Critical Dictionary of Mexican Literature (1955-2010)

By Corral, Will H. | World Literature Today, July/August 2012 | Go to article overview

Critical Dictionary of Mexican Literature (1955-2010)


Corral, Will H., World Literature Today


Christopher Domínguez Michael. Critical Dictionary of Mexican Literature (1955-2010). Lisa M. Dillman, tr. Champaign, Illinois. Dalkey Archive. 2012. isbn 978- 1564786067

Widely recognized as one of the finest Latin American essayists and as a trenchant critic of world literatures, Christopher Domínguez Michael is also an influential cultural historian. A master stylist, he is particularly adept at fathoming the essential values of contemporary Mexican literature. His Critical Dictionary of Mexican Literature-extending from Rulfo's masterpiece, Pedro Páramo, to the present, as his prologues explain- evinces his gifts.

To Dillman's great credit, all 526 pages read like those of the 2007 original (revised and enlarged), quirks and turns of phrase included. Unimpeded by abstruse theories or stringently biographical apprehensions, this work is brilliantly direct and commonsensical. Above all, Domínguez Michael provides a cohesive view of a literariness heretofore addressed in individual native sources, founding his sophisticated Baedeker (not reader, encyclopedia, companion, or biographical dictionary) on correspondingly advanced readings of literature largely undiscovered in English.

Those qualities are manifest when he writes about canonical, unheralded, or promising authors. Carlos Fuentes is "a Methuselah who turned each of his years into eons and each of his novels into a prolonged agony." On Alfonso Reyes: "It is doubtful that his classicizing endeavors managed to 'civilize' Mexicans." Zelig-like in providing context, Domínguez Michael doesn't leave readers feeling that there is a larger story to be written, i.e., that Mexican "hit lit" (Laura Esquivel, Michael Angeles Mastretta) deserves a word or two. He expounds on Ana García Bergua, Cristina Rivera Garza, and many other women with admiration and respect, while Guillermo Fadanelli merits three paragraphs. His sympathies and differences are evident.

Recovering underestimated novelists, the Joycean Daniel Sada is "the author of the most difficult book in Mexican literature," and Enrique Serna's historical picaresque, Ángeles del abismo, reads doubly beautifully because it took to heart the task of inventing, not reconstructing, seventeenth-century New Spain. In addition, he boldly puts in perspective, with equanimity, Elena Poniatowska's ultimate worth: "limited by her journalism, which always ends up interfering with her fiction. …

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