Cannibal Democracy

Race and Representation in the Literature of the Americas

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Zita Nunes

Zita Nunes argues that the prevailing narratives of identity formation throughout the Americas share a dependence on metaphors of incorporation and, often, of cannibalism. From the position of the incorporating body, the construction of a national and racial identity through a process of assimilation presupposes a remainder, a residue.

Nunes addresses works by writers and artists who explore what is left behind in the formation of national identities and speak to the limits of the contemporary discourse of democracy. Cannibal Democracy tracks its central metaphor’s circulation through the work of writers such as Mário de Andrade, W. E. B. Du Bois, and Toni Morrison and journalists of the black press, as well as work by visual artists including Magdalena Campos-Pons and Keith Piper, and reveals how exclusion—understood in terms of what is left out—can be fruitfully understood in terms of what is left over from a process of unification or incorporation.

Nunes shows that while this remainder can be deferred into the future-lurking as a threat to the desired stability of the present—the residue haunts discourses of national unity, undermining the ideologies of democracy that claim to resolve issues of race.

Background photo by Branson Rose on Unsplash


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    The University of Minnesota Press gratefully acknowledges the financial assistance provided for the publication of this book from the Graduate School and the Department of English at the University of Maryland.

    Poetry by Mário de Andrade in the epigraph to the Introduction and in chapters 1 and 2 appears courtesy of Família Mário de Andrade. Poetry from “Tra” by María Magdalena Campos-Pons in chapter 5 is reprinted with permission from the author.

    Portions of chapters 1 and 2] were previously published as “Race and Ruins,” in Culture/Contexture: Explorations in Anthropology and Literary Studies, ed. E. Valentine Daniel and Jeffrey M. Peck (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1996); copyright 1996 by the Regents of the University of California; reprinted with permission. Portions of chapter 4 were previously published as “Phantasmatic Brazil: Nella Larsen’s Passing, American Literary Imagination, and Racial Utopianism,” in Mixing Race, Mixing Culture: Inter-American Literary Dialogues, ed. Monika Kaup and Debra J. Rosenthal (Austin: University of Texas Press, 2002); copyright 2002 University of Texas Press; reprinted with permission. Portions of the text were previously published in “‘Loving Our Children to Death’: Identification and the African Diaspora,” in Dislocating “Europe”: Post-Colonial Perspectives in Literary, Anthropological, and Historical Studies, ed. Manuela Ribeiro Sanches (Lisbon: Universidade de Lisboa, 2005); reprinted, translated, and abridged in Mostra Pan Africana de Arte Contemporânea, ed. Solange Oliveira Farkas (São Paulo: Associação Cultural Videobrasil, 2005), 22–27.

    Copyright 2008 by the Regents of the University of Minnesota
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    University of Minnesota Press
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    Minneapolis, MN
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    All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise, without the prior written permission of the publisher.
  • rights holder
    Regents of the University of Minnesota
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