Publications

2019
Sommer D. Cases for Culture. MLA Profession [Internet]. 2019. Publisher's VersionAbstract
Dedicated defenders of precarious ground ask themselves how to bring more people into museums, libraries, concert halls, and theaters. This is a life-and-death question for many institutions. How can we safeguard the intrinsic value of the arts and humanities when the general public has lost a taste for the unhurried pleasures of doubt and discussion? It’s time to make the case for culture—indeed, to make cases for culture, cases that can be used to demonstrate how the humanities benefit the public and why society should invest in its practitioners. Today, our responses to urgent challenges, which include inequality, violence, climate change, and migration, should include care for people and for the planet. Sustainable care will depend on the sociability promoted by the arts and humanities.
2014
The Work of Art in the World: Civic Agency and Public Humanities
Sommer D. The Work of Art in the World: Civic Agency and Public Humanities. Duke University Press; 2014 pp. 232. Duke University Press PageAbstract

Celebrating art and interpretation that take on social challenges, Doris Sommer steers the humanities back to engagement with the world. The reformist projects that focus her attention develop momentum and meaning as they circulate through society to inspire faith in the possible. Among the cases that she covers are top-down initiatives of political leaders, such as those launched by Antanas Mockus, former mayor of Bogotá, Colombia, and also bottom-up movements like the Theatre of the Oppressed created by the Brazilian director, writer, and educator Augusto Boal. Alleging that we are all cultural agents, Sommer also takes herself to task and creates Pre-Texts, an international arts-literacy project that translates high literary theory through popular creative practices. The Work of Art in the World is informed by many writers and theorists. Foremost among them is the eighteenth-century German poet and philosopher Friedrich Schiller, who remains an eloquent defender of art-making and humanistic interpretation in the construction of political freedom. Schiller's thinking runs throughout Sommer's modern-day call for citizens to collaborate in the endless co-creation of a more just and more beautiful world.

2006
Cultural Agency in the Americas
Sommer D ed. Cultural Agency in the Americas. Dukie University Press; 2006 pp. 392.Abstract
“Cultural agency” refers to a range of creative activities that contribute to society, including pedagogy, research, activism, and the arts. Focusing on the connections between creativity and social change in the Americas, this collection encourages scholars to become cultural agents by reflecting on exemplary cases and thereby making them available as inspirations for more constructive theory and more innovative practice. Creativity supports democracy because artistic, administrative, and interpretive experiments need margins of freedom that defy monolithic or authoritarian regimes. The ingenious ways in which people pry open dead-ends of even apparently intractable structures suggest that cultural studies as we know it has too often gotten stuck in critique. Intellectual responsibility can get beyond denunciation by acknowledging and nurturing the resourcefulness of common and uncommon agents. Based in North and South America, scholars from fields including anthropology, performance studies, history, literature, and communications studies explore specific variations of cultural agency across Latin America. Contributors reflect, for example, on the paradoxical programming and reception of a state-controlled Cuban radio station that connects listeners at home and abroad; on the intricacies of indigenous protests in Brazil; and the formulation of cultural policies in cosmopolitan Mexico City. One contributor notes that trauma theory targets individual victims when it should address collective memory as it is worked through in performance and ritual; another examines how Mapuche leaders in Argentina perceived the pitfalls of ethnic essentialism and developed new ways to intervene in local government. Whether suggesting modes of cultural agency, tracking exemplary instances of it, or cautioning against potential missteps, the essays in this book encourage attentiveness to, and the multiplication of, the many extraordinary instantiations of cultural resourcefulness and creativity throughout Latin America and beyond. Contributors. Arturo Arias, Claudia Briones, Néstor García Canclini, Denise Corte, Juan Carlos Godenzzi, Charles R. Hale, Ariana Hernández-Reguant, Claudio Lomnitz, Jesús Martín Barbero, J. Lorand Matory, Rosamel Millamán, Diane M. Nelson, Mary Louise Pratt, Alcida Rita Ramos, Doris Sommer, Diana Taylor, Santiago Villaveces
2005
Abrazos Y Rechazos Como Leer En Clave Menor
Sommer D. Abrazos Y Rechazos Como Leer En Clave Menor. Fondo De Cultura Económica; 2005.Abstract
Description Knowing a second language entails some unease; it requires a willingness to make mistakes and work through misunderstandings. The renowned literary scholar Doris Sommer argues that feeling funny is good for you, and for society. In Bilingual Aesthetics Sommer invites readers to make mischief with meaning, to play games with language, and to allow errors to stimulate new ways of thinking. Today’s global world has outgrown any one-to-one correlation between a people and a language; liberal democracies can either encourage difference or stifle it through exclusionary policies. Bilingual Aesthetics is Sommer’s passionate call for citizens and officials to cultivate difference and to realize that the precarious points of contact resulting from mismatches between languages, codes, and cultures are the lifeblood of democracy, as well as the stimulus for aesthetics and philosophy. Sommer encourages readers to entertain the creative possibilities inherent in multilingualism. With her characteristic wit and love of language, she focuses on humor—particularly bilingual jokes—as the place where tensions between and within cultures are played out. She draws on thinking about humor and language by a range of philosophers and others, including Sigmund Freud, Immanuel Kant, Ludwig Wittgenstein, Hannah Arendt, and Mikhail Bakhtin. In declaring the merits of allowing for crossed signals, Sommer sends a clear message: Making room for more than one language is about value added, not about remediation. It is an expression of love for a contingent and changing world. About The Author(s) Doris Sommer is Professor of Romance Languages and Literature and Director of Graduate Studies in Spanish at Harvard University. Among her books are Proceed with Caution, When Engaged by Minority Writing in the Americas; Foundational Fictions: The National Romances of Latin America; Bilingual Games: Some Literary Investigations; and The Places of History: Regionalism Revisited in Latin America, published by Duke University Press.
