Modernity at Gunpoint is a unique and groundbreaking study on the culture of guns and the way in which material objects and the imagination about them contribute to discussions of gender, politics, and ideology. This is a rare book that organically understands the shared and diverging histories of Mexico and Central America, in ways that have been rendered urgent by new migration and economic patterns.
2019 Best Book in the Humanities (Mexico section) of the Latin American Studies Association
Modernity at Gunpoint provides the first study of the political and cultural significance of weaponry in the context of major armed conflicts in Mexico and Central America. In this highly original study, Sophie Esch approaches political violence through its most direct but also most symbolic tool: the firearm. In novels, songs, and photos of insurgency, firearms appear as artifacts, tropes, and props, through which artists negotiate conceptions of modernity, citizenship, and militancy. Esch grounds her analysis in important re-readings of canonical texts by Martín Luis Guzman, Nellie Campobello, Omar Cabezas, Gioconda Belli, Sergio Ramirez, Horacio Castellanos Moya, and others. Through the lens of the iconic firearm, Esch relates the story of the peasant insurgencies of the Mexican Revolution, the guerrilla warfare of the Sandinista Revolution, and the ongoing drug-related wars in Mexico and Central America, to highlight the historical, cultural, gendered, and political significance of weapons in this volatile region.
To the saying that ‘war is the continuation of politics by other means,' Foucault replied that ‘power is the continuation of war by other means.' Esch shows that, in the context of Mexican and Central American modern history, both sayings are relevant. Brilliantly argued, and using the rifle as a symbolic tool, she produces a striking new image of these cultures.
The entirety of the work is showing us the direction that I think our field is going, showing the commonalities between Mexico, Central America, and the borderlands—even as it reaffirms the uniqueness of each context.
Sophie Esch’s excellent study offers an unparalleled approach to weapons to confront modernity and, more generally, culture, across a variety of cultural production and national experiences. With the firearm as an analytical trope, Esch seeks to understand cultural responses to political violence, focusing mostly on Mexico and Nicaragua in the periods of 1910–1920, 1979–1990, and the present day.
La transformación de la relación entre el hombre y el rifle que observamos en el trabajo de Esch es sorprendente y el resultado de una amplia investigación que incluye extensas fuentes históricas. Su corpus de cultura popular es notable, especialmente en el uso de la canción popular.
This engaging, well written, and richly researched book points to exciting new avenues in scholarship, blazing the path for future scholars to think about Mexico and Central America in tandem, or to unpack the multivalent resonances of a single object.