Divergent Modernities: Culture and Politics in Nineteenth-Century Latin America

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With a Foreword by José David Saldívar

Since its first publication in Spanish nearly a decade ago, Julio Ramos’s Desenucuentros de la modernidad en America Latina por el siglo XIX has been recognized as one of the most important studies of modernity in the western hemisphere. Available for the first time in English—and now published with new material—Ramos’s study not only offers an analysis of the complex relationships between history, literature, and nation-building in the modern Latin American context but also takes crucial steps toward the development of a truly comparative inter-American cultural criticism.
With his focus on the nineteenth century, Ramos begins his genealogy of an emerging Latin Americanism with an examination of Argentinean Domingo Sarmiento and Chilean Andrés Bello, representing the “enlightened letrados” of tradition. In contrast to these “lettered men,” he turns to Cuban journalist, revolutionary, and poet José Martí, who, Ramos suggests, inaugurated a new kind of intellectual subject for the Americas. Though tracing Latin American modernity in general, it is the analysis of Martí—particularly his work in the United States—that becomes the focal point of Ramos’s study. Martí’s confrontation with the unequal modernization of the New World, the dependent status of Latin America, and the contrast between Latin America’s culture of elites and the northern mass culture of commodification are, for Ramos, key elements in understanding the complex Latin American experience of modernity.
Including two new chapters written for this edition, as well as translations of three of Martí’s most important works, Divergent Modernities will be indispensable for anyone seeking to understand development and modernity across the Americas.

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From the Publisher
“What makes Divergent Modernities unique are not only its many subtle textual analyses, but also the effectiveness with which Ramos lends his unmatched mastery of the historical context of Latin America’s encounter with modernity to illuminate in original and important ways the process of literary creation itself.”—Tulio Halperín Donghi, author of The Contemporary History of Latin America

“With an innovative approach to the foundational intellectuals of Latin American modernity, Julio Ramos contributes to a rethinking of the intersections that constitute Latinoamericanismo of the twentieth century.”—Nestor G. Canclini, author of Hybrid Cultures: Strategies for Entering and Leaving Modernity

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780822319900
  • Publisher: Duke University Press Books
  • Publication date: 7/20/2001
  • Series: Post-Contemporary Interventions Series
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Pages: 376
  • Product dimensions: 5.60 (w) x 8.90 (h) x 1.00 (d)

Meet the Author

Julio Ramos is Professor of Spanish and Portuguese, University of California at Berkeley.

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Divergent Modernities

Culture and Politics in Nineteenth-Century Latin America
By Julio Ramos


Copyright © 2001 Duke University Press
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-0-8223-1981-8

Chapter One

The Other's Knowledge: Writing and Orality in Sarmiento's Facundo

It has been said that during the Latin American wars of independence the Creole elites succeeded in voicing a general consensus-a we that quickly coalesced and gathered momentum around a common enemy (Spain). Yet behind the subsequent inauguration of new governments, fundamental contradictions reemerged on the surface of social life. The new states had to be consolidated, a project that entailed the delimitation of borders and territories, the generalization of authority under a central law capable of submitting particular interests in conflict with one another to the project of a new homogeneity, a national homogeneity that was linguistic as well as political. La República Argentina es una e indivisible, Domingo F. Sarmiento proclaimed in the classic text, Facundo. The reality, however, was otherwise: the internal fragmentation brought about by the wars undermined the project of consolidating the national subject, which had been almost always imagined through the tracings of foreign models.

After the victory over the ancien régime the chaos had only intensified, asthe rigid colonial institutions-and the anti-Spanish consensus-lost their force and legitimacy. Beginning with the 1820s, the activity of writing became a response to the necessity of overcoming the catastrophe of war, the absence of discourse, and the annihilation of established structures in the war's aftermath. To write, in such a world, was to forge the modernizing project; it was to civilize, to order the randomness of American "barbarism."

In a fundamental autobiographical text of the period, Recuerdos de provincia (Provincial Memoirs), Sarmiento recalls:

The day following the revolution, we had to look all around us, searching for what could fill the emptiness that the decimated inquisition, the defeated absolute power, and an increased religious exclusion had all left behind.

