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The Polemics of Possession in Spanish American Narrative

The Polemics of Possession in Spanish American Narrative

Copyright Date: 2007
Published by: Yale University Press
Pages: 448
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  • Book Info
    The Polemics of Possession in Spanish American Narrative
    Book Description:

    In this book on early Latin American narrative, Rolena Adorno argues that the core of the Spanish American literary tradition consists of the writings in which the rights to Spanish dominion in the Americas and the treatment of its natives were debated. She places the works of canonical Spanish and Amerindian writers of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries within this larger polemic and shows how their works sought credibility within the narrative system itself, rather than in the irretrievable historical events that lay outside it.

    The triumph of the narrative mode over historical content is further revealed in Adorno's demonstration of how these authors and their historical protagonists have been polemically reinvented up to the present day. Adorno traces the elaboration and persistence of colonial-era debates cast in narrative form to arrive at a new understanding of the role the "polemics of possession" plays in the history of Latin American literature and thought.

    eISBN: 978-0-300-14496-3
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
    (pp. vii-xiv)
    (pp. xv-xx)
    (pp. 1-20)

    COLONIAL SPANISH AMERICAN LETTERS OCCUPY a central place in the tradition of Latin American literature and the cultural history of the hemisphere. The greatest Latin American writers of our times confirm it; the earliest writers of North America could not have founded the national literature of the United States without it. The life of Christopher Columbus provided the theme for the great, final work of one of Latin America’s preeminent novelists in the twentieth century, and it was the topic of the first important historical study undertaken in the United States in the early decades of the nineteenth.¹ This interest...

  6. CHAPTER 2 Felipe Guaman Poma de Ayala and the Polemics of Possession
    (pp. 21-60)

    MY ACCOUNT OF THE POLEMICS of possession in the narrative tradition of Latin America must begin with the work that initially stimulated this inquiry:El primer nueva corónica y buen gobierno(1615) by Felipe Guaman Poma de Ayala (fig. 2). The manuscript came to international attention a century ago, in 1908, when the director of the library of the University of Göttingen, Richard Pietschmann, came upon it in the Royal Library of Denmark in Copenhagen. It had been part of the Danish royal collection since the early 1660s, a gift, probably, to his king from a Danish diplomat, in grateful...

  7. CHAPTER 3 Fray Bartolomé de las Casas, Polemicist and Author
    (pp. 61-98)

    FRAY BARTOLOMÉ DE LAS CASAS (1484–1566) occupies a prominent place in this inquiry, not only because his writings were read by others, but also because he was a reader, reading. His high-decibel, high-impact image, the legacy of which we know through his writings (as he remarked, more than two thousand folios in the course of his half-century-long public life), is not that of someone sitting quietly and reading. Even the famous engraving by Tomás López Enguídanos, which shows him in a contemplative pose, pictures him poised to write (fig. 13).¹ Yet Las Casas sat and read, mightily. For our...

  8. CHAPTER 4 Councilors Warring at the Royal Court
    (pp. 99-124)

    IN 1550 THE FIRST VICEROY of New Spain, Antonio de Mendoza, observed the following in his report to his successor, Luis de Velasco: “Some will tell Your Lordship that the Indians are simple[-minded] and humble, that neither arrogance nor malice reigns in them and that they are not greedy. Others, on the contrary, will say that they are very rich and that they are vagabonds and that they do not want to cultivate the land. Do not believe either group, but rather deal with the Indians as you would any other people, without making special rules [by relying] on third-party...

  9. CHAPTER 5 Historians of War and Princely Warriors
    (pp. 125-147)

    IT SEEMS INESCAPABLE THAT the interpretation of the nature of a war be determined by the characterization that the protagonist makes of the enemy; in turn, the characterization of the enemy is used to justify (or condemn) the war itself. Given the European and particularly Spanish values of Christian militancy, the battlefield and wartime conduct of the Amerindians became the measure of their behavior and the indication of their nature as the Europeans theorized it with regard to their own value system. At one extreme, the manner of the natives’ aggression in war, their behavior in victory or defeat, because...

