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Thresholds of Illiteracy: Theory, Latin America, and the Crisis of Resistance

Thresholds of Illiteracy: Theory, Latin America, and the Crisis of Resistance

Abraham Acosta
Drucilla Cornell
Roger Berkowitz
Copyright Date: 2014
Published by: Fordham University Press
Pages: 292
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  • Book Info
    Thresholds of Illiteracy: Theory, Latin America, and the Crisis of Resistance
    Book Description:

    Thresholds of Illiteracy reevaluates Latin American theories and narratives of cultural resistance by advancing the concept of "illiteracy" as a new critical approach to understanding scenes or moments of social antagonism. "Illiteracy," Acosta claims, can offer us a way of talking about what cannot be subsumed within prevailing modes of reading, such as the opposition between writing and orality, that have frequently been deployed to distinguish between modern and archaic peoples and societies. This book is organized as a series of literary and cultural analyses of internationally recognized postcolonial narratives. It tackles a series of the most important political/aesthetic issues in Latin America that have arisen over the past thirty years or so, including indigenism, testimonio, the Zapatista movement in Chiapas, and migration to the United States via the U.S.-Mexican border. Through a critical examination of the "illiterate" effects and contradictions at work in these resistant narratives, the book goes beyond current theories of culture and politics to reveal radically unpredictable forms of antagonism that advance the possibility for an ever more democratic model of cultural analysis.

    eISBN: 978-0-8232-5711-9
    Subjects: Anthropology

Table of Contents

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  1. Introduction
    (pp. 1-25)

    Literary and cultural debates in Latin America have for some time now given way to the assumption that resistance to the West (to colonization, to modernization, etc.) has always been a formative element of Latin American social discourse and continues to be actively woven into cultural representations and practices. This notion has seeped into scholarly production, where it has become commonplace to suggest, among other things, that indigenous resistance to the West began the day the “New World” was discovered, thatmestizajeas a phenomenon is exclusive only to the Americas, or that resistant, emancipatory thought in Latin America is...

  2. 1 Thresholds of Illiteracy, or the Deadlock of Resistance in Latin America
    (pp. 26-76)

    The emergence of postcolonial theory in Latin American studies during the 1990s sparked a serious and hotly contested debate over the terms and conditions of intellectual exchange between Europe and the United States and those in Latin America. Many speculate that this debate was initially sparked in 1991 by Patricia Seed’s review essay “Colonial and Postcolonial Discourse,” wherein she outlines, with absolute prescience and clarity, the significance that this “emergent interdisciplinary critique of colonial discourse” would have for Latin American studies (182). It wouldn’t be until two years later, through the publication of a special issue ofLatin American Research...

  3. 2 Other Perus: Colono Insurrection and the Limits of Indigenista Narrative
    (pp. 77-120)

    Historicallyindigenismoin Latin America emerges as a nationalist political platform grounded on a set of sociohistorical assumptions and literary representations privileging indigenous culture, language, and identity. And while indigenismo has appeared in numerous ideological forms and programs throughout the twentieth century in Latin America, it is its discursive formalization in Peru that has become representative of the tradition by Latin American literary and cultural critics. To this day one need only invoke Clorinda Matto de Turner’sAves sin Nido(1889), José Carlos Mariátegui’sSiete ensayos(1928), or the literary production of José María Arguedas to attest to Peru’s definitive...

  4. 3 Secrets Even to Herself: Testimonio, Illiteracy, and the Grammar of Restitution
    (pp. 121-163)

    In 1996 a collection of essays appeared under the titleThe Real Thing: Testimonial Discourse and Latin America(Gugelberger 1996). Proposed as an anthology of criticaltestimoniodiscourse, containing essays from the early stages of the testimonio debate in the late 1980s and early 1990s, it would also include many recent reformulations of the stakes of testimonio discourse since its initial elaborations.¹ In one such essay, “The Real Thing,” John Beverley (1996: 280–81), who had years earlier announced the emergence of a new world-historical narrative form in testimonio, now pronounces its death:

    This is perhaps the best way to...

  5. 4 Silence, Subalternity, the EZLN, and the Egalitarian Contingency
    (pp. 164-205)

    The Ejército Zapatista de Liberación Nacional (EZLN), a mobilized, intertribal association of indigenous peasants from the southern Mexican state of Chiapas, first appeared on the national and international political stage on January 1, 1994, when, on the very day the North American Free Trade Agreement went into effect, armed guerrillas stormed the municipal palace at San Cristobal de las Casas and issued the first Declaración de la Selva Lacandona (Declaration of the Lacandon Jungle).¹ In this communiqué, addressed both to the Mexican government and the public at large, the EZLN signaled its emergence as a militarized insurgency called upon to...

  6. 5 Hinging on Exclusion and Exception: Bare Life at the U.S.-Mexico Border
    (pp. 206-237)

    In 2002 Debra Castillo and María Tabuenca Córdoba publishedBorder Women: Writing fromLa Frontera, a book featuring select readings of women’s writing from and about the U.S.-Mexico border.Border Womenis presented as a properly binational study of U.S.-Mexico border literature. That is to say, it is conceived with the specific and explicit intention to include border writers frombothMexico and the United States. According to these authors, there is a reason for such attentiveness, emphasis, and specificity in including writers frombothsides of the border, and this reason governs the principal disciplinary intervention they seek to...

  7. Afterword: Illiteracy, Ethnic Studies, and the Lessons of SB1070
    (pp. 238-244)

    Above all, what I hoped to accomplish in this study is to make visible, and glean, the possibility of an ever more vigilant approach to cultural and critical practice in Latin America. While my analyses focused on discrete though interconnected scenes of contingent semiological upheaval that betray conventional—dominant and resistant—assumptions of coherence, order, and progress, my aim has been to fashion a mode of critique that accounts for the contradictory dynamics and tendencies within disciplinary reading practices.

    But much more than that, I would argue thatThresholds of Illiteracyis an attempt to demonstrate how—through the crises,...