Faced with the absence of new models to follow, Sarmiento's discourse would turn almost automatically to the North: "North America has separated from England without having repudiated the history of its liberties" (p. 92). The intellectual, for Sarmiento, legitimizes his claim to authority by looking "all around us, searching for what could fill the emptiness." To fill the empty spaces was to populate deserts, construct cities, navigate rivers, weave networks of social communication. The image of transport, in particular, traverses Facundo as a central trope in Sarmiento's rhetoric of reconstruction: the trope condenses the project of subordinating the American heterogeneity to the order of discourse, to the rationality (not only verbal) of the market, labor, and ultimately meaning.

This project, however, raised an immediate problem for Sarmiento: in the absence of such a discursive order in Latin America, it would have to be transported from Europe or the United States. In Sarmiento, the intellectual would have to function as a traveler who could import discourse: he travels to Europe or North America, "searching for what could fill the emptiness." If, for Sarmiento, "There are regions too high, whose atmosphere cannot be breathed by those who are born in the lowlands," then the traveler would have to pass from the low to the high, mediating between the inequalities. He goes with

the idea that we are on the wrong track in America, and that there are profound and traditional causes for this tendency that must be broken, if we do not want to be dragged into the erosion, the nothingness, and I daresay the barbarism: the inevitable mire into which the remains of peoples and races that cannot endure have sunken, as those primitives, unformed creations that have since passed away from the earth, when the environment had changed. (Facundo p. 49)

Significantly, the "baseness" (bajeza) described by Sarmiento here figures not only as an effect of the emptiness: it is also the mire of those traditional causes, primitives, unformed (creations), incapable of adjusting to the demands of progress. Thus, in order for the intellectual to lead his people from barbarism, he travels to the highlands. Only he can breathe in those high regions, for he has brought readings with him. Later, he will return with the translated word, full of value in its capacity to serve as a model. If the condition of the journey in Sarmiento is that unevenness, that distance between the high and low, his writing project would be to dissolve that imbalance: to cover the emptiness. This project of leveling presupposes, in turn, the necessity of populating the American desert with the structures of modernity: "Don't you want, in the final instance, for us to call on science and industry on our behalf, to call them with all our might, so that they might come to sit among us?" (Facundo, p. 53)

Of course, the transport of meaning generated new imbalances and displacements. In the lucid Notas sobre "Facundo" (Notes on "Facundo")-a work dealing primarily with the significance of quoting in Sarmiento-contemporary novelist and critic Ricardo Piglia examines the epigraph, written in French, that introduces Sarmiento's Facundo: "On ne tue point les idées" (One cannot kill ideas). Sarmiento contends that this dictum unleashed the spirit behind his writing Facundo, widely considered the founding text of a national Argentine literature. Yet Piglia's analysis reveals the apocryphal nature of quoting, which opens up a virtual labyrinth of questionable sources at the very root of the Argentine (if not indeed Latin American) canon: "The most famous quote of the book, which Sarmiento attributes to Fortoul, is according to Groussac, taken from de Volney. But another French writer, Paul Verdevoye, later demonstrates that the quote appears in neither the work of Fortoul nor de Volney, but rather, is attributable to Denis Diderot." The intellectual genealogy in this Borgesian chain of false attributions might even go beyond Verdevoye or Piglia. In any case, Piglia's point is to show how the mechanism of quoting, which constantly serves to buttress the authority of the narrative voice by displacing it with the voices of European authors, is Facundo's germinal seed. Yet although Facundo's founding proposition, attempts to invite the reader into a system of interlocking analogies held together by precisely those European ideas that "one can never kill," Diderot's (Fortoul's, de Volney's) maxim is nevertheless itself subject to the very same American contingency that the entirety of Sarmiento's text decries. The following passage by Sarmiento offers a good example:

In the L'Histoire de Paris, written by G. Fouchard La Fosse, I find these singular details.... Put the scarlet ribbon in place of the crucifix of San Andres, the scarlet vest in place of the red roses; mazorqueros in place of cabochiens; in place of 1418, the date of that society, put 1835 in its stead, the date of this other; in place of Paris, Buenos Aires; in place of the Duke of Bourgogne, Rosas; and you will have the plague visited on us in our day. (Facundo, pp. 308-9)

Life imitates the written word. Piglia comments:

If Sarmiento was excessive, a little wild, in his passion for culture, it is because for him to know was to compare. Everything acquires meaning if it is possible to reconstruct the analogies between what one wants to explain and something else that has already been evaluated and written about. For Sarmiento to know is to decipher the secret of analogies: resemblance is the mysterious, invisible form, that makes meaning visible. Culture functions as a repository of examples that can be used as terms for comparison. ("Notas sobre Facundo," p. 17)

At first sight, it might seem that authority in Sarmiento would have to be rooted elsewhere, in the European or North American "civilization" to which the traveler-intellectual turns. Hence, at certain moments, Sarmiento will speak about barbarism in Argentina as if he has been observing it from a distance, from a strategic speaking position located in Europe. This objectifying position taken by Sarmiento can be discerned in his systematic use of European rhetoric and discourses in Facundo's representation of the American barbarian:

And the pastoral life leads us to unthinkingly imagine a memory of Asia, whose plains we imagine always covered here and afar with the outdoor stalls of the Canuck, the Cossack, or the Arab. (Facundo p. 81)

Here, the (European) figure of "the oriental" is superimposed on the particular circumstances of America. One may observe, however, that the knowledge (conocimiento) that attempts to produce an analogy is imagined. A slippage occurs from the world of designated referents to what Edward Said called an "orientalist archive." More than a web of known facts about oriental reality, the orientalist archive is a discourse, historically tied to nineteenth-century expansionism and the constitution of a territory marked by European identity. Paradoxically, this European identity is itself brought about through the exclusion of Europe's others and the consequent delimitation of a civilized domain. According to Said, we can read such a discourse about the other not in terms of its referentiality, but as an apparatus for the constitution of the European subject who at once produces and is produced by the orientalist discourse. The other, in this sense, is a distinctive aspect of the European imaginary.

Sarmiento's recourse to orientalism is significant in that it projects his desire to be inscribed within Western culture and creates a locus of speech, entirely fictitious, from which the emphatically "civilized" subject speaks-outside the space of barbarism (defined negatively as non-European). The quote that indicates the presence of that European or Western identificatory discourse thus tends to obliterate the place of writing that occurs in America, on the West's other side, where Facundo was in fact produced.

But the task of the citation, as Piglia shows, proves how Sarmiento's work displaces and, to a certain degree, undercuts the very authority of the texts and authors cited as models, that is, exemplars of a future modernity in Latin America. The mimetic process stimulated by the desire to become that civilized other from the highlands, never carries with it the authority of the imitated source. Sarmiento's citations submit the work of the European other to an inevitable decontextualization, which at times results in involuntary parodies. Piglia explains that

at the moment when culture sustains the emblems of civilization before ignorance, barbarism corrodes the erudite gesture. Signs of a practice that one would have to call (as Sarmiento in fact does) savage: these barbarisms proliferate in erroneous attributions, false quotes. ("Notas," p. 17)

Hence, for Piglia, the distance between Sarmiento and European knowledge is not rooted so much in the affirmation of a difference as it is in the corruption of high discourse in the mouth of the "poorly lettered", so to speak. Sarmiento poorly reproduces that knowledge that he at the same time exalts.

At the same time, however, Piglia tends to represent the relation between Sarmiento and Europe, between American writing and foreign "symbolic capital," in strictly negative terms, that is, in terms of what Europe has and America lacks. Piglia rightly assumes that the Sarmientine intellectual was at the time defined by his capacity to undertake an import-journey, a journey that entailed the intellectual's mission to import citations from foreign sources. In this respect, Sarmiento's status as an intellectual stemmed from his activities as translator and importer of paradigms for modern progress. And yet, this leads Piglia to suggest that the distance between Sarmiento and the European library may after all be merely the question of a misquote; a "wild" use of models whose authority nonetheless remains unquestioned.

Such a reading operates along the lines of what we might call a binary logic of parody, wherein what is American (or Argentine, in Sarmiento) signifies a blind spot within the Western field of knowledge. Sarmiento's erratic use of European knowledge would thus appear to parody (involuntarily) the cited model's plentitude. The logic of parody tends to represent and classify any distinct productivity or field of signification that emerges out of the European model in terms of a lack, or even as an inversion of the (badly) imitated structure, thereby reestablishing the prevalence of mimetic representation that parody had initially sought to dismantle. The inversion of a structure naturalizes its field of operations, reaffirming the hierarchies of the structure in question as the horizon and limit of its critique, without going beyond them. In the same way, parody figures in the logic of mimesis as its inverse, a position that only reinforces the double-bind logic of the model and its other.

