Magazine article Americas (English Edition)

The Literary Pulse of the Americas

Magazine article Americas (English Edition)

The Literary Pulse of the Americas

Article excerpt

ONCE SPURNED AS A STEPCHILD OF EUROPE, Latin American fiction is now considered one of the most dynamic, innovative, and vibrant literary forces in the West. The influence of the Latin American "new narrative" has not been confined to the Spanish-and Portuguese-speaking countries, but has been felt in Europe and North America as well, as evidenced by Alastair Reid's story "In Memoriam, Amada," included here. Although Reid's story is set in Costa Rica, it is not merely in the recreation of exotic locations and atmospheres that Latin American fiction exerts an influence, but in the very concept of the narrative.

The social realism of the early twentieth century was, in large part, a continuation of the realist and naturalist traditions. The writer used fiction to explore his (or, in a few cases, her) immediate situation. He was an observer of reality for whom writing was a means of exposing social political and economic injustices. The author was omnipresent and omniscient. Although there are experimental elements in the writing of authors such as Jose Eustasio Rivera and Mariano Azuela, for the most part, their work is realistic.

The term "new narrative" refers to widely varying kinds of writing, which, nevertheless, share at least one common trait: the rejection of the kind of documentary approach that - with some exceptions - characterized the novel and short story of earlier periods. Influenced by the Freudian revolution, surrealism, Marxism, and other European movements, writers began to discard traditional notions of reality. They sought a different kind of reality that was not be found in the material world, but in the subjective, interior world. The new generation suggested that reality might be different for everyone or might not be accessible at all. The pessimism and skepticism engendered by the Second World War led intellectuals to doubt the absolute nature of truth and, therefore, the artists' ability to represent reality.

Under these conditions, the traditional narrative became obsolete. The writers of the 50s and 60s, most notably Jorge Luis Borges, sought means of conveying the subjective nature of reality. They replaced chronological time with personal, arbitrary concept of time. By means of structural fragmentation, perspectivism, stream of consciousness, and combinations of fantasy and reality, they created a new relationship between writer and reader. Traditionally passive, readers were now forced to take an active role in the creative process. Readers were compelled to reconstruct the story by supplying transitions, adding missing elements, delving into the hidden meanings of symbols, distinguishing fact from fantasy. Narratives were deliberately "open-ended" and ambiguous, lending themselves to multiple interpretations, thus reinforcing the idea that there was no one single objective reality.

The "new narrative" burgeoned during the Boom, the period in the 60s and early-70s characterized by intense innovation and experimentation in literature, particularly the novel. Writers such as Carlos Fuentes, Julio Cortazar, Gabriel Garcia Marquez and Mario Vargas Llosa sought to create an unsettling new literary language that would force readers to reevaluate not only their personal views, but also the prevailing social and political institutions. For these writers, politics and literature were inseparable.

Social realism gave way to magical realism, associated primarily with Garcia Marquez but having roots in the works of several pre-Boom writers such as Alcides Arguedas and Alejo Carpentier. Magical realism seeks to blur the distinction between fantasy and reality. It reflects the notion that Latin America is, in essence, "fantastic," its history filled with incredible events and larger-than-life figures. In the world of the magical realists, everyday occurrences take on mythical dimensions, while the most amazing events are narrated with deadpan flatness.

The present generation has continued the structural and linguistic experimentation of the "new narrative," but, for the most part, has rejected the rigid political stance of the Boom novelists. …

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