Category Archives: Bibliography

On Transculturated Narrators

In Spanish, for those who read Spanish, this is a blog post on The Storyteller by a PhD student at Colorado-Boulder and it is worth considering. I am not going to do it justice here, so read for yourself, but he is talking about the novel as a critique not just of Arguedas and indigenismo but of the idea of the “transculturated narrator” itself. Arguedas and other 20th century Latin American writers (Asturias, Castellanos) created bicultural narrators and the great critic Angel Rama wrote a famous 1982 study about this. I will say a little more about that below.

But this writer says The Storyteller alleges that the Latin American literary projects associated with indigenismo and the Boom, in which (in different ways) the writer is saying something of value — representing, signifying — are now irrelevant. Mascarita’s project (storytelling for the community) is shown to be solipsistic and futile. By extension, Western writing may be futile as well.

La radicalidad del proyecto novelístico de Vargas Llosa es extrema: sólo las formas narrativas fuertemente autocríticas, autorreflexivas, casi auto-deconstructivas, como esta misma novela, tendrán lugar en el futuro; aunque la suya sea, quizá, una supervivencia anémica y degradada.

The thing is this: writers like Arguedas posited bicultural identities in which the indigenous part could be the primary one, or if not primary, still a part which was not in the process of dying but was active, regenerative … and (I would say) was not necessarily nostalgic. Vargas Llosa sees that as outmoded. If it was ever nostalgic, is it still … given developments since this novel was written?

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Posted by on March 29, 2011 in Bibliography, Vargas Llosa


Lagniappe and Coda

I just ran across this video clip of – surprise – MARTIN, talking about how modernity and technology have advanced us materially but not spiritually. The theme is everywhere, it seems, and in different ways modern people seek to heal the wounds of civilization by seeking authenticity and roots.

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Posted by on May 14, 2008 in Bibliography, News


Black Venus (and Madame Delphine)

For her presentation Katrice discovered this book: Black Venus: Sexualized Savages, Primal Fears, and Primitive Narratives in French and it promises to be very interesting.

She also brought our attention to Mme. Delphine Lalaurie. She is rumored to be a quadroon, but I am not yet sure Louisiana writer George Washington Cable’s novel Madame Delphine (in which the character is explicitly quadroon) is about Delphine Lalaurie or not.

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Posted by on April 17, 2008 in Bibliography, Torgovnick


Books We Should Have Read, Or Could Also Read

Michael Taussig, Shamanism, Colonialism, and the Wild Man:

In what does the healing power of wildness lie? Taussig answers this question: “Wildness challenges the unity of the symbol, the transcendent totalization binding the image to that which it represents. Wildness pries open this unity and in its place creates slippage. . . . Wildness is the death space of signification” (219).

“So it has been through the sweep of colonial history where the colonizers provided the colonized with the left-handed gift of the image of the wild man–a gift whose powers the colonizers would be blind to, were it not for the reciprocation of the colonized, bringing together in the dialogical imagination of colonization an image that wrests from civilization its demonic power” (467).


The (quite good, in this case) Wikipedia article on the author, an anthropologist at Columbia University, also notes on this book:

His case of terror is that of the rubber trade in the Putumayo river area of Colombia of the late 19th and early 20th century. Much of these acts of terror stemmed from British rubber barons of the time trying to impose a capitalist mode of production on an indigenous, “wild”, population still living under an economy based upon a gift/exchange system. In the eyes of the British, who violently pressured the natives to extract rubber from the rubber trees of the area, the Indians, “would not work appropriately”. The barons’ reaction to indigenous resistance was to carry out horrific acts of terror on the minds and bodies of the local population, which Taussig thoroughly documents through providing firsthand accounts from the time. Within the “space of death” created in the Putumayo area came also the death of communal memory and objectivity. Terror resulted in a, “society shrouded in an order so orderly that its chaos was far more intense than anything that had preceded it–a death-space in the land of the living where torture’s certain uncertainty fed the great machinery of the arbitrariness of power” (4). Interestingly enough, the powerful force of healing develops from the same space created by the other powerful force of terror: “Shamanic healing . . . like the culture of terror, also develops its force from the colonially generated wildness of the epistemic murk of the space of death” (127).

