Urbanomic x Sequence Press


ISBN 978-1-7336281-5-0


America—An Integral Weave

Transversality, Borders, and Abysses in Nineteenth and Twentieth Century American Culture

Original Edition
£25 / $28.95
  • Paperback
  • 175×115mm
  • 245pp

Translated by

  • Deneb K. V. Girardot

With an unprecedented ease of movement between literature, music, the visual arts, architecture, mathematics, and philosophy, this richly illustrated study enters into the ‘electromagnetic field’ between Latin America and North America with two complementary essays examining some of the principal features of their intellectual and creative landscapes throughout the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.

‘Under the Sign of Jonah’ explores how twentieth-century North American culture adopted and transformed the legacy of romanticism, highlighting a continued orientation toward heights and depths, ascent and descent, and community between the finite and the infinite, whether in the ‘portentous profundities’ of Herman Melville’s Moby Dick, the troubled sedimentary depths of Albert Pinkham Ryder’s painting, and the spectral modalities of Charles Sanders Peirce’s pragmatism—but also John Dos Passos’s literary counterpoint, Margaret Bourke-White’s documentary photography, and Moholy-Nagy’s ‘modulators’, among others.

Turning to the skeletal reductions of Edgar Varèse’s music and the fluid disorientation of Frank Gehry’s architecture, Zalamea argues that the vertiginous pursuit of the ‘hypermodern’ constitutes a complementary engagement with the same problematics: capturing the complexity of reality, linking the static and the dynamic, integrating the one and the multiple. Conceptual dynamisms that are formalised in the ‘crystalline philosophical discoveries’ of William Lawvere, pioneer of mathematical category theory, with its capacity to weave together objects and morphisms.

‘Under the Sign of Jonah’ is a bracing reappraisal of the perennial relevance and richness of romanticism understood as the ‘deep core of modernity’, and a plea for the continuing importance, in a horizontalized and globalised world, of depthwise navigation.

Zalamea’s second essay, ‘The Borders and the Pendulum’, addresses Latin America as a dynamic frontier—a margin that can only be mapped through a pendular back-and-forth movement, a creative transit that weaves together the vital threads of minor and major cultures. It presents a cross-section of three phases of ‘sub-continental’ thought: An early twentieth-century universalist ‘panoscopy’ which imagined an integrated American culture (writer Alfonso Reyes’s ‘synthetic mediations’, essayist Fernando Ortiz’s Fernández’s ‘transculturation’, critic Mariano Picón Salas’s ‘triangulation’, philosopher Pedro Henríquez Ureña’s utopian ‘spiral’ of synthetic Latin American culture); a mid-century ‘localised microscopy’ focused on the regional (Jorge Luis Borges’s overlapping possible worlds, Juan Rulfo’s stripped-down prose, the fragmentary facets of José Lezama Lima’s poems and Juan Carlos Onetti’s short stories); and late-twentieth-century responses to postmodernism in the form of a ‘transversal telescopy’ that operates both a differentiation into the local and a transversal integration into universal modernity (critic Ángel Rama’s architectonics of cultural difference, ‘hybridity’ in the work of anthropologist Néstor García Canclini, philosopher Rosa María Rodríguez Magda’s rejection of postmodernism in favour of an expansive ‘transmodernity’).

Continually shuttling across disciplinary borders, America contributes toward the construction of a ‘differential and integral calculus’ for contemporary culture by weaving together sensitive readings of the arts with a rare ability to put pure mathematical concepts to work in the cultural domain. Zalamea approaches his subjects with a philosophical depth and conceptual agility that is a mark of the true polymath; his thought-diagrams of a dynamic continent are an indispensable guide to the transits and syntheses not only between the Americas, but between the romantic, the modern, and the contemporary, supplying the attentive reader with all the equipment they need to venture off the beaten paths of (post)modernity.