“Non serviam: Joyce and Mexico”

My article, entitled “Non serviam: Joyce and Mexico”, has been published in the summer edition of Comparative Literature  (64.2 (2012): 192-206). Though it’s not up on the journal website yet, I am including the link for future reference. Here is the abstract:

The present work argues that the lowest common denominator for the incorporation of Joycean aesthetics into Mexican letters is a persistent quest for universality and examines how Fernando del Paso and Salvador Elizondo, two Mexican authors at opposite ends of what might be termed the Joycean spectrum, assimilate Joyce into their respective cultural projects. Part and parcel of that quest demands defiant attitudes both towards peripheral literary nationalism and cosmopolitan assignations of cultural inferiority. This paper endeavors to answer two seminal questions: How do Del Paso and Elizondo constitute themselves as participatory members in the larger field of Western and world culture, and how does the apparent divestment of national cultural identities actually reaffirm the importance of that identity? Specifically I am intrigued by the different ways they dialogue with Joyce both as literary icon and body of texts in order to assert their cultural credentials on the world stage. To that end, the present work is divided into three sections. The first examines how Joyce arrived in Mexico and the critical context that brought his work into the center of discussions about literature in the 1960s as well as the ways in which updated theoretical approaches can help move beyond comparative narratologies. The second section examines Del Paso’s engagement with the Western canon in his public addresses and his parodic subversions of Joycean texts. The third section studies Elizondo’s appropriation of Joyce’s early aesthetics and his translation of the first page of Finnegans Wake.

Mexico City Blues: José Agustín

This talk was presented during the Hispanic Transatlantic Studies symposium that was organized by José Luis Venegas (WFU) and José María Rodríguez García (Duke U) on Wake Forest University campus in April 2012. My thanks to them and to the members of my panel: Manuel Gutiérrez (Rice U), Ignacio Sánchez Prado (Washington U), and Oswaldo Estrada (UNC Chapel Hill), as well as to all who came up afterwards to shoot the breeze about rock and roll.

Mexico City Blues: José Agustín and the New Classical Music of Counterculture

José Agustín (Cuautla, 1994) was Mexico’s original drooling fanatic, an elite category of music listener defined by Steve Almond as “wannabes, geeks, professional worshippers” who are driven by a Benjaminian compulsion for collecting new albums and a Pauline zeal for preaching the gospel of their musical preferences to other people whether they are interested or not.[i] At 23, having already established his credentials as a talented novelist, Agustín took a job writing three articles a week on music and literature for the cultural section of El Día. In so doing, he effectively became Mexico’s first authentic rock critic. While Agustín is most well-known for novels like La tumba, Del perfil, and Se está haciendo tarde (final en laguna), or short story collections like Inventando que sueño where adolescent characters filter their perceptions of urban experience through the lyrics of American and British music, this morning I want to address his nonfiction writing about rock ‘n’ roll. I have chosen this approach because critical appreciations of Agustín’s narrative works have almost universally used rock as a cypher for the holy trinity of 1960s counterculture—sex, drugs, and rock and roll—instead of studying his approach to music as an autonomous category of analysis which allows for the construction of an ideal space for reimagining Mexican culture.[ii] My study of Agustín’s rock journalism borrows from Paul Gilroy’s assertion that, because national culture and identity projects are oftentimes grounded in and constructed through the deployment of popular music and “the broader cultural and philosophical meanings that flow from its production, circulation and consumption, music is especially important in breaking the inertia that arises in the unhappy polar opposition between a squeamish, nationalist essentialism and a sceptical, saturnalian pluralism” (Gilroy 185). To this end, as Susan Manning and Andrew Taylor have suggested, we might appropriate a Deleuzian notion of the open-ended rhizome as the guiding principle for the study of transatlantic cultural transactions, as a place where lives and cultural elements flow across borders without necessarily adhering to the standard routes of trade and commerce that have shaped our understanding of the region. Such a perspective allows us to look beyond the traditional lines of cultural influence that flow back and forth across the Atlantic between Mexico and Spain in order to see other connections or to imagine a new series of spatial relationships that mediate cultural production, diffusion, influence, and reception in the Mexico. Continue reading Mexico City Blues: José Agustín

Cult of Defeat in Mexico’s Historical Fiction

I am pleased to announce that this month my book, Cult of Defeat in Mexico’s Historical Fiction, will be available for purchase through Amazon and Palgrave. Here is the blurb:

Cult of Defeat in Mexico’s Historical Fiction: Failure, Trauma, and Loss examines recent Mexican historical novels that highlight the mistakes of the nineteenth century for the purpose of responding to present crises. Over the last twenty years, historical novels have become a mainstay for major presses, surpassing other fictional genres in publication and sales. As these bestsellers enter the public sphere, they engage in a massive rewrite of the country’s guiding fictions and national myths. This book argues that historical reconstructions of the nation’s foundational period acquire deeper meaning when understood as part of broad contemporary debates about globalization, neoliberalism, political legitimacy, and the crises afflicting Mexican communities today.

And for everyone itching to see what’s inside, here is the Table of Contents:

  • Introduction: The Stellar Moments of Mexican History and the Rhetoric of Failure
  • Chapter 1 – A Mexican Comedy of Errors in Jorge Ibargüengoitia’s Self-Correcting Independence History
  • Chapter 2 – Cross-Dressing the Second Empire in Fernando del Paso’s Noticias del imperio
  • Chapter 3 – The Voices of the Master in Enrique Serna’s El seductor de la patria
  • Chapter 4 – Paralysis and Redemption in Three Novels about the Mexican-American War
  • Conclusion: Bicentennial Reflections on Failure