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Open Access Publications from the University of California


TRANSMODERNITY: Journal of Peripheral Cultural Production of the Luso-Hispanic World, a peer-reviewed and interdisciplinary journal of Luso-Hispanic and U.S. Latino literary and cultural studies, is published by eScholarship and is part of the University of California. The Journal promotes the study of marginalized areas of Luso-Hispanic cultural production of any period and invites submissions of unpublished studies dealing with peripheral cultural production in the Luso-Hispanic world. It also welcomes relevant interdisciplinary work, interviews and book reviews, as they relate to “South-to-South” dynamics between formerly colonized peoples. Although the Journal is mostly devoted to non-canonical work, it will consider articles that rethink canonical texts from postcolonial and transmodern approaches.

Special Issue: Mexican Orientalisms and Other Latin American Orientalisms


The New Face of the Apocalypse in Mexican Orientalism: From Sánchez Echenique’s El ombligo del dragón to Rivera Garza’s Verde Shanghai

While Orientalism, the representation, has been under attack for its critical approach since the eighteenth century, its survival as field of study and narrative strategy to the present day speaks to its potentiality, diversity and openness. This article argues that Hispanic Orientalism, in general, and Mexican Orientalism, in particular, persist because of their interplay of political, cultural and symbolic landscapes framed by the Apocalypse. In this light, narratives of the end of time, new beginnings and cyclical events interact across cultural boundaries and competing traditions. Multiplicities survive over the power of a singular Western story because they blur the logics of identity, and displace chaos and disruptive end points by engaging dialog as an opening to a new beginning. This article analyzes two Mexican novels of the twenty-first century, Ximena Sánchez Echenique’s El ombligo del dragón (2007) and Cristina Rivera Garza’s Verde Shanghai (2011). These works fulfill a self-Orientalist model that reopens taboo subjects of race, illness, and mental stability in apocalyptic transformations that simultaneously engage, engross, reject and adapt to the Other.  Both novels redeploy Chinese culture, mythological figures, life philosophies and science from within Mexican culture, ultimately providing a mirror to the fears and hopes of the society in which they are generated. In effect, these uniquely Mexican narratives establish a dialog on the creation of civilization, the final judgment, and the future foretold that supplants geographic, environmental, national and disciplinary boundaries.

González de Eslava and the Origins of Mexican Orientalism

Orientalism bookends the literature of Hapsburg-era Mexico: if Cortés describes Tenochtitlan’s temples as mosques and if early missionary plays paint the conquistador as a Muslim sultan, by the end of the seventeenth century Sor Juana uses Egyptian architecture as a signpost for her Mexican intellectual odyssey, Primero sueño. Little attention, however, has been paid to early depictions of East Asia in colonial-era orientalist literature. In this paper, I analyze the first Mexican play to treat East Asia, Fernán González de Eslava’s Coloquio II. Written in the 1560s and performed soon after the first return of a fleet from the Philippines, this play broadcasts and codifies exoticized information about East Asia for Eslava’s audience in the streets of Mexico City. While its East-Asian Orientalism departs from earlier depictions of the Middle East in many ways, Coloquio II ultimately calls for the same kind of crusading violence that characterizes early orientalist missionary plays. I then compare Coloquio II with another early orientalist play by Eslava, Coloquio VII, which eschews crusading violence and instead uses East Asia as a point of triangulation in the creation of an allegorical Mexican community. Here, the distance between Mexico and China corresponds to the distance between the play’s Jewish protagonist, Jonah, and his Gentile antagonists. As Eslava examines and discards anti-Semitic stereotypes in the play, he also demonstrates that the attempt to bridge Mexico with China requires integrating Jews into sixteenth-century Mexican society. Thus, centuries before Sor Juana and Octavio Paz write about the East in their poetry, Eslava has already begun to use exoticizing discourse about Asian cultures in order to write Mexico into the center of the world while rethinking what Mexican society can become.

The Peripheral and the Ephemeral: Power Struggle, Violence and Fear in the Depiction of Chinos in Mexican Literature and Visual Arts

This article analyzes how visual colonial representations of chinos (“Chinese”) resonate in contemporary Mexican literature. It examines power relationships, the fear of the Oriental Other and the violence associated with it in the eighteenth-century castas paintings and explores repercussions of this image in the broader context of the tumultuous modern Mexican history represented in the contemporary novel by Juan José Rodríguez Asesinato en una lavandería china (Murder in a Chinese Laundry, 1996). This text offers a controversial image of the Oriental Other, submerged in the world of violence, fear and power struggle where, as in castas paintings, characters live in a space that combines the historical and the imaginary. The article looks into these parallel images to uncover avenues of Orientalization of the chino and compares them to other images of the Orient that appear alongside it, exploring how these images relate to Mexican national identity.

