "systematic erasure" of the more calculating and ideological dimension of Reyes's project as it unfolds through various stages. Conn's study of Reyes might be considered a first, important, step toward a more ponderous debate over Reyes's role in the development of twentieth-century Hispanist criticism, and his analysis of this figure sets the course for some potentially interesting debates. Against the image of the congenial humanist, Conn posits a strikingly-although subtlyideological figure: that of a critical master whose work followed discretely coherent stages within a larger strategy of fomenting liberal nationalism by means of a massive philological project which took its historical model-the aesthetic state-from a wide range of sources, although most notably from the writers of Classical Weimar and their recasting of the figure of Goethe. Conn analyzes Reyes's project by carefully assessing the different stages of his work, by showing how Reyes subtly neutralized the criticism of rival ideologies in his own self-promotion, and by critiquing Reyes within the terms of his critical reference points in the history of European philology and para-philosophical thought.

The book's structure follows three of four key periods that Conn identifies as crucial for understanding Reyes's complex ideological development. During the Ateneo years, which coincided with the period of political crisis at the end of the Porfiriato and the beginnings of the Revolutionary period, Reyes, along with his Ateneo colleagues (whom Conn takes admirable pains not to present as an ideologically unified group) worked to construct a model of cultural identity, against the pedagogical nationalism of modernistas such as José Enrique Rodo. …

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