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Taking Their Word

Taking Their Word: Literature and the Signs of Central America

Arturo Arias
Copyright Date: 2007
Edition: NED - New edition
Pages: 304
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  • Book Info
    Taking Their Word
    Book Description:

    In Taking Their Word, Arias complicates notions of the cultural production of Central America. Arias demonstrates that Central America and its literature are marked by an indigenousness that has never before been fully theorized or critically grasped. With this groundbreaking work, Arias establishes the importance of Central American literature and provides a frame for future studies of the region’s culture.

    eISBN: 978-0-8166-5444-4
    Subjects: Sociology

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. INTRODUCTION: Is There a Central American Literature?
    (pp. ix-xxiv)

    In an academic discussion a few years ago regarding the programmatic changes needed to accurately reflect the local Latino population at a Southern California university, a Southern Cone professor asked ironically, “But is there even such a thing as Central American literature?” At the time, the question seemed laughable, because every Latin Americanist recognized the quality of canonical Central American writers—Rubén Darío, Pablo Antonio Cuadra, Miguel Angel Asturias, Augusto Monterroso, Claribel Alegría, Roque Dalton, Ernesto Cardenal, Sergio Ramírez—from a traditional literary perspective. After thinking carefully about the matter, I began to wonder whether the question might be implicitly,...

  5. PART I The Outcasts of Global Citizenship

    • 1 Revolutionary Endgame: Globalization and the Trajectory of Narrative
      (pp. 3-25)

      International headlines during the 1980s demonstrated a large-scale concern for Central America’s revolutionary struggles. From a metropolitan point of view, however, the region “faded from view” in the ensuing decade, once its political instability appeared to have settled. Indeed, the 1990s pointed to the beginning of a new period in Central American history, one dating from the electoral defeat of the Sandinistas in February 1990. Since then, globalization has exercised a structural determinacy over the entire region.¹ The end of the thirty-year-long guerrilla cycle, and of the utopian dreams of revolution, changed the symbolic framework of most Central American subjects.²...

    • 2 Erotic Transgression and Recodification of Values in Asturias’s Mulata
      (pp. 26-48)

      In one of the many provocative scenes of Asturias’s novelMulata de Tal(1963, translated asMulata,1967 ), the aged Nana Hollín covers her naked body with leftovers so that dogs can lick her.¹ Even though in this orgiastically bestial act she ends up covered with dog urine and is so badly bitten on her genitals that she cannot cure herself afterward, Hollín enjoys herself as a child would because she believes that, at this stage of her life, only dogs dare to caress her given how old, ugly, and wrinkled she is.² Other visceral scenes from this novel...

    • 3 Identity or Literariness: The Emergence of a New Maya Literature
      (pp. 49-82)

      Central American narrative textuality has been labeled an “invisible literature,” one that few people read outside of its area of origin due to techniques of market domination.¹ This invisibility has a great deal to do with the circulation of cultural products from and in the peripheries, which I label the “marginality of marginality” to evoke the ways that critical disciplines and practices constitute the relevant subjects of literary production and reproduce the invisibility of certain works within hegemonic centers of cultural decision making. This form of “written invisibility” is also related to the contradictions generated by a literature encoded within...

  6. PART II Forever Menchú

    • 4 Authoring Ethnicized Subjects: The Performative Production of the Subaltern Self
      (pp. 85-104)

      “Can the subaltern speak?” The question certainly was not mine.¹ However, the case of Rigoberta Menchú and the attacks on the “factuality” of her mediated discourse in thetestimonio I, Rigoberta Menchú(1984)² forced me to reconsider it. Gayatri Spivak’s seminal question presupposes that once the voice of a subaltern subject has been recorded in print, he or she is no longer a subaltern subject, because the “speaking subject” must enunciate the language of reason in order to be “heard” by Western interlocutors. That is, “authentic” discourse is a suppressed or hidden “truth” precisely because of the Westerner’s inability to...

