01-1 - Latin American Literature Boom

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Society for Latin American Studies

Boom, Yes; 'New' Novel, No: Further Reflections on the Optical Illusions of the 1960s in Latin America Author(s): Gerald Martin Source: Bulletin of Latin American Research, Vol. 3, No. 2 (1984), pp. 53-63 Published by: Blackwell Publishing on behalf of Society for Latin American Studies Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/3338252 Accessed: 11/12/2010 09:40Your use of the JSTOR archive indicates your acceptance of JSTOR's Terms and Conditions of Use, available at http://www.jstor.org/page/info/about/policies/terms.jsp. JSTOR's Terms and Conditions of Use provides, in part, that unless you have obtained prior permission, you may not download an entire issue of a journal or multiple copies of articles, and you may use content in the JSTOR archive only for your personal, non-commercial use. Please contact the publisher regarding any further use of this work. Publisher contact information may be obtained at http://www.jstor.org/action/showPublisher?publisherCode=black. Each copy of any part of a JSTOR transmission must contain the same copyright notice that appears on the screen or printed page of such transmission. JSTOR is a not-for-profit service that helps scholars, researchers, and students discover, use, and build upon a wide range of content in a trusted digital archive. We use information technology and tools to increase productivity and facilitate new forms of scholarship. For more information about JSTOR, please contact support@jstor.org.

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Boom, Reflections

Yes; on 1960s

'New5 the in

Novel, Optical Latin

No: Illusions America

Further of the

GERALD Portsmouth

MARTIN Polytechnic

No cultural phenomenon of the 1960s did more than the apparent explosion of creativity in the Spanish American novel to bring Latin America to international attention. It is no exaggeration to state that if the Southern continent was known for two things above all others in the 1960s, these were, first and foreand its impact both on Latin America and the most, the Cuban Revolution Third World generally, and secondly, the boom in Latin American fiction, whose rise and fail coincided with the rise and fail of liberal perceptions of Cuba between 1959 and 1971. At a moment when such creativity was in short when the French nouveau roman was antagonizing supply internationally, ordinary readers and academics everywhere and critics repeatedly asked them? selves whether the novel, in the age of the mass media, was now moribund, a succession of Latin American writers?above all, Cortazar, Fuentes, Vargas Llosa and Garcia Marquez?rose to international prominence, others from an earlier generation, like Borges and Carpentier, consolidated their status, and Asturias became the first Latin American novelist to win the Nobel Prize, in 1967. At the same time Vallejo and Neruda were increasingly recognized, albeit belatedly, as two of the world's great poets of the twentieth century. Moreover, although the rhythm of Brazilian cultural development has always been different to that of the larger Spanish American countries, the movement for the first time incorporated Brazil, retrospectively appropriating such works as Joao Guimaraes Rosas' classic Grande sertao, veredas (1956). It also inspired new departures in peninsular Spanish novelists like Juan Goytisolo (see especially del conde don Julidn, 1970), who in the mid-1960s quickly Reivindicacion became an honorary member of what was by then known as the 'boom', a phenomenon through which Spanish America again transformed Spanish this case its fiction?as literature?in Dario's Modernist movement had trans? formed its poetry at the turn of the century. Goytisolo was a particularly significant adherent, firstly because he was a Catalan, and Barcelona-based editorials profited more from the boom than any of the Latin American publishing houses; and secondly because, like most of the new Latin American novelists themselves, he was an exile from his native country and a long-term resident in Paris.1 The impact of these writers was immediate and overwhelming. For the first time Latin American authors saw their novels published in large quantities, and were soon able to conceive of living off the proceeds of their writing and

