THE CONTEMPORARY SPANISH ArE.EHICAMr NOVELISTS' THEORY
OF THE HOVEL
ERNEST JACKSON LUNSFOWD, JR.
A DISSERTATION PRESENTED TO THE RPADUATc COUNCIL OF
THE UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA
IN PARTIAL FULFILLMENT OF THE REQUIRErMENTS FOR T!:'"
DEGREE OF DOCTOR 3O PHIOSOPiiY
UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA
Ernest Jackson Lunsford, Jr.
ACKNOWL E DGM ENTS
I would like to express my appreciation to the members of my
committee, Drs. Ivan A. Schulman, Irving R. Wershow and David Bushnoll,
for their help in the preparation of this dissertation. Special thanks
go to Drs. Schulman and Wershow, who guided and directed me in my research
This dissertation represents an attempt to give substance and
unity to the disparate theoretical ideas on the novel expressed in
the writings of contemporary Spanish American novelists. These concepts
are contained in books, essays, interviews, magazine articles, and, in
several cases, in the author's fictional works. We will structure these
theoretical positions to form meaningful similar or divergent ideas.
The term "contemporary novel' is not used in this study to denote
any single specific esthetic or ideological concept of the novel. but
rather to embrace the numerous forms of the novel of the last three
decades, beginning with Agustin YKez's Al filo del agua (1947), General ly
recognized as the beginning of a new direction in the Spanish American
novel. The authors dealt with in our study are all alive and still
writing, with the exceptions of JosN Marfa Arguedas and Miguel Anuel
Asturias, the latter of whom died during the period of the preparation
cf this dissertation, in June 1974.
TABLF OF CONTENTS
ACKNOWLEDGMENTS. .. . . . . . . . . . . iii
FOREWORD . . . . . . . .. . ... . .. .iv
ABSTRACT . . . . . . . ... . . . . vii
I ASPECTS AND CHARACTERISTICS OF THE TRADITIONAL AND
THE CONTEMPORARY NOVEL. . .. . .. .. . . . 1
The Decline of the Realistic, Bourgeois Novel
and the Epic Narrative . . . . ... 1
The Transformation of Latin American Society. . . 4
The Difficulty of the Contemporary Novelist's
Role. . . . . . . . . . . . 8
Exile . . . . . . . . . . . . 9
Universality Versus Nationalism . . . . 14
Models and Forerunners of the Contemporary
Spanish American Novel . . . . . . 22
Elements and Characteristics of the Contemporary
Spanish American Novel. . . . . . . .. 25
Notes . . . .. . . . . . . . . 35
II LANGUAGE AND THE CONTEMPORARY NOVEL . . . ... .39
The Need for a New Language . . . . . . .39
Forerunners of the Linguistic Insurrection. . . . 51
Characteristics of the New Language . . . . 54
The Baroque Tendency Versus Simple, Straightforward
Language; "Beauty" in Language. . . . .. 64
Experimentation with Language . . . . . .. 73
Notes . . . . . . . . .. . . . 81
III FOPJ,, TECHNIQUE AND STYLE IN THE CONTEMPORARY NOVEL 85
The "Total" Novel: the "Open" Novel . . . ... .85
Technique . . . . . . . . . . . 93
The Blurring of Genres . . . . . . . .. 108
Ambiguity . . . . . . . . ... . . 11
Style . . . . . . . . . . . . 114
Notes . . . . . . . . . . . . 121
IV REALITY AND THE NOVEL . . . . . . . . .
The Nature of Reality in the Contemporary Novel .
The Novelist as Witness to His Society . . . .
Commitment .... . . . .. .. . . .
The Social Novel; the Psychological Novel . . . .
The Novel of Ideas; the Metaphysical.Novel . . .
The Urban Novel . . . . .......
Alienation . . . . . ..........
The Difficult, Obscure, Complex Novel . . .. .
Themes . . . . . .. . . . . .
Notes . . . . . . . . . . . . .
V TIME AND MYTH IN THE NOVEL. . . . . . . .
Time. . .
Myth. . .
Notes ... .
VI HUMOR AND SEX
Humor . .
Sex . . .
VII THE FUTURE OF
. . . . . .
. .. . . . . .
IN THE NOVEL ..
STHE . . .
THE NOVEL . . .
. . . . 176
. . . . 179
. . . . 186
. . . . 188
. . . . . 188
. . . . 193
. . . . . 196
. . . . 197
. . . . . 202
Notes . . .. . . . .
BIBLIOGRAPHY . . . . . . . . . . . . .
BIOGRAPHICAL SKETCH. . .. . .
. . . 209
Abstract of Dissertation Presented to the Graduate Council
of the University of Florida in Partial Fulfillment of the Requirements
for the Degree of Doctor of Philosophy
THE CONTEMPORARY SPANISH AMERICAN NOVELISTS' THEORY
OF THE NOVEL
Ernest Jackson Lunsford, Jr.
.Chairman: Ivan A. Schulman
Major Department: Romance Languages and Literatures (Spanish)
This dissertation provides a cohesive overview of the theory of
the contemporary novel as expressed by today's novelists of Spanish
America. By "contemporary," we do not intend to indicate any rigid
esthetic definition, but simply to restrict our study to the novels
which haveappeared since 1947, the publication date of Agustfn Yghez's
Al filo del agua. This work is generally considered to signal a new
direction in the Spanish American novel, and so it provides us with
a convenient starting date.
The sources for our study are multiple. Much of the material is
drawn.from interviews with the various novelists, published in periodi-
cals and in book form. Some of the novelists have written theoretical
studies on the novel. In certain cases, novelists have included
theoretical material within the texts of their novels. We have
arranged the material by themes, in order to present a logical develop-
ment of such highly diversified material.
In the introductory chapter, we look at the decline of the realistic,
bourgeois novel. The difficulty of the contemporary writer's role in
a developing society is examined, particularly the problem of authors
living outside their country. The related problem of universality versus
nationalism in the novel is examined. Then we define in general terms
both the novel as agenre and the contemporary novel of Spanish America.
The second chapter deals with language. The "linguistic insurrection"
is at the core of the contemporary novel of Spanish America. The need
for a new language as expressed by the novelists is examined first,
followed by a brief study of forerunners of the linguistic insurrection.
The characteristics of the new language are studied, along with the
opposing tendencies toward the baroque and a simple, straightforward
style. The chapter ends with a section on experimentation with
Chapter III deals with form in the contemporary novel. Such
concepts as the total novel, the open novel and the epic novel are
seen as goals, along with the many techniques employed by the novelists
to attain those goals. The tendency toward the blurring of genres,
ambiguity and a study of novelistic styles are also included.
In Chapter IV, the nature of reality is defined by the novelists as
going beyond the everyday, tangible reality to a comprehensive, "marvelous"
view of reality, leading to magic realism. The social and psychological
aspects of the novel are examined as manifestations of this subjective
reality. The novelist's role as a witness to his society and his com-
mitment to social and political points of view are studied. The chapter
also looks at the urban novel and its accompanying theme of man's
alienation, the tendency toward a difficult and.complex novel, and the
novel as a vehicle for metaphysical investigation.
The fifth chapter investigates time and myth in the novel. Although
these are very important elements in the contemporary novel, they con-
sume surprisingly little space in the novelists' theoretical writings.
Chapter VI deals with humor and sex-two topics which several
novelists feel should play greater roles in today's novels than they
presently do. Both are gaining ground today, but still seem to be
taboo with many novelists.
Our final chapter points toward possible future directions the
Spanish American novel may take-directions hinted at by the novelists
themselves. We come to no broad conclusions, since the novelistic
theory we deal with is highly diversified in content, subject and
major thrust. It is open-ended like the concept of the open novel
itself, and is sure to continue evolving as new novels appear and as
the novelists rethink their positions.
ASPECTS AND.CHARACTERISTICS OF THE TRADITIONAL AND
The Decline of the Realistic, Bourgeois Novel and
the Epic Narrative
It has been widely stated that the novel is in a state of crisis,
or alternately, that the novel is dead as an art form. This is allegedly
true for Spanish America as well as the rest of the Western world. The
Mexican novelist Carlos Fuentes, in developing his ideas on the novel,
summarizes one such thesis-that of Alberto Moravia. The Italian critic
contends that the novel's themes, characters, techniques and situations,
of bourgeois origins, have been superseded in terms of their mass appeal,
by television, the movies, the press, psychoanalysis and sociology. The
two great types of novels-those dealing with customs and those dealing
with human psychology-have already been exhausted, the former by
Flaubert, and the latter by Proust and Joyce. The bourgeoisie, whose
dominant life-style nurtured the novel, is in decline according to this
theory, and thus, the novel as well. The novelist can only be a witness
to this process of decadence leading to noia, tedium, boredom and in-
Fuentes rejects Moravia's: thesis, first, because the Mexican novelist
believes such early prototypical narratives as those of Boccaccio, the
Thousand and One Nights or the medieval novels of chivalry disprove the
theory of the novel's bourgeois beginnings (although Fuentes concedes that
the novel's major development has coincided with the rise and triumph
of the middle class and its dialectic of individual enterprise). In
countering Moravia's arguments, Fuentes insists that what is dead is
not the novel, but the bourgeois form of the novel, i.e., a descriptive,
psychological,. critical form of observing personal and social relations
in the Flaubertian style. But Fuentes insists that the death of this
realism in no way means that the raw material of literary reality has
died with it. In fact, he sees new trends in literature as opening a
wider, a more all-inclusive window on reality, redefining the nature of
reality (as we shall see in Chapter IV). Realism as Flaubert, P6rez
Gald6s or Manuel G9lv.ez knew it may be dead or exhausted, but the novel
remains a viable genre.2
Let us look briefly at the "traditional" Spanish American novel,3
in order to better understand the background out of which today's con-
temporary novel has arisen. The traditional novel of Spanish America
followed very closely the prevailing European literary styles, but
generally with one salient difference: geography and nature tended to
be not so much the background for this literature as the foreground-the
theme and even .the protagonist. Every student of the .novel knows that
the traditional novel of these countries tended to be an epic depiction
of the struggle-between man and nature, a struggle immortalized in
Domingo Faustino Sarmiento's classic depiction of the urban forces of
civilization versus the rural forces of ignorance and barbarism,
Civilizaci6n y barbarie (Facundo). In'these novels, man and nature were
generally prototypes, symbolic representations of an idea or a point of
view, and not well-developed, "rounded" characters whose life experience
was revealed as the novel progressed. Thus, in R6mulo Gallegos' classic
novel of antithesis, Dofa Barbara, Santos Luzardo is the symbolic
embodiment'of the city, its civilization, its education and the enl.ight-
enment the landholders could create in Venezuela if they would dedicate
themselves to the principles and ideals represented by Santos Luzardo..
Dora Barbara, Luzardo's antithesis, is the embodiment.of the primitive,
rural Venezuela-passionate, vindictive, uneducated, strong-willed, un-
principled, a symbol of the ignorance and feudalism which, together with
the forces of right and reason, constitute an antagonistic and syncretic
The first hundred years of the novel constitute a Spanish American
geographical epic, involving the process of self-discovery and cultural
identification. The novel, following European literary modes, incorpo-
rated Hispanic costumbrismo, regionalism, realism and naturalism in its
classic, traditional works: Jos4 Eustasio Rivera's La Vordgine (1924),
Ricardo GUiraldes' Don Segundo Sombra (1926), R6mulo Gallegos' Doha
Barbara (1929), Jorge Icaza's Huasipungo (1934), Ciro Alegrfa's El mundo
es anchor y ajeno (1941). While social and psychological problems also
appear in these novels, character portrayal remains a secondary concern
and fundamentally symbolic in nature.4 Thus, the traditional novel has
given us many memorable types, but few multidimensional characters.
In this regard, as Carlos Fuentes notes, the traditional Spanish
American novel was more concerned with the relation between the physical
environment and man than with man himself.5 Amazed at and intimidated
by the splendor and majesty of the continent's immense jungles, rivers,
plains and mountains, the novelist tended to become a chronicler,
transfixed like the first cronistas by the natural wonders around him,
and too preoccupied by pressing social and economic issues to portray
the human elements.of this New World in any other than a symbolic
formulation tied to a geographic or.socio-political thesis. While
considerable attention was given to the depiction of regional or
national customs, the portrayal of the psychological aspects of characters
remained relatively superficial. *Fuentes states that Spanish America
achieved political independence without achieving any true human
identity.6 This is certainly true in the novel. The individual simply
did not offer the same attraction as collective man within his geographic
This schematic overview of the traditional Spanish American novel
will serve to place the contemporary novel in Spanish America in a
The Transformation of Latin American Society
The breakdown of the novel's old realistic approach is directly
related to the breakdown of the old reality. Carlos Fuentes attributes
the major restructuring of twentieth-century Latin American society to
one basic cause (while admitting others): United States capitalism.
Large investments in both industry (urban) and agriculture (rural)
brought about a precipitous breakdown of the traditional Latin American
social and economic patterns-imechani2ation, modern agricultural methods,.
agrarian reform, a massive flight to the cities and subsequent explosive
growth in the urban areas. Latin America has taken one giant leap from
the simplicity and order of a neo-feudalistic society to the nerve-jangling
complexity and chaos of urban twentieth-century life. The novel, in its
constant endeavor to depict man, has understandably undergone drastic
changes. Sarmiento's simplistic antithesis "civilization versus
barbarism" has scant applicability to contemporary society. -Today's
social order is in a constant state of flux, one in which the choices
and directions are not clear. Latin.American man, like his contempo-
raries around the world, must grope to find his way out of his quandary.
To portray this new and complex society, the novelist finds old literary
forms insufficient. As Roa Bastos states, the novelist finds it necessary
to seek his expression through new technical, esthetic, linguistic and
even ideological modes in order to achieve a more universal view of
Latin America.7 As the Mexican poet Octavio Paz declares, the essence
of the Latin American experience today is that at last, Latin American
man is the contemporary of all men.8 This statement coincides precisely
with Fuentes' idea that Europe is no longer the only center of occidental
culture. Formerly, to be read and applauded in Paris was the dream of
every Latin.American writer. But today, with the emergence of the
so-called Third World and the political and military power of the United
States and Russia, Europe has lost its stranglehold as the center of
"civilization," and that center has been spread out diffusely to many
points, no longer easy to pinpoint (just as the concept of "civilization"
is no longer as easy to define as it was for Sarmiento). Latin America,
formerly relegated to the periphery of world affairs and world culture,
suddenly finds that it has as much right to be a "center" of civilization
as any other cultural center.9 The old hierarchy is gone. The Latin
American novelist is no longer automatically labeled inferior if he does
not follow the latest literary trends of Paris or Madrid. Thus, a new
freedom ofexperimentation and originality is open to the Spanish
American author. The resultant expression is the "new novel" or
"contemporary novel" of the last three decades. Fuentes goes on to
state that one of the principle tenets of the new novel is the
destruction of the old black-and-white polarities and false polemics:
realism versus fantasy; "committed" art versus "pure" art; "national"
literature versus "universal" or "cosmopolitan" literature; "social"
versus "psychological" novel; as well as the eternal question of
civilization versus barbarism."0 The introduction of imagination, a
thorough house-cleaning of language, and numerous other aspects of the
new novel (themes, problems and techniques which we will examine in
subsequent chapters) are the tools the novelists use to achieve their
goal of expressing a new experience. This experience, as we have stated,
is largely urban and typically complex. As Fuentes points out, the
easily grasped right-versus-wrong view of justice depicted in Doha
Barbara is far removed from the complex, ambiguous and uncertain view
of justice presented in Mario Vargas Llosa's La ciudad y los perros."
We might add the illustrations of Rivera's La Voragine and Gabriel
Garcla Mdrquez's Cien anos de soledad. Both are by Colombian authors
and deal with life in the jungles of Colombia, but there is an enormous
gulf between them in style, interpretation and intent. The old vision
was based on less complex formulations; the reader felt surer, safer, on
more solid moral ground. But the new vision (in GarcTa MArquez's book),
though often perplexing, is a more complete vision of today's conflictive,
.ambiguous world, and thus more honest and more representative.
The increasing urbanization of Latin America has produced an
increasingly urban-oriented novel. The pampa has given way to Buenos
Aires, the Andes and jungle to Lima and Bogota. As Vargas Llosa points
out, the old-style novels dealing with the jungles, the plains and the
mountains, were just as exotic to the residents of Latin America's
cities as a French novel about Paris, a Spanish novel about Madrid or
an American novel about New York. The Latin American born and raised
in a city generally knew nothing of the rural areas of his nation, and
his poor, slum-dwelling neighbors, immigrants from the countryside, were
generally illiterate and did not read these.novels which dealt with their
native environment. Thus, the traditional novelist, knowingly or not,
was writing a novel exotic in nature to the audience for which it was
intended."2 Hence, the contemporary novelist turns more'and more to
the cities of Latin America for settings, characters and situations.
But this should not lead one to think that:nature and geography have
been discarded. Far from it. Vargas Llosa, whose first novel La ciudad
y los perros is a totally urban novel, turns back to the Peruvian
hinterland and provincial towns for his second novel, La casa verde.
