REVIEW 90: Literature and Arts of the Americas

Review 90 cover

Review 90: Literature and Arts of the Americas has published a new issue titled  "Latin America and the Technological Imaginary in the Digital Age". It is a timely and relevant group of essays, fiction and book reviews co-edited by Mark DeryWilliam Nericcio and Naief Yehya.

The editors have pulled together thirty different authors who give us a revealing cultural parallax view onto the future as seen from outside the mainstream Anglo-American perspective, for which the ongoing obsession continues to be technological and frontier-busting optimism spiced with the ideological remnants of Manifest Destiny.  By contrast we come to see that the Latin American version lacks the utopian ring of films like Tomorrowland and The Martian is replaced by a certain pessimism but also an emphasis on resistance and struggle.

To paraphrase from Dery's essay, "Introduction: Rasquache Futurismos": the future is rasquache. Anyone outside the orbit of the Latino cultural sphere can be excused for pausing to scratch his or her heads over the term rasquache.

It is a term that began as an adjective to describe members of the lower class but overtime evolved into a codified 20th century aesthetics characterized by the ephemeral, the slapdash,  shoddily assembled and the politically subversive. In this usage he is suggesting a number of contingencies, historical and epistemilogical, that distinguish the Latin American views of the future from North American ones.

From Rasquache Futurismos, Dery writes, “The future is rasquache because it always was. Norteamericanos like the SF novelist Ray Bradbury dreamed of a future that looked a lot like Disney’s Tomorrowland, an antiseptic utopia free from urban blight and social unrest, where imagineers made the monorails run on time. Racism, class war, and the toxic runoff of what capitalism likes to call progress were always there, in the shadows of the Art Deco megastructures of Fritz Lang’s Metropolis and the mongrel sprawl culture of Bladerunner” … Now the social -- and personal -- costs of income inequality, racism, colonialism, and transnational capitalism are coming due.” 

I’d like to call out just a few of the meatier pieces that still reverberate with me.

Alex Rivera’s 2009 film, Sleep Dealer, is the main focus of William Nericcio’s essay "Latina/o Dystopias on the Verge of an Electric, Pathological Tomorrow". Sleep Dealer is a science fiction film set in the near future that combines in its narrative the politics of contemporary resource management, in this case water, and the impact of technology on labor relations between the US and Mexico. Writes Nericcio, “Sleep Dealer offers us a world sans borders, which ironically means MORE fences, more drones, more surveillance, more corporate hegemony.”

When the young protagonist, Memo Cruz, arrives in Tijuana to cross the border into the U.S., he is informed that "the border is closed but the network is open," revealing that physical migration has been held up because the labor needed to pick produce, construct buildings is now done from remote locations in Tijuana. Sleep Dealer was not widely seen in the United States when it was released in 2009 and I hope that Nericcio's essay brings it to a wider audience.

“Border Technologies” is Pepe Rojo’s intriguingly titled essay. He provides a diverse snap shot of artistic practices in the Tijuana border region that grapple with the idea that technological innovation can exist on a rasquache level. For those unfamiliar with the Tijuana art scene, this is an introduction to the names and works of artists like, Marcos Ramirez ERRE, Ana Fernandez, the collective T(e)M. Most startling is his description of a theme park experience (http://www.ecoalberto.com.mx) where visitors play the role of illegal immigrants who attempt to cross the border” at night, all while staying safely within the sovereign borders of Mexico. “ For just 20 U.S. dollars, you are left in the woods in the dark with a group of people …You walk blindly until “Border Patrol” officers dressed in camo, some in cars, some on foot, chase and finally catch you, firing blanks and sweeping the woods with spotlights.”

Other essays worthy of note are "Disinventing the Future," by Naief Yehya and Pandoris Dystopias in Latin American Science Fiction: Gynoids and Virtual Women." Mauricio Montel Figueiras offers a piece of fiction,  "The Man of Tweets," which is a tale of man who encounters himself (or his double) on the streets. Each segment or chapter was composed within in the limits of 141 characters of the tweet and published on Twitter. 

Dery has done a great service by attempting to update and place in a contemporary context the concept of rasquachismo as it relates to a broad spectrum of Latin American cultural practices.  Review 90: Literature and Arts of the Americas is a must read for anyone interested in familiarizing themselves with fascinating moment in the development of science fiction and its spin offs.