Sunday, October 20, 2013

Charting Colonial Latin American Literature

By Alex Lima | Posted October 17, 2013, at 5:56 p.m.ET

Ever since my first reading of Comentarios Reales (1609), attributed to Gómez Suárez de Figueroa, better known as Inca Garcilaso de la Vega (Cuzco, 1539 - Córdoba, Spain, 1616), I found it relevant to our times, as the book tackled contemporary issues of class, race, and language, as well as national and political allegiance.

From Mary Louise Pratt’s concept of “contact zones” to José Antonio Mazzotti’s portrayal of the migrant subject, Garcilaso’s life and work have inspired some of the most ground-breaking theories in literary studies. In Cartografía garcilacista (Cuadernos de América sin nombre, 285 p.) Raquel Chang-Rodríguez, Distinguished Professor of Hispanic Literature and Culture at The Graduate Center and The City College of the City University of New York, equips both the novice and the specialized reader with a route map to navigate through the maze of Garcilaso’s complex oeuvre.

Unlike previous scholarly studies of Garcilaso’s work, Prof. Chang-Rodríguez takes on a holistic approach to capture her subject’s cosmopolitan worldview, insisting upon a transatlantic continuum which guides the reader through an imaginary voyage, to and from, Perú and Spain, with recurrent stops in modern-day Cuba, Florida, Mississippi, Mexico, and Panama.  This study concentrates on three of Inca Garcilaso’s major works: Relación de la descendencia del famoso Garci Pérez (1596), La Florida del Inca (1605), and Comentarios Reales (Part I, 1609).  

Chang-Rodríguez argues that Relación represents Garcilaso’s attempt to trace back his genealogy to both Castilian and Inca nobility, permeated by humanistic thought and a sense of hybridity as a sign of modernity. Her revision of La Florida starts with Hernando De Soto’s failed expedition to modern-day Florida in search of the fountain of youth. Many of De Soto’s crew members moved on to explore--and settle in--many parts of North America as they sailed down the Mississippi until reaching the territory of New Spain.  Inca Garcilaso received first-hand accounts of this trans-American voyage from many of the same crew members that survived the journey and set down roots in Perú.
In her chapter on Comentarios Reales, Chang-Rodríguez highlights, the often times overlooked, trajectory of Inca Garcilaso’s voyage from Cuzco to Europe.  This trip represents, rather than  a superficial travel log, a reconnaissance of previously acquired mythical and historical accounts of the American landscape and its autochthonous peoples. By the same token, Inca Garcilaso’s idealistic reconstruction of the Inca's past portrays the Spanish conquest as yet another continuum in the journey to human perfection, as measured by the good conduct of its citizens regardless of class, language, race, or national origin.

Thanks to Prof. Chang-Rodríguez's Cartografía garcilacista, I am finally able to grasp, many years later,  why Inca Garcilaso was included in a New York Public Library exhibit about utopian projects.

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