And as he points out, rural areas are also the settings for Juan
Rulfo's Pedro Paramo, Augusto Roa Bastos' Hijo de hombre and Gabriel
Garcia Mgrquez's entire novelistic production, particularly his
masterpiece Cien ahos de soledad. Vargas Llosa'points out that while
the locale and the characters in the novels appear to be the same as in
the traditional novels, nature has now become the backdrop (rather than
the actual protagonist of the novel) and has been assimilated through
mythification, as a ritualistic, integral component of the characters'
lives.13 Nature also plays an integral part in the works of two other
contemporary novelists-Jos6 Maria Arguedas of Peru and Miguel Angel
Asturias of Guatemala-whose novels delve into the mentality of the large
Indian populations of their respective countries. The Indian, with his
animistic beliefs in human relationships with flowers, trees, rocks, animals
and rivers, naturally leads these two novelists into the countryside and
away from the cities which are so foreign to the Indian. But this
attempt to portray the Indian mentality constitutes an atypical departure
within the contemporary Spanish American novel, and does not negate the
general movement toward urban settings. We should point out, however, that
overtones of the old "civilization versus barbarism" polemic remain
(archetypes die hard) even in sophisticated contemporary novels-one
thinks of Asturias' El senor president and Alejo Carpentier's Los
pass perdidos, in which, at least to some extent, the city embodies
corruption, tedium and death, and the countryside promises personal
freedom, release and utopia. Yet even El senor president and Los
pasos perdidos are essentially "urban" novels in terms of their per-
spective: their protagonists portray a contemporary, urban viewpoint..'
The Difficulty of the Contemporary Novelist's Role
Although the problems of writing do not constitute one of the domi-
nant themes in the theoretical works of Spanish America's novelists, some
have commented on the subject, specifically the question of an author's
position in an .underdeveloped country,-where literature often seems an
unnecessary, if not frivolous, profession. Also, many of our novelists
speak of the impossibility, or at least the extreme difficulty, of trying
to earn a living from writing. Such extraliterary concerns certainly
affect the literary works of the novelists.
Carlos Fuentes discusses the situation of the traditional Spanish
American novelist in nations with notorious political instability, lack-
ing a free press, a responsible Congress, or strong labor unions. In
such a society, the novelist felt compelled to simultaneously play the
roles of legislator, reporter, revolutionist and thinker.'5 He served
as the nation's political and social conscience, as official protester
of injustices perpetrated against the poor and the oppressed. While
such crusading has not disappeared, it plays a secondary role today,
perhaps because there are other (and larger) groups of people in Latin
America who have taken up the banners of social justice. Ernesto
SMbato states that to be a Spanish American writer is to be doubly
tormented-not only does one bear the torment of the writer, but
additionally the torment of being a Latin American.16 .Sdbato goes on
to warn that, due. to the conditions to which Carlos Fuentes referred
(above), the Spanish American novelist's greatest problem is earning a
living from literature without prostituting the art, without "instrumental-
izing" it. For Sabato, literature is a sacred act, and to defile it is
to defile oneself as an author.17
This dilemma of the contemporary novelist's perspective brings us to
one of the thorniest problems and one of the most controversial aspects
of the situation of today's.writers-their frequent "exile" (even the
word "exile" is controversial and is generally rejected by those who live
outside their nation). A simple fact of life is that many of today's
leading Spanish American novelists live outside their native country,'
most of them in Europe. The.great majority of thdse have freely chosen
to live elsewhere. The problem is that their countrymen criticize this
self-imposed "exile," labeling it as "running away," as cosmopolitanism
(in a negative sense), and even as something closely akin to literary
desertion. The fact that such criticism rankles (and that it perhaps
does, to some extent, zero in on a point about which these novelists
feel at least a small amount of guilt or discomfort) is evidenced by
the extensive rebuttals these writers have given to justifying their
exile, both in their theoretical expositions and in interviews.
Julio Cortdzar for example rejects the label "exile," stating that
he chose to move from Argentina to France, and that he does not feel at
all like an exile. He states that the confusion or misunderstanding
boils down to a distinction between the author's physical presence in
his own nation and his presence as an author there. As an illustration
he offers the hypothetical case of an Argentine author who writes a
novel in Spanish in Tokyo, and has it published in Argentina. That author,
he states, has not left Argentina nor abandoned the best that he has to
offer, which is his quality as a writer.. Spiritually, that author is
not an exile. And that, continues Cortazar,.is his case. He does not
need the physical presence of Argentina in order to be able to.write.
Yet he states that he feels, lives and thinks "in Argentine," and is
very pleased when the critics say that his novels are profoundly
Argentine. He concludes by affirming that with him, there has been
no spiritual uprooting (desarraigo), and that his moving to-France was
a mere "corporeal displacement."18
Cortazar bitterly attacks those Argentines who insist that a writer
must reside in Argentina in order to be able to write "in Argentine."
He refers to their attitude ironically as demanding "required class
attendance." His rebuttal goes to-the following argument: if his
novels have met with success and wide reader.acceptance both in Argentina
and abroad (as indeed they have), it is in great part due to the fact that
his work is both broad and complex. It takes as a point of departure
that which is uniquely his, that which arises out of his own inspiration
and imagination, and goes on from there to open itself to experiences
and influences of the most disparate nature, rejecting nothing as being
"foreign" or "extraneous." Assimilation through a type of literary
osmosis is what Cortazar believes gives his novels the panoramic scope
which fascinates the reader. Yet he assimilates this diversity through
his own personal (and therefore Argentine) perspective. And he claims,
furthermore, that his overview would not be as easy to achieve in
Argentina as in France. Thus, he feels that if he has brought some degree
of excellence and originality to the Argentine novel, it has been at
least indirectly as a result of his residence abroad. And so, Cortdzar
remains, and is prepared to remain, a "Latin American writer in France."
In this he sees no paradox nor betrayal of his country, but merely an
exercise of personal choice."
Cortazar, furthermore, raises the question of the literary freedom
he enjoys in France, a freedom which he and other Latin American writers
might not have in their native countries, with their periodic govern-
mental upheavals and repressive regimes. Cortazar escapes all these
disruptive circumstances by residing outside the reach of his government's
influence.20 (Other writers who have fled from hostile regimes are
Guillermo Cabrera Infante and Augusto Roa Bastos.)
A different point of view on exile is expressed by Guatemala's
Miguel Angel Asturias. He observes that artists who are particularly.
sensitive and aware of nature, sights and sounds, colors, beauty, feel-
ings, etc., have a natural tendency to lose their appreciation of their
natural surroundings through constant exposure to them: On the other
hand, distance gives perspective and sharpens perception. Then the
writer "...appreciates the landscape better, sees characters and hears
sounds more clearly.... When one returns after a time one finds a new
world...."21 Asturias points to a specific example from his own works;
he believes that the view of Guatemala he produced in Hombres de mafz
and Mulata de tal is a far deeper, more complete, more essential view of
the country than the impressionistic beauty of his earlier Leyendas de
Guatemala. This difference he attributes to his absence from Guatemala
for ten or twelve years'before returning to write his more mature works.22
Carlos Fuentes draws an interesting comparison between Latin America's
major writers living in Europe today and the writers of the United States'
"lost generation" who lived in Europe between the two World Wars-Henry
James, Gertrude Stein, Ezra Pound, Ernest Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald.
Fuentes points out.that these North American writers, in exile, were
working a literary revolution which would change forever the course of
American letters. No less so are today's Spanish American exiles
revolutionizing the course of Spanish American letters. Fuentes suggests
that if the United States had not had its generation of "authors in exile,"
its literature might have developed within the confines of an intranscend-
ental "naturalistic" style at one extreme or an "esthetic" style at the
other. In the light of Fuentes! remarks, it is significant to note that
no one today accuses Hemingway or Fitzgerald of being "un-American" or
"cosmopolitan" writers in a pejorative sense. The same should and will be
the case in Spanish America if Fuentes has his way. In fact, he claims
that Spanish American literature, if it is not to stagnate through
cultural isolation, must have authors live abroad and write about more
than their own country. The novelist thus opens his vision to a wider
range of possibilities, more variety, which leads to the experimentation
which is at the heart of the contemporary novel.23 Fuentes concludes.
that the true ideal of Latin American culture and identity should be,
once again, Octavio Paz's affirmation that now Latin American men are
'the contemporaries of all men.24
The contemporary'novelists' discussion of exile is not developed as
a defense, however. They do admit physical exile has drawbacks, though
they consider them minor. Cortgzar admits that he fears a gradual
erosion of his feel for conversational Spanish. He feels a loss of
contact with the Spanish language on a constant daily basis.25
Asturias similarly concedes that by going away from his country, the
author loses the "pristine inspiration of its auditive, olfactive elements,
and even the gustative ones, as every country has its own dishes...."26
But.he maintains that the temporary loss of contact with his nation's sights,
sounds, smells and tastes is more than compensated by the writer's gain in
perspective. Both Asturias27 and Colombia's Gabriel Garcfa M&rquez28
affirm that for them, the ideal solution would be to be able to shuttle
back and forth at will between Europe and Latin America, thus maintaining
contact with the spiritual source but at the same time gaining a
Universality Versus Nationalism
This question of exile among Spanish America's novelists is very
directly related to a problem which has plagued Latin American letters
from the beginning and has become more prominent in the contemporary
period-the problem of "universal" literature versus "national" literature.
That is, should the writer look outward, toward the situations and
problems of some theoretical "universal man," or should he concentrate
his vision within his own nation, writing about the people who live
there, their social and cultural problems. This thematic conflict has
always placed the Spanish American novelist in a traditionally uncom-
fortable position of having to opt for one or the other pole. Carlos
Fuentes points out the consequences which the novelist faces, torn between
these two poles: if he takes the "nationalist" path, he in fact straps
himself into the outmoded literary forms of realism-naturalism, in
addition to automatically limiting his audience almost exclusively to his
fellow countrymen, the only public likely to be familiar with and interested
in regional or national themes. If, on the other hand, the novelist prefers
the "international" or "universal" trend, his recourse is to turn to the
European literary vanguard of his day for style and theme (for as we have
noted before, Europe, and particularly Paris, have traditionally been looked
upon as the principal source of artistic inspiration). This invariably
leads to the would-be "universal" author's being totally ignored by the
reading public, both at home and abroad-the former because his novels do
not deal with "national" subjects, and the latter because readers abroad
see in his works only an unoriginal and slavish imitation of European
models. Latin America's much-discussed "cultural lag" only serves to
exacerbate the dilemma of nationalism versus universality.29
Our discussion of this classic dichotomy is complicated somewhat by
the lack of a clear-cut definition of exactly what constitutes a "national"
literature. Is there really a "national" literature in each of Spanish
America's twenty nations? Vargas Llosa, for example, denies the existence
of twenty coherent, well-formed national literatures in the twenty
Spanish-speaking republics of America. He believes that there is
sufficient basis for considering all of Spanish American literature
as a whole--a coherent, cohesive body.' He bases this opinion on what
he considers a common denominator of historical, cultural and social
experiences which give the Spanish American region a definable, though
highly diverse, literary personality.30 Gabriel Garcia M6rquez goes
even further, advocating no division between Spanish (peninsular) and
Spanish American literatures. He bases his suggestion on the fact that,
due to a common language and cultural heritage, Don Quixote and the
medieval novels of chivalry (for example) are as much a part of the
literary heritage of Spanish America as they are of Spain. Likewise,
Rub6n Darto is as much a part of the poetic heritage of Spain as of
Spanish America.3" However, despite this evident ambiguity in the
definition of what constitutes a "national" literature, normally, one
would understand the term to signify a literature that springs from and
deals with the social, political, moral and psychological problems, and
the common cultural heritage of a given geographical region or a clearly
defined national territory.
On the nationalist-universalist polemic, the novelists defend a broad
spectrum of ideas with many blends and shades of distinction. There is a
tendency to regard the conflict as foolish and improperly stated. For
such novelists the terms should not be mutually exclusive, but rather
a synthesis of two desirable positions.
Attacking the old idea of national literature, Ernesto SMbato sounds
a call that is echoed by many of today's novelists: in order for a
literature to be national, it does not have to be a realistic or pseudo-
realistic portrayal of life in one's country. Nor does it have to be a
"picturesque" literature, depicting in colorful, charming vignettes
domestic tranquillity and happiness in the manner of the nineteenth-century
costumbristas. Nor does it have the obligation of being clear, concise,
simple, and easily grasped by the average reader. Literature can be
"national" if it is subjective, difficult, complicated, introspective,
gloomy, and critical of its own country, even seemingly antinationalistic.
A nation is infinitely complex and impossible to understand in clear
and easy terms and categories, so why, insists S6bato, should a literature
that aspires to capture the essences of that nation not be equally complex
and varied? Sdbato believes that, taking Argentina for example, many.
novels'and many novelists will be necessary before anything approaching
a complete view of Argentina's chaotic, entangled, contradictory reality
can be achieved through literature--that is, before Argentina can lay
claim to a true "national" literature.32 And this interpretation of
"national" literature not only must be open to all the disparate, con-
tradictory realities, both pleasant and unpleasant, which go into making
up the total reality of the nation,3 but it must also be prepared to
recognize as "national" literature that which fiercely attacks and
tears the nation apart.34
The Cuban novelist Alejo Carpentier is far less accommodating on this
subject. He rejects outright the old-fashioned tipicista novels--those
which attempted to depict that which is "typical" and unique in Spanish
American societies, the novel otherwise termed criollista. The Mexican
Indian, the Venezuelan plainsman, the Argentine gaucho--all these and more
became the novelistic material of idealized, folkloric, often picturesque
portraits of Spanish American life with exotic tropical birds, trees,
plants, flowers and animals, whose names were almost as foreign to the
Latin American reader as they were to his European or North American
counterpart. Thus, many of these novels were accompanied by a glossary
of American flora and fauna. Carpentier echoes the sentiments of his
contemporaries when he characterizes these attempts at self-identification
as early manifestations of literary nationalism and as elements of the
tipicista novel which no longer hold any attraction for the contemporary
novelist. For it is not through pointing out objects and human types
which somehow are unique to a given time and place that a novelist
should approach the task of creating a national literature. Rather, it
is by looking beyond the superficial differences of Spanish American man
to discover the universal experience of all men, everywhere, in Spanish
America. Having established Spanish American man as a universally
recognizable human being, the "typical" traits which distinguish him on
the surface take on their proper perspective. Thus, for Carpentier,
Spanish American man's universality is the dominant factor in literature
Cortazar finds the question of a writer's cultural authenticity
vague and inconclusive. Just what is understood by autochthonouss"
America, he asks. Certainly not much in Argentina. The term, strictly
interpreted, is far too limiting for literature. In support of this view,
he recalls that Borges once asked an intransigent indigenista why instead
of having his books printed he did not have them published in the form
of quipus. For Cortdzar, all writers are autochthonous, even if the
subjects of their work seem unrelated to those themes which folklorists
regard as the identifying elements of their cultures. For the essence
of being autochthonouss" ("indigenous" or "national") is to write works
which the nation to which the author belongs will recognize as a direct
offshoot of its culture, whether or not that nation and its traditions
play a part in the work. Furthermore, national identity must be an outlet,
an opening, and not a limitation. That is why Cortazar regards Gabriel
*GarcTa Marquez's Cien anos de soledad as one of the most admirable novels
*ever written- in Spanish America-the book is incredibly Colombian, he
says, simply because it is so much more besides. Garcia Mdrquez goes
beyond the autochthonous, making room for an all-encompassing view of
the people who.inhabit the novel. It is this wider view that gives the
particular view (the local or national identity) credibility and authen-
ticity. Autochthony, Cortdzar concludes, underlies national, regional
or local identities; providing the author is a truly "national" writer,
that identity will show through no matter what his work deals with or
where it takes place. 3
SMbato agrees with Cortazar that autochthony is more difficult for
an Argentine or Uruguayan than it is for Peruvians or Mexicans, who have
a long indigenous past.37 Argentina is a rootless nation, a melting
pot whose identity is more European than American ("Una vieja boutade
dice que los mexicanos descienden de los aztecas, los peruanos de los
incas y los rioplatenses de los barcos "38).. So for the Argentine,
autochthony lacks a clearly definable national identity. Cortdzar says
that this must be taken as a positive rather than a negative asset-as
the signal to move unencumbered into new territory to search for modern
Argentina's identity, untrammeled by traditional nationalistic pre-
occupations about gauchos, the pampa or the Indians.3
In the polemic of national versus universal literature, S6bato sees
an inherent sense of cultural inferiority among Spanish Americans. He
believes that Spanish America has for so long been under the literary
influence of Europe, imitating whatever literary styles emanated from
the European capitals, that now, in their attempt to establish their own
identity, some Spanish American authors seek an originality devoid of
European influence. That says Sabato, is a sign of literary immaturity
,and nalvetd. For in literature there can be no absolute originality,
simply because it is impossible to write in a vacuum. Literature, like
all other human endeavors, growsand develops predicated on what preceded
it. He points out that all great writers of all cultures have "influ-
ences" that can be traced to other writers and other nations. The mark
of maturity in Spanish American writers will be achieved when they can
accept their European heritage without embarrassment or feelings of
inferiority, and go on from there to build a literature which will be
uniquely Spanish American."o For the Cuban novelist Jos4 Lezama Lima,
Sfbato's evaluation of this inferiority complex is entirely valid.