  10. CHAPTER 6 The Encomendero and His Literary Interlocutors
    (pp. 148-171)

    THE INTERPRETATION OF RECENT EVENTS occupied many minds in New Spain in the decades following the defeat of the Aztec confederation by the Spanish (1519–1521), and it was carried out in the exercise of daily affairs in the palace of the viceroy, theaudiencia(highest judicial court) of the viceroyalty and its provinces, their city councils, and, as discussed in chapter 5, among the historians gathered at Cortés’s Andalusian home in Spain and by elite native graduates of the Colegio de Santacruz de Tlaltelolco in New Spain’s capital. The topic, however, was nowhere more passionately taken up than in...

  11. CHAPTER 7 The Conquistador-Chronicler and His Literary Authority
    (pp. 172-190)

    IF BERNAL DÍAZ WAS MOTIVATED to vanquish his anonymity in the histories that celebrated the conquest of Mexico, it could only come from his own writing of history. By what authority would he do so? His eyewitness testimony was a start, and it was necessary but not sufficient; he had to seek and rely on other credentials. He turned to the arena he knew best: witnessed legal petitioning. His chronicle reveals the pressure of particular social, economic, and historical imperatives and combines distinct sources of authority to justify the conquest in a kind of test case for the emerging modern...

  12. CHAPTER 8 The Amerindian, Studied, Interpreted, and Imagined
    (pp. 191-219)

    GRACING THE FRONTISPIECE of Fray Fernando de Valverde’sSantuario de Nuestra Señora de Copacabana en el Perú(1641) is an Inca prince, Yupanqui Toca, who sits with his chin resting upon his interlaced fingers, lost in thought. Before him is the image of the Andean sacred, a boulder, orhuaca,interpreted in Christian perspective by the figure of a small devil standing atop it (fig. 18). Yupanqui Toca appears in Valverde’s poem of seventeen strophicsilvasand laments the loss of his kingdom “to a frail woman” [una hembra flaca], who was so poor that she gave birth to her...

  13. CHAPTER 9 The Narrative Invention of Gonzalo the Warrior
    (pp. 220-245)

    THE TALE OF GONZALO GUERRERO, or Gonzalo the Warrior, is commonly acclaimed as the first notable mainland instance of “going native” in the Spanish conquest of America. Yet what sort of a case it is remains open to debate since the historical evidence of Gonzalo’s experience is all hearsay, and even the name by which this figure is known was a posthumous christening done two decades after last notice was given of him. Gonzalo Guerrero is mostly the collection of tales told and written about him, so it is not as a historical figure but as a dramatization of varied...

  14. CHAPTER 10 The Narrative Reinvention of the Conqueror-Captive
    (pp. 246-278)

    IF GONZALO GUERRERO was an idea that played a role in the polemics of possession from the mid—sixteenth century into the eighteenth, with new versions being written up to the present day, Álvar Núñez Cabeza de Vaca was his real-life counterpart: He was a native of southernmost Andalusia; he arrived at the site of his captivity not in a Spanish galleon but in a small, makeshift craft; and he and his fellow survivors spent eight years in captivity (1528–1536), just as Jerónimo de Aguilar in Yucatán had (1511–1519) when Aguilar was rescued. When the Gonzalo Guerrero story...

    (pp. 279-307)

    THE ARGUMENT I MAKE in this chapter concerns the mutual enrichment of colonial-and contemporary-era writings that comes from reading backwards and forwards, that is, from one to the other and back again. There are two sets of propositions, and one follows upon the other. The first involves El Inca Garcilaso de la Vega reading back to the midsixteenth-centuryNaufragiosof Álvar Núñez Cabeza de Vaca. Here I argue that Garcilaso took as one of the most important sources for his narration of the Hernando de Soto expedition to La Florida not the accounts of the oral testimony from participants that...

    (pp. 308-324)

    “SILENCE FELL. And the friar saw the figure of the woman multiplying through all the mirrors, parceling itself out into innumerable figures, until it was no more than a whirlwind of women every second gesturing to him, beckoning him to a mysterious ritual.”¹ With these words, Reinaldo Arenas (1943–1990) evoked the dizzying, disorienting pursuit undertaken by his Fray Servando, the fictional Dominican friar whose reallife prototype was Fray Servando Teresa de Mier y Noriega (1763–1827). Mier was an admirer of the work of Bartolomé de las Casas, and a fictional Las Casas appears in a devastatingly effective cameo...

  17. NOTES
    (pp. 325-382)
    (pp. 383-414)
  19. INDEX
    (pp. 415-428)