After-Dinner Conversation: The Diary of a Decadent

By José Asunción Silva; Kelly Washbourne | Go to book overview

“AN ART BOTH NERVOUS AND NEW”

It is perhaps regrettable that the full fin de siècle flowering of Latin American prose should not appear until 1925, well into avant-garde times, a belatedness that may help account for After-Dinner Conversation’s status as a “lost novel.” The work actually is thrice lost: first literally, in the wreck of the Amérique; second in its rewritten manuscript; and third in critical discourse, at least until very recent times.1

The work’s ontological status as a re-created entity is perhaps too much with us as we read; no reader fails to let Silva’s tragic biography intrude on the text. We read a text that mimics a shadow-text left somewhere on the ocean floor.2 Is it necessarily inferior to the original draft? We must ask ourselves if it is valid to compare an existing work to a conjectural one. Regardless, the novel was long deemed incomplete or chaotic—read “failed”—by critics, an assumption that now is being challenged by a chorus of readers.

This introduction will give the reader an indication of José Asunción Silva’s life and times, particularly the latter. Its purpose is twofold: on the one hand, to collect and to some extent critique the main currents of thought on a key work of Spanish American modernismo; on the other, to offer possible avenues of further inquiry, and to delve deeper into aspects that may have been overlooked or unduly neglected, and to connect them. In the order treated, these are the areas covered in the pages to follow: the life and work of Silva; the context of De sobremesa’s composition and the myths around it; a few words on the phenomenon of modernismo in Spanish America; the work’s setting, including a discussion of Paris in the imaginary of the day; a consideration of genre and language, leading to a broad definition of Decadence; a tour of the interior spaces of the novel, particularly the opening and closing scenes, illustrating Decadent sensibility and the treatment of time in the novel, experimental for its day; the reception of the work; erotics and naming;

-3-

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After-Dinner Conversation: The Diary of a Decadent
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents vii
  • Acknowledgments ix
  • Translator’s Introduction 1
  • "An Art Both Nervous and New" 3
  • After-Dinner Conversation 49
  • Notes 219
  • Selected Bibliography 251
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