Academic journal article Hispanic Review

Every Line a Verse, Every Art a Poem: Monsiváis, Minstrel of the Mexican Chronicle

Academic journal article Hispanic Review

Every Line a Verse, Every Art a Poem: Monsiváis, Minstrel of the Mexican Chronicle

Article excerpt

If you read Carlos Monsiváis with sustained attention over a long period, you discover an explanation in the roots of popular culture for his ad hoc possession of the epithet Cronista de México. The chronicle genre, most commonly characterized as literary journalism, is "literary" in large part because of the poetic nature of its language, a discourse of indirection that prefers to suggest by symbol rather than to announce, to imprecate by metaphor rather than to denounce.1 In this study I want to elaborate on a statement I make elsewhere about Monsivais's career-long engagement with poetry:

The prelude to his decision to develop a career in journalism was a long apprenticeship in poetry. That figurai substratum tones the referential assertiveness of his discourse, giving it music and flexible muscle. Its fusion of fact with poetic speech produces a rhetorical register of seductive, and often aggressive, complexity. (Carlos Monsiváis 231)

If Monsiváis is a commentator of the daily, he is also always, "hable de lo que hable, el poeta, el novelista y el erudito" (Aylwin and Monsiváis 78). 2 To this must be added his immersion in the lyrical and metaphorical prose of the Bible since early childhood and continuously throughout his life. In a church- run elementary school, where he alone constituted the Protestant minority, he committed a great deal of the Bible to memory and could even, he claimed, "en dos segundos encontrar cualquier cita bíblica" (qtd. in Pitol, "Carlos Monsiváis, catequista" 64). Sergio Pitol thus suggests, "Eso explica de alguna manera la excepcional textura de la escritura del autor, sus múltiples veladuras, sus reticencias y revelaciones, los sabiamente empleados claroscuros, la variedad de ritmos, su secreto fervor" (64). Thanks not only to Monsiváis's prodigious memory but also to his hypersensitivity to language, a loyal reader following Monsiváis's on-the-spot theorizing about a concert or a boxing match will very often feel rocked in the gospel cadence of parataxis and polysyndeton.3

Carlos Monsiváis may have stopped writing poems early in his career, but what I think of as his "own poetry" is evident in all that he writes. Even in an essay about the dreary, unchanging inadequacy of Mexican governance, intertextual allusions to canonical poems will appear, or perhaps a sound bite of a ranchera. Monsiváis the aonista has been injecting the verse of elite and popular art into his discourse for fifty-five years, so the poetic idiom for him is not a passing experiment; it is ingrained in his literary and analytical consciousness. Yoked with the liberal tradition of the nineteenth century, to which Monsiváis pays homage everywhere in his oeuvre but never more explicitly than in Las herencias ocultas: del pensamiento liberal del sigh XIX (2000), poetry is one of the strongest links in what he has called "mi árbol genealógico (ojalá)" (Herencias 13). 4 Explicit talk of poetry, oblique references to poetry, transtextual evocations of poetry, translations of poetry, and the incorporation of poetry into the very structure of his crónicas are Monsiváis's literary sign.

The lyrical nature of much of his creation and the manner in which poetry flows naturally from his critical mind make Monsiváis an entertaining emblem of the "poetic soul" of Latin America and of Mexico in particular. As he says, "Lo poético es la medida de las artes y las humanidades y es el calificativo último para juzgar la excelsitud" (Aires 116). This is true for him to such an extent that he says poetry is the principal unifying factor and textbook in a poor society: "La poesía ... es el espacio de compensación espiritual laica en un país mayoritariamente iletrado a fines del siglo XIX, y con un magro porcentaje del presupuesto federal destinado a educación" (Herencias 31).

Octavio Paz, Nobel Prize-winning poet of the midcentury, contributes to the line of thought soldering poetry to sociopolitical development. He believed that "[t]here can be no society without poetry, but society can never be realized as poetry; it is never poetic. …

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