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Book:The Cult of Bolívar in Latin American Literature. University Press of Florida, November 2003. Go here for description, table of contents, and full text introduction. Alejandro Mejías López’s review here (PDF).
The Cult of Bolívar in Latin American Literature (University Press of Florida, 2003) by Christopher Conway
The Cult of Bolívar in Latin American Literature provides an introduction to Bolivarian identity in Latin American culture. My introduction, “Dominant Poses, Iconoclastic Gestures,” uses a controversial painting by the Chilean Juan Dávila to frame an analyis of how the Cult of Bolívar has historically authorized itself as a commanding set of “Truths” related to language, gender and historical development. The rest of the book examines how critiques of the Cult of Bolívar have been used as vehicles for condemning the shortcomings of Latin American modernization. Primary materials considered in the study include: the visual arts, fiction, poetry, biographies, children’s literature, and political tracts. In sum the book provides a framework for speaking about the contours and limitations of hero-worship in modern Latin America. Below is a brief outline of the book’s contents.
Chapter 1 “Bolívar and the Emergence of a National Religion” examines the emergence of the Cult of Bolívar in nineteenth- century Venezuela through archival research.
Chapter 2 “Monumentalism and the Erotics of National Degeneration” is an exploration of late nineteenth-century challenges to Bolivarian nationalism through the Modernist novel “Idolos rotos” (1901), with special emphasis on sexuality and development.
Chapter 3 “The Promise of Bolivarian Paternity” deals with Bolívar as symbolic father of the nation, through children’s literature and specifically the writings of Teresa de la Parra, who died before she could write a sentimental and ‘feminine’ biography of Bolívar.
Chapter 4 “A Whore in the Palace: The Poetics of Pornodetraction” examines the Cult of Manuela Sáenz as it relates to Simón Bolívar, with special attention to the controversy over Denzil Romero’s pornographic novel “La Esposa del Dr. Thorne” (1983).
Chapter 5 “Solitude, Signs and Power in ‘The General in His Labyrinth’ analyzes Gabriel García Márquez’s “The General in his Labyrinth” (1989) vis-a-vis “One Hundred Years of Solitude”, “The Autumn of the Patriarch”, and García Márquez’s early journalism, his Nobel lecture and his memoir, “Living to Tell the Tale” (originally published in Spanish in 2001; 2003 English translation).
Afterword “Bolivarian Self-Fashioning into the Twenty-First Century” is a meditation on President Hugo Chávez and his brand of Bolivarian nationalism.
Excerpts from the book:
“Another dominant pose of the monumental Bolívar is its embodiment of a patriarchal principle. In epic representations of Bolivar, the hero effectively creates independence, willing it from the fecund seed of his genius and martial prowess. The darkness of the colonial era is pierced by the brightness of Bolívar’s generative rays. In this respect, the patriarchal power of Bolívar is well served by the purposes of monumentalist statuary, which posits his body as a sealed entity, a titan of bronze or stone that represents the foundational claims and exemplary scripts of great men. The phallic power of their monuments requires that their bodies acquire the permanence that they did not possess in life. In the memorable words of Lewis Mumford, monumentalism was a form of renewal and reproduction, ‘a desire to wall out life, to exclude the action of time, to remove the taint of biological processes, to exclude the active care of other generations by a process of architectural mummification.'” (from the Introduction).
“The first Cult of Bolívar, which peaked between 1820 and 1825, was a product of a complex set of factors. The founding of the Third Republic through the Congress of Angostura of 1819 attested to the positive momentum that Bolívar’s revolutionary organization had acquired since his 1815 exile in Jamaica. First and foremost on Bolívar’s agenda was the creation of a structure through which a legitimate union between Venezuela and Nueva Granada could be established. As a corollary to this concern, Bolívar also sought a republican role for himself that would satisfy both his desire for political legality as a republican president, and his desire to carry on as a military leader in the theater of a continuing war (Polanco Alcantara 457). Accordingly, representations of Bolívar in this period drew on classical models of statesmanship that effectively combined the rule of law with the rule of force. Because Bolívar played both the role of President and “Liberator” these texts reinscribe caudillismo as an Augustan phenomenon. Like Augustus, Bolívar had publicly refused command, only accepting the title of “protector” of his homeland upon the insistence of his people.” (from Chapter 1).
“Although Venezuela is historically steeped in the Cult of Bolívar, Chávez’s populism has intensified Bolivarian ritual and discourse. As tempting as it might be to think of Chávez as yet another demagogue taking advantage of the symbolic capital of a century and a half of Bolivarian nationalism, a closer look reveals that this president is engaged in a more complex transaction. Chávez’s Bolivarian ideology is an attempt to preserve the critical dimensions of oppositional nationalism from within the presidency. For Chávez, Bolívar is not a trophy for consolidating national pride, but rather a call to arms to remake a nation marred by what he has called a moral cancer. His Bolívar is not the monument, but a spirit of renewal in an age of crisis. As such, Chávez engages Bolívar on two related fronts: on the one hand he critiques the static and self-congratulatory discourse of official identity, while on the other he tries to mobilize a more dynamic and politically transformative version of Bolívar. In the process, Chávez cultivates parallels between himself and the hero of independence, suggesting that his authority springs directly from Bolívar himself.” (from the Afterword).