Do the Americas have a common history? Do they have a common literature? These are questions that seem to be asked at least every fifteen years but are only partially answered.1 Although there is still very much work to be done, some recent scholars have made considerable advances in hemispheric American literature and in comparative intellectual, literary, and cultural histories. I can only claim to imitate the remarkable breadth of scholars such as Lois Parkinson-Zamora, Kirsten Silva Gruesz, Ralph Bauer, Jorge Cañizares Esguerra, Emily Fox, and Anna Brickhouse.
This book about fellow travelers is an invitation extended by a Latin Americanist to anyone willing to find, and survey, some common yet unexplored ground: to travel together. (North) Americanists and Latin Americanists have too much in common and too much to lose if we do not walk and talk with one another. My hope is to deepen—or, in some cases, simply to begin—a traveling conversation.
I recognize that I speak (US) American literary studies with an accent and inevitably fumble some of its conventions or blindly walk past some of its milestones. But I believe Fellow Travelers’s deliberate combination of a broad scope and a fairly narrow theme justifies some methodological and disciplinary liberties, as well as some “outsiderhood.” I hope the license I’ve taken (and any blemishes) will be understood.
The point of Fellow Travelers is to find places and ways that are at once familiar and unfamiliar, as happens in travel—especially travel through the backcountry. In terms of history and cultural specificity, I have aimed for cases of not-always-obvious homology. Basically, the overarching and guiding principle has been to locate striking similarities—which in turn warrant analogy and, I hope, productive comparison. This was my criterion for the selection of texts, as well as the method of inquiry.To the Reader: An Outstretched Hand
For instance, when I address the late colonial/early republican period, I follow the lead of works such as Jorge Cañizares-Esguerra’s comparative history Puritan Consquistadors, written about an earlier historical period. I place side by side two apparently unrelated historical processes that had similar impact on North and South during the period I am considering: the Spanish Decrees of Free Trade of 1778 (which opened the Spanish colonies to international trade) and the process of republican formation in the early United States, whereby distinct ex-colonies and their various social classes were incorporated into one representational system. In different ways, these two processes were equally necessary for the invention of independent, sovereign America(s), and both were deeply connected to the process of independence.
Likewise, when I approach national expansion into the contested empty spaces during the later nineteenth century, I look at the US mythology about the conquest of the West. But I do so through the lens of Argentinean gaucho culture, which conquered the wilderness at roughly the same time. The gauchesque, the foundational literary genre of modern Argentina, has so much in common with US Western culture that it honestly mystifies me that this hasn’t been commented upon more.
There are many, many such cases of unexplored North/South homologies, and I only draw upon a few in this book. In the course of my argument, I often point to some of the homologies that clearly fall outside of the purview of Fellow Travelers but deserve further study, and I welcome more work in that direction. In addition, in several of my comparative case studies I have required the existing criticism itself to travel, applying insights about the cultures of the North to texts and objects of the South, and vice versa.
As the Mexican scholar, poet, and essayist Alfonso Reyes once said, among the lot of us we know everything. With Fellow Travelers I hope to expand who is included in “the lot of us,” and perhaps even discover something beyond the “everything”—something more to know, and talk about, together. Adelante.