The Postmodernism Debate in Latin America

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Postmodernism may seem a particularly inappropriate term when used in conjunction with a region that is usually thought of as having only recently, and then unevenly, acceded to modernity. Yet in the last several years the concept has risen to the top of the agenda of cultural and political debate in Latin America.
This collection explores the Latin American engagement with postmodernism, less to present a regional variant of the concept than to situate it in a transnational framework. Recognizing that postmodernism in Latin America can only inaccurately be thought of as having traveled from an advanced capitalist "center" to arrive at a still dependent neocolonial "periphery," the contributors share the assumption that postmodernism is itself about the dynamics of interaction between local and metropolitan cultures in a global system in which the center-periphery model has begun to break down. These essays examine the ways in which postmodernism not only designates the effects of this transnationalism in Latin America, but also registers the cultural and political impact on an increasingly simultaneous global culture of a Latin America struggling with its own set of postcolonial contingencies, particularly the crisis of its political left, the dominance of neoliberal economic models, and the new challenges and possibilities opened by democratization.
With new essays on the dynamics of Brazilian culture, the relationship between postmodernism and Latin American feminism, postmodernism and imperialism, and the implications of postmodernist theory for social policy, as well as the text of the Declaration from the Lacandon Jungle of the Zapatatista National Liberation Army, this expanded edition of boundary 2 will interest not only Latin Americanists, but scholars in all disciplines concerned with theories of the postmodern.

Contributors. Xavier Albó, José Joaquín Brunner, Fernando Calderón, Enrique Dussel, Néstor García Canclini, Martín Hopenhayn, Neil Larsen, the Latin American Subaltern Studies Group, Norbert Lechner, María Milagros López, Raquel Olea, Aníbal Quijano, Nelly Richard, Carlos Rincón, Silviano Santiago, Beatriz Sarlo, Roberto Schwarz, and Hernán Vidal

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780822316145
  • Publisher: Duke University Press Books
  • Publication date: 5/28/1995
  • Series: a boundary 2 book
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Pages: 322
  • Product dimensions: 5.90 (w) x 8.90 (h) x 1.00 (d)

Meet the Author

John Beverley is Professor of Hispanic Languages and Literatures and Communications at the University of Pittsburgh.

José Oviedo is a Ph.D candidate in Sociology and Cultural Studies at the University of Pittsburgh.

Michael Aronna is an Instructor in Spanish at Montclair State College.

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Read an Excerpt

The Postmodernism Debate in Latin America

By John Beverley, Michael Aronna, José Oviedo

Duke University Press

Copyright © 1995 Duke University Press
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-8223-8268-3


Our Identity Starting from Pluralism in the Base

Xavier Albó

Borrowed Identities

Our very name America proves to be an error of historical proportions, as had been the case of the West Indies before it. In turn, it has been the object of new misunderstandings; for many, the name refers above all to the United States, and, as the joke has it, "the bad thing about South America is that it comes from the North." Compounds such as Hispanic or Ibero-America, so cherished in the mother countries, or Latin America, promoted in the United States and more accepted among ourselves, do not prove to be completely satisfactory either, marginalizing most of the Caribbean and the Guyanas and overemphasizing the "Latin" in our identity, as if it were simply a matter of the transfer of the Mediterranean world to these latitudes, which is a half-truth at best.

Perhaps we could arrive at a more positive definition if we start, instead, with the identity and proposals of those who have suffered and continue to suffer the history these borrowed identities designate. In their diversity, it may be possible for us to find roads that lead us to a common project, which at the same time would be the basis of a "national" culture, in the widest sense of that term, with which it would be worth identifying.

The typology elaborated years ago by Darcy Ribeiro offers an excellent point of departure. Ribeiro distinguishes, for Latin America and the world, four great "historical-cultural configurations": testimonial peoples, who in some way are "the modern representatives of old, original civilizations which European expansion demolished"; new peoples, "arisen from the conjunction, deculturation, and fusion of ethnic African, European, and Indigenous matrixes," with or without a plantation economy; transplanted peoples, or "modern nations created by the migration of European populations to the new global spaces." The fourth configuration, emerging peoples, appears, for example, in some of the new African nations, but not in our continent.

Although Ribeiro speaks of "peoples," he applies his typologies mainly to existing nation-states. But the logic of this fabric of complex design that is our "Latin American" identity is perhaps better understood when we see it as a set of peoples and societies articulated not only by the present state structures but also by other ties, old and new, that cross or challenge borders. Perhaps all of our peoples are, in some sense, new peoples in transformation, but with different, specific doses and weights of the original testimonial and transplanted elements, and in different stages of the crystallization of this newness. In some cases, the outcome of the process seems more clear, for example in Argentina; in others, we still do not know in what direction it will evolve, for example in Bolivia, which has been called a case of "nationalism without a nation." Or, perhaps everything that is called "Latin America" could be seen as a great new people in gestation.

