Writing in the Air

Heterogeneity and the Persistence of Oral Tradition in Andean Literatures

Writing in the Air

Book Pages: 232 Illustrations: Published: May 2013

Author: Antonio Cornejo Polar

Translator: Lynda J. Jentsch

Contributor: Jean Franco

Cultural Studies, Latin American Studies > Andes, Literature and Literary Studies > Literary Criticism

Originally published in 1994, Writing in the Air is one of the most significant books of modern Latin American literary and cultural criticism. In this seminal work, the influential Latin American literary critic Antonio Cornejo Polar offers the most extended articulation of his efforts to displace notions of hybridity or "mestizaje" dominant in Latin American cultural studies with the concept of heterogeneity: the persistent interaction of cultural difference that cannot be resolved in synthesis. He reexamines encounters between Spanish and indigenous Andean cultural systems in the New World from the Conquest into the 1980s. Through innovative readings of narratives of conquest and liberation, homogenizing nineteenth- and twentieth-century discourses, and contemporary Andean literature, he rejects the dominance of the written word over oral literature. Cornejo Polar decenters literature as the primary marker of Latin American cultural identity, emphasizing instead the interlacing of multiple narratives that generates the heterogeneity of contemporary Latin American culture.


"For cultural critics and theorists who read only English, Writing in the Air will have a special value, as each chapter (dealing with a major problem in the cultural formation of Latin America) benefits from the perspective that an extremely well-read and well-versed critic brings to the formulation of the problematic at hand. The prose is clear, the thinking has been slimmed down, the focus is unyielding, and the translator has done a very good job." — Sara Castro-Klaren, Critical Inquiry

"This attractive English edition of Cornejo Polar’s masterful excursion into Andean heterogeneity is a charter for investigating verbal discourse as a reflector and driver of history and its cultural formations."  — John Holmes McDowell, Anthropological Linguistics

"Writing in the Air reoriented and revitalized Latin American literary scholarship.... [T]he translator skillfully renders Cornejo Polar’s sometimes complex ideas in a rich prose that is pleasant to read. Indeed, this translation will be very important for scholars who work in comparative or Anglo-American literature and who, otherwise, would not have the linguistic tools to read works written by Latin American or Latino authors.... It will also be a useful tool for undergraduate students beginning their careers as Spanish, comparative literature, or Latin American studies majors. For those cohort groups, it should be considered a must-have item."  — Thomas Ward, Hispania

 "A book this important merits a skillful presentation to the English speaking world, and Lynda J. Jentsch has produced a translation reflecting the high standards and innovative vision of its author. Jean Franco's incisive and thoughtful preface gives important perspectives on this book in its Latin American context."  — Gwen Kirpatrick, Review: Literature and Arts of the Americas

"There is something so immense and wonderful in Cornejo Polar’s vision that, ultimately, it exceeds the bounds of his writing." — Katie Dimmery, Journal of Folklore Research

"Writing in the Air marks the beginning of a major shift in the conception of Latin American literature and culture. Antonio Cornejo Polar questioned the implicit equation of modernity/modernization, transculturation, literature, and the formation of the modern Latin American nation-state. The incorporation by the current governments of Bolivia, Ecuador, and Peru of strong, multicultural elements is related to the cultural paradigm elaborated in Writing in the Air. Cornejo Polar's arguments remain fresh and suggestive, and they are done justice in this excellent translation." — John Beverley, author of Latinamericanism after 9/11

"In his last, indispensable book, the great Antonio Cornejo Polar takes readers on a fascinating journey through the plural worlds of Andean culture. This classic text, finally available in English, proves yet again why the author is widely considered a scholar who revolutionized Latin American literary criticism, providing an incisive interpretation of how Perú—and the rest of the continent—expresses itself with glorious complexity in its most significant works of the imagination." — Ariel Dorfman, author of Feeding on Dreams: Confessions of an Unrepentant Exile


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Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

Antonio Cornejo Polar (1936–1997) was an internationally acclaimed Peruvian literary and cultural critic. He taught and served as Rector at the National University of San Marcos in Lima. Over the course of his career, he held visiting professorships in Latin America, Europe, and the United States. Cornejo Polar wrote eleven books and founded and edited the well-respected journal Revista de Crítica Literaria Latinaomericana.

Table of Contents Back to Top
Acknowledgments vii

Foreword / Jean Franco ix

Introduction 1

1. Voice and the Written Word in the Cajamarca "Dialogue" 13

The Cajamarca Chroncile 13

Rituals of Other Memories 31

A Perhaps Impossible Reading 46

Identity, Alterity, History 55

2. The Structures of Homogeneity: Discourses of Impossible Harmony 59

Garcilaso: Harmony Rent Asunder 60

Social Depictions of the Inca 66

From Garcilaso to Palma: One Language for All? 71

Concerning Patriotic Speeches and Proclamations 75

In Fiction: Three Novels 82

Cumandá 84

Torn from the Nest 89

Juan de la Rosa 94

Celebrations 103

3. Stone of Boiling Blood: The Challenges of Modernization 113

The Ambiguities of a New Language 114

The Emergence of Dualism 126

An Andean Modernity 131

A Hobbled History: The Indigenist Novel 136

The Subject Explodes 145

Underground Voices 154

Overture 165

Notes 173

Index 209
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Paper ISBN: 978-0-8223-5432-1 / Cloth ISBN: 978-0-8223-5417-8
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