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WHAT EVERY EDUCATED CITIZEN OF THE WORLD NEEDS TO KNOW IN THE 21ST CENTURY: INTRODUCTION TO LATIN-AMERICAN LITERATURE—GABRIEL GARCIA MARQUEZ, JORGE LUIS BORGES, OCTAVIO PAZ, PABLO NERUDA, MARIO VARGAS LLOSA —-FROM THE WORLD LITERATURE FORUM RECOMMENDED CLASSICS AND MASTERPIECES SERIES VIA GOODREADS—-ROBERT SHEPPARD, EDITOR-IN-CHIEF
Latin American writers have always been a hybrid and cosmopolitan lot—-on the one hand part of the Western world and drawing their heritage, like all Western writers from the legacy of Classical Greece and the Latin masters of Rome, the Biblical and Christian heritage, and the heritage in particular of Spanish and Portuguese literature, of Cervantes and Camoes; the classical joke of ‘Modernismo” being that Latin American literature had evolved beyond its national and colonial origins to embrace a true regional culture, and that the cultural capital of this “Latin America” was Paris!—the place where almost every Latin American writer, artist, thinker or revolutionary would make pilgrimage to take part in the currents of the Western world.
On the other hand, they have by necessity been rooted in the history, geography and milieu of “The New World,” with reference to their Pre-Columbian heritage and the various sub-cultures of their peoples, despite the fact that many or most of them, just like North Americans, are immigrants or descendents from Europe itself—not only from colonial Spain and Portugal, but from Italy, Ireland, Britain, Germany—even Japan and the Middle-East and really, like the USA to the north, and increasingly from all of the countries of the world to a greater or lesser extent. Recall the joke of Borges—that the typical Argentine was an Italian, speaking Spanish, who thinks he is an Englishman! So in fact Latin American literature, just like ‘American’ or North American literature, has always been a part of both Western Literature and of World Literature, consciously or unconsciously.
If we ask who are the Latin American “Greats” who have made a global impact and contribution to World Literature as a whole beyond the local milieu of their origins, then many of the names are quite obvious and familiar: Above all Borges, whose “Ficciones” and philosophical, bizarre and perplexing stories and exploratory non-linear modes of narrative are modernist classics the world over, such as “The Garden of the Forking Paths.” Then of course, there are the Nobel Prize winners, including many of the “El Boom” period with its “Lo real Maravilloso”—Magical Realism—-of which Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s “Cien anos de soledad”–“The Hundred Years of Solitude” is foremost. The Nobel Prize, and perhaps the Neustadt, are prima facie evidence of global contribution and thus we would have to include the great lyric poet Pablo Neruda of Chile, Octavio Paz of Mexico, Asturias of Guatemala, and Gabriela Mistral of Chile. Overall I would have to say the indisputable “Big Three” who have had a global impact as part of World Literature over the last century would be Borges, Neruda, and Garcia Marquez.
THE HISTORICAL DEVELOPMENT OF LATIN-AMERICAN LITERATURE
PRE-COLUMBIAN ORATURE AND LITERATURE
Yet obviously it would be a travesty to think of Latin America’s contribution to world literature only in terms of a hagiographic handful of beatified ‘Greats.’ The major contributors to world culture from Latin America go far beyond them. Of the Pre-Columbian heritage, we are hampered by the fact that many of the Indian or American peoples had no written language and much of their rich oral language and traditions have been lost or deliberately suppressed. Yet some important works, such as the Mayan classic, the “Popul Vuh,” or “Council Book,” a kind of Mayan Bible recording their myths of origin, classical tales of mythic heroes such as the Celestial Twins Hunahpu and Xbalanque, and a kind of tribal history like the tribal history of the Old Testament, have come down to us, like the Iliad and the Odyssey, originally oral epics memorized by classical singers, then later transcribed into alphabetical script and recorded.
As in the case of the heritage of many African tribes, whose oral works and traditions are excluded from the definition of ‘Literature’ by the fact that they were composed orally rather than scripturally, we should keep an open mind and be ready to welcome “Orature” alongside “Literature” where the works are of significant quality and contribution, Other Pre-Columbian contributions might include the “Cantos Mexicanos,” or “Songs of the Aztec Nobles,” composed orally in Nahuatl and then later transcribed into Romanized script, Other borderline works of historical-cultural cum literary interest would include the Letters of Columbus to the King, and accounts of the conquest, such as Bernard Diaz del Castillo’s “True History of the Conquest of New Spain,” and the related historical works of Bartholome de las Casas, “Apostle of the Indians.”
