Faculty Bookshelf

Anxieties of Experience: The Literatures of the Americas from Whitman to Bolaño

  • Published Date: Oxford, 2018

Jeffrey Lawrence

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Anxieties of Experience: The Literatures of the Americas from Whitman to Bolaño offers a new interpretation of US and Latin American literature from the nineteenth century to the present. Revisiting longstanding debates in the hemisphere about whether the source of authority for New World literature derives from an author's first-hand contact with American places and peoples or from a creative (mis)reading of existing traditions, the book charts a widening gap in how modern US and Latin American writers defined their literary authority. In the process, it traces the development of two distinct literary strains in the Americas: the "US literature of experience" and the "Latin American literature of the reader." Reinterpreting a range of canonical works from Walt Whitman's Leaves of Grassto Roberto Bolaño's 2666, Anxieties of Experience shows how this hemispheric literary divide fueled a series of anxieties, misunderstandings, and "misencounters" between US and Latin American authors. In the wake of recent calls to rethink the "common grounds" approach to literature across the Americas, the book advocates a comparative approach that highlights the distinct logics of production and legitimation in the US and Latin American literary fields. Anxieties of Experience closes by exploring the convergence of the literature of experience and the literature of the reader in the first decades of the twenty-first century, arguing that the post-Bolaño moment has produced the strongest signs of a truly reciprocal literature of the Americas in more than a hundred years.