Monthly Archives: February 2008


Fuentes originales

Carpentier en Cuba Literaria (recursos excelentes – miren el resto del sitio, es genial)

Carpentier leyendo Los pasos perdidos. (Cuba literaria)

Fuentes académicas

Gingerich, Stephen. “Culture and Anonymity: The Other Voice in Los pasos perdidos.” CR: The New Centennial Review 1.1 (2001) 229-255. Available in Project Muse (free access through the library site if you’re on campus or logged into campus).

González, Eduardo. “Framing Carpentier.” Modern Language Notes 101:2 (1986): 424-429. Available in JSTOR (free access through the library site).

Martin and McNerney. “Magic Music in Los pasos perdidos.” Hispanic Review 52 (1984): 491-498. Available in JSTOR.

Millington, Mark. “Gender Monologue in Los pasos perdidos.” Modern Language Notes 111:2 (1996): 346-367. Available in JSTOR.

Fuentes populares (con buenos resúmenes de la trama)

Blog de Daniel Salas
Blog de Ojo Travieso (este sitio es interesante en general, hay que mirarlo)

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Posted by on February 29, 2008 in Carpentier


Algunos apuntes sobre los primeros capítulos de FACUNDO


Cap. 1

– The size of the continent
– The propensity of the plains to encourage the growth of Oriental despotism!
– The placement of Buenos Aires at the mouth of the Río de la Plata
– The poverty of the towns of the interior, compared to those built by Scotsmen and Scandinavians near Buenos Aires
– City people have city clothes; country people dress and act like members of nomadic (Asiatic) tribes
– Noble people in the country are still primitives, like people in Homer or in the Bible
– These lands have given rise to the gaucho, who is disorderly, does not work, is all too free and uncivilized…

Cap. 2

– This all too impressive Nature is still poetic. And the gauchos have many skills, and they can sing – it is as though they were medieval bards.
– Implication: all of this is primitive and inferior to us, but still interesting as raw material, and there are European parallels to it.

Cap. 3 [I did not assign this but I strongly suggest looking at it – especially the end]

– The gauchos get together and drink and fight, but they are admirable horsemen.
– There has always been in Argentina a struggle between European civilization and American barbarism, and with the Unitarios, civilization can win.

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Posted by on February 27, 2008 in Sarmiento


Sarmiento Setup, or, What I Was Supposed to Do in Class Today!

Thanks are due Stana today for bringing up Civilization and Its Discontents, which would serve well as a core text for this class. As we know, in my excitement today I had forgotten to look at my own notes and realize what my schedule was supposed to be! (Subconsciously, I thought we needed to resolve some more things about HD.) So I didn’t talk about Sarmiento! Here are the lecture notes, and here is a great site on the history of Argentina during this period.

1. The connection between Sarmiento and our material so far: he engages all of the tropes on civilization and savagery, to sketch an analysis of the political and cultural situation of 19th century Argentina. This, in turn, becomes an analysis of America in general.

2. Theoretical background: Edward Said’s now classic book Orientalism. Orientalism was the 19th century academic discipline now called Near Eastern / Middle Eastern / Asian Studies: the study of the Orient. It was invented because the civilizations of the ancient Near East were of great interest as origins of our modern cultures, and because Europe was in the process of colonizing this area and needed information about it. But, Said points out, Orientalists were not entirely objective: they were looking for certain things, certain cultural characteristics, in the Orient, and they found them. Predictably enough, the Orient was Europe’s Other. It was exotic and savage – both attractive and repellent. So the discipline Orientalism constructed its own object, and the representation of the Orient it offered was a kind of mirror, Europe’s surrogate self.

Said’s book became popular among Africanists and Latin Americanists because these regions have also been represented as exotic “others” in multiple European discourses. Sarmiento’s study of Argentina can be, and has been, read as an “Orientalist” text (note that Sarmiento himself makes comparative allusions to Asia in his descriptions of Argentina). What is interesting about this is that Sarmiento is, to a certain extent, describing his (national) self – Argentina – as an Other. This means that the self-and-other are even more closely intertwined than they are in, say, Heart of Darkness. Another interesting thing is that the other is the GAUCHO, not the Native Americans. A third interesting thing is that the leaders he denounces seem to have some positive aspects – possibly analogous to those of Kurtz (this is a new idea of mine; I am still not sure how good it is, but I am throwing it out there).

