inequality

The following is a draft of something scheduled to appear in an upcoming number of the LASA Forum

The central concern of literature is not so much inequality, but difference. And so it should be. Literature enables an exploration of otherness, variety, and singularity. It does so by allowing readers to feel or sense other worlds, different from their own, thereby relativizing their own experience, such that they recognize that they, too, are different. Hence literature differs from film, at least as described by the Frankfurt School theorist Siegfried Kracauer: film often encourages its spectators to see themselves as the same, as part of a mass; but literature tends to emphasize either individualism or a much more diffuse sense of commonality. Film constructs a mass audience of equals; literature posits a common readership characterized by diversity. Even critic Benedict Anderson’s famous argument about the role of the novel and novel-reading in the construction of nationalist sentiment stresses the range of sensastions to which, for instance, picaresque narratives expose their readers: a “tour d’horison,” in the case of José Joaquín Fernández de Lizardi’s El periquillo sarniento, of “hospitals, prisons, remote villages, monasteries, Indians, Negros,” whose exemplary differences combine to constitute the collectivity that will be called Mexico. In short, literature is more about imagination than calculation, experience than measurement, affect than effect.

Read more… (.pdf document)

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