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Propagating Nationhood/Rooting Citizenry: The Garden State and the Question of Civilization in Latin American Romantic Fiction
The garden and garden like spaces are ubiquitous in the Romantic narrative and my argument engages the (neo)colonial politics involved in their creation and maintenance within and outside of the Spanish Empire: the majestic and creole garden of Colombia and Cuba, the enslaved subsistence plot or conuco in Cuba, and the sacred, indigenous garden of Mexico, through writers such as Jorge Isaacs, Gertrudis Gómez de Avellaneda, Anselmo Suárez y Romero, Cirilo Villaverde, and Ignacio Manuel Altamirano, amongst others. I address how these garden spaces exist within and alongside of what I term the garden state: the transformation and domestication of nature through agriculture and horticulture. This is an imperial and neo-imperial environmental aesthetic that emerges in response to the rise of liberal agro-economic policies in the light of industrialization, the entrance of the West into ‘modernity,’ and the proliferation of the hacienda and ingenio. It is with the garden’s function as descriptor for nation and as discrete, enclosed space for the cultivation of nature that I engage with its capacity to mediate the politics of belonging and civilization in Romantic literature and mid-century cultural and political discourse. Traditionally read, the Romantic narrative centers around erotic productivity, through romantic couplings as a measure for the success or failure of the family. Parallel to this erotic drive, the garden state introduces a narrative of economic productivity that the presence of the garden, its creation, maintenance, and decline interrupts. The failure of the garden state parallels not only that of erotic productivity in the narratives, but rather it brings to the fore the fundamental contradictions of the civilizing project. These narratives are predicated on the continued exclusion of those exploited and displaced under the Spanish Empire—namely Indigenous Peoples, the enslaved, and women. However, as I develop a politics of belonging and labor, I posit that these same narratives complicate exclusionary politics through the environmental emplacement of their marginalized protagonists. As such their subsequent deaths or further displacement undermine the very places they were to uphold, causing the gardens’ destruction. I analyze the interaction of the politics of race and gender within the garden and garden state through death, labor, desire, and secularization to highlight the complexity of “civilization,” offering novel readings on how nature aides in questioning the broader limits of the nation in nineteenth-century Latin America and the waning Spanish Empire.