Literatures of Latin America

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9780130613608: Literatures of Latin America

This extraordinary anthology gathers together a broad selection of representative, authoritative writings—spanning antiquity to the present—from the non-Western civilizations of Latin America. It combines extensive introductions, headnotes, and bibliographies with excellent literary translations of the best contemporary and classical writers. The selections reflect literary, religious, and philosophical traditions and reveal—despite cultural differences—the universality of life experiences. Primary literary genres (poetry, fiction and drama) as well as key religious, philosophical, historical, aesthetic, biographical and political texts are covered. For readers of Latin American, World, and Non-Western Literature.

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This text, a derivative of LITERATURES OF ASIA, AFRICA, AND LATIN AMERICA, gathers together a broad selection of representative, authoritative writing—spanning antiquity to the present. It combines extensive introductions, headnotes, and bibliographies with excellent literary translations of the best contemporary and classic writers.

This is an anthology that students will want to take home with them and to read long after the course is completed.

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Literatures of Latin America brings together literary, religious, and philosophical traditions from two continents and the Caribbean. Each of these regions has given us important writings, some of them dating back as far as the first millennium B.C. Until recently, historically speaking, we have been essentially ignorant of the major writers of Latin America, and in particular have known virtually nothing of precolumbian texts. Recent decades of assiduous translation, however, have made the larger world of Latin American literature accessible in English, connecting us to an enormous past and present of creative endeavor. Particularly in our multicultural society, with peoples of every background, it is vital to reveal the great traditions of Latin America, and to do so in fresh, excellent literary translation, or in their original English texts, as in the case of postcolonial writers, such as Nobel Prize-winning novelist V S. Naipaul and Nobel Prize-winning poet Derek Walcott. Literatures of Latin America presents a hemispheric view of literature and civilization. The picture that emerges is of two continents in a splendor of creativity and of a migration of languages and literary forms.

The great written documents of antiquity root us as readers in a past of cultural particularity, cultural marriage, and universal themes and have offered superb new models for modern and postmodern writers. Whereas early in the twentieth century, the major foreign models for American literature came from France, in the post-World War 11 period the poets and novelists from Latin America have clearly been revealed in magnificent translations and have profoundly changed the ways that North American authors write. We live in a time when it is no less common for American poets to count Nobel Prize authors Pablo Neruda and Octavio Paz as major influences than it is for them to see their verse springing from Walt Whitman and T. S. Eliot. The new generation of American novelists looks to metafiction, magic realism, and the fantastic in the great recent Latin American authors such as Julio Cortázar, Jorge Luis Borges, and Gabriel García Márquez, another Nobel laureate. In the current ferment of translation, a well-read lover of literature is as likely to be reading César Vallejo as Paul Celan, as likely to be reading the Caribbean novelist Jamaica Kincaid as Ernest Hemingway. As in the Spanish saying "the world is a handkerchief" (el mundo es un pañuelo), the major literatures of Latin America and the Caribbean are now intimately accessible.

Literatures of Latin America has been designed to present teachers and students with a textbook representative of the finest works of Latin American - and Caribbean literature, one that is amenable to many different teaching approaches. This book includes a wealth of materials in order to give teachers choices that they can tailor to their own preferences, needs, and expertise. This capaciousness will allow students to read around in authors, periods, and traditions that particularly excite them, supplementing assigned reading and providing an essential source book for their individual research. Teaching such a broad spectrum of texts may be challenging, and with this in mind I have supported the literary texts with a full apparatus: a general introduction, section introductions, subsection introductions, and extensive headnotes. These supporting materials provide broad and specific contexts, placing literary texts within important cultural, linguistic, and historical movements. In addition, the headnotes include up-to-date bibliographies to guide students for further research.

Translations have been selected primarily for their literary quality because I firmly believe that it is a disservice to students, professors, and authors to present a great work of literature in an English translation that does not read as literature. The depth and quality of these texts demand excellent translations so that students and professors may encounter them in a form that preserves their artistic integrity and delight. The translators featured here are among the finest in their fields, and many are themselves prominent writers. They include W. S. Merwin, Mark Strand, Gordon Brotherston, Elizabeth Bishop, Robert Bly, Paul Blackburn, Anthony Kerrigan,James Merrill, Nathaniel Tarn, Gregory Rabassa, Richard Wilbur, Clayton Eshleman, James Wright, and Philip Levine, among others. My one rule has been to include no translation that is merely adequate. In a sense, then, this text is a showcase for the art of literary translation, and my hope has been to compile an anthology that students will want to take home with them and read long after the course is completed.