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Posted by on March 25, 2008 in Bibliography


Of Interest

This book – Lucio Mansillo’s ROZAS, a “historical-psychological essay” is interesting to know about. The period in which Rosas and Sarmiento lived is really interesting, strange, and revealing, and if there is anyone who has not decided yet on an oral presentation topic, a historical investigation on this and on the way the terms civilization and barbarism are used would be both interesting and useful. And for that, the chapter on Sarmiento in Doris Sommer’s Foundational Fictions would be one good place to start. Also very useful is E. Bradford Burns’ The Poverty of Progress: Latin America in the Nineteenth Century. And with those two sources, you would have enough material for an oral presentation (of the size of presentation we are doing).

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Posted by on March 3, 2008 in Bibliography, Sarmiento, Spanish


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



Here is Tarzan of the Apes, the first Tarzan novel, in full text from Project Gutenberg. It is full of primitivist tropes and very amusing to read! This is a description of the jungle from the end of the second chapter:

Scarcely had they closed their eyes than the terrifying cry of a panther rang out from the jungle behind them. Closer and closer it came until they could hear the great beast directly beneath them. For an hour or more they heard it sniffing and clawing at the trees which supported their platform, but at last it roamed away across the beach, where Clayton could see it clearly in the brilliant moonlight–a great, handsome beast, the largest he had ever seen. During the long hours of darkness they caught but fitful snatches of sleep, for the night noises of a great jungle teeming with myriad animal life kept their overwrought nerves on edge, so that a hundred times they were startled to wakefulness by piercing screams, or the stealthy moving of great bodies beneath them.

The Tarzan character is a white man who has become a noble savage in Africa. Wikipedia, as we know, is “not a reliable academic source,” but the Wikipedia entry on him is actually quite useful. Here are some fragments from it:

He is the son of a British Lord and Lady who were marooned on the West coast of Africa by mutineers. Tarzan’s parents died when he was an infant, and he was raised by the Mangani, Great Apes of a species unknown to science. Kala is his ape mother. Tarzan (White-skin) is his ape name; his English name is John Clayton, Lord Greystoke (according to Burroughs; Earl of Greystoke in later, non-canonical sources, notably the 1984 movie Greystoke). As a young adult, he meets Jane Porter who, with others of her party, including her father, is marooned at exactly the same spot on the African coast where Tarzan’s parents were marooned roughly twenty years earlier. When she returns to America, he leaves the jungle in search of her, his one true love. In later books, Tarzan and Jane marry and he lives with her for a time in England. They have one son, Jack, who takes the ape name Korak the Killer. Tarzan is contemptuous of the hypocrisy of civilization, and he and Jane return to Africa. . . .

Burroughs has created in Tarzan an extreme example of a hero figure unalloyed with character flaws or faults. Tarzan is described by Burroughs as being Caucasian, extremely athletic, tall, handsome, and tanned. He has grey eyes. Emotionally, he is courageous, loyal and steady. He is intelligent and learns new languages easily. He is presented as always behaving ethically in all situations, according to Burroughs’ definitions. He is deeply in love with his wife and totally devoted to her. Always the gentleman, in numerous situations where other women express their attraction to Tarzan, he politely and as kindly as possible declines their attentions. If presented with a situation where a weaker individual or party is being preyed upon by a stronger foe, Tarzan will invariably take the part of the weaker party (and invariably win). In dealing with other men Tarzan is firm and forceful. With male friends he is reserved but deeply loyal and generous. As a host he is likewise generous and gracious. As a leader he commands devoted loyalty.

In contrast to all these urbane and sophisticated capabilities and characteristics, Tarzan’s philosophy embraces an extreme form of “return to nature”. His preferred dress is a knife and a loincloth made from uncured animal hide. His preferred abode is a convenient tree branch which happens to be nearby when he desires to sleep. His preferred food is raw meat, killed by himself; even better if he is able to bury it a week so that putrefaction has had a chance to tenderize it a bit. Although Tarzan is able to pass within society as a civilized individual, he prefers to “strip off the thin veneer of civilization”, as Burroughs often puts it.

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Posted by on January 24, 2008 in Bibliography, Tarzan