Footnotes to Empire: Imaginary Borders and Colonial Ambivalence
Hartwell, Ernest Rafael
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AbstractWhile other regions colonized by Spain achieved independence in the first half of the 19th century, Puerto Rico, Cuba, and the Philippines remained under Spanish imperial rule until 1898. Nearly all research about Latin American literature of this era focuses on writers who embraced their freedom by articulating new communities through novels and essays that openly elected and erected national patrimonies and mythologies. 19th-century writers from Spain’s late colonies, however, had to reflect on their communities and prospects of nationhood through texts rife with subterfuge and dangerous supplements. They had to install their voices, both literally and figuratively, into the history of nationhood through the footnotes.
“Footnotes to Empire” examines late 19th-century Philippine, Puerto Rican and Cuban literature, sketching a constellation of strategies for evading censorship, undermining authority, and constructing innovative notions of community. These strategies become apparent through experiments in historiography, travel writing, and the novel. This dissertation engages in the fields of border studies, postcolonial theory, gender studies, and the study of nationalism, addressing the following problems. How to trace the borders of a country that does not exist yet? Do colonized intellectuals strive for freedom or for power? Does their undermining of authority push for reform or revolution? Do they derive an advantage from their knowledge or their doubt? How does the tricky form of these writings compound or contradict the writers’ projects of national imagining?
After a thorough analysis of writings from José Rizal, Antonio Luna, José Martí, Eugenio María de Hostos, and José Julián Acosta, “Footnotes to Empire” concludes that the ambivalence that underlines these texts proves to be both a source of discursive advantage and perpetuated exclusions of popular classes, slaves, queer people, and women. Within the logic of these “enlightened” writings, education forms the hinge that vacillates between the emancipation and further exclusion of the disenfranchised classes. In these works, social and geopolitical borders are both an obstacle that these authors seek to transgress and overcome, as well as the breakwalls that hold back the masses, whose mobilization and capacity to execute revolution threatened the writers’ social standing.
In the end, the lasting legacy of Caribbean and Philippine anti-colonial literature of this era is the transformation of discourses of colonialism, like the “encomienda” or other assertions of colonized peoples’ inevitable inferiority, from declarations into debates.
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