3. Historical background: Argentina declares Independence from Spain in 1810 and enters a period of political turbulence and civil war. What will the new country look like? How will it be structured – who will be in power – what will the priorities and “mission,” if you will, of the new nation be? The central government is weak, and the strongmen in the countryside are strong. In this book, Sarmiento criticizes one of these strongmen, Facundo. He is described as a savage. (He is also like Kurtz in a way: he knows things and has strong powers, and his heavy hand is sometimes useful in the wild land, yet he may lack restraint.) The critique and analysis of Facundo is also meant as a critique of Rosas, who was dictator of Argentina at the time Sarmiento wrote this book (originally a series of newspaper articles published in Chile).

4. Political background: Sarmiento’s liberal party are the Unitarios. They believe in free trade to build up the money economy. They want a strong central government to organize this. They also believe in political freedoms, civil rights, federally funded roads, schools, and postal service … in sum, in modernization. They want to make the country modern like Europe and the United States, and to eradicate the “backward” social structures and elements which are the legacy of Spanish colonialism. The focus on Europe and the United States makes them “white oriented,” so to speak – they favor conquering Indian lands (as do the conservatives) and getting the African ex-slaves to move to Brazil.

The Federalist Party is not interested in a strong central government but in local control and local industries. This in practice gives the old landowners and rural strongmen a lot of power. They also favor allowing the Church to retain much of the political power it had in the colonial period. They are not nearly so concerned as the Unitarios about developing the country for commerce (building roads, educating people so they can work in offices, etc.) or creating a vibrant, cosmopolitan, urban culture. Their loyalties lie with the agricultural base. Leaders like Facundo and Rosas are not averse to using terror and torture to impose their power and their will. But they also have strong relationships with the poor of the countryside and the urban working classes, many of whom are mestizo and Black.

Roughly speaking, the Unitarios are trying to create a country more like the U.S., whereas the Federalists’ interest is to have an independent country which resembles the former Spanish colony more closely – without the control of a foreign king, of course. It is easy to say that the Unitarios “sound right” but there are some problems with their schtick such as racism, emphasizing trade over food production (not good for the economy), and contracting foreign debt to fund development (also problematic because foreign business and banks end up with a lot of political power).

It is important to remember that both Unitarios and Federalistas are elites. Neither really has the clases populares in mind, although in the end Unitario policies win out – they are the wave of the future – and they do work to create a larger middle class (white, of course).

5. Ideological background: this is the period in which the modern, liberal nation state is being formed, in the Americas and elsewhere. Based on Romantic theories about the Volk, it is thought that a nation will have a specific people, and that people will have a common language particular to them, and a common culture, also distinctive and particular to them. This is a problem for a newly independent nation like Argentina because what is their originality? Their language – Spanish – is not their own, and their official culture was until very recently Spanish. How do they become both original and authentic is a major problem for writers in this period, who were often also politicians and were engaged in the project of creating unifying cultural myths for the new nation(s).


Ostensibly it is a denunciation of Facundo, and thus Rosas and the entire Federalist program, and a defense of Unitario modernization. The Unitario program is presented as the obvious, common sense approach to things. Sweep away the vestiges of colonialism and general savagery (Indians and Afro-Argentines are part of the Old as well). Bring in European culture and civilization (not Spanish, they’re part of the Old, but French and English) and U.S.-style political organization, commerce, and industry. Get people educated, and encourage immigration from northern Europe (they are “more civilized,” more organized, have more of a work ethic, and so on) [the irony later on was that it was actually Italians, and not Scandinavians, who moved to Argentina in droves].

What it does, more importantly, is establish images of what Argentina (America) is, and of its people. This is what I am inerested in for our purposes. Note:

+ Sarmiento starts out talking about the land, what it looks like. It is bad news. Too big, too empty, too threatening – a “desert” (but similar to a jungle). It is wild, and this is a bad thing.

+ The wild land engenders wild people: the gauchos (Argentine cowboys). They do not have modern work habits, they do not fence their fields, they gallop around on their horses, they drink, sing, and fight, they behave like savages. Facundo is [like] a gaucho and he is savagery incarnate.

+ However: the wild land inspires awe, and it is something you cannot find in Europe, and the gauchos have a culture of their own, which is not an imitation of anything existing in Europe. So there is wild, wonderful energy in that savage desert, and there is cultural originality and creativity in its inhabitants.

+ And here we have the paradox: the savage is savage, so it is “bad,” but it is also desirable for various reasons; it is the side of “us” we officially do not like, but which we secretly desire and need.

+ Ultimately, what happens in real life is that when the pampas are settled and the gaucho as a social class is no longer so large or strong, the gaucho becomes an iconic image of Argentine “originality.”

