The problem of culture in South American countries is eminently political, in the sense that writers and artists have no choice but to decide early on where they fit in the broader context of Western civilization. During the period of the conquest, the issue could hardly arise: a politico-military order, imposed from the top, created a sharp hierarchy of values, in which proximity to the culture of the rulers—in this case, either Spanish or Portuguese—denned one’s own position in society. The coming of the Enlightenment to Latin America in the late eighteenth century upset such certainties. For the local elites, the Iberian model was successfully challenged by France, creating a permanent schism between the culture absorbed, as it were, at one’s mother’s knee, and what one now knew to be “culture” in the highest sense of the word. One of the principal frustrations of the Latin American intellectual then...

 
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