Mexican Lawlessness: Genocide and Massacre in Julián Herbert’s La casa del dolor ajeno

This article examines Julián Herbert’s La casa del dolor ajeno: crónica de un pequeño genocidio en La Laguna (2015), which deals with a massacre of 300 Chinese people in Torreón, Mexico, in 1911. This crónica in novelized form weaves together the history of Chinese immigration to Mexico with contemporary violence and the author’s own experiences of research and writing. I bring Herbert’s imaginative interpretation of the past into conversation with the Mexican Constitution and penal codes that were in force during the massacre, and at the time Herbert was writing. I compare his treatment of the initial reports to late 19th and early 20th-century ideas of a right to life, work and citizenship and relate his 21st-century reflections to 20th century concepts of genocide. The article concludes that this weaving together of past and present exposes the violence of capitalism that preys on vulnerable people.

El poeta chino y el modernismo: “Li-Po” de José Juan Tablada

Cuando José Juan Tablada introdujo algunos de sus versos, tanto en “Li-Po” como en otros poemas, con la frase “y Li escribe así”, fue mucho más exacto en su traducción de lo que hasta ahora se había pensado. En vez de simplemente evocar el tono del estilo chino, Tablada traduce en estos versos una de las creaciones más famosas del gran poeta chino. En 1983, Adriana García de Aldridge dio a conocer las fuentes chinas que habían servido de inspiración para varios poemas de Tablada, y más tarde, Michele Pascucci asoció esa inspiración con un libro de Paul-Louis Couchoud. A pesar de estos esfuerzos por encontrar las “fuentes chinas”, no se ha podido esclarecer del todo la naturaleza del tema sobre un gran poeta chino de la antigüedad. A través de la lectura de traducciones del chino mandarín al francés y al inglés, Tablada habría conocido los versos de muchos poetas chinos. Ahora bien, ¿por qué escogió Li-Po en particular como su tema principal? Más aún, Li-Po no sólo atrajo el interés de Tablada, sino que también apareció en los versos de Rubén Darío y en las traducciones del colombiano Guillermo Valencia. ¿Cuál es la vinculación entre el poeta chino y el modernismo hispanoamericano?

Mexico City, Koans, and the Zen Buddhist Master: Alejandro Jodorowsky, Ejo Takata and the Fundamental Lesson of the Death of the Intellect

In Alejandro Jodorowsky’s autobiographical story El maestro y las magas (2006), the eclectic and esoteric artist spends a significant amount of time recounting his experience under the tutelage of Japanese Zen Buddhist monk Ejo Takata in Mexico City in the latter part of the 1960s into the early 1970s. Their relationship as master and disciple would be an important, if not foundational, part of his worldview, which would be omnipresent in his corpus. From the koans proposed by Takata to his own book of short koans and stories for contemplation, Eastern philosophy is inseparable from his own being or his search for his true Self, which is also a common theme in his work. Takata’s four word lesson of “Intelectual, ¡aprende a morir!” (“Intellectual, learn to die!”) is the nucleus around which all of Jodorowsky’s oeuvre would revolve for at least his next forty-five years. Whether drinking warm sake and discussing Takata’s childhood or telling how Takata was challenged by an arrogant American student, Jodorowsky’s reverence for his master is pervasive and speaks of his dedication to the practices of Zen Buddhism. The monk, who usually dressed in his traditional robe, even participated in one of Jodorowsky’s plays by sitting on stage in meditation during the entire length of the performance. The monk’s influence would not end with Jodorowsky, as the artist himself would one day become the teacher and muse to many other popular artists, including Marcel Marceau, John Lennon, Marilyn Manson, Kanye West, and many others.

Configuraciones de la individualidad en El jardín de la señora Murakami y Shiki Nagaoka: una nariz de ficción de Mario Bellatin

Desde el punto de vista autoral, las características propias de los personajes en la novelística japonesa de Mario Bellatin, sus cuerpos, costumbres, formas de realización personal y, en especial, las diferencias que los separan de la “normalidad”, cobran importancia como maneras de poblar un mundo literario diferenciado, con una lógica propia y singular, el cual resulta potente desde el punto de vista narrativo. Sin embargo, el reducido lente que da acceso a estos mundos “orientales” trae a un primer plano las vivencias individuales de los personajes y la forma en que se relacionan con su contexto, lo cual hace pertinente el análisis sobre la problemática de la subjetividad y su articulación con la cultura, a contracorriente de lecturas más enfocadas en su representación simulada de la cultura japonesa.

Orientalism and De-Orientalism in Contemporary Latin America: Reading César Aira

Scholars of Latin American Orientalism have argued that Orientalism from Latin America, because of its peripheral position, does not harbor imperialist intentions but rather a desire for South-South allegiances. Nonetheless, contemporary depictions of Asia and Asians continue to be deeply stereotyped and Orientalist. This paper examines the functions of the Orientalist imaginary in present-day Latin America, especially as consumers and producers have become aware of Orientalism’s discursive power. Analyzing three Asian-themed novels by César Aira, this article argues that there is a momentous convergence of Orientalism and de-Orientalism in contemporary culture which at once dehumanizes and accepts Asia.