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Elisabeth L. Austin: Exemplary ambivalence in late nineteenth-century Spanish America

    Exemplary ambivalence in late nineteenth-century Spanish America: Narrating Creole subjectivity

Exemplary ambivalence in late nineteenth-century Spanish America addresses the curiously “bad” examples written into Spanish American creole narratives from the end of the 19th century. Such narratives, authored by the post-independence creole elite, seek to shape their readers by prescribing socio-political ideals for the Spanish American republics. This study interrogates the ideological fissures within postcolonial social and racial mythologies, reading exemplarity as an unintentional narrative of creole writing subjects’ social fears.

Exemplary Ambivalence analyzes a variety of canonical and lesser-known texts by Eugenio Cambaceres (Argentina), José Asunción Silva (Colombia), José Martí (Cuba), Clorinda Matto de Turner (Peru), and Juana Manuela Gorriti (Argentina), works that engage issues of nationalism, citizenship, gender, indigenous rights, and liberal ideologies. Austin shows how exemplary discourse enacts postcolonial ambivalence during this period of slow, anxious modernization at the end of the Spanish American 19th century.


Austin (Virginia Tech) widens and deepens understanding of the dynamics of reading in late-19th-century Spanish American prose literature. Essentially, she studies aspects of the reading practices and their corresponding cultural matrices of a period that—following the establishment of independent republics in most of the continent—saw the full emergence of the Creole writing subject. The hybridity of this subject is a constant concern for the author, who offers chapters on major texts along with little-known works by writers including Eugenio Cambaceres, Domingo Sarmiento, Jose Asuncion Silva, José Martí, Clorinda Matto de Turner, and Juana Manuela Gorriti. Positing that allegory and example are major tropes through which the reader's agency is enacted, Austin convincingly argues for the need to focus on the pertinence of exemplarity. For Austin, the example, from Count Don Manuel on, has called for mimetic modeling not always recognized in Hispanic literatures. She argues for "the necessity of reading exemplarity as an inherently inconclusive and contradictory means of guidance" in texts ranging from biography to novels to, surprisingly, Gorriti's 1890 cookbook Cocina ecléctica (1890), an apparently exotic text that is fully appropriate as a balance to what Austin calls the "national-decadent-gendered-interventionist novels" she analyzes earlier. —CHOICE

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Elisabeth L. Austin

    Elisabeth L. Austin

Elisabeth L. Austin is Assistant Professor of Spanish in the Department of Foreign Languages and Literatures at Virginia Tech. Her research explores issues of subjectivity, exemplarity, authority, and gender in late 19th- and early 20th-century Spanish American narrative. She teaches Spanish language and Hispanic culture and literature, including seminars on themes such as monstrosity and gender in 19th- and 20th-century Spanish American literature.

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