In advance of the Summit of the Americas, the U.S. Information Agency had the bright idea of convening a conclave of cultural leaders from across the hemisphere. The "conversation" dedicated to the "new moment in the Americas" began at a dinner, hosted by Al Gore, where "to the astonishment of the participants, Gore organized the chairs, in encounter group style, in tight circles in the living room." Gustavo Gutierrez, "father of Latin American liberation theology and, at times, a stern critic of the United States, gave the blessing over the dinner." The misnamed Latin American debt crisis was "actually something far more profound and significant. In that period the entire political and economic structure inherited from Spanish colonialism finally collapsed." Orlando Patterson speaks of "regional cosmoses." Octavio Paz could not attend but "nevertheless remained a towering intellectual presence at the meeting." Leiken includes an abridged 1979 article from The New Yorker to represent him in the volume. Richard Rodriguez recycles excerpts from his 1992 Days of Obligation and muses how he ended up conceiving of himself as "a pocho" in the United States, "reflecting the tragic nature of life." Stanley Crouch ends lyrically with the "boiling gumbo pot" that is the "transcending power of the affirmative, miscegenated heat necessary to melt down the iron suits of history."
What a weekend of self-important, portentous waffling must have ensued if this slender, poorly produced, badly edited, and often ludicrous volume is any reflection. Will intellectuals never learn?