On the contrary, furtheranalysis shows that Sarmiento not onlyoccupies a subaltern place with respect to the European library, he also manipulates it. This can be seen in his response to the critical reading by Valentín Alsina of Facundo, in which Alsina laments the lack of Sarmiento's historiographical rigor. In response, Sarmiento insisted on the spontaneous character of his work. For one thing, he continually refers to the book (which was initially published in periodic newspaper installments, in accordance with the norm of the epoch) as "the material of life," a collation of notes or briefs that he would reorganize in the future. Moreover, he explains the informality of Facundo in the following manner:

A number of inexactitudes ought necessarily to have escaped one's attention in a work made in a hurry, away from the theater of events, and concerning a topic about which nothing had been written until the present.... Perhaps there may be a moment in which, freed from the preoccupations that have precipitated the editing of this little work, I might return to rebuild it according to a new plan, stripping it of all accidental digression and supporting it with numerous official documents, to which I now only make passing reference. (Facundo p. 42)

Sarmiento's response to Alsina, in the prologue to the 1851 edition, reiterates his defense, this time appealing to the reader that Facundo be read with all the flexibility that one assumes to be appropriate for an essay:

An essay and revelation for myself, of my ideas, Facundo grew from the defects common to every fruit of a momentary inspiration, without the help of documents at hand, and executed without having been well conceived, far from the theater of events, and with the purpose of immediate and militant action. (p. 61)

Although Sarmiento concedes to Alsina's criticisms regarding the indiscipline of Facundo, he responds that he will not touch up the "little work", nor eliminate the defects of its civilization, "fearful that by correcting such an unformed work its primitive physiognomy would disappear, along with the vigorous and willful audacity of its ill-disciplined conception" (p. 62). It is not difficult to find these same epithets used to describe various forms of barbarism all throughout Facundo. As Sarmiento has often declared, barbarism is primitive, willful, unformed, and ill-disciplined. Yet significantly, these terms are now being used to describe Facundo. In Sarmiento's refusal to revise Facundo, he establishes a subaltern locus of speech, marginal with respect to the European library:

Had this study, which we were not even in any condition to make for our lack of philosophical and historical instruction, been made by competent observers it would have revealed to the astonished eyes of Europe a new world in politics. (p. 48)

This subaltern place assumed by Sarmiento becomes the key to authorizing an alternative intellectual practice that emphasizes its difference from European knowledge:

Oh! France, so rightly erect for your sufficiency in the historical, political, and social sciences; England, so contemplative of your commercial interests; those politicians of everycountry, thosewriters who may boast of being understood! May a poor American writer present before you a book, in order to show you how God has revealed those things that we call evident. (p. 63)

Of course, Sarmiento's humility cannot deceive us. The irony is subtle yet evident: from the margin, the "poor writer" reclaims a knowledge (saber) distinct and at times opposed to the European concept of discipline. Contrary to European knowledge, Sarmiento proposes the alternative task of the American writer:

Here is an exemplary justice to make and a glory to acquire as an Argentine writer: to upbraid the world and humble the sovereignty of the mighty on the earth, be they called learned men or governments. (p. 64)


Excerpted from Divergent Modernities by Julio Ramos Copyright © 2001 by Duke University Press. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Table of Contents

Translator's Preface
1 The Other's Knowledge: Writing and Orality in Sarmiento's Facundo 3
2 Knowledge-(as)-Said: Language and Politics in Andres Bello 23
3 Fragmentation of the Republic of Letters 41
4 Limits of Autonomy: Journalism and Literature 78
5 Decorating the City: The Chronicle and Urban Experience 112
Introduction: Marti and His Journey to the United States 151
6 Machinations: Literature and Technology 160
7 "This Cardboard Tabloid Life": Literature and the Masses 187
8 Culturalism and Latinoamericanismo 219
9 "Nuestra America": The Art of Good Governance 251
10 The Repose of Heroes: On Poetry and War in Jose Marti 268
11 Migratories 280
App. 1 Our America 295
App. 2 Prologue to Poema del Niagara 304
App. 3 Coney Island 318
Index 323
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