[Diego Rivera: La Civilización Tarasca]

Rather than being an account of 'South Americanism' to echo Edward Said's Orientalism (1978), this study of books about South America in English literature attempts to make the critical and methodological distinctions which would be essential to such an account. Its examination of the geography of the 'South America' of the European imagination therefore begins by using Roland Barthes' model – from Mythologies (1957) – of sinité as the clichéd popular stereotype of China, la Chine, in order to differentiate the physical reality of the South American continent from the literary worlds which have been promulgated under that title.

The textual strategies adopted to sustain (or subvert) these 'mythological' assumptions in a number of representative works – ranging in era from Aphra Behn's Oroonoko (1688) to Angela Carter's The Infernal Desire Machines of Doctor Hoffman (1972), and in genre from Darwin's Journal of Researches (1839) to Conrad's Nostromo (1904) – are then detailed. Authors are examined individually, in terms of their cultural and generic context, but each book has also been chosen to contribute to an overall picture of methods of presenting the 'alien' in Western writing. To this end, authors such as W. H. Hudson, John Masefield, R. B. Cunninghame Graham, and Elizabeth Bishop are contrasted with analogous Latin American writers – D. F. Sarmiento, Alejo Carpentier, Mario Vargas Llosa, and Euclides da Cunha.

In the final analysis, this is a study of the various ways in which the words 'South America' can act as the ideological or meaning-giving centre of a text. It is therefore not surprising that only the letter of the works under discussion – their own conception of this relationship – is found to be adequate to the complexity of the mimetic problems raised as a result.

[José Clemente Orozco: Cortes and Malinche]

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