Lezama notes that the crux of this cultural quandary stems from the
vague impression which somehow plagues the Latin American artist that
he is incapable of achieving the artistic level of perfection of his
European counterpart. The Spanish American writer views his art form
not as a formaa alcanzada, sino [como] problematismo, cosa a resolver"-
not an accomplished art form but a problem to be solved. And the Spanish
American artist seeks to hide what he perceives as inadequate formal
expression under the umbrella of autochthony."
Ernesto Sabato, whose chief preoccupation in his novels is existen-
tial, regards man-the individual-and his human condition as the link
between the national and universal levels. Loneliness, the ultimate
meaning of man's existence, death-these are things which haunt all men,
not just Argentines, Mexicans or Venezuelans.42 And although they are
universal problems, recognizable to readers all over the world, they are
problems which begin with one man, and can be studied by focusing the
novel's attention on one man in a given time and place. The "here and
now," as Sabato says, is the key to investigating the human condition.
The only possibility that an author has of achieving universality in
his works is by digging deeply into that which is closest to him.43
Miguel Angel Asturias44 and Colombia's Eduardo Caballero Calder6ns4
both echo Sabato's position: the novelist must move from the particular
to the universal. Asturias thinks the writer's literary vision and scope
should be constantly expanding, but that he should always begin with
that which he knows best. In such a synthesis lies the solution to the
Cort6zar, who, as we have seen, is often accused in Argentina of
being a "non-Argentine" writer, of turning his back on his native country,
regards himself as very Argentine. He attributes the disagreement to a
confusion (common to all. Latin American nations) between national
literature and literary nationalism. The latter is what the "patrioteros"
demand-a literature which constantly has Argentina as its theme. The
former is literature produced by Argentines,' which, whether or not it
has Argentina as its explicit theme and setting, will always bear the
mark of the author's Argentinian spiritual and cultural values. .This
is a far deeper and more meaningful literary "Argentinism" than that
demanded by literary nationalists.46 As examples, Cortdzar points to
the novels of Rulfo, Asturias and Vargas Llosa. Their works, though
set very firmly in Mexico, Guatemala and Peru, deal with questions which
transcend the frontiers of their particular nations. Cortdzar refers to
their "potenciaci6n creadora de su medio ambiente"-the creative energiz-
ing or giving vitality to their environment. The key word here is creative.
Taking the landscapes and people familiar to them, these writers infuse
them with the creative genius or inspiration which is the mark of the
gifted novelist. It is this "potenciaci6n creadora"-this fusing of the
artist's vitality and personal experiences and perceptions with reality
which creates a truly "national" literature.4'
In synthesis, then, the novelists almost unanimously proclaim that
the solution to the national-universal dilemma is to be found by going
to the individual-the Spanish American individual to be sure-and writing
about him in such a way that a Japanese, a Norwegian or an Ethiopian would
be capable of identifying with his situations, problems and emotions.
.The Latin American author's view.today must reach out beyond'his
national borders, for, returning to Octavio Paz's dictum, Latin American
man is today the contemporary of all men. And that, says Fuentes, is
the essence of being a Latin American today.'" It is the depth of the
author's view that matters, not the surface area he covers. In this
context, one remembers Ernesto S6bato's assertion that there is only one
valid literary dilemma: profound literature versus superficial litera-
ture."9 If literature is deep, it will be automatically "national,"
for it will go to the heart of the nation and its people. Or, as Alejo
Carpentier put it: "...the view the. Latin American intellectual has over
the world is one of the vastest, most complete and universal man has ever
had. For me the American continent is the most extraordinary world of
the century, because of its all-embracing cultural scope. Our view of
it must be ecumenic."50 In conclusion, we may cite Carlos Fuentes, who
chose as the editorial principle of the Revista Mexicana de Literatura,
which-he founded, the legend "a culture can be profitably national only
when it is generously universal."s5
Models and Forerunners of the Contemporary
Spanish American Novel
The last major section of our introductory chapter deals with the
characteristics and elements which make up the new novel in Spanish
America-an attempt to generalize certain tendencies which will be seen
repeatedly in many of the contemporary authors'.works, plus some of the
novelists' general observations and thoughts on the novel. In this
connection, it seems useful to us to discuss some models or forerunners
of the contemporary novel. We have purposely omitted the word "influences,"
for tracing literary influences does not fall within the scope of our
study. Thus, what follows are simply several literary trends which will
receive more detailed attention in later chapters. It should be pointed
out that the contemporary Spanish American novelists have relatively
little to say in-their theoretical writings about literary "influences"
Carlos Fuentes, in his discussion of the death of the realistic,
bourgeois novel,52.states that trends in twentieth-century .literature
and art have helped the old realism along on this road to its extinction
and ushered in the new, experimental forms of artistic expression which
eventually led to the contemporary Spanish American novel. The.modern
artist's views of reality have been wider, more all-encompassing and more
subjective. Fuentes mentions Kafka, Picasso, Joyce, Brecht, Artaud,
Eisenstein and Pirandello as major contemporary innovators in Europe.
In Latin America, the transition from the descriptive novel to the more
open, more innovative novel was first taken by the novelists who recorded
the epic of the Mexican Revolution.53 However, Fuentes credits two
Uruguayan and two.Argentine short-story writers-Horacio Quiroga,
Felisberto Hernandez, Macedonio Fern6ndez and Roberto Arlt-with a more
significant innovation, without stating precisely what their contributions
were. However, he discusses in detail the contributions of two writers-
whom he considers have truly turned the Spanish American novel around
and headed it in a new direction-Argentina's Jorge Luis Borges and
Guatemala's Miguel Angel Asturias. Asturias, while retaining as subject
matter the same worn-out themes of social oppression and political protest,
changed the social document into an artistic creation through the
addition and skillful use of myth and language. Borges, in Fuentes'
opinion, is the first Spanish American prose-writer to claim the right
to write in a deeply personal style, creating an entirely independent,
intellectualized, private, mythical world, not dependent on external
reality (although the poets Vicente Huidobro, Pablo Neruda and Octavio
Paz had done the same previously in poetry). And, the Argentinian is
also the first fully urban narrative writer in Spanish America.5s
The Borgian idea of constructing an imaginary world is echoed by
Peru's Mario Vargas Llosa, who names the four novelists whom he considers
to be the foremost initiators of the new novel in Europe and the United
States: James Joyce, Marcel Proust, Franz Kafka and William Faulkner.
Vargas Llosa is particularly attracted to Faulkner's imaginary
Yoknapatawpha County, a fictional world which could be located in Peru
or Colombia as easily as in Mississippi.55
Perhaps the most interesting literary "model" which any of the
novelists recognizes is discussed by Vargas Llosa, who says that the
closest parallel to what the contemporary novelists of Spanish America
are trying to do today is to be found in the medieval chivalric novels
of Europe. These novels of chivalry were "total" works, in the sense
they attempted a total depiction .of society. Vargas Llosa traces the
contemporary novelists' goal of the "total novel" (see Chapter III) to
these medieval chivalric novels, and credits the chivalric novel with
providing him with the "total" approach for his first two novels, La
ciudad y los perros and La casa verde.56
This brief account of'sources.or models and forerunners.leads us
to characterize briefly the contemporary novel. If we examine the
novelists' statements on these characteristics and elements, the ideals
and self-imposed guides of the novelists will be clarified.
Elements and Characteristics of the Contemporary
Spanish American Novel
To begin with, S6bato defines the novel as a genre in the following
(1) It is a partially fictional story, but may contain elements of
(2) It is a type of spiritual creation in which, unlike a scientific
or philosophical creation, ideas do not appear in their pure state but
are instead mixed with the feelings and passions of the characters.
(3) It is a type of creation in which, unlike science and philosophy,
there is no attempt to prove anything: the novel does not demonstrate, it
shows ("la novela no demuestra, sino muestra").
(4) It is a (partially) invented story in which human beings called
"characters" appear. According to the era, the taste and mentality of
the times, these characters range from solid, corporeal beings who closely
resemble those we see daily in the streets, to transparent individuals
sometimes designated only by mysterious initials (as in Kafka's The Trial)
who seem to be merely the bearers of certain ideas or psychological states.
(5) It is a description, an investigation, an examination of the
drama of man, his condition and his existence. For there are no novels
about objects or animals but invariably about men.
.Sabato concludes that he believes that anything more specific than
these general statements would pin down the novel too closely, limit
its wide-ranging artistic potential and force it to conform to arti-
ficially imposed standards or characteristics.
Alejo Carpentier analyzes the problem of novel-writing in terms of
what he calls the contextos of Latin American reality..5 Carpentier
believes the writer should simply create the characters and then let
them loose to act and react within these contexts. The result, he
affirms, will yield a truthful portrayal in artistic terms of Latin
American reality. We should point out that Carpentier is the only
contemporary novelist who employs the concept of contexts in his
theoretical statements on the novel. The contexts which form the basis
for Carpentier's novels'are:59
(1) racial contexts: men of one nationality but of different races-
white, Indian, black-live together in Latin America, sometimes ages
apart in cultural development; intermarriage of these races has produced
a large multiracial population.
(2) economic contexts: chronic instability of national economies,.
due to one or two natural resources in great abundance (usually in foreign
hands), which leads to boom-.and-bust cycles.
(3) "ctonic" contexts ("contextos ct6nicos"): survival of animism,
ancient beliefs and practices, often from very respectable cultural
sources, which help link certain present realities with remote cultural
essences, the existence of which links us with "lo u6iversal-sin-tiempo."
For example, the appearance, in numerous churches in Latin America, of
ornate baroque angels playing the maracas; or Heitor Villa-Lobos'
Bachianas.Brasileiras--cases of synthesis of long-existent Latin American
cultural manifestations with contemporary practices. Or perhaps a better
example: the survival of melodic elements of the Romance de Gerineldo
in the popularCuban song "La Guantanamera." In other words, elements
of the (sometimes subconscious) past surfacing to mix-with or to help
explain the present.
(4) political contexts: Latin American nations are historically
unstable (with few exceptions), and have large and influential military
sectors whose only reason for being is not to fight wars but to meddle
in running the nation's affairs.
(5) bourgeois contexts: within the growing middle class of Latin
America, there is a good bit of mobility, but there is downward as well
as upward mobility, and the middle-class citizen is therefore constantly
at the mercy of the country's uncertain economy.
(6) contexts of distance and proportion: the American continent is
huge and violent-distances are immense, everything is oversized (the Andes,
the Amazon, the pampas, etc.) and the continent is subject to periodic
natural cataclysms, such as volcanoes, hurricanes, tornadoes, earthquakes,
tidal waves, landslides and floods. Unlike Europe, nature in America is
untamed (hence the "novel of the land" that dominated Spanish American
literature for nearly a century).
(7) contexts of chronological disorientation ("desajuste cronol6gico"):
a cultural "lag" has always plagued Latin America, particularly in litera-
ture and the arts. For example, Cubism began to be understood and
practiced by artists in Spanish America at a time when it was already
pass in Europe. Literary movements have historically come to Latin
America many years after their initiation abroad.
(8) cultural contexts: Charles Pdguy once bragged that he never
read a book by anyone other than French authors. Carpentier states that
for a Frenchman, that is quite possible, for French culture is universal.
But a Spanish American cannot limit his knowledge to Hispanic culture,
for it has glaring shortcomings and lacks universality. Spanish and
Spanish American literature are simply not as representative of
universal literary movements as French literature. So the Latin American
intellectual must of necessity acquaint himself with other cultures and
other literatures, in order not to leave gaps in his erudition. For
this reason, Carpentier believes (as we have previously seen) that today's
novelist in Spanish America has the widest, most universal view of man
that any writer in the world can claim.
(9) culinary contexts: important due to their particular historical
contexts-the blending of Spanish cooking with local Spanish American-
cooking resulted in the criollo.cuisine in many regions of Spanish America.
(10) contexts of illumination: light.and shadow modify perspective,
and the great variety of Latin American geography produces an infinite
variety of light, from the diaphanous mountain atmosphere of Mexico City
to the shimmering tropical light of Rio de Janeiro and Havana.
(11) ideological contexts: these are powerful and ever-present,
but must never be allowed to become the focus of the novel, for then the
novel becomes a sermon. An economist or sociologist's report, with photo-
graphs and statistics, on the deplorable conditions in the tin mines of
Bolivia is far more useful than a novel about those same conditions.60
These, then, are the "contexts" (or basic elements) which the
Spanish American'novelist must keep in mind ashe creates his novel.
With these contexts and Ernesto Sabato's general characteristics of the
novel in mind, we turn again to Sbato. who outlines nine general
characteristics which distinguish the contemporary Spanish American
(1) descent into the "I" ("descenso al yo"): unlike the writers of
the nineteenth century, who attempted to objectively describe the physical
world outside man, today's novelist turns his vision inward to the pri-
mordial mystery of.his own existence.
(2) interior time: traditional narrative fiction was based on a
fixed concept of time-chronological, astronomical time which is
measurable by a clock. Today's writer, as he takes the plunge into
his own inner self, must abandon chronological time, because the "I"
(el yo) operates on a concept of time which is measured not in hours
and minutes but rather in anguished periods of waiting, in chronologically
unmeasurable experiences of happiness, grief or ecstasy.
(3) the subconscious: in his descent to the "I," the novelist not
only must face the subjectivity already known in literature since the
romantic period, but the depths of man's subconscious and unconscious mind.
The author's submersion into these shadowy zones often produces a ghost-
like quality which resembles dreams and nightmares. The characters
often are poorly defined, imprecise, and unreal. In this area, the law
of light and reason is supplanted by the law of the shadows.
(4) illogicality: logic, cause-and-effect, coherence, clarity,
and reason-the bases of the natural sciences, which were in turn the
basis of nineteenth-century realism-naturalism in literature-all lose
their validity in the nocturnal world of man's subconscious.
(5) the world seen through the "I": the old division between sub-
ject and object disappears. With it goes the old-style novelist's
concept of the world and "scenery," which was the idea that they, like
the theatrical scenery in a stage production, existed independently from
the characters. In the contemporary novel, the scene (scenery) arises
out of the subject along with his state of mind, his visions, feelings
(6) the Other ("el Otro"): as modern man has plunged into his own
psyche, he has discovered the Other, the double, the reverse side of him-
self, difficult to describe or define, but always present in the back of
the character's mind.
(7) communion: the modern novelist, unlike his nineteenth-century
predecessor, lacks a superhuman point of view (the novelist as omnis-
cient, omnipresent demi-god) and is faced with characters who experience
life from their very limited, subjective inner consciences. Thus today's
novel comes face to face with one of man's most anguishing problems-
loneliness and human communication.
(8) sacred sense ("sentido") of the body: since man's conscious and-
subconscious-the "I"-do not exist in a pure state but rather are un-
avoidably contained in man's body, the attempt at communion between souls
is often disastrous or frustrated. Thus, for the first time in the his-
tory of literature, sex acquires a metaphysical dimension. Sexual love,
unlike either sentimental or pornographic love in the traditional novel,
becomes a sacred act as a consequence of its attempt to establish a
bridge of communication between individuals.
(9) knowledge: today's novel has acquired the new dignity of being
a vehicle of knowledge. As long as pure science was considered the only
vehicle adequate for obtaining knowledge, literature was relegated to the
secondary status of entertainment, artifice, or an object of ideal beauty.
But when contemporary man began to realize that reality was not restricted
to the physical world, that it included man's feelings and emotions as
well, then literature became as valid an epistemological instrument as
any other., In fact, today it is perhaps the best instrument for probing
into the deeper recesses of man's mind.
SMbato concludes by stating that the contemporary novel not only
gives a more complete account of today's complex world, but has also
taken on a metaphysical dimension it did not have before. It explores
territory which the traditional novelist did not even suspect, and it
has acquired philosophical and cognitive dignity. For these reasons,
the novel is certainly not dead or in decline, but entering one of its
most vigorous, productive eras. Paraguay's Augusto Roa Bastos agrees,
stating that the prime characteristic of today's novel is precisely the
annexation of man's interior world, as described by Sabato. This opening
up of man's inner self in the novel is important because it is dealt
with on the esthetic level, and because the investigation into a
character's inner existence does not cut him off or isolate him from
his social context or milieu. Even those literary forms which seem
farthest removed from the surrounding reality, such as the so-called
"fantastic" literature, are really only a metaphorical restatement of
Other novelists offer less schematically organized characterizations
of the "new novel." Fuentes, for example, sees,the new novel in terms of
its expansion into territories that it had never known before, specifi-
cally myth and prophecy; the alliance of imagination and criticism;
ambiguity, humor, and parody, in addition to a major restructuring of
It is interesting to contrast the characteristics listed by SAbato
and Fuentes with those of Miguel Angel Asturias, one of the early con-
temporary novelists. Asturias lists as characteristics of the new novel
the use of conversational language based on popular speech patterns,
creativity based on primitive beliefs and practices, the introduction
of personified nature, telluricc impulse" impulseo telurico), and a
type of verbal magic unknown before.6" As one of the first innovators
of Spanish American fiction, it is not surprising that Asturias' list
Sis less in the vanguard, less revolutionary than that of other writers.
(It is also interesting-and predictable-that each novelist lists as
"characteristics" of the new novel those which reflect the qualities of
his own works.)
Speaking of the novel as a metaphysical investigation of man, Sdbato
calls to mind John Donne's statement that no man sleeps in the cart which
carries him from the jail to the scaffold where he is to be executed, yet
we all sleep from the womb to the grave, or we are not entirely awake.
