Book Review: Raul Coronado A World Not to Come:A History of Latino Writing and Print Culture

Raul Coronado “traces the circulation of ideas and texts as these relate to the making of Latino intellectual life in the United States” (17). The book is both history and revisionist historiography, challenging specifically Anglo-Franco centric conceptions of national development, as well as a history of historiography, as Coronado’s account of individual lives include how individuals saw themselves. It is a difficult book to summarize largely due to its sheer scope, covering the spiritual, political, cultural material, linguistic, literary, geographic influences through which “Latino,” “Mexican,” “American” and other contemporary identity categories are owed to a history that historically precedes “America” or “Mexico.” Given that Coronado analyzes texts by reading their material composition and form, down to photographically reproducing the textual density on the newspaper page (see figures 60 to 62), I shall condense A World Not to Come in a similar mode.

Chapters are organized topically. The chapters tend to begin in media res historical narratives before introducing the thematic core of the chapter by the second or third page. Coronado does not move chronologically, preferring to continuously return to specific temporal points to address the same “site” from a different theoretical lens. The chapters frequently overlap in terms of the covered time frame, though differing in theme, geographic location, or in the person of specific focus. The photographs in the texts are primarily reproductions of news papers, letters, maps, and other contemporary documents that Coronado uses to make a visual argument that “descend[s] literally with each layer of meaning…likewise [it] descends from the symbolic to the literal,” as he read the broadsheet from Jose Alvarez de Toledo’s Jesus, Maria, y Jose. Coronado does not use footnotes or endnotes except as citations, refusing to regulate a single paragraph in this extremely dense book to the margins of history. This history is important, the book’s length declares, and every sentence has earned its place on the page, including the Spanish ones. Coronado is like young Florencia Leal, who he writes is “able to use [genre] skills in order to structure and analyze her interiority through language,” (383) and if I may apply to his writing the psychological reading he applies to Hidalgo, Foronado, and others, I suggest Coronado’s book occupies a self-conscious borderland not dissimilar to Gloria Anzaldúa’s Borderland/La Frontera (both the book Borderland/La Frontera as a seminal text and her concept of the borderland that is also la frontera, and the futurity implied in “la frontera” that does not translate to more imperialist “frontier.”) This is a history book that is inevitability historiography for being “new.” This is in itself a move towards a non-melancholic future, though he ends the book abruptly without explicitly addressing the Benjamian concern for a fractured philosophy of history.

The structure of Coronado’s chapters creates the effect (affect) of continual return: concepts are not confined to their topical chapters but “bleed into” other sections of the book. The chapters’s overlapping time frames also enact a sense of simultaneity in order to show the ways in which concepts such as patria, the pueblo, and other words that cannot be translated also cannot be “traced” in a linear narrative. Coronado shows how these concepts emerge from a myriad of social relations by articulating these relationships primarily in conversation and contrast with each other, not by reading them primarily against Anglophone and Francophone traditions. This historiographic move centers the Spanish-speaking world in this history of intellectual thought. However, it also pushes the Apache and Comanche nations, and their specific communication modes, to the side. This is an example of the inevitable marginal, even in a book as comprehensive as Coronado’s.

Note: This was the best book I read in 2016. Left me utterly humbled and stunned in the best of all possible ways.