The Wandering Signifier

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The Wandering Signifier:
Rhetoric of Jewishness in the
Latin American Imaginary

Erin Graff Zivin
2009, Duke University Press
222 pages

THE SEEDS of modern ambivalence to Jews in the Hispanic world can be traced back to fear of the conversos – the Jewish converts to Christianity – at the time of the Conquest in 1492 and the expulsion of Jews from Spain as its monarchs forged a new epoch, swords and crosses in hand. As Erin Graff Zivin writes, the situation of the conversos, who provoked suspicion even after their conversion, highlights the fear and apprehension towards that which cannot easily be defined as “other” – in this case, the unrecogniseable, hidden Jew. This study of Jews and “Jewishness” in literary works from the late 19th to the late 20th centuries analyses their representation within the context of larger attitudes towards otherness. Latin American literary scholars have tended to ignore or miss the presence of Jews in writing from the region, allowing Graff Zivin to highlight the meanings attributed to Jewishness across the works of such canonical writers as Machado de Assis, José de Alencar, Marío de Andrade, Jorge Luis Borges, Roberto Arlt, Gabriel García Márquez and Mario Vargas Llosa. Issues of difference have become central to debates about Latin American culture, making this book a valuable contribution to a corpus of literature about identity in the Americas. The author draws upon concepts of otherness developed by the philosopher Emmanuel Levinas that are achieving increasing prominence in Latin American philosophy, not least through the work of Enrique Dussel. – GO’T

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