One of the principal missions of great literature, Sabato says, is to
awaken man as he travels to the scaffold-to shock him into awareness
of his condition as a finite human being.65
Julio Cortdzar agrees. Early in the history of the narrative, the
novel sought to show us man as he was; the nineteenth-century novel sought
to show us what he was like; the contemporary novel asks the why and the
wherefore (el por que y el para que) of man's existence. The novel is
the most adequate literary vehicle for the artistic realization of
man as a person, as an individual (el hombre como persona), and this
in-depth human focus is the reason.for the wide popularity and readership
that have greeted the new novel.66 Cort6zar also points out as one of
the salient features of the new novel that (as we have already seen)
when writers such as Rulfo, Asturias, Vargas Llosa and Garcia Mgrquez
return to the geographical reality of their native countries for the setting
of their novels, what results is'not the old descriptive realism but a
"potenciaci6n creadora de su medio ambiente"-a subjective, inner-
oriented interpretation (as opposed to description) of the natural
Two final characteristics' of the contemporary novel in Spanish America
are the concepts of the total novel and the open novel. According to
these concepts, the novel should give as complete a view as possible
of the multiple planes of reality of a very complex world. In order to
do so, the novel must be open to all sorts of innovations, including
many aspects which heretofore had been considered non-literary. But
in the view of today's novelists, if something is within the realm of
human experience, then it is, by definition, narrative material, for the
novel must be open to the expression of all human experience and not just
.selective portions of it. The Cuban novelist Jos6 Lezama Lima typifies
today's writers when he says: "La novela americana significa para
nosotros algo que ni es novela ni es americana, sino el relate supraverbo
de lo entrevisto, la fiesta del nacimiento de nuevos sentidos. Si no es
novela, que es esto, exclaman. Hacer una obra que fuerce la aceptaci6n,
que obliga a que se la traguen como novela."68
In connection with Lezama's remark, we shall examine in detail in
Chapter II the linguistic revolution of the new novel. The problem of
language is at the center of just about every contemporary Spanish American
novelist's novelistic concerns. This linguistic revolution, along with
most of the other characteristics which help delineate the contours of
the contemporary novel, has its roots in Modernism. As Ivan A. Schulman
has pointed out,69 the contemporary mood of disorientation in a confusing
and complicated society; introspection and a turning inside oneself; the
acute realization of man's solitude; a profound metaphysical concern
often leading to existential anguish; a feeling of futility and
pessimism; and the linguistic and stylistic innovations leading to new
forms of expression-these are all key elements of the new novel which
had their beginnings in the Modernist movement at the turn of the
twentieth century. Thus, today's "new" novel is really a stage in the
continuing evolution begun by the Modernist renovation in the Hispanic
'Carlos Fuentes, La nueva novela hispanoamericana, 2nd ed.
(Mexico: Joaqufn Mortiz, 1969); pp. 16-17.
2Ibid., pp. 17-18.
'We are defining the traditional novel as that which appeared between
1816, the date of publication of Jos6 Joaqufn Fernandez de Lizardi's El
periquillo sarniento, the first Spanish American novel, and 1947, the
date of appearance of Agustfn Ygiei's Al filo del agua.
4Alejo Carpentier illustrates the point by his early novel iEcue-
Yambo-O!, in which he attempted to portray the life and plight of the poor
Negro population of Cuba. Years later, Carpentier regretfully realized
that his book was mere costumbrismo, superficial at best, for he had not
penetrated into the characters in enough detail to make them live as
people. They were mere symbols of their class and race. Alejo Carpentier,
Tientos y diferencias (Montevideo: ARCA, 1967), pp. 11-12.
SCarlos Fuentes, op. cit., pp. 9-10.
6Ibid., p. 11.
7Augusto Roa Bastos, "Imagen y perspectives de la narrative
latinoamericana actual," Temas (Montevideo), June-July .1965, pp. 3-12.
,"Somos, por primera vez en nuestra historic, contempor6neos de
todos los hombres." Octavio Paz, Laberinto de la soledad (Mexico: Fondo
de Cultura Econ6mica, 1964), p. 150.
9Fuentes, op. cit., pp. 34-35.
l"Ibid., p. 67.
"Luis Harss and Barbara Dohmann, Into the Mainstream (New York:
Harper and Row, 1967), p. 307.
"Mario Vargas Llosa et al'., Antologla lmnima del. Vargas Llsa
(Buenos Aires: Tiempo Contempordneo, 1969), pp. 125-126.
"Fuentes, op. cit., p. 36.
"We will return to the urban aspect of the novel in Chapter IV.
'IHarss, op. cit., p. 306.
'6Ernesto Sibato, El escritor y sus fantasmas, 2nd ed. (Buenos
Aires: Aguilar, 1964), p. 8.
Ibid., p. 12. See Chapter IV for a more detailed discussion of
the writer's obligation to his society.
'"JoaquTn A. Santana, "La vuelta a Cortazar en 80 rounds," Bohemia
(Cuba), Feb. 26, 1971, pp. 7-8.
"Julio Cortgzar, Ultimo round (Mexico: Siglo XXI, 1969), pp.
210-212, planta baja."
20Ibid., p. 212, planta baja."
21Rita Guibert, Seven Voices, trans; Frances Partridge (New York:
Vintage Books, 1973), p. 137.
22Ibid., pp. 137-138.
3Carlos Fuentes, "Hopscotch," Commentary, Oct. 1966, p. 142.
24Carlos Fuentes, "Situaci6n del escritor en America Latina," Mundo
Nuevo, July.1966,'pp. 8-9,
25Santana, op. cit., p. 7.
26Guibert, op. cit., p. 137.
28Ibid., pp. 334-335.
29Fuentes, La nueva novela hispanoamericana, p. 23.
"3Ernesto Gonzalez Bermejo, Cosas de escritores (Montevideo: Marcha
1971), p. 60.
31Jose Domingo, "Entrevistas: Gabriel Garcia M6rquez," Insula,
June 1968, p. 6.
32Sabato, op. cit., pp. 37-38.
33Ibid., pp. 39-40.
"Ibid., pp. 176-177..
"Carpentier, op. cit., pp. 10-11, 37.
36Guibert, op. cit., pp. 300-301.
37Sdbato, op. cit., pp. 37-38.
"Fuentes, La nueva novela hispanoamericana, p. 25.
"Gonzalez Bermejo, op; cit., pp. 101-102.
4 Sgbato, op. cit., pp. 31-32.
4'Jose Lezama Lima, La expresi6n americana (Havana: Instituto
Naciona- de Cultura, 195777 p. 18.
"Ernesto Sabato, "Por una novela novelesca y metaffsica," Mundo
Nuevo, Nov. 1966, p. 10.
"3Cesar Tiempo, "41 preguntas a Ernesto SMbato," Indice, 21,
No. 206, p. 16.
"Guibert, op. cit., pp.. 137-138.
"'Various, "Encuesta: La novela en America Latina," Cuadernos,
Sept. 1964, p. 6.
'6Harss, op. cit., pp. 237-238.
"Edelmiro S. Castellanos, "Cortdzar habla sobre Cortazar y otros
temas," El Mundo del Domingo (Suplemento), Jan. 15, 1967, p. 7..
"'Fuentes, "Situaci6n del escritor en America Latina," p. 9.
"SSabato, El escritor y sus fantasmas, p. 38.
S5Harss, op. cit., p. 44.
s5Quoted in Harss, op. cit., p. 281.
52Fuentes, La nueva novela hispanoamericana, pp. 16-19.
53We shall discuss this aspect at length in Chapter III under the
section titled "ambiguity."
S"Fuentes, La nueva novel hispanoamericana, pp. 24-26. Both of
these trends will be examined in greater detail in subsequent chapters.
"s"Mario Vargas Llosa," (interview by Kal Wagenheim), Caribbean
Review, Spring 1969, p. 4.
56Vargas Llosa et al., Antologra minima de M. Vargas Llosa, pp.
5S"bato, El escritor y sus fantasmas, pp. 151-152.
"The term "context" is borrowed by Carpentier from Jean-Paul
"Carpentier, op. cit., pp. 19-34.
e6The authors' social and political commitment will be further
discussed in Chapter IV.
6Sabato, El escritor y sus fantasmas, pp. 86-89.
62Roa Bastos, Qp. cit., pi 11.
63Fuentes, La nueva novela hispanoamericana, p. 24.
64Jos6 Corrales Egea, "Una charla con Miguel Angel Asturias," Insula,
Sept. 15, 1953, p. 4.
6Sabato, El escritor y sus fantasmas, p. 90.
"Julio Cortdzar, "Situaci6n de la novela," Cuadernos Americanos.
July-August 1950, pp. 227-228..
67Castellanos, op. cit., p. 7.
68Reynaldo Gonzalez, "Un pulpo en una jarra minoana," (interview with
Jos6 Lezama Lima), La Gaceta de Cuba, Sept. 1969, p. 15.
"Ivan A. Schulman, "Pervivencias del modernismo en la novela
contemporgnea: exposici6n de una teorla epocal," in Variaciones interpreta-
tivas en torno a la nueva narrative hispanoamericana, ed. Donald W.
Bleznick (Santiago de Chile: Univers-taria, 1972 pp. 32-33.
LANGUAGE AND THE CONTEMPORARY NOVEL
One of the most evident characteristics of the contemporary
Spanish American novel is its linguistic experimentation. The language
.of the new novel is at the base of and the direct consequence of the
novelists' search for new directions. The traditionally structured
forms of the Spanish language have given way in the works of many authors
to unorthodox forms of language, often disconcerting to the uninitiated
reader-which is sometimes the author's objective in such experimentation.
In this chapter, we will investigate the language the novelists use
and the rationale they develop for their new linguistic forms.
The Need for a New Language
Carlos Fuentes' contention is that Spanish America lacks a language
of its own.' The Spanish spoken in Spanish America is an imported
language, not a native product. It is the end result of the "breach"
of the Spanish conquest and colonization and the imposition of an
oppressive, hierarchical social and political order. The Counter-Reform-
ation destroyed the one great chance for modernization of Spanish society
and its language, not only in Spain but also in its American colonies.
Stunted in its modern evolution, the Spanish language for Fuentes is
a false language which conceals reality. The Spanish which first came
to America was that of the Renaissance. It was a language which hid the
medieval nature of this great colonial undertaking, just as it hid the
shame of the encomienda system under the guise of the Laws of the Indies.
The'"enlightened" language of the Independence movement concealed the
fact that Spanish America's feudal structure remained intact. Only the
leadership changed. The positivistic language of nineteenth-century
liberalism added neo-colonialism in the form of economic dependency as
Spanish America fell" into foreign hands. And the liberal language of
the recently demised Alliance for Progress disguised the continuing
economic servitude of Latin America to the developed capitalist countries.
In his own Mexico, Fuentes sees the language of the Mexican Revolution
hiding the present-day realities of the counter-revolution. And
ultimately, the presence, particularly in the large cities of Latin
America, of the beginnings of a consumer society is fed by the mass
media, whose interests are divorced from the realities of Latin American
society. Thus, from its birth to the present day, Spanish America has
lacked a truly authentic, non-dependent language-one which reflects
the deep, untainted structures of Spanish American life and experience.2
Hence, the basic need of today's Spanish American novelist is to invent
a language capable of expressing what has been left unsaid or deformed
in more than four centuries of existence since the "breach" of the con-
quest. Latin America is a continent of "sacred texts"; it cries out for
a profanation which can give.voice to her complexities-a language of her
own. A vertically structured, hierarchical, even feudal language cannot
speak adequately except for a small segment of Latin American society
today.3 Thus, the contemporary novelist's role as a linguis.t is at
bottom a revolutionary one; he must ofnecessity go against the grain
of the established order. To go against the established order creates
a crisis situation, one which Fuentes finds not only fitting but
Ernesto Sabato deals more directly with American Spanish.'s sub-
servience to its Castilian prototype. S6bato, in discussing the question
of originality in the Spanish American novel, insists that the Spanish
language is a formidable cultural heritage which not only should not be
denied but treasured. But to treasure it does not mean to lock it inside
an air-tight glass case and shield it from change. Like all cultural
inheritances, language is broadened and enriched by its inheritors,
and to seek to freeze it or petrify it is to kill it. Just as
Sarmiento and Marti, in the nineteenth century, and Ruben Darfo at the
beginning of the twentieth century, were instrumental in reshaping the
language, so-must today's writers be free to do the same.5
SMbato points to Spain's continuing dominance over American Spanish.
In Spain, he states, the Royal.Spanish Academy of the Language exercises
its dictatorial sway. But in Spanish America, the.ordinary citizen is
often more self-conscious linguistically and dramatically than his
Spanish counterpart, falling victim to a centuries-old cultural prestige.6
Spain continues to exercise her linguistic tyranny over her former
This desire to adhere to a fixed form in language arises from a
naive belief in that particular language's insuperable perfection. Such
supposed perfection naturally carries with it enormous cultural prestige.
The idea of the language's perfection arises in great measure from the
works of the classic writers who have helped shape the language. Spain
has a rich literary heritage that includes, among others, Garcilaso de
la Vega, Quevedo, Lope de Vega, Calder6n de la Barca, Tirso de Molina, and
ultimately, the incomparable Cervantes. In light of such an impressive
list, "classical" peninsular Spanish's prestige in Spanish America is
understandable. But Satabo insists that the "good usage" inspired by
such writers is questionable. He cites as an example a classical text
which reads: "...hoy hacen, seror, segin mi.cuenta, un mes y cuatro dias..."
Sabato confirms, by searching in Spanish grammars, his suspicion that
this phrase contains a basic mistake-an inadmissable error in agreement,
showing a grievous lack of grammatical knowledge on the part of the
author; But since the phrase comes from Cervantes, the grammatical
norms are put in question. Grammarians would no doubt find some
justification for Cervantes' error, and probably even condone the
error as an "exception acceptable due to.good Osage." That notorious
"good usage" is very easy to establish several centuries later, when
history has confirmed Cervantes as a literary genius. For such gram-
matical mistakes are like coups d'4tat: if a coup fails, it is referred
to as a sinister attempt against the duly constituted authority; if it
succeeds, it becomes the date of a national celebration and a model to
be followed. The same principle holds true with Cervantes' "...hoy
hacen...". The important point is that, when he wrote the line,
Cervantes committed an inexcusable grammatical mistake. Likewise,
today's writers in Spanish America-the classics of tomorrow-must be
free to make similar "mistakes," to turn the Spanish language in new
directions, for they are setting the norms for the next hundred years."
In conclusion, Sibato attacks the "academic" dictum, resurrected
every so often, that, just as the "best" English is supposedly spoken'
in Oxford, so the "best" Spanish is supposedly spoken in Toledo. Toledo,
.thus, would represent the absolute seat of authority and correctness of
the Spanish language, and the poor mortals who inhabit the outer
reaches of the Spanish empire would be eternally condemned to babble
monstrous dialects of the mother tongue. This is simply not the case,
for each region or nation lends its own genius or "soul" to the language
it speaks, molding it in subtle ways, adapting it to its own forms of
life and'civilization. This process is one of enrichment and not
impoverishment. And it-is shaped by that region's poets, its prose-
writers, and even by the children playing in its streets. The idea of
a "fixed" or "perfect" language, then, is a totally invalid concept.'
The tyrannical prestige of "classical" Spanish, then, must be ended.
Carlos Fuentes states that Spanish America's language will continue to
be false and anachronistic as long as it is content.to reflect and
justify the present order of things. Spanish American works today must
not be of order, but disorder-or an order different from the presently
accepted one. It must not simply reflect (and thus reinforce) the
current "establishment." Today's literature must deny to the established
order the traditional language which it desires; it must oppose that
order with a new language of alarm, of renovation, of discord, humor
and ambiguity-a language, in sum, which will more closely coincide
with the true state of Spanish American society and open new avenues
of expression for evolving, future societies.'0 Our societies, Fuentes
says, do not want or need more witnesses and critics. They need
writers who will look, listen, imagine and speak-and who will deny
.that we live in the best of all possible worlds."
Fuentes reaffirms an idea which we dealt with in Chapter I-that
Europe has lost its central position in world culture, and that today,
universality no longer means adhering to European models. The Latin
American writer, in his "peripheral" geographical and cultural position,
is just as central to universal culture as any writer anywhere, for,
going back to Octavio Paz's notion, Latin American man is now the
contemporary of all men. Acceptance of this idea leads to the assertion
that to writeabout the people of Peru or Mexico or Argentina with the
language particular to those regions is not to be regionalistic or
restricted in scope. The author who does so is simply focusing on
the universal by means of the particular and the familiar. (Fuentes,
of course, is not referring to costumbrista writings which are limited
in scope, but to novels which deal with universal matters, but with a
more restricted focus.)12
Fuentes sees the writer as the essential link between speech and
language. He bases his ideas on the structuralist view of language,
which places linguistic expression between the opposing poles of structure
(language, fixed into a rigid, grammatical system: synchronic), and
change (speech, the constant process of linguistic development:
diachronic). The point of intersection between these two categories is
the word, and its shaper, the writer. Thus it is the writer who must
fuse the traditional structure of Spanish with the ever-evolving spoken
language to form the new literary language. Herein lies the objective
of today's novelists.'3
Sabato states that all language in the beginning is emotional, con-
crete and concise. It is through use and misuse that language becomes
commonplace or words abstract and devoid of real meaning (e.g.,
"honor," "democracy"). It is the writer's goal to return to words
their original sharpness of meaning, their conciseness, their value
and significance. The way to do this is by coupling words in new and
unheard-of ways (he cites Borges' "infame fama") which creates something
like an electrical voltage between the individual words, mobilizing
their atrophied muscles and giving them a new and unaccustomed
Returning to his idea that to invent language is to say all the
things that have been suppressed for centuries, Carlos Fuentes states
that not only is there everything still to be said in Spanish America,
but the way to say it is still to be discovered. For immediate reality
in Spanish America today offers the writer many of the same social
scenarios treated long before by realists and naturalists. The problem
is to create a language that will lift such themes above the level of
social protest literature. Hence the contemporary novelists' constant
searching and experimentation. Fuentes states categorically: "...si
no hay una voluntad de lenguaje en una novela en America Latina, para
mf esa novela no existe." Thus, the linguistic plane of the novel
becomes its functional axis; without a renewal of language, the novel
cannot be "new," hence valid, today."s And, at the center of the
linguistic renewal ("linguistic insurrection" is an often-used term
.for the phenomenon) is the word itself. The word is,.in today's world,
power. Fuentes asserts that in its own way'the word is as'powerful
politically, socially, psychologically, as any force on earth-an
updating of the old idea that "the pen is mightier than the sword."
