Erotic Mysticism: Subversion and Transcendence in Latin American Modernista Prose

Erotic Mysticism: Subversion and Transcendence in Latin American Modernista Prose

Erotic Mysticism: Subversion and Transcendence in Latin American Modernista Prose

Erotic Mysticism: Subversion and Transcendence in Latin American Modernista Prose

Synopsis

Modernismo, Latin America's first homegrown literary movement, has garnered critical attention for its political and social import during a time of intense nation building and efforts to propel the region into modernity. LaGreca's Erotic Mysticism explores two dominant discourses of the period, Catholicism and positivism, which sought to categorize and delimit the desires and behaviors of the ideal citizen. These discourses, LaGreca argues, were powerful because each promised to allay the individual's existential fears. Yet the coexistence of these two competing ideologies, one atheist and one religious, sowed doubt and unease in the modern intellectual who sought an alternative mode of understanding the human condition. From these uncertainties sprang a seductively liberating mode of writing: non-theistic erotic mysticism. Through analysis of key essays and fiction of Carlos Diaz Dufoo (Mexico), Manuel Diaz Rodriguez (Venezuela), Jose Maria Rivas Groot (Colombia), Aurora Caceres (Peru), and Enrique Gomez Carrillo (Guatemala), LaGreca establishes erotic mysticism as a central philosophical substratum of the movement that anticipated the work of twentieth-century theorists such as William James and Georges Bataille. In modernista texts, the mystic's ecstatic state is achieved through a sublime erotic or sensual experience. The noetic mystical state expands one's consciousness, opening his or her mind to embrace diverse ways of loving and engaging. While science and religion sought to mold heteronormal and pragmatically useful citizens, modernista writers employed mystical discourse to transcend boundaries, opening readers' minds to alternative notions of sexuality, gender, desire, acceptance, and, ultimately, art.

Excerpt

Todas estas tendencias […] presentan los estíg
matos morales de la “degenerescencia,” a saber: la
locura moral, o ausencia de sentimiento moral, la
emotividad, la impotencia de la voluntad, el amor
del sueño, y por último, y sobre todo, el misticis
mo […]

All of these tendencies […] are present in the
moral stigmatas of “degeneracy,” namely: moral in
sanity, or absence of moral feeling, emotionality,
impotence in willpower, love of delusion, and, last
ly, and above all, mysticism …

–Max Nordau Trans. Carlos Díaz Dufoo “El arte
y la moral” (Art and Morality; 83)

The dual THREAT: mysticism and eroticism

Modernismo (1880–1920) represents Latin America’s first expression of literary independence. It revolutionized hispanophone literature by opening it up to erotic imagery, sensual synesthesia, and exotic international urban settings. Modernista writers focused on beauty in both the imagery and the musicality of their poetry and prose. Early critics of the 1940s and 1950s denounced the literature of these decadent writers within the move-

Translations are mine except where indicated.

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