Category Archives: Nations and Nationalism

Nationalizing Exoticism

Pratt, M.L. “Nationalizing Exoticism: Spanish America After Independence.” Inscriptions 2 (1986): 29-36. Unrevised text of talk given at NY MLA, 1986.

I don’t know where she published a longer version of this, although it may be in one of her books (e.g. Imperial Eyes). I like this piece better than some of Pratt’s other work. It is related to the later Santiago Colás piece I like on Bello and the Latin American postcolonial moment, in a PMLA from the late 90s.

It is about literacy and voice, 1820s to 1840s, for the new Republics. Two sets of dynamics condition literate efforts to create a voice: changing relations between the new republics and Europe, and between SA intellectuals and other sectors of criollo society.

As A. Rama points out (in The Lettered City), intellectual and literary life in the colony was urban and yet the economic base was rural; the bourgeoisie identified with the land and not the city. Intellectuals were modernizers and writers; landowning elites were not.

Yet the rural people represented to the intellectuals their difference from Europe, which they wanted; Independence did not mean independence from Europe but freedom to associate with all of it.

These intellectuals were highly selective and inventive in their use of European cultural paradigms: they transculturate. Example: Bello’s poem “Agricultura de la zona tórrida.” He is writing against utilitarian British descriptions of America, which they see exclusively as the future object of industrial exploitation. (See Jean Franco, “Un viaje poco romántico: viajeros británicos hacia Sudamérica,” 1818-1828 (Escritura 7, 1979, p. 133.)

Pratt: “These accounts see creole society as indolent and ignorant; traveler after weary traveler complains of creole indifference to the consumer virtues of comfort, cleanliness, variety, and taste.” Bello is reacting against the industrializing, commodifying eye of the English engineers. He is not interested in mineral riches but in humble farmers; he does share the Britisher’s critique of the traditional inhabitants who have not domesticated the countryside.

In Sarmiento’s account of his 1845-47 voyage to Europe, in which he talks about what happens to him on the isle of Masafuera (where Crusoe had been set), he finds transculturated yet efficient North American castaways living there, with wild goats (a natural resourse Crusoe had left). Then goes to Paris and discovers how consumerist and so on the French are; he is amazed that they made the revolutions they made. Benedict Anderson points out that nation/nationalism is a transculturation that went in the other direction — America to Europe.

Pratt’s general point is that the exotic gets incorporated into 19C national visions in non imitative ways — ways that resist both colonialism and recolonization, although they aren’t always/aren’t necessarily “progressive” — and that this work on defining the nation state then gets exported to Europe. So, the nation is always about dealing with otherness, incorporating the primitive, and so on; that is interesting. This is part of why the nation is always about race; that is also interesting.