A world leader speaks and the mass media make.his words circle the globe
immediately. Fuentes illustrates by pointing to former United States
Senator Joseph McCarthy, who paralyzed an entire nation with words-pure
words, verbal denunciations and accusations without foundation in fact.
And it is the weight of words which turned public sentiment against
the war in Vietnam and.ultimately brought about the political end of
President Lyndon Johnson. The words of professors, journalists, news
commentators, writers and citizens can alter a nation's course. And
here. we have the core of Fuentes' conception of the Spanish American
novelist's linguistic insurrection.: to fill the void between the total
power of the minority and the total impotence of the majority. Spanish
America needs a permanent, constant, critical restructuring of all
human problems, at all levels of human society, in order to openly deny
the vertical, master-to-slave hierarchy of the existing society. The
word is the key, and the writer today holds that key. He can contribute
to the creation of a more equal, just society; language, not guns or
political power, is the instrument.he.must use. The old language will
not do, for it has helped maintain the entrenched order for centuries.
A new language is needed-one that will question and attack .the status
quo and show constant disrespect (desacato) for it. Language must be
liberty, dissent, reproach, disrespect, or else it will be an accomplice to
the old order. The problem of language boils down to a constant con-
frontation, a permanent dialectic, between the false, lying words and
aspirations of remote, impersonal governments, and the authentic words
and aspirations of the artist and his public. The artist's role is
to make certain that the latter prevails."6
Julio.Cortdzar, through his artistic alter-ego in Rayuela, the
fictitious Italian writer-critic Morelli, goes even farther than Fuentes.
Oliveira, the male protagonist of Rayuela, says that the one thing
certain in.all of Morelli's writings is that if we continue to use
language as we have until now, we shall all die without ever having
even known the true name of the day. Life is sold to us prepackaged,
pr.ewrapped in a traditional literary (hence, empty, meaningless) language.
The role of the writer must be to destroylanguage and literature as we
know them, in order to create something better upon the ruins.'7 What -
that something is remains a vague entity.
Although Cortdzar's compatriot Eduardo Mallea does not arrive at the
same destructive conclusion on the subject of language, he does express
dismay over its present state, which he regards as an obstacle or
barrier between man and the expression of his deeper, inner self.
Language, as presently constituted, impedes a full expression of man
and the human condition. Mallea does not know what the solution to the
problem will be, but he is determined to keep searching for a. way to
break down the barriers.18
Expanding on the fictional Morelli's exhortation to destroy language
and literature as we now know them, as well as the too-intellectualized
reason which is an integral part of both, Cortdzar says that we should
not regard him as too much of a terrorist or anarchist. Morelli's
purpose is not to completely raze Western civilization. What he wishes
to do when he advocates dynamiting our present language, literature and
reason, is to provoke a halt, a reassessment, a self-criticism of our
society-to look at the reasons why we have come to what seems to many
people (exemplified in Rayuela's Oliveira) to be a cul-de-sac, a
civilization that is bankrupt, a labyrinth with no exit. This is the
philosophical point of view presented in Rayuela, and Cortazar, like
Fuentes, regards our present language as being one which conforms to
and expresses the status quo, one which lulls us easily into self-con-
tentment and smugness. Before we can become aware of our situation, we
must have a technical instrument-a new language-capable of expressing
something different, something beyond that which we already know and
accept unquestioningly. Our civilization will be able to truly appraise
itself and move in new and diverse directions only when language points
the way by suggesting a new order, a new direction. And language will
be capable of doing this only when the artisans who mold language
(writers) dynamite the existing structures of language and reshape it
to meet their needs."
Cortazar seeks not only to disrupt language but also to destroy the
reader's traditional taboos. For example, in Rayuela, he attacks the
sacrosanct principle that one must always read a book starting at
Chapter I, then preceding to Chapter II, and so forth to the end of the
book. For that reason, he puts his famous Table of Directions at the
beginning of Rayuela, advising the reader that he may choose between read-
ing the novel in the traditional way,, or else read it according to a
preplanned hopscotch method, jumping around in the book until all the
chapters have been read. The idea is to break down the traditional
structures that stifle our society-to suggest to the reader new, un-
thought-of possibilities and-directions that a novel might take. The
deliberate breakdown and restructuring.of language is aimed-at the
same goal: until we make a profound critical analysis and restructuring
of the language of literature, we will not be able to achieve a truly
profound metaphysical criticism of human nature and the human condition.
The two things must go hand in hand, simultaneously, for one is not
possible without the other. And Cortazar indicates that this much-
desired linguistic restructuring is not the.work of grammarians nor
philologists, for their task is simply to institutionalize changes
after they have occurred. The task must fall to the writer-the creator,
who makes the necessary changes occur.20 Certainly, Cortdzar's Rayuela
is on the cutting edge of the linguistic insurrection. Cort6zar tells
how an Argentine critic once stated categorically that Cortazar's first
works were better written than the later ones. From the critic's point
of view, he was right, but from Cortazar's point of view, he was not.
The earlier works dealt with fanciful, fantastic subjects and the
language he used reflected that literary vein. In his later works, his
vision turned inward and he began to search for answers or at least
new paths toward answers to the great questions of man's existence, and
he found that the earlier, more refined, more "literary" style did not
suit his needs, so he destroyed it. This violent act is what upset the
critic, who did not understand the correlation between the change in
language and the about-face in subject. Once again, Cortazar's act is
the result of his belief that the profound revolution in contemporary
society which is so necessary will never take place unless there is an
accompanying revolution in the language used to give voice to that.
The linguistic insurrection or revolution, Fuentes declares (he
also refers to it as the resurrection of a lost language), requires a
wide-ranging diversity of verbal explorations on the part of the novelist.
As in all revolutions, the road ahead is uncharted and the future is
uncertain. The many directions that linguistic exploration is taking
nowadays-exemplified in CortSzar's Rayuela.and Jos6 Lezama Lima's
Paradise, as well as many, many more-is the surest sign of the contemporary
novel's vitality, originality, and its promise of continuing success in
the future. For today's novelists are attacking frontally the previously
sacred rhetoric of literary expression, and Fuentes quotes Baudelaire
who said that sacred books never laugh. Notably, laughter, humor, is
one of the marks of the new novel (see Chapter VI). This is further proof
that the novel today is indeed forging new paths and directions in a
language that had remained too long intact and unchallenged.22
The developers of this "new" language, incidentally, are quite
aware of the paradox inherent in what they are doing-they are, in effect,
biting the hand that feeds them. Their attack on language is an attack
on their own instrument. Although they attack words, they continue to
use them, and to create literature with them. The resolution lies in
the fact that the declaration of war on language is not one of a fight
to the death. The objective is principally to make language more
elastic, more mafleable, and hence,.more responsive to contemporary
needs. The attack, more than on language in general, is on the artificial,
"sanctified" structures into which language has been molded (or forced)
over the years. It is also important tonote that the linguistic
revolution is. not restricted to the novel-it is occurring in all
the genres. It stands out more in the novel, however, because it is
more recent compared with verse and because the novel has been more
conservative and traditional up to now.
Forerunners of the Linguistic Insurrection
A complete investigation into those writers in Spanish America who
have contributed to the renovation of Spanish literary expression would
be a full-length, independent study. Within the scope of-our study we
can only sketch the outlines of this process. There are three pre-
decessors, however, who are frequently mentioned and therefore deserve
at least a passing recognition: Jorge Luis Borges and the literary
movement known as surrealism (exemplified by Miguel Angel Asturias and
Turning first to surrealism, this French-inspired movement attracted
many Spanish American writers, and linguistic experimentation became an
integral part of its literature. Asturias, discussing the movement in
general, says that there was undoubtedly something very psychologically
elementary about surrealism-it allowed the writer (through the technique
of "automatic writing") to release the sources of his inner being in a
way which conventional writing never did. Asturias was particularly
struck by the surrealistic quality of some of the Indian texts of his
homeland, like the Popol Vuh and the Anales de los Xahil, which possess.
the kind of duality, or inseparability, between reality and dreams or
fantasies which surrealism advocated. In these Mayan texts, the
dreams (or unreality), told in all their detail, seem more real than
reality itself. And herein lie the beginnings of today's "magic
realism"-an important aspect of the new novel (see Chapter IV). In
magic realism (and in its predecessor, surrealism), there are no
definable boundaries between reality and dreams, between reality and
fiction, between what is seen or experienced and what is imagined.
The surrealist experimentation of combining words at random to create
strange, disconcerting modes of expression enriched the language of
later writers (especially Asturias) by means of euphony and onomatopoeia,
and helped to create the magical, dream-like atmosphere of unreality which
the surrealists were striving to achieve.23
The second, and probably the most important forerunner of today's
experimenters.with language is Jorge Luis Borges. In his far-reaching,
philosophical, often disconcerting short stories, this Argentine writer
is the first to bring the Spanish language face to face with its short-
comings. Fuentes praises Borges' prose as being the first to shake its
reader, to throw him off balance, to hurl him outside himself into the
world, thus giving him some sense of his relation with his nation, his
continent and his universe. This does not diminish, but rather con-
stitutes (constituye)-gives substance and relativity to-Latin American
man.. In order to achieve this new language, Borges mixes genres, turns
to old traditions, destroys tired literary habits, and thus creates
a new structure into which he injects irony, humor and games. The
result is a profound revolution that equates freedom with imagination,
giving the artist free rein over subject matter and form. Fuentes.
affirms that the giant step Spanish American literature has taken from
the protest novel to a critical synthesis of society and a literature
.of imagination would not have been possible without Borges.
Lisa Block de Behar points to the principal elements by which
Borges began to revolutionize Spanish prose.25 He attacked what might
have been presumed to be the strongest point-the prestigious richness
of the Spanish vocabulary. Spanish has traditionally prided itself on
its abundance of synonyms, which prevent dull repetition of a single
word. But Borges attacks this aspect of Spanish, saying that the variety
of synonyms does not produce nuances of meaning and therefore serves
no purpose other than being aesthetically pleasing to the ear. Lisa
Block quotes Borges26 as saying that these synonyms are useless words
which "...sin la incomodidad de cambiar de idea, cambian de ruido...."
Abundance without diversity, then, is not opulence but only waste-a
false baroque style-for these words are useless in distinguishing
between fine shades of meaning. Borges also rejects the use of words
which have been traditionally used for their historical-literary
prestige; instead, he illuminates the most trivial, everyday words
with new light by juxtaposing them with others in startling config-
urations. (Borges for example is a recognized master of the use of
the oxymoron.) He seems to have a particular sensibility for combining
words in new and disconcerting ways, which draw the reader's attention
to the words themselves,'thus forcing the reader to focus his attention
on the intrinsic meaning of the word. His reader, if perceptive,
reacts, is shocked out of his passivity, is forced into a more active
role. Lisa Block cites examples from the story titles in Borges' La
historic universal de la infamia: "El espantoso redentor Lazarus Morell,"
"El proveedor de iniquidades Monk Eastman," "El asesino desinteresado
Bill Harrigan," "El enemigo generoso." These titles show Borges'
tactic of bringing together concepts which are at least unfamiliar
companions, and at times are even antithetical. Borges' "ecumenical"
vision causes not only initial surprise due to these unusual juxta-
positions, but also humor. Through these unexpected juxtapositions,
which no doubt have their roots in the Renaissance conceit, Borges
achieves the classical artistic synthesis of unity in variety. By
doing so, he draws the reader into an active role in the reading of
the story-the reader is induced to share the author's subjective
viewpoint of the particular subject that he is portraying. This is a
first step toward the contemporary novelists' desire,to make the
reader an active part of the literary creation, which we will discuss
at greater length later. While Borges has never written a novel himself,
today's novelists readily recognize their debt to his innovative prose.
Characteristics of the New Language27
Lisa Block discerns five principal fronts on which the contemporary
novelists are waging war on the traditional structures of language: (1) a
mixing of oral, "popular," literature with what would be considered in
traditional circles as "serious" or "important" literature; (2) a sudden
surge in the humorous, particularly the .ironic brand of humor in the
novels; (3) a determined effort on the part of the author to get the reader
involved; (4) a notable irreverence or disrespect for the traditional
literary conventions; and (5) a frontal attack on old verbal cliches.
Let us examine each of these categories in order to see how they result
in a breakdown of the old linguistic structures.
(1) In the traditional novel, language was a traditional instru-
ment restricted by established norms. Today's novelists, although they
sometimes still use this "serious" language, mix it with popular speech
patterns which can be heard, not at meetings of the Royal Spanish
Academy, but on the streets and in the countryside. Such language
was infrequent formerly, with the notable exception of the nativista,
costumbrista author, who often included popular speech patterns in his
novels in an effort to help define in the novel his home region or
country. But the nativista author almost always chose an exceptional,
dialectical variation, of Spanish, peculiar to a particular region--one
thinks immediately of the Argentine gaucho literature or of the
phonetically written passages of Indian speech in Jorge Icaza's
Huasipungo. In both cases, the language, phonetically spelled out, is
uniquely characteristic of the region portrayed as well as the social
class of the speakers. The aim of the current novelist is not at all
the same--in fact, it is just the opposite. Today's novelist, in using
popular, colloquial speech, is not attempting to "define" the character
of any particular region. Instead, he is attempting to desanctify the
heretofore sacrosanct language of Spanish American literature, to write
a contemporary novel in contemporary language, and thus make it more
accessible to today's readers. While a few local words may crop up
here and there'(Argentine lunfardo in.Rayuela, Peruvian slang in La
ciudad y los perros), they do not in any way block the reader's under-
standing of the language as a whole. This is because the popular
language that the writer is employing is generally everyday conver-
sational language-the spontaneous, living language people speak when
they are not consciously aware of "speaking correctly." This is a
language understandable across regional and national borders. It is
sometimes mixed with the more formal, "literary" language to provide
contrast and make the reader aware of the transition (this occurs in
Rayuela), and other times the author uses this conversational style
exclusively. An example of the latter would be Juan Rulfo's Pedro
Paramo, in which the voices of the people of rural Mexico set the
style for the language used. It is a spoken, conversational language,
devoid of rhetorical pretense. Rulfo says of it: "...it isn't a
calculated language. I don't go .out with a tape recorder to take
down what people say and then try to reproduce it afterwards. There's
none of that here. That's simply the way I've heard people speak since
I was born. That's the way people speak in those places."28 Ih other
words, he is attempting simply to write as people speak-openly, freely,
and without "literary" complications.
The use of oral, spoken language also serves the purpose of
deflating the literary forms which it generally accompanies. For
example, Lisa Block cites phrases such as "se lo juro," "usted me
entiende," and "la seiora qu-te dije," which appear frequently within
a more "serious" or "literary" context in Julio Cortazar's La vuelta
al dfa en ochenta mundos.29 They serve to desanctify and contaminate
the literary language toward which Cortdzar feels such a revulsion.