Taking the step of defining our identity from the base questions the possibility or convenience of considering as representative of the nation hegemonic groups within our countries whose fundamental role has been, or is, to be the transmission belt of foreign interests. When in the Wars of Independence, for example, the Andean Indians, who had been defeated thirty years earlier by the Hispanic-Creole alliance in the uprising of Tupac Amaru and Katari, showed themselves hesitant to accept the independence offered to them by those same Creoles, perhaps they were more lucid about our future than has been acknowledged in the official history of our continent.

Our fundamental point of departure, then, is to see how the popular sectors, together with their organizations, leadership, and organic intellectuals, begin to perceive their identity and to elaborate, little by little, their own project of a future society. Those of us in the social sciences have often taken for granted that the only "scientific" way to do this was in terms of social classes. The other categories were too subjective, or, if their weight in past history could not be denied, they were in the context of modernity "survivals" of a prepolitical age. We felt exonerated from the equally scientific and necessary task of seeing whether our social facts really corresponded to this premise. Perhaps it has been the force of these social facts, rather than theoretical considerations, that has modified our perspective, particularly in the last decade.

We do not doubt the importance and necessity of continuing to do analysis based on the social classes and their interaction; it is essential from every point of view. But we should also seriously question ourselves about the exclusivity of such analysis. It is like a skeleton without flesh. To delineate our identity as a people, the silhouette is as important as the skeleton. Then, other dimensions of the popular movement come into consideration, such as ethnic, or racial, identity in the case of African Americans, as well as Indian and mixed-race groups; different cultural expressions, for example, in the area of popular religion or language; relations between the countryside and the city or between the capital and the urban periphery and regionalisms; the growing women's movements, in which all of these elements coexist; and so on.

The same thing occurs with organizations that channel these diverse dimensions. The role of unions, and their connection to political parties, has understandably been privileged. In the last fifteen years, however, organizations have sprung up that have emphasized the other dimensions—for example, the new indigenous peoples organizations in almost all countries, including those that only a few years ago would have asserted that they did not have Indians.

Although the emphasis on one or another of these different identities can lead to a dispersion of forces or even to conflicts within the popular movement, the opposite also occurs. With this variety come greater degrees of reflection, and a greater ideological exchange leads to more globalizing and coherent proposals closer to what is, and should be, the whole of "Latin American" society.

The mostly cultural nature of the focus of these new proposals should not be ignored, even though they may not have an explicitly political dimension. In 1985, for example, in the city of La Paz, we were able to record hundreds of organizations that reinforced the Aymaran identity of the capital of Bolivia in fields as diverse as language, music, art, medicine, the elaboration of textiles, agricultural and artisan technology, sports, history, cultural recovery, the press and radio, professional organizations, religions and popular festivals, cooperation with places of origin, and, of course, politics and popular mobilization.

The increasingly numerous organisms for the creation and diffusion of popular culture throughout the continent have achieved a great deal in this search for a new grass-roots identity. There are hundreds, if not thousands, of institutions of popular education and feminine promotion. Also significant and relatively developed are the networks of alternative communication, which reappraise, for example, indigenous languages and popular music and art. There are also positive developments in the area of "high" and middlebrow culture (although unfortunately not yet in television), such as the New Latin American Song and the New Latin American Cinema.

Little by little, in the face of the depersonalized avalanche of international consumer society, an alternative image that is much more our own is beginning to be created. In this image, one can perceive the unity, born in good measure from a common history of at least five centuries during which similar processes of exploitation and deculturation have been counterpointed by new acculturations and transculturations, which have led to a shared language of exchange, to similar systems of beliefs and values, and to many shared institutions, such as the national holidays, the compadrazco systems, and the rural community. This is, however, a unity that articulates a great variety of things without imposing one as a uniform model on everyone.

Perhaps the most difficult groups to analyze and to incorporate into an alternative model are the intermediate sectors, which suffer, more than anyone else, the ambiguity of their situation. They are located somewhere between the poles of "Miami" and the possibility of a new "Latin American" identity coming from the base. The solidity of their economic and social position gives them a greater security and enables them to act with greater freedom to posit alternatives. On the other hand, their cultural position almost inevitably entails a lack of identity, which in turn leads to vacillation and an unpredictable behavior of imitation and passivity, on the one hand, and rebelliousness and aggressiveness, on the other. All of this causes, in these sectors, psychological insecurities, underlined by what we could call a kind of social schizophrenia. The bigger, and more complicated, the social conflicts and discrimination of a specific society are, the more probable it is that this internal, psychological conflict will surface as a group phenomenon.

It has often been proposed that the true identity and future of our continent is precisely in these intermediate sectors. Some speak of the decisive role of the middle class. Others have emphasized racial-cultural mestizaje—the idea that our future is in the growing demographic, cultural, and political weight of the racially and culturally mixed population, or, as Aníbal Quijano prefers to call it, the increasing power of the "emerging mestizo."

