La ciudad literaria de Julio Ortega

Transatlantic Translations (David William Foster)

Posted by on October 15, 2009

Julio Ortega. Transatlantic Translations: Dialogues in Latin American Literature. Philip Derbyshire, tr. London. Reaktion (University of Chicago Press, distr.). 2006. 222 pages.
£25/$45. isbn 1-86189287-X
Julio Ortega’s importance in the Latin American community is threefold. First of all, he belongs to the generation of Latin Americanists who, in the context of the 1959 Cuban revolution, turned Latin American Studies (and with a strong base in literary and cultural studies) into a respectable academic enterprise, so much so that it can reputably vie in importance on most campuses with English Studies and with the notable displacement of the hegemony of Spanish Peninsular Studies (which were never very hegemonic in the first place). Second, Ortega represents the significant block of Latin Americanists in the United States who are Latin American, providing the native linguistic–and, much more importantly, cultural–models that have kept Latin American Studies from being U.S.-centric. Finally, Ortega is also one of the outstanding Peruvian specialists in the United States, Peru being one of a handful of Latin American countries whose culture (and just for historical reasons) has dominated curricular interests: Peru fits into an American imaginary of Latin America in a way that, say, Venezuela does not. This has allowed Ortega to play an important role in setting the agenda of Latin American studies in a very effective and cogently theoretical way.
Transatlantic Translations brings together in English translation eight of Ortega’s influential essays, essays that demonstrate articulately his intervention in the intellectual agenda of Latin American cultural studies. As such, they are not text based (although Ortega has published much important criticism that is text based). Rather, each of these essays explores overarching topics concerning Latin American society and culture. As such, they are particularly useful for introductory courses in which the context of the texts is being established or a graduate seminar in which the basic issues of Latin American Studies are being defined: such courses have become increasingly important, both for the insertion of students into particular academic and ideological frameworks and as an alternative to courses on “critical concepts” or “literary theory,” which have always had the problem of decontextualizing Latin American culture and subsuming it under more important, “internationalist” perspectives (not that there isn’t still a lot of this, in the way in which Latin American literature in translation is viewed by the popular press and used in English-language classrooms).
Thus, the presence of such a collection as this in English is important because it can serve to front the discussion of these issues for those non-Spanish readers who are able to go to the trouble of attempting to understand Latin America as a powerful difference. This powerful difference is the point of these essays, particularly in the way in which for Ortega the point must be how Latin American culture–particularly, through its literature–created its own identity, as opposed to the identities constructed for it, through both the Spanish imperial system and other dominant European societies, such as the British.
Since one of my dominant interests has always been in the language ideologies in Latin America, such as the creation of the different national dialects, their relationship to Peninsular academic standards, to Portuguese, to privileged and immigrant languages, and, of course and in the first place, with the indigenous languages, Ortega’s chapter on “Representing: The Language of National Formation” was particularly intriguing. Ortega provides an excellent survey of writers from numerous Latin American nations who addressed questions of national literary norms and their relations (particularly in romanticism) with popular forms of expression. There is much to consider here, and Transatlantic Translations confirms Julio Ortega’s central voice in Latin American cultural studies.
David William Foster
Arizona State University