Oral literature is another form of today's linguistic innovation,
and Guillermo Cabrera Infante is one of its chief practitioners. He
describes his novel Tres tristes tigres as a "gallery of voices," and
says that in his book, narrative in the traditional sense is not
important. There are two or three basic stories in the novel which are
repeated and altered by the various voices which narrate.3" Cabrera
Infante declares that his book operates on a totally personal level
insofar as the plot is concerned, but that its real base is the spoken
word, not the action or the characters. He states: "...mi primera
preocupaci6n...fue y ha sido siempre la de tratar, ver la manera .de
conseguir, llevar al piano literario el lenguaje que hablan todos
los. cubanos... Es decir, llevar este lenguaje.si td quieres horizontal,
absolutamente hablado, a un plano vertical, a un plano artfstico, a un
piano literario. Es decir, pasar de ser un lenguaje simplemente
hablado a un lenguaje escrito....' Precisamente de lo que se trataba
era de escribir lo no escrito..."31 Here then is Cabrera's definition
of oral literature. In such a scheme, plot and characterization are
naturally relegated to secondary importance. The idea of the novel as
a gallery of voices is the central concern. He emphasizes, however, that
the language he wishes to transpose to the page is "...not the living
language of the Cubans, either in their Platonic or Marxian senses-
only the essentials of their language projected to what for me was at
the time the highest literary potential."32 That is, he does not go
out with a tape recorder and transcribe exactly what he hears. The
voices in Tres tristes tigres are voices which have been strained
through the author's esthetic consciousness and molded to suit his
needs. Cabrera says:
I knew that the lives and the language depicted [in
Tres tristes tigres]..., those talkative specimens and
tner spoken ha itat, were condemned to disappear into.
silence, not in the course of time...but rather to be
abolished by history-that is to say, condemned to.
vanish by the revolution through'an immediate catastrophe by
decree: a loquacious people reduced to laconism.... .Thus
and by a quirk of history, [Tres tristes tigres] ended by
becoming a gallery of voices, almost a museum of Cuban
speech in which generations to come will be able to listen
to their ancestors, their old artificers, talking.33
Out of this "oral" writing naturally flows the rampant verbal humor
which characterizes the book. Cabrera Infante is the recognized
Spanish-language master of the pun. He takes two or more toots of
a single word to form a cluster of meanings, leading not only to a
humorous reader reaction but also to a basic cleansing of the words
themselves.34 Cabrera Infante's natural penchant for this game of
"verbal tennis" is evident in the following, in which he discusses (in
English) the process of translating Tres tristes tigres: "We...went
into collective bouts and fits of paronoidmassia, created Spannish,
Spunish, spanning spoonerisms where there were none originally, enhanced
its joyceful playfulness with new analgrams, other palindramas, different
across-sticks, and broadenedits linguistic scope...."3
Cabrera Infante, although he is perhaps the chief proponent of
oral literature, is certainly not the only one. Many Spanish American
novelists turn to the spoken word to a greater or lesser degree in their
works. Even Miguel Angel Asturias, considered today to be an originator
of the "new novel" but not one of-its chief contemporary innovators,
says that the oral aspect of language has aided .him. His famous novel
El senior president was spoken before it was written, he claims. He
and a group of friends used to get together to share stories orally about
dictators under whose regimes they had lived, and that is how the book
began to take shape in his mind. He says he could recite entire chapters
by'heart before he ever wrote them down.36 So the oral aspect of
writing is certainly not new.
(2) Humor has been introduced into the contemporary Spanish American
novel'simultaneously with the use of oral language. This is a startling
departure from the traditional novel, which took itself completely
seriously, allowing no place for laughter. Not only was the language
of the traditional novel sacred, but so was its theme and tone. The
two phenomena of oral language and humor go easily together,,for humor-
particularly that type of humor based upon plays on words-is clearly
tied to a supple,pliable language which can be manipulated for amusing
or ironic effects.37
(3) One of the primary objectives of the contemporary Spanish
American novelist is to involve the reader actively in the creation of
the novel as well as the reading of it. The novelists' use of such
tactics as oral language and humor, as well as many others, is aimed
(at least partially) at attracting the reader's attention and drawing
him out of his traditional, passive role as mere absorber of the novel.
Julio Cortdzar is one of the principal proponents of what he refers to as-
the "accomplice reader," and we shall examine his and other novelists'
theories in detail in Chapter III.
(4) The contemporary .novel is marked by an aggressive irreverence
or disrespect for established literary and linguistic conventions.
Specifically, the author shatters traditional syntax, the traditionally
"literary" vocabulary, correct spelling, the phonetics of words and
phrases. The author's purpose in breaking all the accepted rules is
to render the Spanish language more elastic, more malleable, more
ductile and flexible, so that it can be reshaped to meet the overall
needs of contemporary society and the novelist's own personal needs.
Carlos Fuentes points to Vargas Llosa's La casa verde as a first
example of this phenomenon of the destruction of literary and linguistic
sacred cows.38 .In La casa verde, verb tenses and subject pronouns are
confused. The past is narrated in the present tense and the present in
the past tense. .In Fuentes' structuralist view of language, Vargas
Llosa turns structured language (lengua) into the live, constantly
changing process of speech (habla), as in the following oral conver-
sation, taken from Vargas Llosa's.book: "T6 pasaron cerca y en
caballos chicaros, que tales locos, van hasta el rfo, ahora regresan,
no tengas miedo chiquito, y ahT.su rostro girando, interrogando, su
ansiedad, el temblor de su boca, sus uhas como clavos y sus manos por
qua, c6mo y su respiraci6n junto a la tuya. Ahora calmala, tO yo te
explico, Tohita, ya se fueron, iban tan rdpido, no les vf las caras y
ella tenaz, sedienta, averiguando en la negrura, quidn, por qu6, c6mo."
The effect is to throw the reader into the midst of the conversation,
dizzily trying to follow the changes of speakers, with only an
occasional "tu" or change in verb tense or person to indicate a
change in speaker. Vargas Llosa has completely done without the
traditionally structured and acceptable-way to present dialogue, with
each speaker's.name clearly indicating his share of the conversation.
Fuentes points to Alejo Carpentier for a second example.39 Carpentier
substitutes the hallowed convention of characters and plot as the central
structures of the novel with a fusion in which characters and plot,
rather than occupying center stage, become instead resistances
(resistencias) to a total language which develops in all directions of
lo. real-that which is real (as opposed to la realidad-reality--which
may be deceptive and, in the end, false). Fuentes compares the change
using Carpentier's favorite comparative art: music. He states that
just as contemporary music has abandoned its horizontal-vertical
structure of melody and harmony to become total sound, so the novel
today asserts its right to be total writing, total language, with this
total language flowing over, touching and colliding with the multiple
planes of lo real. We suspect that Fuentes had Carpentier's El acoso
in mind when he wrote this. A further illustration may be found in La
casa verde; in this novel, plot .and. characters certainly assume a rather
secondary position vis-a-vis the principal elements of time, space and
language, all of which are multiple planes representing Vargas Llosa's
Yet another example to be found in Carpentier is the throwing away
of the false illusion of recreating la'realidad. 0 In the traditional
novel, such as Doia Barbara, language represents directly, it. reproduces
"reality": the Venezuelan plains and Santos Luzardo are nothing more
nor less than their intended "mirrored" image. In the contemporary novel,
on the other hand, there is an awareness-of the artifice of creation.
Fuentes notes by way of example that Carpentier's short story "Viaje
a la semilla" is merely a representation of a former representation.
That is, the story is a recreation (through the backward movement of
time) of a former recreation (the literary recounting of the man's life)
of an aspect of reality (the man's life itself). The literary recreation
(the story) knows that it has no existence outside of literature. This
awareness of its own artifice is one of the strengths of the modern
narrative, Fuentes believes, because it forces the reader to take
stock of the situation and separate reality from fiction. The reader
can no longer passively read and obligingly accept the printed page
as a straightforward presentation of reality. He is forced to
think, thereby joining the process of literary creation.
Cortdzar speaks of "unwriting" (desescribir) rather than "writing"
novels-meaning the invention of a counter-language, not to replace the
present word images'and figures, but to go beyond them." Where such a
process will lead, Cortazar himself does not know. He only hopes it
will create something better, something capable of expressing the
profundities and vagaries of human experience. At any rate, his attack
on the root of language-the word-stems from his desire to "unwrite"
a novel. His attitude toward words, states Fuentes, is the same as
Octavio Paz's, who says: "Atrdpalas, c6gelas del rabo, chillen, putas"-
the individual word is a "whore," selling itself to any user, with no
deep meaning, betraying those who entrust it with meaning. Fuentes
concludes by saying that the author must "pour" (verter) the word if
he is to achieve a meaningful expression through words. By "pouring,"
he means reshaping, remolding to meet his needs. For only a reshaped
("poured") word or language will be able to deny the false reality that
a false language has given us for so long, and substitute in its place
a view of the totality of lo real.42
(5) The fifth and final area of attack against language in Lisa
Block's analysis is the willful destruction of all those forms of
"prefabricated" or "ready-made"' expression which are a sign of laziness
or lack of inventiveness on the part of the writer: set phrases,
cl.iches, trite or pedantic expressions. Words and phrases, as we
said earlier in this chapter, begin with a clear, concise meaning.
It is through repeated usage that they gain layers of extra meanings,
or nuances of the original one. Through repeated use, words coalesce
into set patterns, and after a while, the euphony of the phrase
obliterates its meaning for the hearer or reader-it is used because
it "sounds right." The original significance.of the word or phrase
is dulled or even lost. The attack on the cliche is an attempt to
recharge the word or phrase-with its original clarity and concision.
Asturias is a case in point. He sees the foundation of the language
revolution as being centered around plays on words, onomatopoeia,
parallelism (the repetition of a single concept through the use of
different words-a practice inherited from the Mayan Indians), the
multiplication of syllables and the use of augmentatives,alliterations,
verbal refrains, and the mating or juxtaposition of words that, as
the Mayan Indians say, have never met before (Asturias points out that
the Indians say that poetry is where words meet for the first time).43
All of these methods or instruments serve the purpose of drawing the
reader's attention.to the individual word, forcing him to evaluate
its content and meaning. These techniques do not allow preformed
phrases to stand, but are instrumental in expressing in.a novel:way
what may or may not already be familiar. What is important is that
the words not betray the writer simply because they are worn out and
meaningless due to overuse.
The Baroque Tendency Versus Simple, Straightforward
Language; "Beauty" in Language
Lisa Block de Behar notes that traditional literary language has
been venerated and revered for so long that it practically stands apart
from present-day spoken language as a separate system, one which needs
to be "learned" by the beginning writer. This dichotomy between literary
and spoken language traces its origins all the way back to the Spanish
Golden Age, in which the dichotomy between lo culto and lo popular-
the "educated" versus-the "popular" in literature-was a major issue.
It seems to us that there are two clearly identifiable trends in the
contemporary Spanish American novel which strive to eliminate this
distinction between "literary" and "non-literary" language-a "baroque"
trend and a simpler, straightforward style. Superficially, these may
appear to reincarnate the Golden Age dichotomy between baroque and
classical, but in reality, they are both meaningful, though divergent
means to a single end-the destruction of the old-style, "literary,"
cliche-ridden language. Language which is false or artificial, the
so-called "pure literature," is the target of both tendencies. Let us
examine each of these trends in further detail, beginning with the
tendency toward the baroque.
The Colombian critic and short story writer Oscar Collazos defines
"baroque" (in terms of today's Spanish American novel) as meaning two
things: (1) it refers to scenography-a way of portraying geography
or the.utilization of a language which seeks to exhaust itself through
the word, through verbal reiteration or in interminable descriptive
phrases, in instrumental erudition (erudici6n instrumental); and (2) it
also refers to the intent to ,carry the verbal recreation of reality to
its furthest consequences. Collazos cites four illustrative examples
of "baroque" novels in Spanish America: Carpentier's El siglo de las
luces, GarcTa M6rquez's Cien anos de soledad, Juan Marechal's AdAn
Buenosayres, and Lezama Lima's Paradiso. "
Alejo Carpentier is the foremost proponent of the baroque as the
language most apt for the Spanish American novel, and his novels reflect
his beliefs. He states very simply: "El legftimo estilo del novelist
latinoamericano actual es el barroco." He bases his theory of the baroque
on the fact that, as he states,45 Spanish American art in all forms has
always been baroque: beginning with pre-Columbian sculpture and pottery
(example: the twisting, contorted Peruvian huacos depicting physical
love, combat and other forms of violent movement and emotion) and highly
decorated codices; to the elaborate (sometimes tortuously so) cathedrals
and monasteries of the Colonial period. Our art today, says Carpentier,
tends naturally toward thebaroque because it is historically "our
style," and responds best to the Spanish American novelist's need_ to
name things. The novelist must "name" all that which defines and surrounds
him in this strange and unfamiliar new world-the "contexts" which we
introduced in Chapter I-in order to place himself on a universal plane.
Carpentier.totally rejects, of course, the approach of the nativista
novel of "naming" (with an appendix to explain exotic vocabulary). His
method is to define through an accumulation of adjectives and qualifiers
of precise, delimiting meaning, painting a verbal picture, but always
remaining on a universal plane. In this way, he believes, the Spanish
American world will be comprehensible to everyone, and not regional
or inward-looking. Even that which is strange and exotic to outside
eyes and mirdswill take on a.semblance of veracity and credibility.
Through the lush, luxuriant, yet concise baroque language, the Spanish
American author can expand his literary horizons, opening up ever
greater areas for exploration. (Carpentier contrasts the baroque con-
cept with the contemporary French nouveau roman, which, he says, is a
constricting movement, an attempt to narrow the novelist's focus
rather than widen .it.)46
The master of the baroque is Lezama Lima, who defines his "poetic
system of the world" as follows: "El sistema podtico no pretend tener
ni aplicaci6n ni inmediatez. No aclara, no oscurece, no se derivan
de l6 obras, no hace novelas, no hace poeslas; Es, estS, respira....
Lo que pretend es un henchimiento, una dilataci6n de la imagen hasta
la lrnea del horizonte."47 Lezama uses a highly baroque language,
accumulating images and metaphors in an overwhelming flow of words-to
portray his poetic system, seeking to open the novel's view to the
widest possible vision of mankind. The idea is that through total
language, one can perhaps achieve a total novel.
Julio Cortazar warns against the use of language for language's
sake'alone, however."8 He cites examples-Gabriel Mir6 and many of
the novels of Camilo Jos6 Cela--of authors whose works go no farther
than language, with nothing beneath. Language in them becomes an end
rather than a means to an end. Cortazar calls this type of writing
"verbal masturbation," or, as Borges preferred to call it, a way of
"mixing up the dictionary." For Cortazar, a highly worked, polished
language should serve the purpose of conveying to the reader a system
(not a "message") such as his own philosophical system (Rayuela) or
Lezama Lima's poetic system (Paradiso). Language for Cortazar should
open windows on reality, it should aid in the metaphysical search which
is Cortazar's central concern. Although CortAzar does not speak in terms
of "baroque" and his own writings hardly fit the definition of the term,
his attitude is favorable with regard to the baroque as understood and
used by Carpentier.
Certainly not all of today's Spanish American novelists agree with
Carpentier, however, Mexico's Juan Rulfo stands at the opposite end of
the spectrum, as an advocate of a very simple and straightforward, un-
complicated narrative style. Rulfo uses a language as-lean and spare
as Carpentier's is rich and luxuriant. For Rulfo, simplicity is the soul
of language, and he consciously avoids the baroque tendency of many of
his contemporaries: "I try to defend myself against the baroque, and
I'll continue to do so, with all the means at my disposal."49 So
bare-boned is Rulfo's language that Lisa Block refers to his writing
as linguistic "asceticism."50 His economy of language, she states, seeks
to return to the primary function of the word-to use it as an instrument
of expression and not as an instrument of adornment. Through linguistic
synthesis, Rulfo regains for language its function of communication.
This stark language, stripped of adornment, is uniquely appropriate for
his description of the dusty villages of Jalisco and their reticent
inhabitants. .One wonders if Rulfo was conscious of the parallel
between stark language, stark landscape and a taciturn people, or if
it simply came naturally to a man who is taciturn himself and is a
native of the region he depicts. One may suspect that rather than
being a carefully orchestrated theoretical, approach to writing, Rulfo's
style is simply a form of expression best suited to his own temperament.
As we noted above, he aims to write in an oral, conversational style
which is simple and direct: "I don't want to speak as you write, but
to write as you speak."5'
Ernesto Sabato shares Rulfo's dislike of literary language. He
says52 that for centuries, writers and readers have abided by a dual
standard of language, with the simple, straightforward language of
daily conversation being used in daily life, and a.special, high-flown
language being set aside for use in literature'.. He calls this latter
a "Sunday language" (lenguaje dominguero). The everyday variety was
fine for person-to-person contact but the "Sunday-best" variety was
always trotted out when it was a question of creating art. Sdbato
notes that this tendency still persists in many journalists and some
authors in Spanish America, who think it more refined to write equino
where caballo would be adequate. They do not seem to realize that
poetry is not created with poetic words but rather with poetic deeds or
facts (hechos), expressed in a simple and direct way. The mark of a good
writer, says Sabato, is that "...un buen escritor expresa grandes cosas
con pequenas palabras; a la inversa del mal escritor, que dice cosas
insignificantes con grandes palabras."53 Sabato backs up his position
quoting the French philosopher-writer Pascal who commented on writers to
whom (for example) "capital of the kingdom" sounded more refined, more
elegant or more "literary" than "Paris": "Cuando uno se encuentra con
un estilo natural, se queda asombrado y encantado: porque esperaba
hallarse.con un autor y se encuentra con un hombre."5s
SAbato insists, however, that the idea of a natural style in.
language does not denote an easy or spontaneous style. Quite the con-
trary, a "spontaneous" style would nearly always sound ragged and thrown-
together. In order to make a piece of prose sound natural, it is
generally necessary for the writer'to work and rework his material,
paring away what is unnecessary until the expression sounds easy and
fluid. Perhaps the fact that Sabato has only produced three novels of
note to date bears him out on this subject. We suspect that Juan Rulfo,
who has written only one novel and one collection of short stories,
would agree. Sdbato sums up his position: "Es que los grandes
creadores no son grandes por esa mera acumulaci6n de vocablos sino por
el poder revelador y expresivo que logran de los vo'cablos archiconocidos.
