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La novela de la caña: Insular or International Phenomenon?

Canadian Review of Comparative Literature/ Revue Canadienne de Littérature Comparée


Book Modernity and Folklore.indb 40 La novela de la caña: Insular or International Phenomenon? Danielle D. Smith Th e University of Virginia Canadian Review of Comparative Literature / Revue Canadienne de Littérature Comparée CRCL MARCH-JUNE 2008 MARS-JUIN RCLC 0319-051X/08/35.1-2/40 ©CANADIAN COMPARATIVE LITERATURE ASSOCIATION Originally presented in a panel exploring “Modernity, Folklore, and Transcultural Possibilities” at the 2007 American Comparative Literature Association annual meeting in Puebla, Mexico, this expanded paper focuses on the tension between con- ceptions of the local and the transcultural in the production and reception of a group of twentieth-century regionalist works alternately referred to in Latin America and the Hispanic Caribbean as the criollista novel (the creolist novel) or la novela de la tierra (the novel of the earth, land, or homeland, depending on how it is translated).1 Examining literary works seldom studied beyond their own national or geographical borders, let alone as part of a transnational literary phenomenon, is complicated by questions of geography, language, and genre, all of which serve to divide rather than bring together works sharing strikingly similar aesthetic and ideological concerns: concerns that their authors primarily address by highlighting the uniqueness of the culture—with an emphasis on folklore and regional dialect—that arose from the sugarcane plantation system in the New World. It is my contention that the very insu- larity defi ning the works discussed herein, both in terms of a limited readership and the narrow geographical focus of the novels, constitutes a transnational feature of lit- erary production in the cultural area Caribbean theorists such as the Rex Nettleford (Jamaica) and Édouard Glissant (Martinique) call Plantation America (Nettleford 149; Glissant 1981, 229, n. 1). Although viewed as a minor genre and generally overlooked in contemporary criticism on Latin American literature,

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