2004
Sommer D. Ficções de fundação: os romances nacionais da América Latina. Editora UFMG; 2004.
Sommer D. Ficciones Fundacionales. Fondo De Cultura Económica; 2004.
Bilingual Games: Some Literary Investigations
Sommer D ed. Bilingual Games: Some Literary Investigations. Palgrave; 2004.Abstract
These essays bring home the most challenging observations of postmodernism—multiple identities, the fragility of meaning, the risks of communication. Sommer asserts that many people normally live—that is, think, feel, create, reason, persuade, laugh—in more than one language. She claims that traditional scholarship (aesthetics; language and philosophy; psychoanalysis, and politics) cannot see or hear more than one language at a time. The goal of these essays is to create a new field: bilingual arts & aesthetics which examine the aesthetic product produced by bilingual diasporic communities. The focus of this volume is the Americas, but examples and theoretical proposals come from Europe as well. In both areas, the issue offers another level of complexity to the migrant and cosmopolitan character of local societies in a global economy.
Bilingual Aesthetics: A New Sentimental Education
Sommer D. Bilingual Aesthetics: A New Sentimental Education. Duke University Press; 2004. Duke University Press PageAbstract

Knowing a second language entails some unease; it requires a willingness to make mistakes and work through misunderstandings. The renowned literary scholar Doris Sommer argues that feeling funny is good for you, and for society. In Bilingual Aesthetics Sommer invites readers to make mischief with meaning, to play games with language, and to allow errors to stimulate new ways of thinking. Today’s global world has outgrown any one-to-one correlation between a people and a language; liberal democracies can either encourage difference or stifle it through exclusionary policies. Bilingual Aesthetics is Sommer’s passionate call for citizens and officials to cultivate difference and to realize that the precarious points of contact resulting from mismatches between languages, codes, and cultures are the lifeblood of democracy, as well as the stimulus for aesthetics and philosophy. Sommer encourages readers to entertain the creative possibilities inherent in multilingualism. With her characteristic wit and love of language, she focuses on humor—particularly bilingual jokes—as the place where tensions between and within cultures are played out. She draws on thinking about humor and language by a range of philosophers and others, including Sigmund Freud, Immanuel Kant, Ludwig Wittgenstein, Hannah Arendt, and Mikhail Bakhtin. In declaring the merits of allowing for crossed signals, Sommer sends a clear message: Making room for more than one language is about value added, not about remediation. It is an expression of love for a contingent and changing world.

