Gustavo PÉrez Firmat


The field of inter-American literary studies is something of a terra incognita. Other than a few pioneering influence studies, scholarly forays have been few and mostly recent. Unlike the contemporary literature of the hemisphere, whose breadth of interest and ambition is well-known, the criticism of American literature (using the adjective in its genuine, hemispheric sense) remains largely confined to well-established and long-standing disciplinary borders, with the result that contacts between scholars working on different areas of the New World have been rare and occasional. The most glaring instance of this institutional and scholarly isolation, perhaps, is the lack of dialogue between “Americanists” and “Latin Americanists.” On the one hand, scholars of North American literature, while they have been much concerned with the “Americanness” of their domain, have usually neglected to consider this notion in anything other than the narrow anglophile sense, where America becomes a synonym for the United States. On the other hand, students of Latin American literature have for the most part not looked northward in search of significant contexts for their texts. The obvious language barriers, as well as the equally obvious economic and political differences among different parts of the hemisphere, have been decisive factors in discouraging Latin Americanists from engaging North American texts. Even comparatists working on New World literature have shown relatively little interest in an inter-American focus. Since the lines of literary comparison have generally run East to West, comparative discussions of the literatures of the Americas have primarily looked at the relationship between the New World and the Old World. Much has been written, for instance, on the European roots of New England transcendentalism or of the Spanish-American nueva novela. In fact, however, the Americas’ cultural indebtedness to Europe is but one feature that the literatures of the New World have in common. And not enough has been said about this commonality, about the intersections and tangencies among diverse literatures of the New World considered apart from their extrahemispheric antecedents and analogues.

The goal of the essays in this book is to participate in correcting this imbalance by adopting a North-South orientation and looking at New World literature in a pan-American or inter-American context. Needless to say, since the subject is imposingly and even impossibly broad, each contributor has addressed only a limited aspect of it. Moreover, the volume as a whole makes no attempt at comprehensiveness, and even though an effort has been made to represent both “major” and “minor” literatures (and languages other than Spanish and English), exclusions have been inevitable. Nonetheless, considered collectively, these essays endeavor to lay some of the groundwork for further discussion of New World literature in a hemispheric context.