Introduction: My Only Latin Americanism

Samuel Steinberg
University of Southern California

Volume 4, 2013

For the generation to which I belong, there is only Latin Americanism after 9/11. We have only walked its divided path, lived in the shadow of its faded alliances, and known the track of its “career” by lumbering through its ruins (both the ruins of a previous Latin Americanism and also those of a previous academy). If we have followed the traces of its passionate debates, it has been in a far more historical register, and also in the evermore-workaday light that is our métier. As Adriana Johnson recently put it, in a way that resonates with her contribution here: “Nothing seems to be happening in Latin Americanism” (49). I am part of a generation of Latin Americanists who cannot but perceive their intellectual and professional commitments as woefully ill-timed, coming as they do in the wake of so many exciting and perhaps also better-funded possibilities, for whom, perhaps, Adorno’s words serve as a sadly contemporary maxim: “The only responsible course is to deny oneself the ideological misuse of one’s own existence, and for the rest to conduct oneself in private as modestly, unobtrusively and unpretentiously as is required, no longer by good upbringing, but by the shame of still having air to breathe, in hell” (27-8). So be it.

Or maybe there is enough air yet—air for us all—to imagine that what we inhabit is not quite hell, but still our very world, our own world in the way that it must be. Such, I think, is the wager of John Beverley’s latest book, Latinamericanism after 9/11: there is still something at stake in a Latin Americanist labor and perhaps also a task to assume in its field. The interventions collected here and the book with which they dialogue should convince us—Latin Americanists after 9/11, those before, and those to come (if they are to come)—that we were not mistaken in our desire. Indeed, it seems increasingly clear that Beverley’s book opens a reflection parallel to many other debates in the theoretical humanities today, in particular Slavoj Žižek’s recent call for the reinscription of the charismatic leader as the organizing figure of the left and its endurance—indeed, a central preoccupation throughout Beverley’s itinerary.[1]

I will mostly let these pieces speak for themselves; not a few of the contributors have noted, however, that the logic of Beverley’s book is the justification of a Latin Americanist past—a “balance sheet,” as Horacio Legrás puts it—and he hopes to end up in the black. I think the door Beverley’s book opens to a reevaluation of that past is perhaps its most valuable contribution, and is, indeed, why his book demands a conversation. This narrative (an elaborate secondary revision) hinges on Beverley’s reading of the 1960s in the sixth chapter of Latinamericanism after 9/11, “Beyond the Paradigm of Disillusion: Rethinking the Armed Struggle in Latin America,” which he delivered as “Rethinking the Legacy of Armed Struggle in Latin America” on a panel I organized for the 2007 LASA meeting in Montreal. Yet in its contemporary iteration, rather than taking up that legacy by way of imagining some other political sequence—the titular task of rethinking—here Beverley makes the remarkable and perhaps even slightly Manichean claim that “…there is a relation between how one thinks about the armed struggle in Latin America and how one thinks about the nature and possibilities of the new governments of the marea rosada, even where these have explicitly moved away from the model of armed struggle” (95). In keeping with such a claim, his book’s seventh chapter concludes the book on its powerful affirmation of the marea rosada (Latin America’s pink tide, in reference to the disputed leftist turn in Venezuela, Bolivia and Ecuador) as if to underline the logic of this sequence.

Beverley’s claim is, in effect, that with contemporary events, as Benjamin might have put it, an image of the past has now come into its moment of “recognizability,” and with it, settles the entire sequence of political and aesthetic possibilities that Beverley has bravely explored throughout the course of his Latin Americanism. Bravely—I say that with no irony, for he is our symptom and has been unafraid to commit himself to this labor in and as the symptom.

For Beverley, in the marea rosada is somehow resolved the working-out of Latin Americanism from a certain inception (let us remember its relatively recent genesis: Beverley himself, like a good many early Latin Americanists, wrote his thesis on a Spanish Golden Age topic) to its “post-subalternist” present. Incisively savaging the consensual “disillusion” with the legacy of the sixties, Beverley suggests that “the possibility of radical change has opened up once again in the Americas, North and South” (109). Perhaps some of that is true, but its truth should be read within the sequence of Latin Americanist political formations that trace Beverley’s engagement. To suggest the sufficiency of the world as it is (“improved” by the so-called marea rosada) is also, I worry, to imagine—whether or not we wish to admit it—that nothing will happen, that nothing else could or should happen. “Nothing seems to be happening in Latin Americanism” (Johnson 49). Or anywhere else. Perhaps then we can even go along with Beverley, at least far enough to say that the marea rosada engages positively something like our “shame of still having air to breathe, in hell,” both for its witnesses and also for whatever formalization of the “subaltern-popular agency” we might hope dwells within it. But why this refusal, both in our professional lives and also our political commitments, to imagine something other than hell?[2] Fortunate though we are for air to breathe, that fortune marks also a responsibility, and one beyond shame, I hope. And that responsibility is accepted and carried out in the dialogue continued here.

I must first express my thanks to the General Editor of PC, Gareth Williams, for his patience and his guidance, and to the contributors to this dossier for their having generously taken the time to take our field seriously. They made my work easy with their intelligence and their kindness. Without the institutional and intellectual support provided by Benjamín Mayer Foulkes, Alberto Moreiras, and Davide Tarizzo and Texas A&M, 17 Instituto de Estudios Críticos, the University of Aberdeen, the University of Michigan, and the Università degli Studi di Salerno, we would not have the space for the reflection carried out here. Finally, I thank John Beverley. For reasons of timing, his response has not been included here, though I trust that it is forthcoming. Our field owes a certain debt to John—unpayable accounts, of course—but I hope he will enjoy these essays and also read in them a certain homage, both to his work in our field and also to his person.


01. See Henwood.

02. Shame, indeed, organizes what in Kate Jenckes’ piece appears to be Beverley’s “fraternal” non-relation to deconstruction. Writes Jenckes: “Against what he characterizes as an ‘overvaluation of intellectual and cultural critique’ that he associates with deconstruction and with Moreiras’s work in particular, he defines ‘the form of the political as such’ in terms of identity and solidarity…” ( ).

Works Cited