One might think that I was aiming in that same direction when I spoke before of "Latin America" as a new people in transformation. This is not the case. In reality, I have less and less confidence in the role of the intermediate sectors taken as a whole. My personal experience, especially in places where the social conflict is very intense and, therefore, the insecurity of these groups reaches its maximum expressions, has influenced my opinion. So, too, has the perennial use and abuse that the various populisms have made of the "mestizo" image, which, in the long run, is always reduced to a new mask to continue reproducing the old colonial stereotypes.

As noted, my stake goes, instead, with those projects that arise out of class, ethnic, cultural, and gender groups that most clearly suffer the history of inequality, exploitation, and discrimination upon which has been built what we designate as "Latin America." There are also contradictions and ambiguities in these projects. For example, the mining proletarians of Bolivia often consider themselves the "civilized" with regard to the "little Indians" who surround their camps. Freire reminds us, also, that the most compelling model for the oppressed is to imitate their oppressors. It is not a question, therefore, of something magic or automatic. At least in this sector, however, there are fewer interferences of foreign interests, and there is greater rooting in our own reality. The popular sector can dream more because it has less to lose.

Nation, State, and People

I want to limit myself here to outlining a problematic that is intimately tied to the search for identity and unity in diversity. I am referring to the concept of nation. In taking up this question, I will privilege the testimony that comes from the most discriminated, but also the most representative of us, the Indians, with the understanding, however, that their proposals have already been picked up and assumed by other sectors of the popular movement.

On the one hand, politicians have recognized for many years that the "national question" is one of the most potent mobilizing resources. On the other hand, social scientists have great difficulty when they try to give a universal definition of nation. In reality, they have never succeeded in doing this—a theoretical impasse that suggests the symbolic, almost magical, force of the national question.

What remains clear in all of this, however, is that nationalism involves seeking a primordial identity that the group feels to be above other loyalties and for which it is prepared to fight. For the same reason, nation, in and of itself, implies some kind of political project. As in the case of social classes, the concept acquires its full force when it reaches the level of nation in itself. Unlike social classes, however, it is extremely difficult to indicate a priori objective aspects (territory, history, language, market, etc.) that are necessary and sufficient to be able to speak of a nation in itself', these can vary noticeably from case to case.

To be or to constitute a nation, in some instances, will be the result of previous projects, already crystallized; in others, it will be the mobilizing memory of a previous reality that has been stolen from a people; it can also be something that has not yet occurred but that one hopes to realize. In this last case, it is unlikely that the entire group already will feel identified as a nation. Furthermore, it is possible for various conflicting national projects to exist within a nation.

For our purposes here, the principal point of friction is probably the force with which the modern state wants to monopolize for itself the concept of nation. In its permanent dialectic to consolidate its power with the repressive and ideological apparatuses, the state considers it fundamental that all citizens feel themselves to be, more than anything else, members of that nation whose limits coincide with those of its borders, laws, government, currency, and flag. But in the sense that this same state is in the hands of a particular group, which does not necessarily represent, or even understand, the interests of others, the marginalized sectors will not always accept this proposal. In some cases, the interests of "forgotten" or "emerging" regions as potential nations will prevail; in others, ethnic identity often spreads across various states; in others, perhaps international proletarian unity; in others, the common search for "the great Latin American nation."


Excerpted from The Postmodernism Debate in Latin America by John Beverley, Michael Aronna, José Oviedo. Copyright © 1995 Duke University Press. Excerpted by permission of Duke University Press.
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

Note to This Edition
Introduction 1
Our Identity Starting from Pluralism in the Base 18
Notes on Modernity and Postmodernity in Latin American Culture 34
Latin American Identity and Mixed Temporalities; or, How to be Postmodern and Indian at the Same Time 55
Eurocentrism and Modernity (Introduction to the Frankfurt Lectures) 65
The Hybrid: A Conversation with Margarita Zires, Raymundo Mier, and Mabel Piccini 77
Postmodernism and Neoliberalism in Latin America 93
Postmodernism and Imperialism: Theory and Politics in Latin America 110
Founding Statement 135
A Disenchantment Called Postmodernism 147
Postwork Society and Postmodern Subjectivities 165
Feminism: Modern or Postmodern? 192
Modernity, Identity, and Utopia in Latin America 201
Cultural Peripheries: Latin America and Postmodernist De-centering 217
The Peripheral Center of Postmodernism: On Borges, Garcia Marquez, and Alterity 223
Reading and Discursive Intensities: On the Situation of Postmodern Reception in Brazil 241
Aesthetics and Post-Politics: From Fujimori to the Gulf War 250
National by Imitation 264
Postmodernism, Postleftism, and Neo-Avant-Gardism: The Case of Chile's Revista de Critica Cultural 282
Reply to Vidal (from Chile) 307
Declaration from the Lacandon Jungle 311
Contributors 314
Index 318
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