[ HLAS Online Home Page | Search HLAS Online | Help | FAQ | Comments ]
SARA CASTRO-KLAREN, Professor of Hispanic and Italian Studies, The Johns Hopkins University
IN THE LAST TWO YEARS, there has been an extraordinary increase in the number and variety of works published on the general, overall aspects of Spanish American literature. These include anthologies, histories, handbooks, and guides, as well as books and articles which examine questions of long-standing interest in the study of Spanish American letters. Some of these works, however, may be misleading, since rather than the monographic studies indicated by their titles, they are in fact collections of essays by either a single author or a group of contributors. Two examples are Angel Rama's Literatura y clase social (item bi 89007091) and Julio Rodríguez-Luis' La literatura hispanoamericana: entre compromiso y experimento (item bi 89007089), both excellent, keenly focused compilations rather than fully integrated and comprehensive studies. Other works that are more comprehensive than innovative are Identidad cultural de Iberoamérica en su narrativa (item bi 89007100), and Hispanoamérica: mito y surrealismo (item bi 89007087).
The sophistication and maturity that is now evident in the field is gauged not so much by the number of brilliant studies, several of which are annotated below (e.g., on theory, feminism, Afro-American writing, etc.) but by the quality of more common publications. As in the case of political sophistication in a democracy, the measure is in the average rather than in the exceptional. In our case, such sophistication is now evident at the level of the textbook.
Insofar as theoretical and historical expertise are concerned, there are a number of worthy publications annotated below: Sarlo's and Altamirano's Literatura/sociedad (item bi 89007111) constitutes an exemplary inquiry into the nature of Latin American thought and letters. The authors' systematic and clear exposition of complex and much debated theoretical problems will be hard to excel. Their book fills a major gap in the field.
An excellent text for monolingual Spanish-speaking students of the novel is Crítica de la novela moderna (item bi 89007088), a work that is thorough, up to date, well conceptualized, and well organized. In both Literatura/sociedad and Crítica de la novela moderna, theoretical problems are illustrated by using examples drawn from the rich canon of Hispanic letters. In contrast to these carefully crafted works, there are a considerable number of mediocre publications devoted to the history, analysis, and anthologizing of Spanish American literature. Most of these anthologies and histories, usually printed by major European publishers with wide distribution nets, are characterized by poor criteria in their selection of editors and contributors and by a lack of conceptualization of the issues discussed.
European publishers notwithstanding, the majority of studies selected for this Handbook volume are as usual written by Latin American scholars who live in the Americas, whether North, Central or South. Two remarkable works published by North American presses are: Voice of the masters (item bi 89007090) and Questing fictions: Latin America's family romance (item bi 89007101). European scholars, though less prolific, are also generating some welcome contributions. A notable example is Le roman romantique latino-américain et ses prolongements (item bi 89007110) which attests to the light shed by French scholars on Aves sin nido, Cumandá, and other neglected 19th-century texts in need of reinterpretation.
Additional evidence of maturity in the study of Latin American literature can be found in the large number of essay articles that set forth new models for literary study and original proposals for the formulation of an integrated theory of Latin American literature. Notable cohesion and perception in the examination of the Afro-Hispanic texts of Latin America are evident in the works of Shirley Jackson (items bi 89007070 and bi 89007113) and Richard Jackson (items bi 89007072 and bi 89007084).
Finally, there is much to be praised in studies of a thriving topic: women writers. Although a definitive, comprehensive anthology of such authors is yet to be published, one should single out two significant contributions to "gynocriticism" that are better focused than most other works on the subject: Las mujeres cuentan (item bi 89007098) and Mujeres en espejo (item bi 89007097). Yadira Calvo's Literatura y sexismo (item bi 89007103) provides a rigorous and sustained examination of the notion of woman and the historical logic that underlies the image and ideologeme of the female forged throughout centuries of Hispanic culture.
The overall picture that emerges from the majority of works noted below is one of increasing vigor, greater sophistication, improved theoretical formulation, and concern with issues larger than the traditional single texts of the past as representative icons of a nation or an age. It is clear that the field is evolving in ways that are both radical and creative.
I would like to acknowledge the assistance of Marcy Schwartz in the preparation of this section.