“Prospero’s Book: On John Beverley’s Latinamericanism After 9/11

Gentle breath of yours my sails
Must fill, or else my project fails.
The Tempest, Act 5, Epilogue

John Beverley presents himself as the grand old man of Latin American cultural studies. And not without reason. He was there at the outset in the early 1990s, and has figured in almost all of the significant discussions and debates–about testimonio, subalternity, representation, the politics of location–that have marked the field’s trajectory since. He has been equally instrumental in building the infrastructure of the field. At Pittsburgh, he helped organize the various conferences that brought together significant players associated with cultural studies in Latin America. And he has directed the dissertations of numerous graduate students who have gone on to become important voices themselves. Throughout, Beverley has often shown remarkable generosity of spirit: though his own intellectual and political positions have been clear and often trenchant, he has seldom found the need to impose them on others. He has always welcomed dialogue and disagreement. If there are no “Beverleyites,” that is to his credit: he has never forced anyone into his own mold. But as time passes, he increasingly feels that he is part of a generation that is the last of its kind: the last that can remember the heady days of armed struggle and revolutionary enthusiasm; the last, he suggests, with a personal link to a politics that was truly a matter of life and death. As such, Beverley is perhaps understandably concerned for the future of the field once that link is finally broken. Even among his peers, too many have given up the fight, have turned instead to reactionary neoconservatism; meanwhile, the young are too easily tempted by ultraleftism or other “infantile” disorders. In Latinamericanism After 9/11, then, we can imagine him as a “venerable old teacher,” who with “a firm voice–a masterful voice capable of seizing an idea and implanting it deep within the listener’s mind”–sits us down to listen to him.

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