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Posted by on February 26, 2008 in Sarmiento


Facundo, y Planes Generales

El jueves en clase decidimos que el examen parcial NO CUBRIRA Los pasos perdidos, sino Conrad y Sarmiento (y los textos relacionados que hemos ido explorando). Las preguntas en su versión final aparecerán el 4 de marzo, y el examen se entregará el 11 de marzo a lo más tardar (se puede entregar antes, por supuesto).

De Facundo vamos a leer los primeros DOS capítulos – el primero para el jueves (28 febrero) y el segundo para el martes (4 marzo). Hay enlaces al texto completo en readings. Vamos a comentar entre otros temas la semejanza entre el “desierto” sarmentino y la “selva” de Conrad; nos referiremos a las teorías de EDWARD SAID sobre el “otro” y DORIS SOMMER sobre las ficciones “fundacionales” en América Latina.

El 6 de marzo presentaré yo sobre LOS PASOS PERDIDOS, libro que empezarán ustedes a leer para el martes, 11 de marzo (también se entrega el examen parcial ese día, por lo cual por favor planeen bien su tiempo).

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Posted by on February 22, 2008 in Plans


Herzog, Torgovnick, The Couple in the Cage: comentarios de la clase

Aquí van algunas de las ideas de la clase. Ninguna es de una sola persona – he juntado en cada párrafo las ideas de varios. The next journal entry, on Conrad, is due Tuesday, February 26. You can write on any aspect of the novella you would like, or try out questions on HD from the Midterm Question Bank (that page is subject to constant refination and change until we actually do the midterm).

[1] Herzog estalla en una crisis cuando la jungla no le obedece. Marlow describe la selva en términos semejantes o peores a las que usa Herzog, pero no tiene la misma reacción (violenta) ante las experiencias malas en la jungla, y su opinión cambia. Intelectualmente Herzog es más consciente que Marlow – sabe que la cultura indígena tiene valor y que el (neo)colonialismo es malo – pero el que ve las cosas de una matera más compleja, ambigua (en vez de ambivalente), matizada, y deja que la selva trabaje en su conciencia, es Marlow.

[2] The natives, whom Herzog compares to lions, are not so untouched by Western culture as he would like to believe. . . . Furthermore, they have a (human) culture of their own. They are not just living by instinct – killing and eating – like lions.

[3] I think the fascination of the Westerner with the primitive is, in fact, a fascination with himself and his reaction to the primitive. Instead of endeavoring to see the similarities and universalities we share with them, Herzog dwells on the differences. He fails to see that his men are taking advantage of the prostitutes, not the savages. Any time Westerners invade “primitive” lands, it seems that we become far more savage than the savages would ever be. Being near the “primitive” brings out the savage in us. The most interesting thing about that is that this kind of savagery does not necessarily exist in primitive culture.

[4] It is apparent that the constant fascination with the primitive in Western culture requires evaluation not just of what Western culture consists of but also of how to differentiate it from the unknown lives of the “uncivilized savages.” . . . The Western desire to unwrap the secrets of the “primitive” is obvious, but it is less obvious why this is so important to us. The fact that we as Westerners try to place the primitive at the end of a spectrum (of the “human”) in relation to our society is itself quite daunting to “unwrap,” because much as we attempt to polarize there are similarities, blending, and other connections between “us” and “them.”

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Posted by on February 20, 2008 in Ideas, Plans


HD and Apocalypse Now

Louis K. Greiff, “Conrad’s Ethics and the Margins of Apocalypse Now.” Conrad, HD. Ed. Paul B. Armstrong. New York: Norton, 2006. 484-491. [And note: this edition of the novella has excellent historical resources, including essays by Hegel and Darwin (Conrad’s near contemporaries) on “race” – and, of course, much, much more. Also note: after this article, there are two more on HD and AN.]

+ Study question: Do you think Marlow has as much integrity as the author of this essay attributes to him? [I think he is more ambiguous, more like Willard, than this essay admits.]

+ Study question: Greiff seems to think Willard’s moral ambiguity and passivity are worse and less meaningful than Marlow’s – do you agree? [I don’t.]

+ Study question: Greiff thinks Clean undertakes the massacre of the sampan riders out of pure terror. Do you agree? [I don’t.]  

* The film follows the novel far more closely and interestingly than is always recognized.

* It is framed by a Doors song instead of a scene of Willard explaining his adventure to “normal” people; this musical bridge connects the bizarre story of the outback and the context of modern cultural experience. Nightmare is conflated with normalcy.  

* Conrad and Marlow seem to believe that there is a connection between man’s endeavor and the quality of his being. To work well at a meaningful task is to create self along with visible accomplishment. To work badly is to erode one’s substance, as Kurtz has done in HD. Marlow has the integrity and strength to resist Africa, and Kurtz has lost his. Marlow is solid and internally unified, and he’s an artist both at his work and in his storytelling; his stories reveal truths.