2001
The Latin American Subaltern Studies Reader
Rodriguez I. The Latin American Subaltern Studies Reader. (López MM). Duke University Press; 2001 pp. 472.Abstract
Sharing a postrevolutionary sympathy with the struggles of the poor, the contributors to this first comprehensive collection of writing on subalternity in Latin America work to actively link politics, culture, and literature. Emerging from a decade of work and debates generated by a collective known as the Latin American Studies Group, the volume privileges the category of the subaltern over that of class, as contributors focus on the possibilities of investigating history from below. In addition to an overview by Ranajit Guha, essay topics include nineteenth-century hygiene in Latin American countries, Rigoberta Menchú after the Nobel, commentaries on Haitian and Argentinian issues, the relationship between gender and race in Bolivia, and ungovernability and tragedy in Peru. Providing a radical critique of elite culture and of liberal, bourgeois, and modern epistemologies and projects, the essays included here prove that Latin American Subaltern Studies is much more than the mere translation of subaltern studies from South Asia to Latin America. Contributors. Marcelo Bergman, John Beverley, Robert Carr, Sara Castro-Klarén, Michael Clark, Beatriz González Stephan, Ranajit Guha, María Milagros López , Walter Mignolo, Alberto Moreiras, Abdul-Karim Mustapha, José Rabasa, Ileana Rodríguez, Josefina Saldaña-Portillo, Javier Sanjinés, C. Patricia Seed, Doris Sommer, Marcia Stephenson, Mónica Szurmuk, Gareth Williams, Marc Zimmerman
1999
The Places of History: Regionalism Revisited in Latin America
Sommer D ed. The Places of History: Regionalism Revisited in Latin America. Duke University Press; 1999 pp. 320.Abstract
Responding to the pressures of current theoretical trends toward models of cultural globalization, the essays collected here bring a historical focus to literary studies. They suggest that only by exploring the particularities of regional historical cultures can the multiple meanings of American identities be understood. Representing a broad range of contemporary criticism, this volume features many short essays by the most well-known and respected Latin Americanists, each devoting attention to specific matters of history. The topics range from Incan architecture to Chicano and Nuyorican habitats; from turn of the century Argentine criminology to Caribbean homophobia; from the rhetorics of independence and dictatorship to Mexican ambivalence about opera and Brazil’s move beyond monarchy; and from the precarious survival of Spanish language in Latin America to its paradoxical legacy of enlightenment in the Philippines. Originally published as a special issue of Modern Language Quarterly (June 1996), this expanded edition includes a new introduction by Doris Sommer and a new essay by Vincente Rafael. Viewed together, these essays reveal a cultural richness that is sure to interest literary scholars and Latin Americanists alike. Contributors. Carlos J. Alonso, Antonio Benítez-Rojo, John Beverley, Debra A. Castillo, Arcadio Diaz-Quiñones, Juan Flores, Mary M. Gaylord, José Limón, Josefina Ludmer, Francine Masiello, Antonio Mazzotti, Walter D. Mignolo, Sylvia Molloy, Mary Louise Pratt, Vincente Rafael, Julio Ramos, Susana Rotker, Roberto Schwarz, Diana Taylor, Nancy Vogeley
Proceed with Caution, When Engaged by Minority Writing in the Americas
Sommer D. Proceed with Caution, When Engaged by Minority Writing in the Americas. Harvard University Press; 1999.Abstract
Let the reader beware. Educated readers naturally feel entitled to know what they're reading--often, if they try hard enough, to know it with the conspiratorial intimacy of a potential partner. This book reminds us that cultural differences may in fact make us targets of a text, not its co-conspirators. Some literature, especially culturally particular or "minority" literature, actually uses its differences and distances to redirect our desire for intimacy toward more cautious, respectful engagements. To name these figures of cultural discontinuity--to describe a rhetoric of particularism in the Americas--is the purpose of Proceed with Caution. In a series of daring forays, from seventeenth-century Inca Garcilaso de la Vega to Julio Cortázar and Mario Vargas Llosa, Doris Sommer shows how ethnically marked texts use enticing and frustrating language games to keep readers engaged with difference: Gloria Estefan's syncopated appeal to solidarity plays on Whitman's undifferentiated ideal; unrequitable seductions echo through Rigoberta Menchú's protestations of secrecy, Toni Morrison's interrupted confession, the rebuffs in a Mexican testimonial novel. In these and other examples, Sommer trains us to notice the signs that affirm a respectful distance as a condition of political fairness and aesthetic effect--warnings that will be audible (and engaging for readings that tolerate difference) once we listen for a rhetoric of particularism.