    • 5 After the Controversy: Lessons Learned about Subalternity and the Indigenous Subject
      (pp. 105-123)

      In the United States, the debate over Rigoberta Menchú’stestimoniogenerated by David Stoll’s book centered on whether Menchú told the “truth” regarding details of her personal life. According to her critics, her “lies” discredited her testimony and reduced the moral authority of leftist intellectuals who taught testimonial texts. This focus on verifiable facts conveniently ignored a discursive war tied to cold war politics. For this reason, in the previous chapter I explored the problematics of “truth,” the nature of thetestimonioas a genre, and the relationship between political solidarity and subaltern narrative to question some of the premises...

    • 6 Reading Truthfully: An American Reading of a Subaltern Text
      (pp. 124-143)

      Allow me to first bring a few issues of an apparently disparate nature to view. When the Rigoberta Menchú controversy first erupted at the end of 1998, I read it as one framed primarily for an uninformed American public, closely linked to the conservative drive to impeach President Bill Clinton. It was in that light that I understood the hysterical response of individuals such as David Horowitz and his Center for the Study of Popular Culture,¹ as well as David Stoll’s self-promotion on conservative talk radio programs such asTalkSpot.² I was not really surprised by these responses given the...

    • 7 The Burning of the Spanish Embassy: Máximo Cajal versus David Stoll
      (pp. 144-162)

      In his bookRigoberta Menchú and the Story of All Poor Guatemalans,David Stoll presents, masked in allegedly objective language, a highly biased, and incorrect, account of the tragic events that took place in Guatemala City on 31 January 1980. On that date the military regime burned the Spanish embassy to the ground. This event had far-reaching implications. First, it resulted in the deaths of thirty-six people in the conflagration and one more (tortured by paramilitary forces) later that same night. Beyond that, it changed the political equation in Guatemala forever. Because of this event, many Guatemalans, including well-known middle-class...

  7. PART III Immigration, Diaspora, and Globalization

    • 8 The Maya Movement
      (pp. 165-183)

      Let us begin our discussion of the Maya movement with a local issue. It could very well be a crime story. In reality, it is an event with clear political connotations. On 16 May 1998, at 7:00 p.m., two husky, armed men intimidated and threatened the life of Licenciado Ovidio Paz Bal, one of the attorneys for the Defensoría Maya (Maya Legal Defense Fund). This happened in the town of Sololá, in the department (province) of the same name. The victim had been traveling on a public bus coming from the capital. When he got out, he was followed by...

    • 9 Central American–Americans? Latino and Latin American Subjectivities
      (pp. 184-200)

      When I was in Los Angeles in September of 1992 for the International Congress of the Latin American Studies Association (LASA), a group of Mayas invited me to the Feria de San Miguel.A feria,as everyone of Latin American origin knows, is the annual celebration (like a country fair) in honor of the patron saint that names a given town, and it has become traditional in Latin America, as well as in Spain, to commemorate it with three days of festivities. In the Guatemalan case, these include amusement games, a procession of the saint through the streets of the...

    • 10 American Central Americans: Invisibility and Representation in the Latino United States
      (pp. 201-218)

      The Tattooed Soldier,the first novel written in English by a Guatemalan-American author, Hector Tobar, begins with the eviction of the main character, Antonio Bernal, from his apartment in downtown Los Angeles.¹ A funny element is introduced: Antonio cannot understand his Korean landowner, because in this city both of them “could spend days and weeks speaking only his native tongue” (3).

      Antonio, once a middle-class government worker in his native land, is now homeless in Los Angeles. Seven years before, he had escaped the death squad that came for him but instead killed his wife, Elena, and young son, a...

  8. Conclusion: Forever Modern, Forever Marginal
    (pp. 219-226)

    In an article published in 2004 in theRadical History Review,Néstor García Canclini tells us about the difficulties of knowing what to do about Latin America’s past and future. García Canclini talks of “the disbelief about what happened and about what will come”—wondering whether this means that present-day Latin American subjects can trust only the denseness of the present moment, because there is no longer time for memory or for utopian thinking—and he uses a key phrase, “the strangeness of lost time.”¹ This condition derives from the fact that a satisfactory balance has not been struck between...

  9. Notes
    (pp. 227-262)
  10. Bibliography
    (pp. 263-278)
  11. Index
    (pp. 279-300)
  12. Back Matter
    (pp. 301-301)