Once again, we get into a theoretical point—-“What is Literature?”—-are these works of historical interest only or are they of wider interest to the whole of humanity because of their universal quality? Sometimes it is hard to say at the borderline—-because a work that is perhaps of only local historical interest may become ‘foundational’ to a whole culture. i.e.,may become a cultural ‘touchstone’ in ignorance of which one can never hope to understand the culture as a whole and the potentially universal ideas which grow out of it—–Perhaps the Old Testament being an example, originally only a self-centered tribalistic totem of a civilizationally marginal people, yet evolving to become the common ethical-religious and spiritual root of the Judeo-Christian-Islamic monotheistic culture dominant in the world today. Yet certainly many parts of it also rise in their literary and artistic high quality to be undeniable parts of literature.
In the colonial period there are many worthy candidates for at least secondary status in the global canon: Juan Ruiz de Alarcon—playwright, and Sor Juana Inez de la Cruz, a remarkable woman and Mexican nun, proto-feminist, and intellectual, noted for her plays, poetry and prose.
REVOLUTIONARY AND NATIONALISTIC LITERATURE OF THE EARLY 19TH CENTURY
From there we then reach the revolutionary period of the Post-Napoleonic rise of nationalisms and new Latin American nations attaining independency from Spain and Portugal, and going on to develop national literatures and cultures, all the while part of Western culture and literature and of a Pan-American Latin American culture and literature. Simon Bolivar, “El Liberator” was also a prolific writer, historical essayist and narrator of his military exploits. Similarly the Mexican Lizardi was an ardent propagandist and pamphleteer—a kind of Latin American Tom Paine, and also author of the supposed first Latin American novel, “The Itching Parrot.” Jose Juaquim Olmedo celebrated the victories of Bolivar in his “La Victoria de Junin: Canto a Bolivar.” As with Goethe, we have the coexistence of Classicism and Romanticism in such works as “En el teocalli de Cholula,” (In the Temple Pyramid of Cholula) of the Cuban Jose Maria Heredia, probably the first appearance of the Romantic poem in Latin America. Preeminent at this time was probably Sarmiento of Argentina, notably his Romantic views in his Life in the Argentine Republic in the Days of the Tyrants, a topic and theme to become widespread, even down to the time of Garcia Marques in his “Hundred Years of Solitude.” Romanticism and nationalism were as common in Latin America as they were in Europe.
THE RISE OF “MODERNISMO” OR LATIN-AMERICAN MODERNISM
With the ending of the 19th Century brought on the period of “Modernismo,” which generally saw a break with the nationalistic expression of the prior generation, and writers immersed themselves in a world of artifice and imagination. These were the “Modernistas”, who believed, so it is commonly said, in the French Parnassian ideal of “l’art pour l’art—Art for art’s sake.” They wrote on rare and exotic themes and experimented with language and meter and symbolism. The literature became comparatively more Pan-Latin-American and less national-focused, as well as becoming more globalized. These included Najera, Silva, del Casal and Jose Marti but is generally accepted to have reached its peak with Nicaragua’s Ruben Dario.
Then coming down to the early 20th Century, Latin America, together with the rest of the Western world was taken up with a myriad of movements and literary trends. Three women poets distinguished themselves, Alfonsina Storni, Juana de Ibarborou, and notably the Nobel Prize winner Gabriela Mistral, known for their impassioned lyrics. The avant-garde in poetry included, Vincente Hudobro of Chile, Cesar Vallejo of Peru, Nobel winner Jorge Luis Borges of Argentina and Chile’s Pablo Neruda, also a Nobel Prize winner. The Mexican Revolution of 1910 also produced a flurry of revolutionary historical novels, such as “El Aguila y la Serpiente”—The Eagle and the Serpent—by Guzman, and “The Underdogs,” by Azuela.
Around this time there was also a movement to represent the particular experience of the Indian or Native peoples, raised to the level of awareness of a protracted social problem, called the “indigenista” literature, with such writers as the Bolivian Alcides Arguedas, with his “Raza de bronce”—The Bronze Race, and “El Mundo es ancho y ajeno”—Broad and Alien is the World, by the Peruvian Ciro Alegria.