54 its commercial

BULLETIN OF LATIN AMERICAN RESEARCH

by-products.2 Latin American middle-class readers, a rapidly expanding group whom the writers in many ways represented, flattered both by the literary reflection of their own image and by world attention focused on the new fiction, began at last to prefer works by writers from their own continent to those from Europe, and waited eagerly for the next book by Cortazar, Garcia Marquez or Vargas liosa, encouraged all the way by a complex from the popular press and and contradictory network of communications, television to university journals and symposia, in which for a time it was almost impossible to disentangle advertising from criticism, cosmopolitan forms from Americanist themes, the reverberations of capitalist modernization from those of the Cuban Revolution. The astonishing result of all this was that the boom writers became household names in Latin America, like film or pop stars, sportsmen or politicians. (This trend continues: in the last two years, for example, Mario Vargas Liosa has accepted an invitation to judge the Miss World competi? tion and rejected an invitation to become Prime Minister of Peru.) What really confused the issue was that at the same time these profoundly ambitious men who well as highly 'professional'?writers, were also evidently serious?as managed both to achieve critical recognition and to become bestsellers (Cien ahos de soledad is the classic example of this). The wholesale conversion of literary production into a commodity process has made it impossible in practice such an enterprise were ever to separate the aesthetic from the political?if possible, in Latin America or elsewhere. On the whole, though, it is also true in few critics have actually recognized this distinction?that to say?though the case of most of the boom writers the early successes remain the outstanding achievements, and the works written for the suddenly emerging market soon showed marked evidence of decline and even decay. Since my own view, reluctantly arrived at, is that all these famous works had a relationship of ambiguity and equivocation towards the ideological alternatives of the decade which was extraordinarily fruitful in terms of narrative form, it would not then be surprising if those outstanding achievements also coincided?before the success was assured, before the new movement became the 'boom'?with moment of greatest ambiguity in the face of the alternative between the lure of the Market and the vocation of Art. Certainly Cortazar never improved upon Rayuela (1963), nor Fuentes upon La muerte de Artemio Cruz (1962: a view of the Mexican Revolution from the temporarily assumed perspective of the Cuban Revolution), nor Cabrera Infante on Tres tristes tigres (1963: a novel about nor Vargas Liosa on La Casa Cuba that was not yet counter-revolutionary), Verde (1966), nor Garcia Marquez on the incomparable Cien ahos de soledad (1967), which marked the apotheosis of the movement and, as it transpired, heralded its decline. The impact of these writers, then, was dynamic; the rise of the 'New Novel' was for a time irresistible. Not every one was impressed, however, and the in? creasing conflictive relationship between Casa de las Americas and Mundo Nuevo (see Frenk's article in this issue), or the retreat from sociological criticism into structuralism (see Rowe), provided two of the more instructive examples of the tensions involved in that decade of the 'heroic guerrilla' (see Gonzalez) and the Alliance for Progress. Cuba's relationship to the new fiction was always uneasy and equivocal, even in the euphoric period 1962 to 1966, and eventually came

THE OPTICALILLUSIONS

OF THE 1960s IN LATIN AMERICA

55

of Proust, Kafka, close to the same kind of rejection as Lukacs' condemnation Joyce and the rest of European Modernism. Even in the pages ofMundo Nuevo itself, the new movement's single most important vehicle, which eventually turned out to have had links with the CIA, there were a number of memorable polemics, most notably in 1969, when the veteran Venezuelan critic, Manuel Pedro Gonzalez, launched one of a series of violent and contemptuous both with the great attacks on the new fiction, comparing it unfavourably regionalist works of an earlier period in Latin American writing and with the great works of European Modernism, of which, at the same time, he was also critical, in view of their inherent pessimism and subjectivism.3 Gonzalez' temperaof insult, hyperbole and negativity, made mental extremism, his combination it easy to brand him as a reactionary member of an older generation resentfully and ungenerously rejecting the new; yet his arguments were not entirely lacking in foundation. There was nothing in the new novel, he asserted, that had not already been done, and done better, by James Joyce. The fact that his argument did not seem convincing and was never taken seriously was due in large measure to the difficulty of believing that so manifestly vigorous and apparently creative a cultural phenomenon could be merely mimetic,4 and it is clearer to us now that this was a debate between antagonists who were not listening to one another and did not in any case speak the same language, which explains the oversimplification of the terms in which it was conducted. Hoping to clarify rather than simplify, we might say that the new fiction was certa