"This Humble Work": Puerto Rican and Philippine Literature between Spanish and United States Empires
Arighi, William Scott
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“‘This Humble Work’: Puerto Rican and Philippine Literature between Spanish and United States Empires” interrogates the concept of value that underpins contemporary theories of world literature, arguing that this field of inquiry reproduces the imperial relationships that shaped the origins of literary studies. By tracing the growth in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries of literary culture in two of the last remaining Spanish colonies, “This Humble Work” proposes an alternative theory of studying world literature by positing the study of the empire as essential to the concept of “literariness.” This dissertation utilizes postcolonial and Marxist theories to reconceive of literature as a world-making venture that represents forces of domination and resistance to political and economic projects which would otherwise remain beyond intelligibility. “This Humble Work” begins with an investigation into the theory of aesthetic judgment developed by Immanuel Kant in the late eighteenth century, since Kant’s theory is foundational to contemporary literary study. Kant founds his theory of the subject in its ability to judge free from irrational bases and historical contingencies, a position that coincides with political economists in the fifty years following Kant as they attempt to grapple with the concept of an economic subject. The presupposition that the subject exists in its judgment as a free individual forms the backbone of contemporary studies of literature, including world literature. “This Humble Work” then pursues how this subject position manifested itself in Puerto Rico and the Philippines from 1849-1926, demonstrating in the process four problems that emerged in the struggle to found communities in these territories that would be based on the principle of the ahistorical subject. The problems of culture, temporality, identity, and worlding arise in the literary projects of the Spanish empire as they struggle to integrate Puerto Rican and Philippine subjects into new political-economic configurations premised on the Kantian “ideal” subject. Through an examination of literary projects in Spanish and Tagalog from these colonies during their transition from the Spanish Empire to the United States Empire after 1898, these four problems are revealed as the limits of literary possibility for texts that emerge from outside of metropolitan society. In the process, “This Humble Work” exposes the limits of world literature to ever account fully for the totality of forces that make the modern world.