* Kurtz could have been a brilliant artist but he has no stable substance, he is hollow; as such h is available to dark opportunities and dark suggestions from within.

* In the film, Willard (the Marlow surrogate) is the corrupt one, and Kurtz is the solid and dedicated one. Yet the film’s characters do not neatly exchange moral positions with those of the novel. And in the film, all ethical significance of their efforts is lost.

* The saucier and the pilot: artistry and discipline; only the saucier, in the end, believes that humans possess souls and that good and evil (not just relativism) do exist. Note the pairings of sailors, Black and white… and notice the pairings of the surfers; Kilgore looks like a good soldier but is hollow at heart (leaves the dying enemy he was giving water to for the sake of surfing talk).

* Greiff seems to think HD has a clear resolution and moral certainty, and that it is an ethical drama, and that AN distorts the text at least by locating the issues in different characters. The “ethical drama” is reenacted in a subplot by four marginal figures, and the major characters are both corrupt. He also thinks the movie wouldn’t work if it didn’t do that … Willard and Kurtz are TOO strange, they represent the Pan-European but NOT Americans, Americans are much more like the marginal characters.

* To Greiff’s conclusions I am tempted to say WHAT? What if the point is that this war, this American war, really was as corrupt as these central characters? (Do you think I am being too simplistic here?)


Posted by on February 17, 2008 in Bibliography, Conrad


Midterm Question Bank

Midterm instructions: choose two of the following topics, but not both #2 and #3.

Write a cogent, well-argued 500 word essay on each of the questions you choose. Think before you write – review the texts and the notes, and perhaps mull it all over for a day or two so that you have a clear argument in mind when you begin to write.

Be sure you can back up what you say with concrete evidence from the texts, and feel free to narrow the questions down (they are intentionally broad, so that you can take up the aspects of them which best fit your specific interests).

Feel free to refer to other texts we have examined, but remember that this exam focuses most squarely on Conrad and Sarmiento.

1. Hypothesis: if we consider that both “modernity” and modern colonialism began in 1492 with the discovery of America – with industrialized slavery and the creation of transnational corporations following closely on its heels – we could then say that the “savagery” of the “primitive” world, brutalized by colonization, is one side of the coin, and the spiritual emptiness of the modern / civilized world, sterilized by industrialization, is the other. Refine this hypothesis and discuss it in relation to Conrad and Sarmiento.

2. To what extent does and/or does not Heart of Darkness endorse or reproduce the discourse of Kipling’s 1899 poem The White Man’s Burden? Explain, citing specific examples from the texts.

3. To what extent do you and/or do you not agree with Torgovnick’s reading of Heart of Darkness, and why? Be specific.

4. How are the jungle and the pampas represented in Conrad and Sarmiento? In what terms are they described? Are they always dark or desolate? What else are they? What emotions are attached to them? What do they appear to represent? How can we tell? How do the descriptions of the land and the people work in the broader context of each narrative? How do the ideas of the civilized and the primitive play off against each other and/or intertwine themselves with each other?


1. What is the importance of Kurtz’ amazing voice?

2. At what point in his narration does it become clear to Marlow that he is going “to the heart of darkness”? Is this significant? How?

3. Go to our resources page and read some of the material on “Orientalism.” Then consider: is HD participating in “Orientalist discourse?” How? [This is a good question to choose because we are going to talk about Orientalism in connection with BOTH Sarmiento and Carpentier.]

4. [Relate Carpentier’s novel and Torgovnick, chapters 3-6 and 8.]

5. Look up two different, and ideally contrasting scholarly articles comparing HD and Apocalypse Now. What questions seem to drive the comparisons? Do you agree with them? Why? As a start toward this, check out my post on one such article, and the study questions in it.

6. Are there differences between the experience and attitude of Marlow and of Herzog in Burden of Dreams and/or of Willard in Apocalypse Now? Explain. What do these differences reveal and/or conceal about tropes such as the primitive, the voyage upriver, and the construction of the Western self in relation to the primitive? [Note that all three characters are agents, not originators or directors of colonial enterprises: Herzog is an artist who intends to do good, Marlow is on a job, and Willard is on a military mission for someone else. What does their positions as intermediaries enable them to see or to reveal, and to evade and conceal, which another position would not? And on second thought, is it Les Blank, who observes Herzog, and not Herzog himself who, in BD, occupies the Marlow/Willard position?]

LAST. Feel free to think up other good questions, including questions on Tarzan and The Jungle Book, and post them in the comments section here!

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Posted by on February 17, 2008 in Ideas, Midterm, News, Plans