1998
Exile and Creativity: Signposts, Travelers, Outsiders, Backward Glances
Suleiman SR ed. Exile and Creativity: Signposts, Travelers, Outsiders, Backward Glances. Duke University Press; 1998 pp. 456.Abstract
A major historical phenomenon of our century, exile has been a focal point for reflections about individual and cultural identity and problems of nationalism, racism, and war. Whether emigrés, exiles, expatriates, refugees, or nomads, these people all experience a distance from their homes and often their native languages. Exile and Creativity brings together the widely varied perspectives of nineteen distinguished European and American scholars and cultural critics to ask: Is exile a falling away from a source of creativity associated with the wholeness of home and one’s own language, or is it a spur to creativity? In essays that range chronologically from the Renaissance to the 1990s, geographically from the Danube to the Andes, and historically from the Inquisition to the Holocaust, the complexities and tensions of exile and the diversity of its experiences are examined. Recognizing exile as an interior experience as much as a physical displacement, this collection discusses such varied topics as intellectual exile and seventeenth-century French literature; different versions of home and of the novel in the writings of Bakhtin and Lukács; the displacement of James Joyce and Clarice Lispector; a young journalist’s meeting with James Baldwin in the south of France; Jean Renoir’s Hollywood years; and reflections by the descendents of European emigrés. Strikingly, many of the essays are themselves the work of exiles, bearing out once more the power of the personal voice in scholarship. With the exception of the contribution by Henry Louis Gates Jr., these essays were originally published in a special double issue of Poetics Today in 1996. Exile and Creativity will engage a range of readers from those whose specific interests include the problems of displacement and diaspora and the European Holocaust to those whose broad interests include art, literary and cultural studies, history, film, and the nature of human creativity. Contributors. Zygmunt Bauman, Janet Bergstrom, Christine Brooke-Rose, Hélène Cixous, Tibor Dessewffy, Marianne Hirsch, Denis Hollier, Henry Louis Gates Jr., Linda Nochlin, Leo Spitzer, Susan Rubin Suleiman, Thomas Pavel, Doris Sommer, Nancy Huston, John Neubauer, Ernst van Alphen, Alicia Borinsky, Svetlana Boym, Jacqueline Chénieux-Gendron
Gendered Agents: Women and Institutional Knowledge
Mariniello S. Gendered Agents: Women and Institutional Knowledge. (Bové PA). Duke University Press; 1998 pp. 440.Abstract
Gendered Agents, edited by Silvestra Mariniello andPaul A. Bové, presents essays by influential feminist theorists who challenge traditional Western epistemology and suggest new directions for feminism. By examining both literary and historical discourses, such critics as Gayatri Spivak, Hortense Spillers, and Lauren Berlant assess questions of sexuality, ethics, race, psychoanalysis, subjectivity, and identity. Gathered from various issues of the journal boundary 2, the essays in Gendered Agents seek to transform the model of Western academic knowledge by restructuring its priorities and values. In the introduction, Mariniello urges feminists to begin anew but take as their starting place the achievements of feminism and feminist theory: an understanding of language that considers the implications of silence, the motivation to decompartmentalize experience, and the acknowledgement that everything is political. Challenging both a canonical organization of knowledge and the persistently self-referential "ghettoization" of feminism, contributors subsequently tackle subjects as diverse as pre-Marxist France, the American fetus, black intellectuals, queer nationality, and the art of literary interpretation. Contributors. Lauren Berlant, Karen Brennan, Margaret Cohen, Nancy Fraser, Elizabeth Freeman, Carol Jacobs, Silvestra Mariniello, Larysa Mykyta, Laura Rice, Ivy Schweitzer, Doris Sommer, Hortense J. Spillers, Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak, Judith Wilt
1996
The Real Thing: Testimonial Discourse and Latin America
Gugelberger GM ed. The Real Thing: Testimonial Discourse and Latin America. Duke University Press; 1996 pp. 328.Abstract
Presented as the authentic testimony of the disenfranchised, the colonized, and the oppressed, testimonio has in the last two decades emerged as one of the most significant genres of Latin America’s post-boom literature. In the political battles that have taken place around the formation of the canon, the testimonio holds a special place: no other single genre of literature has taken up such a large part of current debate. Initially hailed in the 1970s as a genuine form of resistance literature, testimonio has since undergone a significant change in its critical reception. The essays in The Real Thing analyze the testimonio, its history, and its place in contemporary consciousness. Although the literature of testimony arose on the margins of institutional power and its ends were in large part political change, the canonization of testimonio by the academic Left has moved it from margin to center, ironically bringing about the institutionalization of its transgressive and counter-hegemonic qualities. Discussing Latin American works ranging from Salvadorian writer Roque Dalton’s Miguel Marmol to I . . . Rigoberta Menchu, a work that earned its author a Nobel Prize, this collection explores how critical writing about testimonio has turned into discourse about the institution of academia, the canon, postmodernism and postcolonialism, and the status of Latin American studies generally. Contributors. John Beverley, Santiago Colás, Georg M. Gugelberger, Barbara Harlow, Fredric Jameson, Alberto Moreiras, Margaret Randall, Javier Sanjines, Elzbieta Sklodowska, Doris Sommer, Gareth Williams, George Yúdice, Marc Zimmerman
