Colonial Tropes and Postcolonial Tricks

Colonial Tropes and Postcolonial Tricks: Rewriting the Tropics in the novela de la selva

Lesley Wylie
Volume: 10
Copyright Date: 2009
Edition: 1
Pages: 192
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  • Book Info
    Colonial Tropes and Postcolonial Tricks
    Book Description:

    The vision of the South American rainforest as a wilderness of rank decay, poisonous insects, and bloodthirsty ‘savages’ in the Spanish American novela de la selva has often been interpreted as a belated imitation of European travel literature. This book offers a new reading of the genre by arguing that, far from being derivative, the novela de la selva re-imagined the tropics from a Latin American perspective, redefining tropical landscape aesthetics and ethnography through parodic rewritings of European perceptions of Amazonia in fictional and factual travel writing. With particular reference to the four emblematic novels of the genre – W. H. Hudson’s Green Mansions [1904], José Eustasio Rivera’s La vorágine [1924], Rómulo Gallegos’s Canaima [1935], and Alejo Carpentier’s Los pasos perdidos [1953] – the book explores how writers throughout post-independence Latin America turned to the jungle as a locus for the contestation of both national and literary identity, harnessing the superabundant tropical vegetation and native myths and customs to forge a descriptive vocabulary which emphatically departed from the reductive categories of European travel writing. Despite being one of the most significant examples of postcolonial literature to emerge from Latin America in the twentieth century, the novela de la selva has, to date, received little critical attention: this book returns a seminal genre of Latin American literature to the centre of contemporary debates about postcolonial identity, travel writing, and imperial landscape aesthetics.

    eISBN: 978-1-84631-522-0
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-vii)
  3. Acknowledgements
    (pp. viii-viii)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. 1-13)

    InKeywordsRaymond Williams observed that ‘nature’ and ‘nation’ derive from the same Latin root,nasci, ‘to be born’.¹ In the context of Spanish-American literature the coincidence between nature and the nation transcends merely a shared etymology. Throughout the founding fictions of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries Spanish-American authors enshrined nature, especially the tropical rainforest, as a source of literary identity. While prior to independence South America’s landscape and people had largely been represented by outsiders, thenovela de la selva– the Spanish-American Jungle Novel – turned to the rainforest, and the indigenous communities who lived there, in...

  5. CHAPTER ONE Colonial Tropes and Postcolonial Tricks
    (pp. 14-39)

    This apostrophe, composed by Bello in 1823, instantiates a classic colonial encounter between the Latin American writer and the chequered legacy of the imperial past. Although Bello’s poem could be read as arguing benignly that the innate rusticity of poetry, and its proclivity for pastoral and Romantic themes, might be better served by the luxuriant nature of the Americas, it also lends itself to a much more radical interpretation. The eponymous ‘Alocución’ is not only an entreaty for poetry to forsake ‘la culta Europa’ in favour of ‘el mundo de Colón’ but also an appeal to the American writer to...

  6. CHAPTER TWO Tropical Nature and Landscape Aesthetics
    (pp. 40-67)

    It is almost impossible to think of any natural space on earth which has not been written about: ‘everywhere we look we encounter a pre-interpreted landscape, or a landscape made legible’, as Jonathan Smith has argued.¹ Tropical landscapes, in particular, are cultural as well as natural constructs – spaces both real and imaginary which have inspired utopian fiction, visual art, and countless sensationalist travel accounts. Within a European literary tradition key places within the tropics such as ‘Amazonia’ have often been reduced to little more than discursive constructs, conceived variously as lands of promise and adventure or as green hells...

  7. CHAPTER THREE Salvaging the Savage
    (pp. 68-94)

    Until the first decades of the twentieth century European iconography of Native Americans tended to the extremes of idealization and demonization.¹ On the one hand, early modern commentators such as Juan Ginés de Sepúlveda considered the ‘Indians’ not only degenerate and sinful but also subhuman – a widespread belief which led to a prolonged debate in Valladolid in 1550 to determine whether Amerindians were humans or animals.² On the other hand, many writers and artists located the native peoples of America in a primordial ‘golden age’ – a trend that was not discouraged by Columbus’s belief that he had discovered...

  8. CHAPTER FOUR Paradise Lost: Wilderness and the Limits of Western Escapism
    (pp. 95-121)

    While chapters 2 and 3 have explored thenovela de la selva’s engagement with colonial tropes relating to tropical landscape aesthetics and Amerindian culture, this chapter will address how the genre engages with idealized notions of ‘going primitive’ in the jungle in order to debunk the commodification of wild nature in European literature, particularly in Romanticism and colonial adventure novels. Throughout thenovela de la selvathe urban travellers’ meditations on the jungle are often predicated less on experience than on literary antecedent and are infused with neocolonial views of wild nature as a space in which to escape from...

  9. CHAPTER FIVE Jungle Fever: Degeneration as a Trop[olog]ical Disease
    (pp. 122-146)

    In the introduction to his 1845 biography,Facundo, Domingo Sarmiento characterized the future of Argentina as ‘una lucha […] entre los últimos progresos del espíritu humano y los rudimentos de la vida salvaje, entre las ciudades populosas y los bosques sombríos’.² This view of South America as an epic struggle between civilization and barbarism – a barbarism which finds its fullest expression in ‘los bosques sombríos’ – reinvigorated a motif that can be traced from the very beginnings of Spanish-American literature in the early modern chronicle, which regarded the Spanish colonization of the New World as a battle between culture...

  10. Conclusion
    (pp. 147-151)

    These are the chilling final lines ofLa vorágine– a novel which, as I have shown in the previous chapter, epitomizes the maleficent influence of the tropical forest and its power to entrance, corrupt, and even annihilate the urban traveller. The victims of this telluric ingestion are Cova, his girlfriend, their premature baby, and their travelling companions, who disappear without a trace in the midst of the jungle. The use of the verb ‘devorar’ (which shares the same Latin etymology as ‘vorágine’,vorare) is significant. Replete with overtones of excess and gluttony, the verb was commonly used in European...

  11. Bibliography
    (pp. 152-164)
  12. Index
    (pp. 165-173)