Book Review

Author’s Response to the “A World Not to Come” Roundtable

(The previous entries for the roundtable can be found using the following links: Lilian Calles Barger’s introduction here, Philip Lorenz’s critique here, Tamar Herzog’s analysis here,  Ralph Bauer’s contribution is here, and Prof. Beatriz Gonzalez-Stephan’s contribution is here.)

Raúl Coronado, UC Berkeley

There is no field of study known as nineteenth-century Latina/o studies. It’s anachronistic, for one. Latinas/os are a contemporary social group, everyone knows. They emerged as distinct communities in the twentieth century, primarily in the Southwest by Mexicans and the Northeast by Puerto Ricans and, since the 1960s, have increased in complexity especially with the arrival of Cubans, Dominicans, and Central Americans.

Or so the standard story goes. And yet we know that Latinas/os did not emerge out of a vacuum. We know that there were nineteenth-century Mexican communities in what is today the Southwest just as much as there were communities of expatriate Latin Americans on the East coast.

For historians, perhaps the more precise term would be Borderlands history, a field that takes geography as its unifying focus by turning to the area that today forms the U.S.-Mexico border. The field has its origins in the 1930s with the work of Herbert E. Bolton, and since then has produced illuminating studies revealing the political, economic, and social history of overlapping empires, nation-states, and peoples.

Less known, however, is the world of ideas, the world of dreams deferred, aspirations met, the world of spirits, beauty, and desires. Less known, then, are the historical fields of ideas, letters, and the arts. In the 1990s, however, the Recovering the U.S. Hispanic Literary Heritage project was launched, sending literary historians into the archives, searching for long lost novels, collections of poetry, and other texts. Since then many literary texts have been republished, leading to the creation of a small yet flourishing field of Latina/o literary history. Still, we know little to nothing of the literary, intellectual, cultural world in which these texts had been produced. When and why did the printing press enter? What did they read? What did they write?

And so my book entered the world of ideas by making a case for nineteenth-century Latina/o intellectual and literary history. A materialist at heart, I wanted to ground my analysis in the close reading of primary documents produced by people in a particular place—that of Texas. I wanted to work inductively in order to arrive at a conceptual framework that would allow us to understand the conditions of possibility that made these enunciations possible, what Prof. Beatriz Gonzalez-Stephan generously describes as the “cuidadoso trabajo semántico de los textos [the careful close attention to the text’s semantic meaning].” Rather than ask, “why didn’t they write novels?” I sought to ask, “why did they write what they wrote? What, for them, if not literature, captured the sense of aworldnotocomebeauty and an engagement with the world in which they lived?”

To do so required a careful attention to place, to be certain, to understand the social-political history of Texas—from Spanish colony, to Mexican republic, to Texan republic, to a part of the United States. But more than anything, the materials begged that they be placed in a much larger context, one that exploded the territorial purview of Borderlands history. For example, the subtle, nuanced arguments in locally produced petitions and manifestos alluded to complex, long-ignored traditions of what I described as Catholic political philosophy—a move I acknowledged as polemical in order to juxtapose it to what has long been understood as a secular tradition of political philosophy (that of Hobbes and Locke) but which I described as Protestant. It required understanding the social role of reading and writing (what I describe as textuality [17-22]) in a world where less than 15% of the population could read (one that I characterized as univocal [269-276]), and exploring the radical transformations in the community’s orientation to writing as sovereignty shifted from monarchical rule to republican rule (one that I described as multivocal [288, 320-323]).

I made the case in the book for describing this as “Latino” not because of some long, continuing, unbroken history between the nineteenth century and the present, but because these communities were among the first to attempt to understand their world by drawing from both Hispanic-Catholic and Anglo-Protestant epistemologies. For many this was the ineluctable result of conquest and U.S. imperialism, and would lead to the processes of racialization. They engage with these ideas by using writing and print culture as a way to disseminate their visions for their futures. This is a “Latino” history not in the identitarian sense—no one identified as such during the nineteenth century—but in the epistemic sense, as a way to understand how Spanish American communities in what is today the U.S. drew from both Hispanic Catholic and Anglo Protestant forms of knowledge in understanding their world. But the conundrum that emerges here is that this “Latino” history spans and overlaps the histories of Spain, Spanish America, the independence and creation of nations in Mexico, the Caribbean, and rest of Spanish America; and—here is the crucial turning point—the incorporation of these communities into what is the United States. Thus, if one were to merely focus on the parts of the book that cover the colonial through independence-eras, one might surmise, as Professor Tamar Herzog does, that the book offers relatively little that is new to historians of Spain and Spanish America. (Though Prof. Beatriz Gonzalez-Stephan would appear to disagree with her, at least from the standpoint of Latin American literary historians.) That Prof. Herzog says nothing of the fact that Spanish Texas was the first province in all of New Spain to declare itself independent as a republic with a written constitution (248) is a bit surprising. But then again, the failure of Texas to sustain its independence and, consequently, its annexation to the U.S. is why and where historians of Spanish America stop and pass on the baton to historians of the U.S., leaving the history of these peoples in limbo, as if their lived experiences could easily be demarcated by the making and breaking of the borders of nation-states.

The difficulty in cobbling together a field, as can be seen already, is that it requires working at the interstices of well-established fields of inquiry and, especially, of what are more often than not nationally-delineated fields: the history of print culture, orality, literacy, and writing in British America, the Borderlands, Spanish America, and Spain; the political history of Spain, Spanish America, and the Borderlands; all informed by the philosophical-methodology of intellectual history (as represented by Quentin Skinner [2002]) and the historically-oriented work of Foucault and Derrida. But to work at the interstices of established fields can easily raise suspicions on behalf of those working from the centers of those disciplines. Thus, one makes good faith efforts to thoroughly immerse oneself into those fields of inquiry, knowing fully well that many of the truisms of that field will simply not hold in analyzing documents produced from the periphery.

