The 20th century in Latin America began, in literary terms, with the emergence of Modernism, which exerted enormous influence over both sides of the Atlantic. From then on, the literature of the region—at least the literature written in Spanish and Portuguese—has been on a long process of assimilation in favor of the best features of the universal tradition enriched with the specificities of Latin American culture and history. Impacted both by competing aesthetic trends and social and political upheaval, the literature of Latin America provides a unique place from which to observe the contradictions of the region, as well as to attempt to answer the major questions that the region poses. Some basic certitudes do not prevent one recurring question from coming up: Does a Latin American literature exist? The answer is more complex than it appears on the surface, but the truth is that the most significant and ambitious moments of that literature—Modernism, the Vanguards, and the celebrated boom of the novel in the 1960s—have been those in which Latin American writers have been recognized as belonging to a common literary space. A journey through fictional narrative, poetry, essays, and even a relatively new genre such as testimony can attest to the way in which Latin Americans see themselves and think of themselves, with their own national and regional specificities and, in contrast with the others, beyond the space of the region. In the last decade of the 20th century, after the fall of the Berlin Wall, Latin America was no longer what it had been for thirty years. By then, revolutionary dreams, guerrillas, the long nights of dictatorships, and the recovery of democracy—just to mention a few of its most recognizable aspects—felt like a distant past. In this context, a new generation emerged in order to close out the 20th century, and beyond that, to begin the 21st. To read, even if it is from a bird’s eye view, the interval between the Modernists to the 21st-century generation is the aim of these pages.
Despite the prominent work produced by Sri Lankan American writers Michael Ondaatje and Rienzi Crusz since the 1970s, Sri Lankan American literature and culture has maintained a doubly marginalized position in Asian America due to the historical disregard of South Asian America and the dominance of Indian America. Literary and cultural work by writers and artists of the first and second generations reveal how Sri Lankan America is, to use Rajiv Shankar’s phrase, “a part, yet apart” of the South Asian American milieu as well as postcolonial Sri Lankan studies. First-generation writers initially reflect on the common diasporic theme of nostalgia for the land of origin, but their larger body of work is not directly related to “Sri Lankan” topics. For instance, Ondaatje, who gained prominence as a “Canadian postmodernist,” kept Sri Lanka largely peripheral in his early poetry until his 1982 memoir Running in the Family. However, after the outbreak of the Sri Lankan civil war between the government and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), presaged by the state-sanctioned pogrom of Tamils known as the Black July riots of 1983 that occasioned a second wave of immigration to North America, the volatile political background at home and the national “betrayal” by the Sinhalese Buddhist government became a major thematic motif for Sri Lankan American writing. Indran Amirthanayagam’s 1993 poetry collection The Elephants of Reckoning reveals a new responsibility embraced by the diasporic writer—to recognize that “the dead have tongues” and to pose the question: “What are they saying?” Shyam Selvadurai’s Funny Boy (1994) reiterates Amirthanayagam’s position, becoming a blueprint for a new generation of Sri Lankan American writers and popular cultural artists invested in social justice vis-à-vis not only race, ethnicity, and citizenship but also politics of gender and sexuality. Second-generation Sri Lankan American writing such as V. V. Ganeshananthan’s novel Love Marriage (2008) experiments with new archival forms by mediating traumatic “inherited memories” of the civil war, pointing to the future directions of the Sri Lankan American literary and cultural terrain.
Since the 2010s, auto/biography studies have engaged in productive explorations of its intersections with theories of posthumanism. In unsettling concepts of the human, the agential speaking subject seen as central to autobiographical acts, posthumanism challenges core concerns of auto/biography (and humanism), including identity, agency, ethics, and relationality, and traditional expectations of auto/biographical narrative as focused on a (human) life, often singular and exceptional, chronicling a narrative of progress over time—the figure and product of the liberal humanist subject that posthumanism and autobiography studies have both critiqued. In its place, the posthuman autobiographical subject holds distributed, relativized agency as a member of a network through which it is co-constituted, a network that includes humans and non-humans in unhierarchized relations. Posthuman theories of autobiography examine how such webs of relation might shift understanding of the production and reception of an autobiographer and text. In digital posthuman autobiography, the auto/biographer is working in multimodal ways, across platforms, shaping and shaped by the affordances of these sites, continually in the process of becoming through dynamic engagement and interaction with the rest of the network. The human-machinic interface of such digital texts and spaces illustrates the rethinking required to account for the relational, networked subjectivity and texts that are evolving within digital platforms and practices. The role of algorithms and datafication—the process through which experiences, knowledge, and lives are turned into data—as corporate, non-consensual co-authors of online auto/biographical texts particularly raises questions about the limits and agency of the human and the auto/biographical, with software not only coaxing, coercing, and coaching certain kinds of self-representation, but also, through the aggregating process of big data, creating its own versions of subjects for its own purposes. Data portraits, data mining, and data doubles are representations based on auto/biographical source texts, but not ones the original subject or their communities have imagined for themselves. However, the affordances and collaborations created by participation in the digital web also foster a networked agency through which individuals-in-relation can testify to and document experience in collective ways, working within and beyond the norms imagined by the corporate and machinic. The potential for posthuman testimony and the proliferation of autobiographical moments or “small data” suggest the potential of digital autobiographical practices to articulate what it means to be a human-in-relation, to be alive in a network.