Como en el ajedrez, una palabra no vale por si sola sino por su posici6n,
por la estructura total de que forma part. S61o un escritor mediocre
puede desdeiar ciertas palabras, como un mal jugador desdeBa un pe6n:
ignora que muchas veces sostiene una posici6n."55
On the question of beauty in language, Sabato states categorically
that today's literature does not propose beauty as its objective, If
beauty is achieved incidentally, that is another matter, and is worthy
of praise. But he insists that the purpose of literature is to delve
into the meaning of man's existence, to get to the bottom of the great
mysteries of life and death. No word must be uttered in vain, and if it
is (Sabato gives as an example some passages in James Joyce), it con-
stitutes a serious defect in the literary work.56 Sabato goes on to say
that neither Shakespeare nor Dante was consciously aiming for beauty of
expression, but that their goal was the metaphysical exploration of man's
existence which Sabato also advocates.57 If they ultimately.achieved
beauty in their works, he says, it is not.that "mere" beauty which one
achieves by seeking it consciously, but rather a great and tragic
beauty which arises naturally out of the depths of man's being.58
Gabriel GarcTa MArquez agrees. He tells his stories as the common
people do-unfalteringly, mixing reality with fiction, but with a firm
conviction that it is all true (see Chapter II!'s section on "style").
He states that "the problem of literature is words." His short novel
El coronel no tiene quien le'escriba was written nine times. .Garcfa
Mtrquez ironically comments that it seemed he was writing the novel in
French rather than in Spanish, a reference to the purity, the concise-
ness and the simplicity of the language.5s
In answer to an interviewer's question concerning whether or not'
literature can create an autonomous language of its own, Guillermo Cabrera
Infante replies that such would be impossible without falling into the
esthetic errors of writing belles lettres and into an excessive pre-
occupation with style, with "fine Writing," worrying over le mot juste-
becoming entangled in the old-style "Sunday" language, in fact-and that,.
he states, would be "the most idiotic of pursuits.""6
On this question of beauty in language, the novelist-who has probably
had the most to say is Julio Cortazar. CortAzar's fictitious alter-ego,
the writer-critic Morelli, addresses the subject from the pages of Rayuela.
Morelli tells us6' that he is writing a short story which he wants to
be the least "literary" possible. It is a very difficult task, however,
for "beautiful," "literary" expressions keep popping up naturally, un-
thinkingly. He cites an example: to describe a character walking.down a
staircase, he writes "Ram6n emprendi6 el descenso." He'scratches this
out and replaces it with "Ram6n empez6 a bajar." Then,he stops to ask
himself why he has such an intense dislike for the "literary" language
of "emprendi6 el descenso." It means precisely the same thing as
"empez6 a bajar";'the chief difference is that the latter is prosaic.
(that is, a mere vehicle of information) while the former combines the
useful (information) with the agreeable (it is "elegant," it "sounds
nice"). What repels him in the'literary form, Morelli says, is the use of
a verb and a noun which we almost never use in daily conversation. They.
are there merely for their decorative effect. He fears, however, that
if he persists in this vein, everything he writes will prove to be
boring and uninteresting. But at the same time that it seems to him that
he is writing badly, he sees reason for hope. His former style (which we
may equate, incidentally, with Cort6zar's 'language in his early works,
particularly the fantastic short stories) was merely a mirror for what
he calls "swallow-readers" (lectores-alondra), who found recognition and
solace in such "literary" language. It is much easier, he declares, to
write aesthetically, "beautifully" (the conventional way) than it is to
"unwrite" (desescribir) as he would like to do, in an antiliterary manner.
He sees the whole question as a moral one-to do what is right, and not
what is easiest. The only beauty that is satisfactory, he says, the
only beauty that is artistically valid is created when the artist
fuses his perception of the human condition with that of his own con-
dition as an artist. Morelli concludes: "En cambio el plano meramente
est6tico me parece eso: meramente. No puedo explicarme mejor."62
Morelli's disdain for a "merely" esthetic, "literary" language
is exemplified in Rayuela in an incident involving Oliveira. Cortdzar
...Rayuela, from a stylistic point of view, is very
badly written. There's even a part (chapter 75) where
the language starts to become very elegant. Oliveira
remembers his past life in Buenos Aires, and does so
in a polished and highly chiseled language. It's an
episode that's written fussing over every word, until,
after about half a page, suddenly Oliveira breaks out
laughing. He's really been watching himself all the
time in the mirror. So then he takes his shaving
cream and starts to draw lines and shapes on the
mirror, making fun of himself. I think this scene
fairly well sums up what the book is trying to do.63
Oliveira is obviously making fun of what Cortazar.describes as an
author's clearing his throat, fanning out his tail feathers, and re-
producing on a slightly higher level what a semiliterate man does when
he sits down to write a letter and finds it necessary to use a completely
different language from the one he ordinarily speaks. Cortdzar affirms
that literature abounds with "well-written" works which say nothing
at all if one looks closely. Any attempt to separate.form and content
(another of the traditional literary myths) is erroneous, for the one
must adjust to the requirements of the other. A writer may have a very
florid, highly developed style, but have nothing to say. Or he may have
much to say but lack the necessary linguistic skills. In either case,
the writer will be a failure, Cortdzar says, for to be successful, the
writer must achieve the synthesis to which .Morelli referred (above).64
And in his search for a new language, Cortgzar-Morelli is seeking (by
rather different means) to achieve the same end Borges sought (v.s.),
that is, to recapture the pristine conciseness, the sharp-edged precision
of each word: "Lo que Morelli quiere es devolverle al lenguaje sus
derechos. Habla de expurgarlo, castigarlo, cambiar descenderr" por
"bajar" como media higidnica; pero lo que el busca en el fondo es
devolverle al verbo descenderr" todo su brillo, para que pueda ser
usado como yo uso los f6sforos y no como un fragmento decorative, un
pedazo de lugar comdn."65
Experimentation with Language
Without pretending to offer a complete analysis, and relying once
again on the categories used by Lisa Block de Behar in her study, it
would be fair to state that the fundamental thrust in the current "lin-
guistic insurrection" is the breaking up of cliches, and the attendant
surprising and humorous effects obtained as a result. Lisa Block cites
as examples Cortgzar's "la frente surcada de argucias"66 (replacing the
time-worn phrase "la frente surcada de arrugas") and Cabrera Infante's
"...del azuloso mar procelado (zo se dice azulado mar proceloso?),"67
deliberately confusing the endings of two poetic ("literary") words.
The humor and the value of such cliche attacks lies in the fact that
the reader reacts with pleasure and enjoyment, even self-satisfaction,
when he discovers the old cliche6) form and subsequently sees the humor
or irony in the new form. The imbalance between the two (what Lisa
Block calls the desnivel humoristico) results not only in a humorous
twist, but also in an enriched meaning, because not only does-the new
form carry its own (usually humorous) meaning but also, implicitly, the
old, discarded meaning. Thus the figure of speech is enriched and trans-
formed; it operates on two levels of meaning rather than one. Rather than
a desescritura such as Cortgzar suggests, Lisa Block suggests that this
is a sobrescritura, since the original meaning is not destroyed, but only
A second method of attack, related to the first, is the use of
the double-entendre (la dilogfa)-the word or phrase- with a double
meaning-to create a humorous and disruptive effect on a set phrase,
whose popularly accepted meaning is based on only one of its two
possible meanings. Two examples from Cabrera Infante illustrate this
method: "...yo me metf una servilleta de papel (era una fonda a la
modern) en la boca para ahogar la risa, pero'la risa sabia nadar
crawl...""8; and "Of una cascada de risa, una sola larga carcajada m6s
cubana que argentina."G9 In each of these examples, Cabrera Infante .
attacks the cliche by attacking the key word within it, offering a
second and totally nonsensical meaning for the word in question. In
the first example, he attacks ahogar, suggesting its literal meaning
"to drown" rather than its figurative ("correct") meaning "to stifle"
by saying that his laughter could swim the crawl. In the second example,
he attacks argentina, suggesting its more commonplace meaning ."Argentine"
rather than its more literary ("correct")meaning "silvery" by juxta-
posing it with another adjective of nationality, "cubana." Thus, by
manipulating a second (usually more ordinary, less "literary") meaning
of the key word in a cliche, the author can reduce the cliche to a
shambles, to a linguistic joke, making the reader aware of the words
themselves and the artificiality of their traditional groupings.
Two opposing experiments against established forms in language are
exemplified in Ravuela-the running together of contiguous words in a set
phrase or the breaking up of words into hyphenated syllables: "...mientras
Babs lo miraba admirada y bebiendosuspalabrasdeunsolotrago...",70 and
"...mientras Gekrepten se-re-tor-cf-a-las-ma-nos..."?' Although these
two methods are more or less opposite in technique, they are aimed at
and achieve the same end-the destruction of the cliche employed. In
order to decipher these passages, the reader is forced to slow down, and
most likely to read them aloud to himself. By doing so, the author has
forced the reader to stumble over the familiar-two figures of speech
as common as "bebiendo sus palabras" and "retorcer las manos." By
faltering over these worn-out phrases rather than skimming unthinkingly
over them, the reader is forced to take stock of both the sound and the
meaning of the words, thus "recreating" them for himself.
A further form of attack on the written language is made by altera-
tions in spelling. The writer who changes the spelling of words sees
himself as recreating those words, making them his. He is also making
fun of those words, and of the Spanish system of spelling. These intentional
misspellings tend to occur using those few letters in the Spanish alpha-
bet which can cause confusion in spelling due to their sound'or lack of
sound (such as g and j; k and qu; z, c and s; 11 and y; b and v; and
the silent h). Some examples of deliberate alterations in spelling are
Cabrera infante's "...queremos quomer. -Pero, haziendo burlas, amiguito,
no se come..."72; and Julio Cortgzar's playful silent h: "En esos casos
Oliveira agarraba una hoja de papel y escribla las grandes palabras por
las que iba resbalando su rumia. Escribla por ejemplo: 'El gran hasunto,'
o 'la hencrucijada.' Era suficiente para ponerse a refr y cebar otro
mate con mas ganas. 'La hunidad,' hescribfa Holiveira. 'El hego y el
hotro.' Usaba las haches como otros la penicilina. Despuds volvfa mas
despacio al asunto, se sentfa mejor. 'Lo himportante es no hinflarse,'
se decla Holiveira. A partir de esos moments se sentfa capaz de
pensar sin que las palabras le jugaran sucio."73 Cort6zar supplies one
further example in Chapter 69 of Rayuela, of which the following is an
excerpt: "El desaparesido. krefa en la bida future. Si lo konfirm6,
ke aya en-eya la felisidad ke, aunke kon distintas karakterfsticas,
anelamos todos los umanos."7 .Writers see such "terrorism" against proper
spelling as "demystifying" words-taking away the sacred, untouchable
aura which surrounds them and making them more accessible, more malleable,
more usable. And as Lisa'Block points out, this "trick" also makes fun
of overly literary language as used by semiliterate or relatively un-
educated people, who tend to misspell through overcorrection in an
attempt to write "properly."75
Probably the most spectacular-and the most humorous-of the
deliberate mutations practiced on language by our novelists is the
invention and use of words which do not exist. The author makes up
words and inserts them into a given context, and leaves it up to the
reader to decipher the (supposed) intended meaning. The acknowledged
master of this practice is Julio Cortdzar, and the most famous example
is the lenguaje "glfglico" which Rayuela's characters speak to each other
as a sort of verbal game. One sentence will suffice to illustrate the
game: "Apenas 61 le amalaba el noema, a ella se le agolpaba el cl4miso
y cafan en'hidromurias, en salvajes ambonios, en sustalos exasperantes."'6
It is readily apparent that the subject is a sexual encounter between a
man and a woman. At first glance, the passage seems incomprehensible,
but such is not really the case, for Cortazar has tied his exotic
non-words together with real, correct Spanish articles, prepositions,
pronouns and adjectives. ("Apenas l1 le... el..., a ella se le...
el .... y calan en..., en salvajes..., en ... exasperantes.") Through
this linguistic restructuring, the reader's intelligence and fantasy
perceive and comprehend the general sense of the passage. The endings
of this new language link us closely.to Spanish; amalaba and agolpaba
are obviously verbs in the imperfect tense, the remaining new.words are
evidently nouns. So by carefully placing his fanciful words into an
identifiable Spanish grammatical structure, CortAzar creates the
hilarious illusion of a unique, fanciful language, while at the same
time probing the deeper recesses of Spanish's inner structures. This is
exactly what Lewis Carrol did in his famous poem "Jabberwocky.," in
which he made a game out of language while (partially) destroying
and re-forming it.
The idea of language as a game literaturea lIdica) is central to
the linguistic insurrection of today's Spanish American novel as it is
directly tied to the writers' insistence that language should cease to
be a sacred object, fixed forever.in rigid forms. Cabrera Infante is
in the forefront of this movement. He states:
For me, literature is a game, a complicated game, abstract
and concrete at the same time, taking place on a physical
plane-the page-and on the various mental planes of
memory, imagination, and thought. A game not very
different from chess but without the connotation of
science-game which many people.insist on conferring on
chess, as a form of amusement and self-absorption at
the same time. I always write for my own amusement
and if afterwards there are readers who can read what
I write and be amused with me, beside me, I rejoice that
we can share this diversion a posteriori.77
By playing with words, he not only destroys them in their present forms,
but also creates new forms at random, often grotesque, often humorous,
often .both simultaneously: "hacer el amor hacer el amor hacer el amor-
acerelamor aceleramo, acerela, acere..."78; and one of the best-known
examples: "...y me cordd [sic] de Alicia en el Pals de las Maravillas
y se lo dije al Bustroformidable y 61 se puso a recrear, a regular:
Alicia en el mar de villas, Alicia en el Pals que Mas Brilla, Alicia en
el Cine Maravillas, Avaricia en el Pals de las Malavillas, Malavidas,
Mavaricia, Marivia, Malicia, Milicia Milhizia Milhinda Milindia Milinda
Malanda Malasia Malesia Maleza Maldicia Malisa Alisia Alivia.Aluvia
Alluvia Alevilla y marlisa y marbrilla y maldevilla y empez6 a cantar
tomando como pie forzado (fdrzudo)...."79 The object of this verbal
game is to create new words and word groups with new and striking
sounds and rhythms and meanings or suggestions of meanings. But most
of all, it is a game to have fun with-a playtoy in the novelist's (and
the reader's) hand, which, as Lisa Block rightly points out, requires a
return to oral reading, for the full impact of the preceding variations
on'Alice in Wonderland can be appreciated only by reading the entire
passage aloud or.by hearing it read.
Cortgzar's Rayuela is full of language games. We have already seen
the best-known of them, the mirthful glfglico language. Cortazar's
characters also play a language game they call the "cemetery game" (el
juego en el cementerio). The "cemetery" in this game is the Dictionary
of the Royal Spanish Academy of the Language (which represents language
in its most highly formalized, fixed form,, therefore the target of
destructive humor). The game consists of opening the dictionary at
random, and making up a speech or story using as many of the words on that
page as possible. The more rare, exotic or technical words, the better,
for that is the point of the game-to show how useless the dictionary
(the repository of literary language) is. Oliveira gives us an example
of the cemetery game (all of the words he uses really do exist):
"Hartos del client y de sus cleonasmos, le.sacaron el clfbano y el
clipeo y.le hicieron tragar una clica. Luego le aplicaron un clistel
clinico en la cloaca, aunque clocaba por tan clivoso ascenso de agua
mezclada con clinopodio, revolviendo los clisos como cleriz6n clor6tico.'80
Another game Cortizar plays with the reader is in Chapter 34 of Rayuela
in which two stories are told simultaneously. One is told on lines 1,
3, 5, 7, 9, etc.; the other on lines 2, 4, 6, 8, 10, etc. He does not
warn the reader, however, and the reader is left to figure it out for
himself. The reader must also decipher the apocopated words in the
following: "...como lo sabe cualquiera que frecuente tertulias de
espaioles o argentinos despues de la tercera copa / rica Latina buscando
desde hace aios un camino: Lezama Lima, Fuentes, Vargas Llosa, dos o
tres mas apenas, han empezado a abrir picadas a machete limpio / tores
m6s j6venes..."81 These abrupt changes give the impression of the
author's mind as it jumps from one idea to the next. The game consists
of following the train of thought and supplying the missing syllables
to complete the words.
In another form of literature ldica, the Cuban novelist Severo
Sarduy plays a game with his reader which he calls "radial reading." In
this reading, Sarduy writes an entire passage without ever mentioning
the key word. He gives numerous clues from which the reader must guess
the missing key word. Sarduy gives us an example form his novel Cobra:
-S--anadi6 el Facultativo--, los curanderos legendarios'
que fundaron el Sikkim, para combatir el albarazo o
-blanca morfea, un herpes. corrosive, o mas bien una lepra
que atacaba al ganado, inyectaban a las reses un alcaloide
del apio disuelto en agua frfa. En las montabas los pastores
usaban nieve. Poco a poco estos iltimos fueron descubriendo
que los animals, despues de los enemas, al mismo tiempo que
entraban en un sopor sin limits, crecfan milagrosamente,
y que ello, al contrario de todo lo previsto, estaba en
relaci6n direct no con la cantidad del extract, sino con
la del disolvente. Asf se form la raza de los yacks, esos
bdfalos mansos que aGn hoy en dfa recorren las mesetas
del Asia Central, siguiendo a los monjes peregrinos. .El
cambio morfoi6gico que pretendemos puede obtenerse, y ello
sin que Pup abandon los brazos de Morfeo: basta con
inyectarle eh las venas nieve.82
In order to decipher the passage, the reader must discover the missing key
word, which is morfina. Although never mentioned, morfina is suggested
by (1) morfoldgico/morfea (a sickness)/Morfeo; (2) alcaloide del apio
(read: alcaloide del opio); (3) nieve (slang name for the drug), blanca;
and (4) inyectarle en las venas. These are the "radial" clues which
lead to the central word, morfina, and to discover the missing link is
the reader's task.
