Readers familiar with modern literary criticism and interested in the literature of Spanish-speaking countries will find this book useful. It is a study of modernism as the term applies to cultural texts produced in Spain and parts of Latin America around the turn of the century. Iris Zavala is wary of both conceptual and historical generalizations, however, and thus leaves room for more recent authors in the study. Her analysis aims to point out strategies for creating literary discourse that could be read as uniquely national, understood partly as a reaction against cultural practices considered to be expressions of sociopolitical domination. As her analysis develops, Zavala provides a broad international history of a cultural movement whose relevance is still felt today. At the same time, her choice of specific texts enables her to offer an interesting examination of ideas rather than just a bibliographic chronology of the important works of modernismo.
The theoretical framework of Colonialism and Culture consists primarily of the Bakhtinian concepts of ideologeme, chronotope, and dialogism, together with the notion of carnavalization, applied to define cultural discourses as products of distinct ideological agendas or, specifically, literary texts as vehicles for the creation and solidification of an image of self and national identity. Zavala argues that the various expressions of modernism all serve the perceived need to make art participate in the process of political and cultural decolonization. She then proceeds to examine the stages of this process, from the initial awareness of political independence to artistic concerns related to metalanguage via metaphor and myth. Her study makes constant reference to the sociopolitical “milieux” in which Hispanic modernist art was produced, thus offering useful, albeit not all-encompassing, historical information.
The U.S. reader may find Zavala’s rhetoric and style somewhat off-putting, because they lean toward a European scholarly style of excessive theoretical references and minimal straightforward statements. As a review of basic concepts of literary and cultural criticism and a study on the evolution of ideas in the Hispanic world, however, the book is a useful text for the scholar or student of cultural histories.