On the Dark Side of the Archive: Nation and Literature in Spanish America at the Turn of the Century

On the Dark Side of the Archive: Nation and Literature in Spanish America at the Turn of the Century

On the Dark Side of the Archive: Nation and Literature in Spanish America at the Turn of the Century

On the Dark Side of the Archive: Nation and Literature in Spanish America at the Turn of the Century

Excerpt

It was in a wardrobe that I found the first novel I ever ready by José María Vargas Vila. I must have been about twelve years old. The book had been stripped of its cover. I suppose someone had removed it so that a tender soul like mine would not be attracted by the image of a half-naked woman. Or maybe it was because this someone was afraid of being caught with such a disreputable text. Nevertheless, I think I read the book precisely because of its indeterminate, enigmatic aura. It was camouflaged between old math books, manuals on good manners, reading and writing textbooks, and other publications—the remnants of someone’s high school education. It is odd that the book was there. I am certain that Vargas Vila’s novel was not part of the syllabus of any of the classes that my older sister took in her school that was run by the nuns, nor was it used in my school run by Jesuit priests. Someone at home had bought the novel, very likely on the sly, to enliven what we could call an “extracurricular” pastime. Perhaps it was one of my aunts. Or could it have been my own mother? The novels we read at school had no covers with half-naked women, or anything else with dubious aesthetic qualities. They all offered imposing vistas of my country, sketches of melancholiclooking characters, or simply bare titles on fake leather bindings. Along with Aurelio Baldor’s algebra course, and Margarita Peña’s history textbook, Jorge Isaacs’s María (1867) and José Mármol’s Amalia (1844) were two of the books that paraded over my always messy school table. I must confess, though, that for a twelve-, thirteen-, or fourteen-year-old, these novels were an academic duty not to be compared with Ibis (1899) by José María Vargas Vila, the old book in the wardrobe. Ibis was for me the epitome of adventure and enticing sensuality. On one of its pages there was a beguiling description of a woman in the act of changing her clothes; there was also a critical view of my country’s society at the end of the nineteenth century, and heavy paragraphs opposing religion and defend . . .
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