“EL BOOM” AND THE ASCENT OF MAGICAL REALISM & LATIN-AMERICAN LITERATURE ONTO THE WORLD STAGE FROM THE 1960’s
Of course coming down to the second half of the 20th Century again we have the great period of “El Boom” in which Latin American literature really is put on the map of globalized World Literature. The Boom reflected the economic development of Latin America and the assimilation of many of the global Modernist influences in form and technique, multiple points-of-view, stream of consciousness and internal monologue, non-linear innovative narrative styles, and other techniques, pioneered earlier in the century by Faulkner, Joyce, James and Woolf. We have Guatemala’s Nobel Prize winner Miguel Angel Asturias, who combined mythological and social themes in such works as “El Presidente,” and “The Bejewelled Boy.” Then we have Cuba’s Alejo Carpentier who captured the world of magic and superstition in “The Lost Steps” and other works, and who is generally credited with coining the term “Magic Realism.” Similarly, writers of the older generation carried their work to higher powers, with Borges, Ficciones, that like many of the Boom writers to follow, combined he real with the fantastic, exploring the outer borders and limits of human reason and reality. Borges younger Argentine comrade, Julio Cortazar, made history with his formalistic experimentation in non-linear narration, embodied in such works as “Rayuela”—Hopscotch. Mexican Carlos Fuentes, rose to global renown with his “La Muerte de Artemio Cruz”—The Death of Artemio Cruz, accompanied by other Latin American brothers in letters, such as Mario Vargas Llosa of Peru,–“La casa verde”–The Green House, and of course the now immortal Nobel laureate Garcia Marquez with his Hundred Years of Solitude.
POST-BOOM LATIN AMERICAN LITERATURE
Of course everything under the sun has its day, and The Boom gradually receded. In the Post-Boom period, as is ever the case when we draw near the present things are more complicated and confused, and the broad lines are yet to be recognized. There seems to be a turn towards irony and popular genres, such as in the works of Manuel Puig. We even get “Anti-Boom Literature” such as Alberto Fuguet’s “McOndo” satirizing and puncturing the Magic Realism tradition which had now fallen to become an overworked cliché, every book seemingly mandatorily leading to the Latin American jungle where the real and the fantastic are effortlessly and seamlessly evoked, and the spectre of the fantastic and supernatural more and more idiotically is intruded into an unrelated reality, unmotivated by the narrative, themes and characters. We have the modern “Best Sellers” of Paolo Coelho and Elizabeth Allende, and post-Boom pastiches of Magic Realism, such as “Como agua para chocolate,” by Laura Esquivel. Historical explorations such as Fernando Vallejo’s account of the violence surrounding the Medellin Cartel appeared, along with the “subaltern’’ and “Testimonio” wave, characterized by such figures as Rigoberta Menchu. In recent years Post-Boom literature has been led by the strong figure of Roberto Balano of Chile, with his treatment of the theme of exile, a common Latin-American fate, as exemplified by his own experience following the Pinochet overthrowal of the socialist Allende government of Chile.
GABRIEL GARCIA MARQUEZ–FATHER OF MAGICAL REALISM & “EL BOOM”—1982 NOBEL LAUREATE
Gabriel José de la Concordia García Márquez (b.1928) is a Colombian novelist, short-story writer, screenwriter and journalist, known affectionately as “Gabo” throughout Latin America. Considered one of the most significant authors of the 20th century, he was awarded the 1972 Neustadt International Prize for Literature and the 1982 Nobel Prize in Literature. He is best known for his novels, “One Hundred Years of Solitude” (1967), “Autumn of the Patriarch” (1975) and “Love in the Time of Cholera” (1985) most of them expressing the theme of solitude.His works have achieved significant critical acclaim and widespread commercial success, most notably for popularizing a literary style labeled as magic realism, which uses magical elements and events in otherwise ordinary and realistic situations.
JORGE LUIS BORGES—ARGENTINIAN LTERARY GRANDFATHER OF MAGICAL REALISM AND THE PHILOSOPHICAL FANTASY GENRE
Jorge Francisco Isidoro Luis Borges (1899-1986), known as Jorge Luis Borges was an Argentine short-story writer, essayist, poet and translator who was born in Buenos Aires. His work embraces the “character of unreality in all literature”. His most famous books, Ficciones (1944) and The Aleph (El Aleph in Spanish) (1949), are compilations of short stories interconnected by common themes such as dreams, labyrinths, libraries, mirrors, animals, fictional writers, philosophy, religion and God. Borges’ works have contributed to philosophical literature and also to both the fantasy and magical realism genres. The genre of magical realism reacted against the dominant realism and naturalism of the nineteenth century. Scholars have also suggested that Borges’s progressive blindness helped him to create innovative literary symbols through imagination. Nobel Laureate J. M. Coetzee said of him: “He, more than anyone, renovated the language of fiction and thus opened the way to a remarkable generation of Spanish American novelists.”
