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Prof. Jason Borge: Latin American Writers and Hollywood

Posted: March 26, 2011
Book Cover

Book Cover

In August 2009 Associate Professor Jason Borge moved from Vanderbilt University to The University of Texas at Austin. One of his key contributions to the graduate and undergraduate curriculum and to the intellectual environment of The Department of Spanish and Portuguese has been his research on the relationship between literature, cinema and mass culture in Latin America and the Western hemisphere. As he explains, “most of my graduate and undergraduate courses have to do either with film specifically or the reception of mass culture in Latin America generally.”

Routledge published his book, Latin American Writers and the Rise of Hollywood Cinema in 2008 and two years later the paperback edition of his important work was released. Professor Borge’s study analyzes the way that Latin American writers and intellectuals engaged with Hollywood during the first decades of the 20th century. The cinema of the first decades of the 20th century presented ambiguous, multivalent signs for established figures like Horacio Quiroga, Alejo Carpentier and Mário de Andrade, as well as less renowned writers like Carlos Noriega Hope (Mexico), Vera Zouroff (Chile) and Guillermo Villarronda (Cuba). Hollywood’s arrival on the scene placed such writers in a bind, as many felt compelled to emulate the "artistry" of a medium dominated by a nation posing a symbolic affront to Latin American cultural and linguistic autonomy as well as the region’s geopolitical sovereignty. The film industry thus occupied a crucial site of conflict and reconciliation between aesthetics and politics.

Professor Borge organized his study by “theme and region, in such a way that primary texts naturally presented themselves throughout the project.”  “One advantage,” he adds, “was that I had already done considerable research on the subject while preparing my previous critical anthology of early Latin American film criticism and crónicas, Avances de Hollywood.”  Indeed, Latin American Writers and the Rise of Hollywood Cinema draws from and expands the extensive archival research he undertook while preparing Avances de Hollywood: crítica cinematográfica en Latinoamérica, 1915-1945 (Beatriz Viterbo, 2005), an edited volume that brings together for the first time seminal essays and film criticism by writers and intellectuals of the period.

In Latin American Writers and the Rise of Hollywood Cinema Borge analyzes in detail (and in some cases uncovers) a number of important works by non-canonical writers as well, such as Clemente Palma's XYZ, a Peruvian science fiction novel in which a mad scientist clones Hollywood actresses; Olympio Guilherme’s Hollywood: novela da vida real, a semi-autobiographical novel based on the Brazilian author's experiences as an actor and director in silent Hollywood; and, Guillermo Villarronda’s Poemas a Walt Disney, a delirious invitation for the “good neighbor” Disney to take his talents to Cuba.  

Finally, in this book Borge argues that the intertextual nature of the early film industry depended heavily on the printed word, a fact that afforded Latin American writers the opportunity to reassert their relevance in the rapidly modernizing public sphere (what Ángel Rama calls the “revolutionized city”) by vigorously—and often subversively—mediating encounters between Hollywood and local audiences.  Professor Borge states that his study “examines not so much how U.S. cultural hegemony was elaborated on a massive scale through the ideological machinery of informal empire (the topic of a number of recent volumes), but rather, more centrally, how Latin American intellectuals first negotiated and contested such hegemony.” In this regard, Professor Borge’s book constitutes an important contribution to the study of Latin American literature and its relationship to mass media, and it offers a fascinating map of the process of “adaptation” and reinvention of the Hollywood imaginary among Latin American writers of the first half of the past century.

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