Summer reading and writing

plaza de las tres culturas2

The memorial at Tlatelolco in Mexico City, at the Plaza de las Tres Culturas, commemorating the final defeat of the Aztecs by Cortes in 1521.  The last three lines of text read: “It was neither triumph nor defeat; it was the painful birth of the mestizo people that is today’s Mexico.”

Last week was my college’s Finals Week, so now the summer has arrived.  This academically-oriented to-do list for this summer that follows is, as the list progresses down the page, admittedly more aspirational in nature than anything else, seeing as well off even the margins of this particular list lie new-baby-oriented and puttering-around-the-house to-do lists.  But list-make we must.

Must-Read/Think-About List:

These actually fall into the Good News! department:

I’ve received approval to pilot-teach PrairyErth in my college’s Accelerated Learning Program this fall, which means I get to test-drive some ideas for papers and projects based on ideas I explored here a while back. I’m excited as well that my wife will be reading PrairyErth along with me (she for the first time) to help me talk through ideas.

For the first time in many years, I’ll be teaching the first half of the American Lit. survey this fall; thus, I’ll need to get familiar with the one-volume text we use.  A quick glance at it this morning shows me that it has a decent selection of The Usual Things, though I wish it had The Scarlet Letter.  But that’s okay because, hey!  I can scratch an intellectual itch by focusing on some texts in addition to The Usual Things whose subject is Nature and landscape, which will complement both my working with PrairyErth and my gentle insistence in the book project that, Latin Americans’ (more-than-legitimate) objections aside, the U.S.’s imagining of itself is likewise rooted in the land and in resistance to a European conception of this space.  And, hey! again: More time for Emerson!

Speaking of which . . .

Here beginneth the Aspirational List:

During my recent reading around in José Martí, I was reminded not only of the importance of both Emerson and Whitman to Latin American intellectuals in the latter half of the 19th century, but also of Nicaraguan poet Rubén Darío (1867-1916), a contemporary of and poetic inspiration for Martí and the founder of the aesthetic movement he called Modernismo: something of an amalgam of French Symbolist and Whitmanian/Emersonian styles that he nevertheless once described in this way: “In America we have had it before Spain had Spanish.”  Anyway, I recently bought a copy of Darío’s Azul . . . (ellipses are his) in hopes of getting some time to read around in it and brush up on my Spanish as well, not to mention looking for a little something I can say about Darío’s part in the 19th century’s continent-wide search for a language.

It was also during this time, as Martí’s “Our America” gestures toward in its conclusion, that mestizaje began to emerge as a socio-political subject in Latin America.  What would a genuinely race-less society look like?  Given the region’s colonial history, would such a society even be possible?  In Joshua Lund’s excellent The Mestizo State, a study of this question through the lens of, roughly, the past 150 years of Mexican history, the short answer so far is No.  I am a decent ways into this book and would like to finish it up this summer.

So, why this book?  The last paragraph of “Our America” begins this way:

There is no racial hatred, because there are no races.  Sickly, lamp-lit minds string together and rewarm the library-shelf races that the honest traveler and the cordial observer seek in vain in the justice of nature, where the universal identity of man leaps forth in victorious love and turbulent appetite.  The soul, equal and eternal, emanates from bodies that are diverse in form and color.  Anyone who promotes and disseminates opposition or hatred among races is committing a sin against humanity.

Martí sees no other way to rid the former colonies of the vestiges of racial stratification except to not acknowledge race.  The cultural and political affirmation of racial admixture–mestizaje, yes; but also Edouard Glissant’s creolization, and any number of other analogous terms–is the logical conclusion of this sort of thinking.  Yet in much theoretical work on the region and in the region’s politics and history, there’s real (and perfectly understandable) resistance to this sentiment, especially in countries with large indigenous populations: why would a newly-independent nation want to encourage the cultural erasure of those populations that the Spaniards hadn’t quite finished off through slaughter, disease, and enslavement?  How, then, to unify a nation with a pre-history of racial stratification and at the same time preserve and respect, well, race?  It’s the attempts to answer that question that mark the boundary between the historical space of the Americas and the heterotopic space of the New World.  Lund’s book is an account of Mexico’s version of that attempt; it has failed, but Lund is sympathetic in his accounting of that failure.

And finally–as in, at last–Gloria Anzaldúa’s Borderlands/La Frontera: The New Mestiza.

In addition to the reading will come along writing (and, I get the feeling, some rewriting).

Let the summer begin.

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