Fernando Coronil, distinguished professor of anthropology and Latin American studies at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York, passed away last week after a hard-fought battle with lung cancer. Numerous colleagues have remembered the committed internationalist and critic of globocentrism, noting his capacious intellect, incisive scholarship, and passion for teaching, while still others have mourned the passing of a beloved mentor and friend. We remember Coronil as the author of The Magical State: Nature, Money, and Modernity in Venezuela, which examined key twentieth-century transformations in the nation’s polity, culture, and economy, recasting theories of development and highlighting the relevance of these processes for other postcolonial nations. Below follows a more personal tribute from our own executive editor David Brent, who worked intimately with Coronil on The Magical State, and who offers a few good words on Coronil’s remarkable life:
A Tribute to the late Fernando Coronil (1944-2011)
As anyone knows who has read Fernando Coronil’s The Magical State: Nature, Money, and Modernity in Venezuela, or even just the endorsements of it on the back cover of the paperback edition, it is an exceptionally significant work not only for Latin American studies or anthropology in general but for all the other social sciences. It has also been a highly successful book for the Press in terms of its critical reception and its sales. After nearly 15 years in print, it is still being adopted for many courses both in the United States and abroad.
Fernando was a wonderful but sometimes slightly frustrating author to work with. I first met him sometime in the early ’80s when he was already a rather senior graduate student at the University of Chicago. I found him to be a most impressive, charismatic, and warm person; just shaking his hand made me feel special and alive. At the urging of several faculty members, we discussed the possibility of publishing a revised version of his 1987 doctoral thesis The Black El Dorado: Money Fetishism, Democracy, and Capitalism in Venezuela. After reviewing at least two redactions of the thesis, the Press offered him an advance contract for The Magical State in February 1991. The contractual delivery date for the final manuscript was originally March 1992 but when it became clear that that was unrealistic it was revised to what turned out to be the equally unrealistic date of September 1992.
Fernando and family were of course already ensconced at the University of Michigan and he had many new and exciting projects to work on (including building the History and Anthropology Program there), students to supervise, and numerous other publications. Each time we met in person—which was at least once a year at a conference or a party—Fernando would beg my patience and even forgiveness for his tardiness; I remained supportive and enthusiastic, not out of politeness, but because I sincerely wanted him to finish his book and to publish it! In retrospect, I must say that his excuses for repeatedly missing deadlines were never tiresome and even after over four years of waiting I never lost confidence in him or the book.
When one day in early 1996 Fernando showed up at my office in Chicago and handed me the final manuscript it was a bright day indeed. There were a few complications regarding permissions and illustrations, but as I recall we managed to solve them without great difficulty and the book was finally published in September 1997.
Fernando and I remained friends all these years and we warmly embraced every time we met for drinks or a meal. We also discussed many possible future book projects but it was discussing ideas with him and simply being in his presence that thrilled me the most. I will sorely miss this remarkable man and scholar.
David Brent, Chicago, 25 August 2011