In addition to literary texts, Literatures of Latin America includes selections from religious and philosophical texts that have literary merit, such as Native American hymns, creation myths, shaman narrations, cures, chronicles, and exorcisms. These beautiful texts also provide a cosmological and cultural context for literary movements. Extensive headnotes and introductions trace out religious movements and influence, giving students a broad overview of world religions, which have often inspired and been an essential part of world literatures.

The book also includes important examples of the secular essay, including precolumbian historical annals; the log of Christopher Columbus; colonial histories and letters by Bartolomé de las Casas, Bernal Díaz del Castillo, the Inca Garcilaso de la Vega, and Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz. These essays are themselves of immense literary importance and at the same time provide political, philosophical, historical, and biographical supplements to the literary selections. In addition to providing context for the literary selections, the essays provide students with a valuable resource for writing and researching their own essays.

"You can never step in the same river twice," writes Heraclitus, the Presocratic Greek philosopher. Time is such a river, but so is language, which flows from our mouths and is the medium of culture and society. How can one detain the evanescent essence of human communication—language? Like the Irish bog men preserved for centuries in peat or the marvelously is wonder in what reaches us from antiquity. Like a bead of amber containing a prehistoric insect caught in midcrawl, each word deciphered from Mayan or Nahuatl glyphs is precious. Ancient coins unearthed still retain monetary value, but we esteem them even more for their worth as microcosms of vanished worlds. This is the value to be found in ancient writing as well. An inexpressible pathos of lost love is found in the intimate words of a Quechua folksong, "I have lost my dove. / Wandering I call to her in a loud voice. / Everyone who finds me says, / 'Why did you love her?"' Grand drama is experienced in reading the log of Christopher Columbus, sailing with him for two months over uncharted seas, seeing him calm the mutinous crew, glimpsing with him at last a light in the night, which he describes as "like a little wax candle bobbing up and down," and then in reading the next entry, "At dawn we saw naked people." Extraordinarily moving and revealing is the response of the Aztec priests to the Franciscan missionaries sent from Rome to convert them to Christianity: "We don't believe. We don't mock.... / It is enough that we have done penance, / that we are ruined, / that we are forbidden and stripped of power. / Make of us / the thing that most suits you. / This is all we have to reply, / Señores."

These texts stretch from antiquity to the present and, despite cultural differences, reveal throughout the universality of life-and-death experience. In every century and place, writers have recorded visions of the origins and end of the world, of the supernatural permeating ordinary life and afterlife, as in the cosmologies and cosmogonies of the Quiche-Maya religious epic Popol Vuh and of the Quechua Huarochiri manuscript. Writers, religions, and philosophies have always tried to answer basic questions of origin, presence, and destiny and at the same time have given us intimate records of the self and the phenomenal world. The world's authors have observed the known and speculated on the unknown. Literatures of Latin America is a record of their questioning and achievement. It encompasses a vast precinct of human knowledge, hemispheric in scope, given to us by the writers of antiquity and by their heirs, our contemporaries, who continue to extend, innovate, and astound, from Mexico to Argentina.

I would like to thank Roberto González-Echevarría for advice on Cuban and Latin American writers. Gordon Brotherston coedited the translations in the precolumbian section and translated many of the readings in that section. I greatly appreciate his help in putting together a selection from this underrepresented province of world literature. I would like to thank Erika Embry, David Livingston, and Ayame Fukuda for their essential help in research, typing, organization, and the thousand small tasks that a project such as this entails. Ayame Fukuda provided essential research help and also cowrote several introductions.

I would also like to acknowledge the following reviewers: Ali Jimale Ahmed, Queens College; Peter Edmunds, Lansing (MI) Community College; Lydia Liv, University of California, Berkeley; Michael Palencia Roth, University of Illinois; Herman Rapaport, University of Iowa; and Lois Parkinson Zamora, University of Houston.

WILLIS BARNSTONE

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