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The Senses of Democracy

The Senses of Democracy
Perception, Politics, and Culture in Latin America

Tracing the evolution of “sense work” in literary texts, the visual arts, periodical culture, and history, this paradigm-shifting book explores how embodied cognition helps define democratic practice and rebellion, cultural crisis, and social change.

Series: William and Bettye Nowlin Endowment

May 2018
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325 pages | 6 x 9 | 24 color and 16 b&w photos |

In The Senses of Democracy, Francine R. Masiello traces a history of perceptions expressed in literature, the visual arts, politics, and history from the start of the nineteenth century to the present day. A wide transnational landscape frames the book along with an original and provocative thesis: when the discourse on democracy is altered—when nations fall into crisis or the increased weight of modernity tests minds and nerves—the representation of our sensing bodies plays a crucial role in explaining order and rebellion, cultural innovation, and social change.

Taking a wide arc of materials—periodicals, memoirs, political proclamations, and travel logs, along with art installations and fiction—and focusing on the technologies that supplement and enhance human perception, Masiello looks at the evolution of what she calls “sense work” in cultural texts, mainly from Latin America, that wend from the heights of romantic thought to the startling innovations of modernism in the early twentieth century and then to times of posthuman experience when cyber bodies hurtle through globalized space and human senses are reproduced by machines. Tracing the shifting debates on perceptions, The Senses of Democracy offers a new paradigm with which to speak of Latin American cultural history and launches a field for the comparative study of bodies, experience, pleasure, and pain over the continental divide. In the end, sense work helps us to understand how culture finds its location.

  • List of Illustrations
  • Acknowledgments
  • Introduction
  • Chapter 1. Sensing the Early Republic
  • Chapter 2. Troubled by Gender: Technology and Perception in the Women’s Nineteenth Century
  • Chapter 3. Collective Synesthesia: The 1920s Avant-Garde
  • Chapter 4. A Politics of Perception against the State
  • Chapter 5. By Way of a Conclusion: A Sense of the “Now”
  • Notes
  • Works Cited
  • Index

Berkeley, California

Masiello is the Sidney and Margaret Ancker Professor Emerita of Spanish and Comparative Literature and professor of the Graduate School at the University of California at Berkeley. Her many books include Between Civilization and Barbarism: Women, Nation, and Literary Culture in Modern Argentina and The Art of Transition: Latin American Culture and Neoliberal Crisis, which were both awarded the Modern Language Association’s Katherine Singer Kovacs Prize for outstanding book in the field of Hispanic studies, and El cuerpo de la voz (poesía, ética, cultura), which received the Latin American Studies Association Southern Cone Prize for best book in the humanities.


“It is difficult to overstate the breadth of [Masiello's] study...Senses of Democracy promises to be an essential book for anyone interested in bodily alternatives to affect theory, and to scholars of two centuries of Latin American Literature, and as I have already discovered, the book is in an invaluable tool in teaching nineteenth-century Latin American literature to undergraduate students.”

“An extraordinary book…Masiello's book is a beautiful exploration of the long history of [the mighty power of managing one's own senses] in Latin America.”

“Masiello's work is undoubtedly persuasive and engaging throughout, offering a refreshing method to pursue studies of politics and emotion.”
Bulletin of Hispanic Studies

“[Masiello's] local scenes of sense work successfully make the case for a new approach to Latin American literature, art, and culture grounded in the aesthetics and politics of sense perception. They also serve as anchor points for one of Masiello’s subsidiary claims: that the work of the senses in culture is best understood when one turns way from universalist generalizations to focus on localized regimes of perception. In this way, The Senses of Democracy extends an invitation to other theorists and scholars to continue mining the local and regional specificity of sense perception in Latin America, in contexts and time periods that are not covered in this book.”
Revista de Esudios Hispánicos

“While the focus is on Latin America, the universe this book moves in is a wide one, informed by US literature and history, European arts, literature and philosophy, and imperial and postcolonial theory and history, all rendered by a sharp-eyed and prodigiously informed mind. Few scholars can hold so many literary and historical traditions in dynamic counterpositioning. In this sense, the book is a real tour de force. It welcomes the reader and sets up no barriers to comprehension. Much of its brilliance lies in this incredible juggling act.”
Gwen Kirkpatrick, Georgetown University, author of The Dissonant Legacy of Modernismo: Lugones, Herrera y Reissig, and the Voices of Modern Spanish American Poetry

“A new literary and cultural history of more than two hundred years of cultural production. This book is clearly the work of a scholar who has reached a brilliant point of integration of her analytical and interpretive powers and who has the insight to be both original and persuasive. I would not be surprised if Masiello opens up a field of Latin American sense studies with the publication of this book.”
Diana Sorensen, Harvard University, author of A Turbulent Decade Remembered: Scenes from the Latin American Sixties


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This book may also be available on the following library platforms; check with your local library:
3M Cloud Library/bibliotheca