But how best to contextualize the specificity of the Latino-Texas archive, situating it as I attempted to do, within the larger discursive history of Late Scholastic political philosophy? Professors Herzog and Ralph Bauer are quite right to point out that I fail to address the radically vast differences within the larger Hispanic Catholic political world. This is precisely because I am less interested in those debates (which unfolded in the metropoles of Spain and Spanish America) than I am in the world of textuality—the engagement with ideas, orality, writing, and print culture—that shaped Spanish-Mexican Texas.

Thus, I’m not sure what to make of Prof. Bauer’s insistence in engaging with the fascinating, complex debates within Late Scholastic philosophy when it is specifically the revolutionary documents that entered Texas that was of concern. When he does turn to my analyses of the primary documents, he does so to argue that I misread Toledo’s broadsheet. Prof. Bauer claims that the broadsheet’s single reference to Moctezuma, the Aztec ruler who confronted the Spaniards upon their arrival, reveals that the document is not informed by—what I described in shorthand as—the “political principles of the Habsburg dynasty.” Rather, he claims, the document is shaped by the tradition of creole patriotism (one that coopted indigenous claims to sovereignty). Yet, notwithstanding the single passing reference to Moctezuma, there is no sustained engagement with the discourse of creole patriotism. Instead, the rest of the 2,000-word document dives deeply into the complex world of Francisco Suárez’s political philosophy, outlining the various concepts of rights. This certainly is not to discount the importance of creole patriotism. But rather than assume that one single reference to creole patriotism completely undermines the broadsheet’s careful delineation of Catholic natural law, I would argue that Prof. Bauer’s point buttresses my claim rather than weakens it. The print culture of this period, I argue in the book, cannot be reduced to pure, untainted ideologies. The broadsheet, like other contemporary documents, should be seen as a palimpsest drawing from a variety of discourses—even if under scrutiny they may appear to be contradictory—in order to make what ended up being a very persuasive claim to declare Spanish Texas independent.

Expanding out to the book’s larger conceptual arguments, Prof. Herzog suggests that the tension between Hispanics and Anglo Americans should not be characterized along the lines of Catholic versus Protestant political philosophies. Rather, she suggests the more precise tension was between their respective relationships to a sense of the past, as one of continuity (as in the case of Britain, but not the United States, as she claims) or as of a complete rupture (as in the case with France and the United States). This tension between continuity or rupture certainly was paramount in the metropolitan centers of Spanish America. But for those Spanish American subjects living in the outskirts of New Spain, facing the very real confrontation with Anglo Americans, the conflict unfortunately could not be better expressed than through the political concepts of community (for Catholics) versus individuals (for Protestants). Indeed, Catholicism would be one of the pivotal foundations upon which the racialization of Latinas/os would continue to unfold.

Prof. Philip Lorenz’s three thought-provoking questions get to some of the book’s central conceptual concerns. Indeed, I claim that the social relationship to writing underwent a radical epistemic rupture, first, as the intellectual world of Late Scholasticism gave way to the via moderna in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries and, second, as the wars of independence unfolded (51-55). But, he asks, how are we to understand these ruptures? Are they to be interpreted as the result of an individual’s action, as my language implies at times? He is right to intuit that I see these ruptures at an epistemic level, not the result of conscious choices by individuals. I see them from a Foucaultian perspective, the one captured by his pithy expression, “people know what they do, but what they don’t know is what they do does.” It’s thus that my book uses each of the textual examples as a brushstroke, one building upon the other, until a clearer image begins to appear. But just as in a painting, the shift from one episteme to the other is far from clearly defined, not restricted to a precise date, but may span years, decades indeed.

Professors Lorenz and Gonzalez-Stephan pick up on a point developed in my book that I would like to pursue in my future work: the legacy of the Hispanic Catholic world of ideas for thinking about possessive individualism in the Latino/Hispanic world (by Hispanic, I mean both Spaniards and Spanish Americans). If for Prof. Gonzalez-Stephan the book represents a new interpretive perspective on the contemporary question of popular versus state sovereignty, then I would want to pursue the making of this sense of the self qua the individual. I concur with Prof. Lorenz in sensing that the legacy of Late Scholasticism has more to do with its emphasis on economics and property than it has to do with politics and rights, a subtle though clear distinction. This in fact is very much in line with what I argue in Chapter Three: that the Hispanic Enlightenment was shaped far more by the discourse of political economy than it was by the political philosophy of rights. Franciscans and Dominicans engaged in a heated debate during the thirteenth century on whether people had the right to own and control property (dominium) versus the right to use yet not own it (usufruct). Students of political philosophy have traced the making of possessive individualism and its roots in property back to Antiquity, but when faced with the Reformation most have pursued the Protestant path leaving the Catholic world to the side. If Protestants had settled the debate on property (dominium), it is not clear to me how Catholics did (232-233). We simply do not know enough about the particulars of this language of rights, property, and the self in the Hispanic world.

I entered the world of nineteenth-century Spanish-Mexican Texas with clearly defined expectations to find resistance to U.S. imperialism. Over the course of a decade, I learned to put my solipsistic concerns aside, to be attentive, patient, and to delve deeply into a world that was, to me, baffling, bewildering. How best to reintroduce this long-lost world to our present? My goal has been to bridge fields of study that have not often been put into conversation, to revive and revise the field of intellectual history, to expand a conversation in order to see how these previous ways of understanding the self, community, and the desire to find meaning and place may help us see our past—and present—in much more capacious terms.

Raúl Coronado is Associate Professor of Ethnic Studies/ChicaCoronadono and Latino Studies at the University of California, Berkeley and the author of A World Not to Come.

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