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"General introduction"
Extraído de The Borzoi Anthology of Latin American Literature

Edited by Emir Rodríguez Monegal with the assistance of Thomas Colchie.
Alfred A. Knopf, New York, 1977
2 v., 24 cm

"It cannot yet be said that there is a cohesive Latin American literature, at least in the continental sense. There is, rather, a continental literature in process, an ongoing development, the first manifesto of which was perhaps the "Ode" published in London in 1823 by the Venezuelan Andrés Bello. Latin American literature is more an intention than a fact simply because Latin American itself has never achieved cultural integration. A literature is more than a collection of writers and their works; it is, as Octavio Paz has pointed out, a coherent system of literary communications, a critical space in which works mirror each other and participate in a dialogue with their readers. This space (which exists in Europe and the United States) is still in the process of being created in Latin America. Even the name used to identify this part of the world refers to a geopolitical entity that is actually separated into two main linguistic and cultural groups: Spanish and Portuguese. Despite their common peninsular origin, Spanish America and Brazil have always been separate and apart, since the first days of the discovery and conquest of the New World. The line that divides the Spanish from the Portuguese side of South America may not be as straight today as it was when Pope Alexander VI traced it so imaginatively in 1493, but it is thicker, and hardened by history. Political independence from the respective mother countries brought an even more drastic separation of the new republican regimes of Spanish America from the empire of Brazil.

Cultural contact between the two blocs remained minimal until quite recently. It is true that the Mexican Sor Juan Inés de la Cruz used to read and comment on the sermons of Father Antonio Vieira, and that the baroque Brazilian satirist Gregorio de Matos knew Góngora's poetry very well. In general, however, Spanish American and Brazilian literature progressed in parallel but separate lines of development until the present century. Even their terminologies differ. What is called modernism in Spanish America corresponds roughly to Brazilian parnasianism, while the Brazilian modernism of the 1920s is the equivalent of the avant-garde movements in Spanish American letters. In more recent times, there has been more communication between the two literatures. Neruda's poetry and Borges's fiction have been widely read in Brazil, while the Mexican Octavio Paz has been in continuous contact with the Brazilian concrete poets. The new novelists in Spanish America and Brazil have been familiar with one another's works in spite of linguistic and publishing barriers. But complete cultural integration is still a project of the future, and a truly Latin American literature only a blueprint.

There is not even a Spanish American literature before the nineteenth century, when independence spurred everywhere the creation of a culture different from the peninsular and based on more modern (i.e., French) models. Political independence did not contribute to integration. Bolivar and San Martín dreamed of unity while the new nations quickly separated under local, and weak, governments, each keen on fostering its own national culture. Some of the best writers did have a truly continental perspective and fought hard for the integration of Spanish American literature. But despite their efforts, it took the best part of fifty years to produce a movement, modernism, that was authentically Spanish American and that aspired to integrate what had been written in all parts of the Hispanic world into a new poetic unity (see Part Three, Introduction).

The paradox is that the integration now being sought did exist during Colonial times: Spanish American and Brazilian writers were part of the respective unities called Spanish and Portuguese literature, and saw themselves essentially as peninsular writers who happened to be on this side of the Atlantic. In a sense they were right, although we, looking backward, from our very different perspective, do not see them as such. In approaching the baroque poets, for instance (see Introduction to Part One), we recognize in them not successful disciples of Góngora or Quevedo, but the first Latin American poets to attempt a new departure in their work. For us, therefore, they become the founding fathers of Latin American literature. This perspective is, of course, anachronistic, buy deliberately so. For the normal diachronic perspective used in literary history I have substituted a synchronic model in which texts produced in different times and circumstances are brought together to form a coherent and unified whole.

In the selection of works produced before 1850, I have leaned heavily on texts that are more significant perhaps to us than they were to their contemporary audience. Many prominent figures have been omitted, either because their importance is purely historical or simple because they do not travel well in translation. In the selections of texts that belong to the second half of the nineteenth or to the twentieth century, I have been generous. More than half of this anthology is devoted to them because it is in them that the project of a Latin American literature begins to be fulfilled. I have also deliberately excluded the Indian literatures, which have contributed so much to Latin American culture. It was a hard decision to make, especially because many of the native myths and metaphors have strongly influenced writers as diverse and as important as the Inca Garcilaso, the Argentine José Hernández, the Dominican Manuel de Jesús Galván, the Guatemalan Miguel Angel Asturias, the Brazilian Mário de Andrade, the Chilean Pablo Neruda, and the Mexicans Octavio Paz and Juan Rulfo. But to show how Indian literature can be integrated into Latin American letters would require a larger and different anthology.

This book is generally confined to texts of either fiction or poetry. No playwrights or essayist are included -the first, because their works are very difficult if not impossible to excerpt; the second, because a serious attempt to illustrate their variety and significance to Latin American letters would require another volume as large as this one. Only with regard to the Colonial period (Part One) has a slightly different approach been followed. The best literary prose of the time is generally not fictional, because the Colonial authorities did not allow novels to circulate in the New World. (Many were smuggled in, but that is another story). Colonial writers, therefore, knowing they had no chance of having a novel published, abstained from fiction. Nonetheless, fiction thinly disguised as fact, or fact generously contaminated by fiction, was the stuff of some of the most exciting chronicles, memoirs, and documents produced in Colonial times. In truth they do belong to the domain of fiction, and have been treated as such in this anthology.

A new perspective on Latin American letters has been attempted in this book: a perspective which presents New World writing as a permanent quest for a literature of the future, a literary utopia in which an integrated image of a whole continent will be at long last possible."




L. Block de Behar

A. Rodríguez Peixoto

S. Sánchez Castro


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