In conclusion, the language of the novel has risen from being an
accessory, traditional means of expression, to one of central concern to
the novelist. This preoccupation has taken and continues to take
multiple directions, but the desire to reform the literary Spanish
language is so pervasive among today's Spanish American novelists that
it is a unifying nexus. Vargas Llosa concludes that the search for
new linguistic forms of expression in many of today's writers has led
to works which are, more than anything, linguistic experiments, novels
whose heroes are not men, but rather words.83 Cabrera Infante, in response
to the question "What does literary creation mean to you?", answers
simply: "Words, words, words."8' Such'is the overpowering importance of
language in today's Spanish American novel.
'Fuentes, La nueva novela hispanoamericana, pp. 30-35.
2Ibid., pp. 93-94.
3Ibid., p. 30.
"Ibid., p. 94.
SS6bato, El escritor y sus fantasmas, p. 32.
6As Sabato points out, this subservience extends all the way to
copying peninsular Spanish mistakes, such as the often-heard "les invitamos
a escuchar" on Spanish American radio and television programs; these
announcers are taking as a sign of refinement and elegance what is really
no more than a peninsular confusion between the dative pronoun les and
the accusative los.
7Sabato, El escritor y sus fantasmas, p. 216.
8Ibid., pp. 219-220.
91bid., pp. 220-221.
"'Fuentes, La nueva novela hispanoamericana, pp. 31-32.
"Ibid., pp. 94-95.
12Ibid., p. 32.
"Ibid., pp. 32-33
'"Sbato, El escritor y sus fantasmas, p. 243.
"SFuentes, "Situaci6h del escritor en Amdrica Latina," p. 17.
"I6bid., pp. 20-21.
1Julio Cortdzar, Rayuela, 11th ed. (Buenos Aires: Sudamericana, 1969),
"Carmen Rivelli, "Entrevista'a Eduardo Mallea en Buenos Aires,"
Hispania, March 1971, pp. 193-194.
"Gonzalez Bermejo, Cosas de escritores, p. 99.
20Margarita Garcfa Flores, "Siete respuestas de Julio Cortdzar,"
Revista de la Universidad de Mexico, March 1967, p. 11.
22Fuentes, La nueva novel hispanoamericana, p. 30.
23Guibert, Seven Voices, p. 136.
24Fuentes, La nueva novela hispanoamericana, pp. 24-26.
2sLisa Block de Behar, Anl1isis de un lenguaje en crisis (Montevideo:
Nuestra Tierra, 1969), pp. 35-53.
"In Borges: El lenguaje de Buenos Aires (Buenos Aires: Emecd, 1965).
21In this section and the remaining sections of this chapter, we shall
be following the general outlines of the previously mentioned study of
language in today's Spanish American novel, Lisa Block de Behar's Anglisis
de un lenguaje en crisis. Lisa Block's book is an excellent approach to
the subject of language. It is well-planned, logical.in development and
well-illustrated with examples from contemporary novels. Therefore, we
wish at this point to acknowledge our indebtedness to this book. We shall
be following the characteristics that Lisa Block lists as representative,
and reinforce her categories with material we have drawn directly from
28Harss, Into the Mainstream, p. 271.
29Block, op. cit., pp. 89-91.
"3Guibert, op. cit., p. 410.
"Guillermo Cabrera Infante, "Las fuentes de la narraci6n,"
Mundo Nuevo, July 1968, pp. 43-44.
32Guillermo Cabrera Infante, "Epilogue for Late(nt) Readers,"
Review, (Winter 71/Spring 72), p. 25.
"Ibid., pp. 25-26.
"3Carlos Fuentes, "On TTT," Review (Winter 71/Spring 72), p. 22.
"3Cabrera Infante, "Epilogue for Late(nt) Readers," p. 28.
36Harss, op. cit., pp..77-78.
"We shall dedicate an entire section of Chapter VI to the novelists'
use of humor.
38Fuentes, La nueva novela hispanoamericana, p. 46.
"Ibid., p. 56.
"Ibid., p. 72.
42Ibid., p. 85.
'Jean Michel Fossey, "M'iguel Angel Asturias on Literature," Arts
in Society, 5, No. 2 (Summer-Fall 1963), p. 354; Manuel M. Azaha and
Claude Mie, "Entrevista con Miguel Angel Asturias, Premio N6bel," Bulletin
Hispanique, January-June 1968, p. 139; Harss, op. cit., pp. 81-85.
'4Oscar Collazos et al., Literatura en la revoluci6n y revoluci6n en la
literature, 2nd ed. (Mexico: Siglo XXI, 197T1, p. 12.
"'Carpentier, Tientos y diferencias, pp. 37-38.
46Carpentier's dislike of the nouveau roman movement, incidentally,
is widely shared among today's Spanish American novelists, who consider
it too limiting and too impersonal.
4Reynaldo Gonzglez, "Un pulpo en una jarra minoana," p. 15.
4'GonzAlez Bermejo, op. cit., pp. 130-132.
'gHarss, op. cit., p. 271.
"Block, op. cit.,- pp. 117-118.
51Harss, op. cit., p. .274.
52"Sbato, El escritor y sus fantasmas, pp. 210-214.
"I.bid., p. 213.
"Ibid., p. 214.
6"Ibid., p. 38.
"SThe first part of this statement seems highly debatable. We find
it impossible to believe that Shakespeare and Dante were unaware of the
beauty of their verse.
58Sabato, El escritor y sus fantasmas, pp. 207-208.
59Harss, op. cit., p. 336.
6"Guibert, op. cit., p. 417.
"Cortdzar, Rayuela, pp. 538-539.
"I2bid., p. 539.
63Harss, op. cit., p. 234.
64Santana, "La vuelta a Cort6zar en 80 rounds," p. 9.
s6Cortazar, Rayuela, p. 500.
"From La vuelta al dia en ochenta mundos, quoted in Block, op.
"Guillermo Cabrera Infante, Tres tristes tigres, 2nd.ed.
(Barcelona: Seix Barral, 1971), p. 46;
"Ibid., p. 208.
69Ibid., p. 386.
7oCortazar, Rayuela, p. 506.
71Ibid., p. 379
72Cabrera Infante, Tres tristes tigres, p. 209.
?3Cortazar, Rayuela, p. 473.
7Ibid., p. 430
75Block, op. cit., pp. 69-70.
'6Cortazar, Rayuela, p. 428.
7Guibert, op. cit., p. 408.
7BCabrera Infante, Tres tristes tigres, p. 325.
"Ibid., p. 209.
8OCortazar, Rayuela, p. 279.
aiCortazar, Ultimo round, p. 143, "primer piso."
82Cited in Emir Rodriguez Monegal, "Conversaci6n con Severo Sarduy,"
Revista de Occidente, December 1970, pp. 329-330.
83Mario Vargas Llosa, "The Latin American Novel Today: Introduction,"
Books Abroad, 44, No. 1 (Winter 1970), p. 10.
8Guibert, op. cit., p. 407.
FORM, TECHNIQUE AND STYLE IN THE
The "Total" Novel; the "Open" Novel
In the preceding chapter, we noted that Fuentes, in commenting on
the language in Carpentier's novels, said that thecontemporary novel
strives for total language, for going beyond traditional word structures-,
just as contemporary music strives to be total sound, going beyond the
traditional structural elements of melody and harmony. This "total"
language that today's novelists are seeking is the instrument which
they feel to be the most adequate to achieve what is commonly referred
to as the "total novel."' It is a concept of the novel shared by the
majority of today's novelists in Spanish America, and, consequently, it
is important to define its structure.
The hidden forces in Spanish American literature present ever since
the conquest have now flowered, according to Lezama Lima, opening the
possibilities of a comprehensive open novel. The chroniclers of the
conquest, for example, had the ability to synthesize the ancestral and
the new, the mythical and the real. This ability serves today's novelist
well, he says, for in today's literature, here and now no longer limit us
to a given time and space. Here means planetary unity and now means the
flying point of time, liberation from time, thus breaking the shackles of
the old novel's taboos. The Spanish American novel today, he states, is
neither strictly a novel nor Spanish American, but rather what he terms
"el relate supraverbo de lo entrevisto, la fiesta del nacimiento de
nuevos sentidos." The contemporary novel opens up new vistas, new
ways of focusing on the totality of human.experience. If we can achieve
that goal, he says, the novel will be so compelling that, despite its
lack of traditional form and content, it will force the reader to accept it
as a novel and as a new paradigm of the novel form.2
Ernesto Sabato traces3 the ideal of the total novel' back to.the
beginnings of the novel. He says that historically, all. the great
novels have been attempts to be total novels in the sense that they
presented the widest possible view of mankind and the human condition.
From Cervantes to Proust and Joyce, the novel has constantly sought to
expand its vision. In the novels of Sir Walter Scott, Sabato finds
drama, portraits, dialogue, descriptions of scenery, fantasy and
reality, poetry and the most humble peasant language; ideas, good and
evil, scenes of family life, and other elements which contributed toward
creating as total a picture as possible of the society he was trying to
capture in his novels. Today's novel, in SMbato's view, must be even
more wide-ranging, still more comprehensive, by incorporating the functions
which in the past belonged exclusively to the epic, poetry and confessions,
the moral treatise and the essay. Such a broad-based construct is easier
to achieve in the twentieth century, due to the fact that today the
novel is no longer limited by the scientific, positivistic tenets of
the nineteenth-century narrative. Today's novel can present a total
view, not only of the outside world, but also of the inside world of
man's mind, reaching into the deepest strata of the unconscious (e.g.,
the hallucinatory "Informe sobre ciegos" in SMbato's Sobre heroes y,
tumbas). The contemporary novel is a hybrid product which looks into
the world of light and the world of shadows, reason and instincts, the
rational and the irrational, fantasy and everyday reality, the worlds
of magic and mythology. The goal of the novelist is to create an
artistic synthesis of as many of these elements as possible. Today's
novel, Sabato states, tends toward becoming what he calls a "metaphysical
poem"-"metaphysical" in that it delves into the ultimate nature of
reality on an intellectual, abstract plane; a "poem" because it is
man's (the novelist's) subjective view of the subject, without pre-
tensions of scientific precision or truth. Today's novel, unlike its
predecessors, does not seek to demonstrate or prove anything as a
scientist would-it wishes only to show what exists, as completely
as possible, but always with the realization that the viewpoint is
subjective.' In such a total view of the world, the novel easily goes
beyond the old literary dilemmas which were so restricting simply because
they were perceived as mutually exclusive categories: e.g., the
"social" versus the "psychological" novel. There is no reason why a
total novel cannot synthesize both points of view. The role of the
contemporary novelist, then, is to integrate into a cohesive whole as
many facets of the complex reality of the modern world as he can.
SMbato cites James Joyce's Ulysses as an illustration of what he
is proposing, a form he calls a "jigsaw novel."' In Ulysses, Joyce
presents fragments which have little or no chronological or narrative
coherence among themselves, fragments of a complicated jigsaw puzzle
which will remain unfinished because many of its parts are missing,
while others remain half-hidden in the shadows, glimpsed only briefly
or vaguely by the reader. This is no arbitrary game, however. It is
a vision which reflects our perception of reality in life: the stream
of consciousness which simultaneously admits fragments from the many
diverse segments of the reality which surrounds us, creating a confusing
total mosaic which is the reality we experience at a given moment. The
traditional novel normally .chooses one facet out of the mosaic. The
contemporary novel, like Joyce's Ulysses, attempts, insofar as it is
possible, to include all. When it does, it will be realistic in the
best, most far-reaching sense of that term.
The attempt to present a total view of reality creates a novel
characterized by complexity, difficulty, and even obscurity. The novel
is no longer two-dimensional and linear, it is three-dimensional and
follows many diverging paths and patterns.6
Such a multifaceted narrative is embodied in the chivalric novel,
according to Vargas Llosa. He states that for the writers of chivalric
novels reality was a multi-faceted thing which consisted of everything
that existed (exterior reality-the daily life of the medieval castles),
the rational and the irrational, real beings of flesh.and blood in their
many emotional states (love, hate, sorrow, happiness, etc.), and beings
which existed only in the collective imagination and terror of the
age, such as fabulous monsters, dragons or fairies. The creators of
these novels of chivalry had a total view of reality. They did not
exclude anything, and were completely unconcerned with the "scientific"
provability of phenomena. This is the all-encompassing view that today's
novelist must have in order to create a total novel.7 As Vargas Llosa
puts it:. "Es que...la novela es el Onico gdnero donde el factor
cuantitativo es tan important como el cualitativo: mientras mds
niveles de la realidad, mientras mAs pianos de la experiencia humana
puedas apresar, mas profunda, m6s rica y ambiciosa sera tu novela."8
Vargas Llosa goes on to say that a novel which limits its scope to a
single facet of reality-the psychological novel, for example-mutilates
the reality which it attempts to portray, i.n that it cuts off a wide
band of experiences.and perceptions which are not strictly psychological.
The novel should seek not to limit or deform reality but to expand it.
That is precisely what Vargas Llosa says he attempted to do in La
ciudad y os perros, working always with the total vision of the
chivalric novel in mind. In writing his first novel, he states that
he tried to focus on a given reality through multiple viewpoints-each
viewpoint being embodied in a different character. Thus Alberto "el
poeta" is a sensitive, perceptive boy; "Boa" is a vicious, instinctive,
almost animal-like ruffian, etc. Each of these diverse characters acts
as a prism, breaking down the external "reality" into subjective view-
points, colored by the personality and mentality of each character. In
this way, Vargas Llosa hoped to show not only the irreality of an
objective "reality" but the multiple planes of what is perceived as
reality.9 He sums up his idea of the total novel as follows:
I think every method, every procedure must be
conditioned by the fictional material at hand. The
best novels are always those that exhaust their material,
that don't throw a single light on reality but many.
The points of view that can be brought to bear on
reality are infinite. It's impossible, of course,
for any novel to exhaust all of them. But a novel will
be greater and vaster in proportion to the number of
levels of reality it presents.... In more recent
times there has been a sort of decadence, a shrivel-
ing of the novel. Modern ventures into the novel form
attempt to give only a single vision,.to portray a
single aspect of reality. I'm in favor of the
opposite: the all-encompassing novel that aspires
to embrace reality in all its facets, in all its.
manifestations. It can-never fulfill itself at
all levels. But the greater its diversity, the
broader the vision of reality, the more complete
the novel will be.1'
Vargas Llosa sees this desire to totally recreate'reality in the novel
as being a total rejection of present-day reality in Latin America. He
believes that European and North American novelists rarely attempt to
write a "total" novel nowadays because the crises which are agitating
their societies are not nearly so profound as those shaking the very
foundations of Latin American society today. The Latin American novelist
rejects completely his contemporary society, and that is why he must
recreate his own version of reality in the novel." For Vargas Llosa,
the perfect example of a total novel is Gabriel GarcTa MArquez's Cien
aios de soledad. It describes a total reality, a self-contained world
from its birth to its death in all its multiple manifestations--the
individual and the collective, the legendary and the historical, daily
and mythical reality.1
The most outspoken advocate of giving the concept of the novel a
wider, more far-reaching, more "liberal" interpretation is Julio
Cortazar. He proposes that the novel should be open to all sorts of
"extraliterary" influences. He asks how long we must go on clinging to
the antiquated ideas of libraries and books (as we presently define them).
While he derides the "scholars" in their ivory towers who are scandalized
by any attempt to bring extraliterary subject matter or form into the'
novel, Cortazar claims such freedom to be his and every other novelist's
right, .equating it with the daring gesture of Prometheus when he stole
fire fromthe gods of his day."1 He says, for example, that as he
writes, the'central theme on which he is concentrating his attention
functions as a lightning rod, attracting to it not only those topics
directly related to the central theme, but also others indirectly or
tangentially related, or even completely unrelated. These "peripheral"
themes, which to some may seem unliteraryy," fcrm something like a
circle around the central theme. Cortdzar states that for him, the
only honorable solution is to accept these peripheral themes as integral
parts of the novel, and incorporate them as passages or fragments of
the novel, as he did in Rayuela, in which many of the so-called "dis-
pensable chapters" (as well as some of the "indispensable chapters")
were of this peripheral or extraliterary nature."4 In fact, Cortdzar
says he is more and more interested in what he calls "literature of
exceptions" nowadays. He finds the exceptions more interesting than the
laws. He says that the poet should dedicate himself to the exceptions
and leave the laws to the scientists and the "serious" writers (the
term "serious writers," as used by Cortdzar, is derogatory, denoting lack
of imagination and inventiveness). He states that exceptions "offer
what I call an opening or a fracture, and also, in a sense, a hope.
I'll go into my grave without having lost the hope that one morning
the sun will rise in the west. It exasperates me with its obedience
and obstinacy, things that wouldn't bother a classical writer all that
Cortazar believes that the novel is the genre which best lends
itself to this openness or totality. He states that the short story