Reading Now: Historical Danger in Spanish Caribbean Literary Modernism Open Access

Mendoza-De Jesús, Ronald (2015)

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Can history be conceived and practiced otherwise than in accordance with historicism's idea of history? Given the complicated status of the "literary" vis-à-vis any traditional notion of epistemological certainty and ontological reality, is it possible to historicize literary texts while doing justice to their literariness? Finally, if modernist literature is often defined by the challenge that it poses to historicist forms of narrating and remembering the past, then what kind of literary history would be attuned to the historicity of modernism? This dissertation proposes an answer to these three questions by developing the "concept" of "historical danger" to designate the intense historicity that irrupts whenever the possibility of appropriating the past--predominantly through the form of a narrative--becomes impossible. The first section of the dissertation, "Reading Danger: Another Literary History," proposes a new definition historicism by retracing its historical "closure." If history for Aristotle was the domain of the accidental and was thus incapable of yielding the totality that characterizes philosophy and poetry, historicism turned the past into a possible domain of teleological totalization. Historicism thus emerges as the transposition of an ontology of actuality unto the domain of historical reality. In showing that the determination of the past as a possible object of experience and knowledge for the historian constitutes the metaphysical decision that structures the very history of historicism, this dissertation seeks to argue that the deconstruction of historicism requires interrupting the ontology that privileges the historian's presence as the surreptitious source of history's possibility. The second part of the dissertation, "Reading Now: Spanish Caribbean Literary Modernism," turns to two literary authors whose work thematizes the historical force of events that threaten the historian's capacity to represent and narrate the past. Through chapter-length readings of Julia de Burgos's elegiac poetry and of Giannina Braschi's engagement with embodiment, I show that these writes invite us to think history otherwise. Historicity emerges in their texts as a dangerous event, whose legibility calls into question our capacity to witness and reliably represent history in the form of actuality.

Table of Contents

Introduction of Literary Events 1


Reading Danger: Another Literary History

Chapter One

On the Possibility of Literary History 59

Chapter Two

The Closure of Historicism 125

Chapter Three

Reading Danger: Walter Benjamin's "Phenomenology" of History 213

Coda Another History, Another Historicity 293


Reading Now: Spanish Caribbean Literary Modernism

Chapter Four

Julia de Burgos's History of Survival: "¡Dadme mi número!" 327

Chapter Five

Caribbean Histories of the Archi-Body: "La barque ouverte" and "Close-Up" 385


Reading--The Time of Survival: Two Poems of Jorge Luis Borges 423

Bibliography 445

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