New materialist approaches to the novel call into question the hermeneutical value of suspicion and critique. Meanwhile, historical materialism tends to neglect aspects of form, focusing instead on social function. Drawing from Las comidas profundas (1997), by Cuban writer Antonio José Ponte, and Cuban Counterpoint: Tobacco and Sugar (1940, trans. 1995), by anthropologist Fernando Ortiz, the essay charts a third approach, transcultural materialism, that reconciles the two tendencies. Works written in this mode deploy narrative and literary language to articulate labor with nonhuman themes, demonstrating the continuity of phenomena across botanical, economic, and cultural realms. Crucially, literature here serves as the primary means for critical elucidation rather than as the mere illustration of political ecological ideas. The limit case considered in the article—stories from the island of Cuba and its staples of tobacco, sugar, and scarce food—allows for a reconsideration of the role of objects in fiction both as stand-ins for social relations and as agents in their own right. In closing, the essay outlines three principles for a world literature infused with transcultural materialism: contemporaneity, multipolarity, and hospitality.

You do not currently have access to this content.