Proceed With Caution, / Edition 1

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Overview

Let the reader beware. Educated readers naturally feel entitled to know what they're reading--often, if they try hard enough, to know it with the conspiratorial intimacy of a potential partner. This book reminds us that cultural differences may in fact make us targets of a text, not its co-conspirators. Some literature, especially culturally particular or "minority" literature, actually uses its differences and distances to redirect our desire for intimacy toward more cautious, respectful engagements. To name these figures of cultural discontinuity--to describe a rhetoric of particularism in the Americas--is the purpose of Proceed with Caution.

In a series of daring forays, from seventeenth-century Inca Garcilaso de la Vega to Julio Cortázar and Mario Vargas Llosa, Doris Sommer shows how ethnically marked texts use enticing and frustrating language games to keep readers engaged with difference: Gloria Estefan's syncopated appeal to solidarity plays on Whitman's undifferentiated ideal; unrequitable seductions echo through Rigoberta Menchú's protestations of secrecy, Toni Morrison's interrupted confession, the rebuffs in a Mexican testimonial novel. In these and other examples, Sommer trains us to notice the signs that affirm a respectful distance as a condition of political fairness and aesthetic effect--warnings that will be audible (and engaging for readings that tolerate difference) once we listen for a rhetoric of particularism.

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Editorial Reviews

Choice

[Sommer's] brilliant tour of the intersections of literature, theory, and rhetoric focuses on such topics as discontinuity, deferral, over- and underdetermination, and textual rhythms...The associations are extraordinary and effective, this is, convincingly idiosyncratic. The examples work beautifully because they suggest, but do not push, the big picture. Sommer contributes to the project of mainstreaming 'minority writing' and of breaking boundaries in general. Proceed with Caution is a major study of writing strategies, of reader response, and of the politics and distribution of authority. Highly recommended.
— E. H. Friedman

Choice - E. H. Friedman
[Sommer's] brilliant tour of the intersections of literature, theory, and rhetoric focuses on such topics as discontinuity, deferral, over- and underdetermination, and textual rhythms...The associations are extraordinary and effective, this is, convincingly idiosyncratic. The examples work beautifully because they suggest, but do not push, the big picture. Sommer contributes to the project of mainstreaming 'minority writing' and of breaking boundaries in general. Proceed with Caution is a major study of writing strategies, of reader response, and of the politics and distribution of authority. Highly recommended.
Cornel West
Doris Sommer's book provides a new way of conceiving of American Studies--not simply in new hemispheric terms but also theoretical ones. Her deep grasp of particularism and historical specificity in light of a broad democratic vision links Whitman, Cortazar, Morrison, and Villaverde in new and exciting ways.
Homi K. Bhabha
With courage and imagination Doris Sommer teaches us how to read minority writing as a cosmopolitan discourse. This is a brilliant exploration of the ethical implications of writings that swim in the deep waters of difference. A fine intellectual and political achievement.
Sylvia Molloy
Doris Sommer's passionate inquiry into the strategies through which minority writing in the Americas resists understanding and assimilation is an invitation to rethink reading not as a struggle for interpretive power but as a vexed relationship, rife with hurdles and discontinuities, that, if critically acknowledged, can be extremely productive. A powerful and seductive book, calling for a revision of accepted notions of recognizing 'the other' and promoting an unusually provocative dialogue with texts.
Ann Laura Stoler
This is an inspired, bold, and exciting book that speaks through multiple genres, that sparks one with its fresh language. Sommer shows us in prism-like fashion how our best intentioned efforts to 'account for,' know, and thereby produce a coherent and complete narrative of the Other are a trap. She entices us, urges us to perform similar acts of attention to incompleteness in the contexts in which we work, be they Asia, Africa, or Latin America or in the U.S., and not assume that we can know and conquer all ignorances because we 'understand.'
Michel-Rolph Trouillot
With a wink to all minorities, Doris Sommer upsets the false intimacy of the liberal embrace. She asks: what if we acknowledge the Other's claim to ambiguity? The result is as robust and as delightful as a side step in a salsa dance.
Choice
[Sommer's] brilliant tour of the intersections of literature, theory, and rhetoric focuses on such topics as discontinuity, deferral, over- and underdetermination, and textual rhythms...The associations are extraordinary and effective, this is, convincingly idiosyncratic. The examples work beautifully because they suggest, but do not push, the big picture. Sommer contributes to the project of mainstreaming 'minority writing' and of breaking boundaries in general. Proceed with Caution is a major study of writing strategies, of reader response, and of the politics and distribution of authority. Highly recommended.
— E. H. Friedman
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780674536609
  • Publisher: Harvard University Press
  • Publication date: 8/1/1999
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 384
  • Product dimensions: 0.79 (w) x 6.14 (h) x 9.21 (d)

Meet the Author

Doris Sommer is Professor of Romance Languages at Harvard University.
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Table of Contents

Advertencia / Warning
1 A Rhetoric of Particularism 1
Pt. 1 The Traps of Translation
2 Freely and Equally Yours, Walt Whitman 35
3 Mosaic and Mestizo: Bilingual Love from Hebreo to Garcilaso 61
4 Cortez in the Courts 92
Pt. 2 Taking a Life
5 No Secrets for Rigoberta 115
6 Hot Pursuit and Cold Rewards of Mexicanness 138
7 Beloved Knows Holocausts beyond Telling 160
Pt. 3 White Writing on Dark Subjects
8 Who Can Tell? Villaverde's Blanks 187
9 Grammar Trouble for Cortazar 211
10 About Face: The Talker Turns toward Peru 234
Notes 273
Acknowledgments 353
Index 355
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