Vol. 2, No. 1 (2023)
Timothy Frye brings FORMA readers a collection of essays exploring the environmental humanities in twentieth-century Latin American literature, film, and visual art. Essays include analyses of visual artworks by Fritzia Irízar, Débora Delmar, and Minerva Cuevas; novels by Luis Sepúlveda, Samanta Schweblin, Agustín Yáñez, Claudia Hernández, and Rodrigo Rey Rosa; films by Rubén Gámez; and essays by Silvia Rivera Cusicanqui and Arturo Escobar.
Adrian Taylor Kane
Inverting the Discourse of Civilization and Barbarism in Mundo del fin del mundo and Un viejo que leía novelas de amor by Luis Sepúlveda
Un viejo que leía novelas de amor and Mundo del fin del mundo propose that being modern at the turn of the 21st century is no longer to demonstrate mastery over non-human nature as in the great novels of the 19th century and the early part of the twentieth century. Instead, the redefinition of modernity offered in Sepúlveda's novels would be a heightened ecological awareness in which capitalist surplus is no longer privileged over the well-being of ecosystems.
Schweblin's novel invites readers to trace toxicity historically, particularly when the meaning of toxicity has changed: the early nineteenth century linked toxicity to law and the mid-twentieth century brought about pesticide and herbicide use on a pharaonic scale. These two moments in time—alarms, perhaps—inform the early twenty-first-century struggle for justice and the battle for popular sentiment about toxicity where we live, in what we eat, and where our parents did these things.
Extractivist reflexivity is typically expressed in one of two ways: as a critical reflection on the materials that constitute the work and its conditions of production, or as a reflexive consideration about the system that gives rise to the work and in which it circulates and is consumed. It is a form of critique that calls attention to itself—to its materiality, financing, institutional structuring, or participation otherwise in the circuits of commodities and capital it seeks to illuminate or diagnose. Fritzia Irízar, Débora Delmar, and Minerva Cuevas reckon with art’s implication in extractivist systems, both in terms of bolstering its desires and emerging from within its financial ecosystem. Rather than position art as solely counter or opposed to extractivism, these artists lay bare the collusions, implications, and frictions that embroil fine art and extractivism.
Twenty-first century texts from isthmian creators come forth from long genealogies of critical engagements by authors with the inequities born of genocide, extraction, and deterritorialization, and with resilience, persistence, ingenuity, evasion, and the survival of communities. Rodrigo Rey Rosa and Claudia Hernández write about both what exists and persists in the process and wake of extractivism, including the wars and violence with which extractivism is entangled, and what is “backdrop” for the extractive processes that make modernity. That is, the lives, territories, histories, and knowledges of those marginalized, surveilled, and displaced become the main story.
Los magueyes and Las tierras flacas demonstrate that the genre of the revolutionary narrative has an environmental dimension that provides crucial insight into the environmental implications and impact of the Revolution as narrated in many works belonging to the genre. These works show that genre of revolutionary narrative in Mexico has a relation to the larger spectrum of environmental issues contemporaneous with the development and canonization of the novela de la Revolución in later decades.
In Latin America the Environmental Humanities are not widely established as an academic concept either in teaching on in research, but the historically grounded and interdisciplinary vantage point of environmental research and analysis in the region has tremendous potential to contribute to the questions with which Environmental Humanities scholars are concerned. The distinctive characteristic shared in the modes of analysis developed by Silvia Rivera Cusicanqui and Arturo Escobar is that their frameworks originate in the collective experiences of eco-social localities. These webs of relations are at once at the crossroads of larger phenomena, such as the creation of colonial economies in the Andes dating back to the sixteenth century, and the social and environmental movements led by indigenous and Afro-descendant communities in twenty-first-century Colombia. The embedded knowledges that have come out of these experiences have in turn been incorporated into anti-colonial and decolonial proposals.