david frye
The book presented here for the first time in English, Transculturación
narrativa en América Latina (1982), was the last one that Ángel Rama pub-
lished before his unfortunate death at the age of fifty- seven. Together
with The Lettered City (1984), published a year after Rama’s death and
until now the only one of Rama’s more than two dozen books that was
translated into English, Narrative Transculturation marks the culmina-
tion of a lifetime of omnivorous reading, deep study, and insightful
analysis of history, anthropology, social theory, art, and above all, the
literatures of the Americas. As in The Lettered City, Rama draws ideas
and inspirations in this book from far- flung regions of Latin America
and uses them to create a startling juxtaposition of ideas, revealing sud-
den flashes of insight into the hidden commonalities that underlie the
continent’s regional differences. (Here, I adopt Rama’s habit, retained
throughout this translation, of referring to all of Latin America—South
and Central America, Mexico, and Caribbean—as “the continent” or
simply “America.” He specifies “North America” when he means the
United States.) Narrative Transculturation also links his work on Span-
ish American Modernism, for which he is well known among students
of literature from the continent, with his novel arguments about the
strikingly innovative nature of regionalist literature. His conclusions—
notably his persuasive position on the close relationship between literary
movements such as modernism or regionalism and great world- spanning
trends in social and economic development—and his insightful use of
the Cuban anthropologist Fernando Ortiz’s concept of “transcultura-
tion” to analyze the works of the Peruvian regionalist and indigenista nov-
elist José María Arguedas have influenced an entire generation of Latin
American literary and cultural critics.
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