PABLO NERUDA–CHILEAN MASTER OF LATIN-AMERICAN LYRICAL POETRY AND 1971 NOBEL LAUREATE
Pablo Neruda (1904-1973) was the renown Chilean lyric poet, author erotically-charged love poems such as the 1924 collection “Twenty Love Poems” and the “Song of Despair,” and the 1971 winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature. Neruda was a close advisor to socialist President Salvador Allende, a diplomat and Senator of the Communist Party. Colombian novelist Gabriel García Márquez once called him “the greatest poet of the 20th century in any language.”
OCTAVIO PAZ–MEXICAN NOBEL LAUREATE
Octavio Paz Lozano (1914-1998) was a Mexican writer, poet, and diplomat, and the winner of the 1982 Neustadt International Prize for Literature and the 1990 Nobel Prize for Literature. In addition to writing, in 1962 he was named Mexico’s ambassador to India.
In 1965, he resigned from the diplomatic corps in protest of the Mexican government’s massacre of student demonstrators in the Plaza de las Tres Culturas. He won the 1977 Jerusalem Prize for literature on the theme of individual freedom. In 1980, he was awarded an honorary doctorate from Harvard, and in 1982, he won the Neustadt Prize. His early poetry was influenced by Marxism, surrealism, and existentialism, as well as religions such as Buddhism and Hinduism. His poem, “Piedra de sol” (“Sunstone”), was praised as a “magnificent” example of surrealist poetry in the presentation speech of his Nobel Prize. His book-length essay, The Labyrinth of Solitude (El laberinto de la soledad), delves into the minds of his countrymen of Mexico, describing them as hidden behind masks of solitude. Due to their history, their identity is lost between a pre-Columbian and a Spanish culture, negating either.
MARIO VARGAS LLOSA–PERUVIAN NOBEL LAUREATE: FROM MODERNISM TO POST-MODERNISM
Mario Vargas Llosa (b.1936) is a Peruvian-Spanish writer, politician, journalist, essayist, and recipient of the 2010 Nobel Prize in Literature. Some critics consider him to have had a larger international impact and worldwide audience than any other writer of the Latin American Boom. Upon announcing the 2010 Nobel Prize in Literature, the Swedish Academy said it had been given to Vargas Llosa “for his cartography of structures of power and his trenchant images of the individual’s resistance, revolt, and defeat.” His novels include comedies, murder mysteries, historical novels, and political thrillers. Several, such as “Captain Pantoja and the Special Service” (1973/1978) and “Aunt Julia and the Scriptwriter” (1977/1982), have been adapted as feature films. In his essays, Vargas Llosa has made many criticisms of nationalism in different parts of the world, among others in Bosnia, Croatia and Serbia. Another change over the course of his career has been a shift from a style and approach associated with literary modernism, to a sometimes playful postmodernism.
SPIRITUS MUNDI AND LATIN-AMERICAN LITERATURE
Latin-American Literature has deeply influenced my own work, particularly the contemporary and futurist modern epic Spiritus Mundi. The chapters “The Volcano’s Underground” and “Teatro Magico” take place in Mexico City and feature the protagonist Robert Sartorius’ surreal alcohol, drug and sex induced experiences as he contemplates suicide on his fiftieth birthday, which is also the Mexican Day of the Dead, including encounters with mythical figures from the Mayan Popul Vuh. It contains an extended embedded dialogue on the contributions of Latin-American Literature to World Literature. Spiritus Mundi also chronicles the Bono-Geldof-style “People Power” crusade to establish a United Nations Parliamentary Assembly as a globalized version of the European Parliament for global democracy, a theme of challenging the existing structures of power through reform or revolution common to Latin-American writing.
World Literature Forum invites you to check out the great Latin-American masterpieces of World Literature, and also the contemporary epic novel Spiritus Mundi, by Robert Sheppard. For a fuller discussion of the concept of World Literature you are invited to look into the extended discussion in the new book Spiritus Mundi, by Robert Sheppard, one of the principal themes of which is the emergence and evolution of World Literature:
For Discussions on World Literature and n Literary Criticism in Spiritus Mundi: http://worldliteratureandliterarycrit…
World Literature Forum
Author, Spiritus Mundi Novel
Author’s Blog: http://robertalexandersheppard.wordpr…
Spiritus Mundi on Goodreads:
Spiritus Mundi on Amazon, Book I: http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00CIGJFGO
Spiritus Mundi, Book II: The Romance http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00CGM8BZG
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