1995
The Uses of Literary History
Brown M ed. The Uses of Literary History. Duke University Press; 1995 pp. 328.Abstract
In this collection, Marshall Brown has gathered essays by twenty leading literary scholars and critics to appraise the current state of literary history. Representing a range of disciplinary specialties and approaches, these essays illustrate and debate the issues that confront scholars working on the literary past and its relation to the present. Concerned with both the theory and practice of literary history, these provocative and sometimes combative pieces examine the writing of literary history, the nature of our interest in tradition, and the ways that literary works act in history. Among the numerous issues discussed are the uses of evidence, anachronism, the dialectic of texts and contexts, particularism and the resistance to reductive understanding, the construction of identities, memory, and the endurance of the past. New historicism, nationalism, and gender studies appear in relation to more traditional issues such as textual editing, taste, and literary pedagogy. Combining new and old perspectives, The Uses of Literary History provides a broad view of the field. Contributors. Charles Altieri, Jonathan Arac, R. Howard Bloch, Richard Dellamora, Paul H. Fry, Geoffrey Hartman, Denis Hollier, Donna Landry, Lawrence Lipking, Jerome J. McGann, Walter Benn Michaels, Rukmini Bhaya Nair, Virgil Nemoianu, Annabel Patterson, David Perkins, Marjorie Perloff, Meredith Anne Skura, Doris Sommer, Peter Stallybrass, Susan Stewart
1993
Cultures of United States Imperialism
Kaplan A. Cultures of United States Imperialism. (Pease DE). Duke University Press; 1993 pp. 680.Abstract
Cultures of United States Imperialism represents a major paradigm shift that will remap the field of American Studies. Pointing to a glaring blind spot in the basic premises of the study of American culture, leading critics and theorists in cultural studies, history, anthropology, and literature reveal the "denial of empire" at the heart of American Studies. Challenging traditional definitions and periodizations of imperialism, this volume shows how international relations reciprocally shape a dominant imperial culture at home and how imperial relations are enacted and contested within the United States. Drawing on a broad range of interpretive practices, these essays range across American history, from European representations of the New World to the mass media spectacle of the Persian Gulf War. The volume breaks down the boundary between the study of foreign relations and American culture to examine imperialism as an internal process of cultural appropriation and as an external struggle over international power. The contributors explore how the politics of continental and international expansion, conquest, and resistance have shaped the history of American culture just as much as the cultures of those it has dominated. By uncovering the dialectical relationship between American cultures and international relations, this collection demonstrates the necessity of analyzing imperialism as a political or economic process inseparable from the social relations and cultural representations of gender, race, ethnicity, and class at home. Contributors. Lynda Boose, Mary Yoko Brannen, Bill Brown, William Cain, Eric Cheyfitz, Vicente Diaz, Frederick Errington, Kevin Gaines, Deborah Gewertz, Donna Haraway, Susan Jeffords, Myra Jehlen, Amy Kaplan, Eric Lott, Walter Benn Michaels, Donald E. Pease, Vicente Rafael, Michael Rogin, José David Saldívar, Richard Slotkin, Doris Sommer, Gauri Viswanathan, Priscilla Wald, Kenneth Warren, Christopher P. Wilson
Foundational Fictions: The National Romances of Latin America
Sommer D. Foundational Fictions: The National Romances of Latin America. University of California Press; 1993.
1990
Do the Americas Have a Common Literature?
Firmat GP ed. Do the Americas Have a Common Literature?. Duke University Press; 1990 pp. 404.Abstract
This volume takes an important step toward the discovery of a common critical heritage that joins the diverse literatures of North America and Latin America. Traditionally, literary criticism has treated the literature of the Americas as “New World” literature, examining it in relation to its “Old World”—usually European—counterparts. This collection of essays redirects the Eurocentric focus of earlier scholarship and identifies a distinctive pan-American consciousness. The essays here place the literature of the Americas in a hemispheric context by drawing on approaches derived from various schools of contemporary critical thought—Marxism, feminism, culture studies, semiotics, reception aesthetics, and poststructuralism. As part of their search for a distinctly New World literary idiom, the contributors engage not only the major North American and Spanish American writers, but also such “marginal” or “minor” literatures as Chicano, African American, Brazilian, and Québecois. In identifying areas of agreement and confluence, this work lays the groundwork for finding historical, ideological, and cultural homogeneity in the imaginative writing of the Americas. Contributors. Lois Parkinson Zamora, David T. Haberly, José David Saldívar, Antonio Benítez-Rojo, José Piedra, Doris Sommer, Enrico Mario Santí, Eduardo González, John Irwin, Wendy B. Faris, René Prieto, Jonathan Monroe, Gustavo Pérez Firmat