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Civilisation and Authenticity

The Search for Cultural Uniqueness in the Narrative Fiction of Alejo Carpentier and Julio Cortázar


Eugenia Demuro

The question «What is Latin America?» has been at the heart of writing from and about Latin America from Columbus’ conquest to present-day discussions and nationalising projects. What this belies is the inherent question «What is Latin America compared to Europe?» This book lays bare the underlying logic of a Latin Americanist discourse through some of the continent’s most influential thinkers, including Domingo Faustino Sarmiento, José Martí, José Enrique Rodó, José Vasconcelos, Fernando Ortiz, Roberto Fernández Retamar, Néstor García Canclini, and Walter Mignolo.
Civilisation and Authenticity presents case studies of two of Latin America’s most renowned and representative twentieth-century writers, the Cuban Alejo Carpentier and the Argentine Julio Cortázar and reveals how desire to define Latin America is entwined throughout their groundbreaking experimental novels, focusing on Carpentier’s Los pasos perdidos (1953) and Cortázar’s Rayuela (1963). New research into the poetics of these authors and jargon-free analyses of their fiction outline how the Latin Americanist discourse persists in both writers’ representations of the Latin American landscape and people as either Europe’s «authentic» and marvelous «Other», or its «civilised» and modern counterpart.
Civilisation and Authenticity presents new research for experts on Carpentier and Cortázar and will be indispensable to students of Latin American literature. Its delineation of the Latin Americanist discourse makes it an ideal reference for anybody studying Latin American cultural studies.


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Afterword 153


Afterword he ‘discovery’ of the New World in the sixteenth century constituted a paradigmatic shift in the way that Europe conceptualised itself. It also initiated a discourse that purported to define the ‘new’ world and its relation to the ‘old.’ Since the French began employing the term Latin America to differentiate it from Anglo-America, European colonisers and Latin Americans have posed the question: ‘What is Latin America?’ The Latin Americanist discourse constitutes the responses to this query from the perspective of Latin American writers and intellectuals. As discussed in the opening chapter, this discourse was established by a fixed historical moment at which the cultures of Europe and America met. This complex relationship continues to have bearing on the culture of Latin America today; historically, Latin America has been defined with recourse to European ontology and epistemology. This is apparent in the terms of discovery or invention, in the emergence of a mestizo culture, and more recently, in the critical vocabularies of transculturation and hybridity. Domingo Faustino Sarmiento and José Martí provide the two critical poles between which this Latin Americanist discourse fluctuates; Sarmiento’s and Martí’s particular claims for Latin America are opposed. Through the distinction of ‘civilisation and barbarism’ Sarmiento defines autochthonous cultures in pejorative terms. His model disseminates European discourse, and constitutes an internal colonising project. Importantly, he formulated this as a literary praxis developed in relation to European literary traditions, that function to substantiate his discursive claims. Despite this Eurocentrism, Sarmiento sees the need to...

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