Capital Fictions

Capital Fictions: The Literature of Latin America's Export Age

Ericka Beckman
Copyright Date: 2013
Pages: 272
https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.5749/j.ctt2jccpt
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  • Book Info
    Capital Fictions
    Book Description:

    Between 1870 and 1930, Latin American countries were incorporated into global capitalist networks like never before, mainly as exporters of raw materials and importers of manufactured goods. During this Export Age, entire regions were given over to the cultivation of export commodities such as coffee and bananas, capital and labor were relocated to new production centers, and barriers to foreign investment were removed.Capital Fictionsinvestigates the key role played by literature in imagining and interpreting the rapid transformations unleashed by Latin America's first major wave of capitalist modernization.

    Using an innovative blend of literary and economic analysis and drawing from a rich interdisciplinary archive, Ericka Beckman provides the first extended evaluation of Export Age literary production. She traces the emergence of a distinct set of fictions, fantasies, and illusions that accompanied the rise of export-led, dependent capitalism. These "capital fictions" range from promotional pamphlets for Guatemalan coffee and advertisements for French fashions, to novels about stock market collapse in Argentina and rubber extraction in the Amazon.

    Beckman explores how Export Age literature anticipated some of the key contradictions faced by contemporary capitalist societies, including extreme financial volatility, vast social inequality, and ever-more-intense means of exploitation. Questioning the opposition between culture and economics in Latin America and elsewhere,Capital Fictionsshows that literature operated as a powerful form of political economy during this period.

    eISBN: 978-0-8166-8188-4
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Introduction: CAPITAL FICTIONS
    (pp. vii-xxx)

    Consider the following scenario: a Latin American dictator, in order to stay in power, sells the Caribbean Sea to the United States. The entire body of water is then carried away to irrigate the deserts of Arizona. To replace the lost sea breezes, the North Americans provide the Caribbean nation with a gigantic wind machine.

    The scene comes from the novelEl otoño del patriarca(The Autumn of the Patriarch) by the Colombian novelist Gabriel García Márquez (1975). This Nobel-prize–winning author has delighted readers the world over with his “colorful” depictions of life in Latin American republics. In keeping...

  4. I. BOOM
    • Chapter 1 PRODUCTION: Imagining the Export Republic
      (pp. 3-41)

      In 1872 an article entitled “Las riquezas de Bolivia” (“The wealth of Bolivia”) appeared in the New York– based, Cuban-owned newspaperLa América Ilustrada.¹ The anonymous article confidently identifies Bolivia as “one of the richest countries of this rich land of América”: “The fertility of its soil is incomparable, its products are varied and infinite, and its entrails hold an abundant store of man’s most valuable minerals.”² The country’s indigenous majority, described as “peaceful and industrious,” promises to provide the necessary labor to create lasting national wealth. So ideal are the conditions for wealth creation in Bolivia, the article goes...

    • Chapter 2 CONSUMPTION: Modernismo’s Import Catalogues
      (pp. 42-80)

      Chapter 1 investigated the capital fictions surrounding the production of export commodities in late nineteenth-century Latin America. As regional economies become more integrated into global networks of exchange, fantasies of production had to compete with a new aesthetic sensibility. With the emergence of the literary current known as Spanish Americanmodernismo,the export reverie’s focus on commodity production was eclipsed by this current’s sustained focus on commodityconsumption.The Cuban poet Julián del Casal’s sonnet “Mis amores” (My loves [1890]) exemplifies the aesthetic sensibility cultivated by Spanish Americanmodernismoand its obsession with the pleasures of consumption:

      Amo el bronce,...

  5. II. BUST
    • Chapter 3 MONEY I: Financial Crisis and the Stock Market Novel
      (pp. 83-120)

      According to the economic laws through which Latin American countries were incorporated into the global commodity lottery at the end of the nineteenth century, a nation was rich on the basis of its natural resources. While dormant, this wealth could be “awoken” by the magical touch of human labor, and then through exchange on the global market. Following liberal doctrines of trade advantage, nations that specialized in the production of those commodities it could produce most efficiently for the world market were destined to become wealthy and prosperous. In chapter 1, I showed how liberal visionaries predicted Latin America’s “raw”...

    • Chapter 4 MONEY II: Bankruptcy and Decadence
      (pp. 121-157)

      I begin this chapter by telling the story of a ghost that ran across the Colombian nation at the end of nineteenth century: the ghost of Colombia’s First National Bank, el Banco Nacional. By 1894, this National Bank had become virtually insolvent, emitting far more paper currency than it could secure in metal reserves. When the National Bank’s untenable financial situation became known, the country’s small business elite demanded its liquidation. And so, in 1894, a law was passed to liquidate the bank. But it kept operating, and another law was passed to liquidate it. Finally, on January 1, 1896,...

    • Chapter 5 EXPLOITATION: A Journey to the Export Real
      (pp. 158-190)

      By the 1920s, Spanish American literary texts began to offer a new way of envisioning export economies by way of a current known as regionalism. In the aftermath of the urban-based and intensely Europhilic literary movements of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, particularlymodernismo,regionalism marked a turn inward, to the peripheries of the already peripheral nation-state. Jungles, plains, and mountains are the settings par excellence of regionalism, a geographical shift frequently encoded as marking a turn away from the preciousness and artifice of Frenchified letters toward a more virile, if less sophisticated, form of cultural expression. The...

  6. Conclusion: RETURN TO MACONDO
    (pp. 191-198)

    In 1908, the legendary Colombian Liberal and general Rafael Uribe Uribe delivered a speech to the Agricultural Society of Colombia. The subject of the conference: “El banano” (The banana). The hundred-page speech offers a wealth of information about the crop, with sections devoted to origins, uses and byproducts, growing conditions, labor needs, and varieties. Uribe Uribe knew something about agriculture. For when he wasn’t fighting in civil wars against Conservatives (in 1876, 1886, 1895, and 1899), he was a coffee planter in Antioquia. And as a liberal visionary and man of “progress,” he dedicated himself to outlining new sources of...

  7. Acknowledgments
    (pp. 199-202)
  8. Notes
    (pp. 203-230)
  9. Bibliography
    (pp. 231-244)
  10. Index
    (pp. 245-254)
  11. Back Matter
    (pp. 255-255)