Literatura en México

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Cinco Décadas de Cuento Mexicano. Antología. Perea, Pitman, Taylor, Tedeschi, Valenzuela

Introduction Narrative of The Twentieth Century

Héctor Perea

We have to be dressed up as Mexican murals. We'd better assimilate that once and for all.

With the simple interpretation of these phrases created by Carlos Fuentes (1928), we could start this incursion into the Mexican narrative of the second half of this century, a narrative that has given names of authors such as Martín Luis Guzmán (1887-1976), Alfonso Reyes (1889-1959), Julio Torri (1889-1970), Agustín Yáñez (1904-1980), Juan de la Cabada (1903-1986), José Revueltas (1914-1976), Juan Rulfo (1918-1986), Jorge Ibargüengoitia (1928-1983), Fernando del Paso (1935) or Fuentes himself among many others. But listing only these authors wouldn't be fair, for as it also happens in Mexican mural painting --and it has already been suggested by the author of Aura with a slight touch of irony--, the scope of our novel and narrative far exceeds the onomastic and chronological list of authors mentioned above, who are commonly quoted but whose names do not exceed a record of just a few.

Books such as La sombra del caudilloPedro PáramoAl filo del aguaLa muerte de Artemio CruzPalinuro de MéxicoLos relámpagos de agosto, that play a key role in the current Mexican literature, have lived with --and sometimes involuntarily hidden-- other great novels such as La obediencia nocturna, by Juan Vicente Melo (1932); El libro vacío, by Josefina Vicens (1911-1988) or Farabeuff, by Salvador Elizondo (1932), to mention only a few books containing a very different tone and style that may not have received the necessary attention and promotion both in the country and abroad or that have waited such a long time to be republished. 

Within the field of contemporary Mexican literature, all these books, and of course many others, could be considered as corner stones, diverse, complementary, and occasionally opposed demonstrations from a narrative panorama that encompasses vast and varied trends. Besides, these are somehow responsible for the great boom the narrative in Mexico currently enjoys by means of ideas that are written with the highest standards of quality and originality, ideas of books that are not always expected as far as form and contents are concerned.

Mexican Narrative Nowadays

The short narrative in Mexico, as an only apparently easy demonstration in this field, has two sides: on one hand, it symbolizes the anticommercial object as a whole against the book publishers' inexorable interests; however, it has also been, throughout the twentieth century, but especially in this second half in which the most important Mexican publishing projects were born and consolidated, the supraimmediate mass media between authors and readers regarding periodical publications. With reference to the latter, in the field of magazines and supplements, I would like to mention the Revista Mexicana de Literaturaa, PluralVuelta,NexosMéxico en la CulturaLa Cultura en MéxicoDiorama de la CulturaSábadoLa Jornada Semanal, etc.; in the field of books, the publishing companies Joaquín Mortiz, the collection of Mexican Literature of the Fondo de Cultura Económica, ERA, or the editorial departments of the University of Veracruz and Mexico's National Autonomous University.

On the other hand, differently from what is happening in other countries, the narrative in Mexico does not represent the previous step, the necessary exercise for the maturative process of the writer and future novelist. For some reason, authors that are so different from each other such as Carlos Fuentes, Elena Garro (1920), Salvador Elizondo (1932), José Emilio Pacheco (1939), Ángeles Mastretta (1949), Juan Villoro (1956), Bárbara Jacobs (1947), Daniel Sada (1953), Juan Garcí­a Ponce (1932), Héctor Aguilar Camín (1946) or Sergio Pitol (1933) have seen in the narrative the irreplaceable media of the exposure of certain topics and the study of determined characters or environments, before, during and after the novelistic adventure.

Nevertheless, one of the most evident characteristics of the current short Mexican narrative is that it is not made concrete in just one form of expression, but it is represented by many styles at the same time. If the narrative continues to maintain in some areas a relationship with our literature that was created in the Revolution --not only with the literature directly linked to the political conflict, but also with that other literature, the product of the cultural revolution which led to the creation of the Ateneo de la Juventud and its various branches such as the Grupo Contemporáneos--, with the literature written within the national and international spirit of experiment and rupture during the 50s, on the other hand, it has been renovating, inside and outside this tradition, the forms and approaches projected by medullar moments in our literature. Besides, as far as modern traditions are concerned, the short stories that started to be written in Mexico since the 50s frequently show a clear cosmopolitanism not only within assimilated places and customs, but also, and especially, within literary trends and narrative techniques taken from other literature that, leaving our land, develop in other places and then return to our land again. Many of these short stories --and I remember an old quotation by Henry James reproduced by Carlos Fuentes in La nueva novela hispanoamericana-- show the proximity of the phantom, that is the coexistence with other narratives and arts, for they are "open works which do not evade the contamination in order to ensure the correspondence."

Regarding modern traditions, we could say that the short stories that have been written in Mexico during the second half of this century frequently show a clear cosmopolitanism in assimilated places and customs, as well as the approach to literary trends and narrative techniques that come from other literature or, leaving Spanish speaking countries, develop in various geographical points. Besides, a good part of the Mexican short narrative will presume the delightful linkage with ideas originally emerged from media such as movies, radio, comics, television scripts, paintings or computation. On the other hand, these media have been contaminating among themselves and without any misgiving throughout the century. It is also important to mention the influence, which I don't know if it is already present, that is found in the everyday access of readers and writers to the newly fashionable media: Internet, as well as to its greatest contribution: the hypertextual writing.

Therefore, submerging into the depths of the Mexican short story phenomenon of the end of the century nowadays presupposes, paradoxically and in many senses, a very important exercise. You have to scan in the distance so that you don't lose the perspective, but you also have to be aware that while we look away, the printed pages will keep on growing at our feet and would make us go astray. On the other hand, the fact that the books containing short stories are works and at the same time compendia of other works, although shorter but not "less important", leads me to think that perhaps it would be more suitable, within an essay dealing with a more general topic such as this one, not to talk about volumes, but about some narrative and of only some of the writers valuable because of the written work or interesting because of what these authors promise. This position would be reinforced, firstly, by the fact that a good part of the outstanding Mexican short stories, according to my point of view, has not given and perhaps won't give any volumes formally speaking, and hence will be relegated to the field of periodical publications or to the limbo of the unpublished. But it also gives an answer to another fact: nowadays, there are few Mexican books that deal with this genre that maintain the same quality level in all the included narrative, different from what happened once regarding volumes of Juan Rulfo (1918-1986), Juan José Arreola (1918) or even Carlos Fuentes.

The so-called and endless coming and going of the short story to other literary fields --in which translation has always played a key role-- has always been practiced by many of the most important authors of the Mexican contemporary narrative, without doubting that the short story phenomenon could be a media with extraordinarily expressive possibilities. The change of register, which sometimes goes to extremes, save a few exceptions and intentions regarding this issue, has not supposed generally speaking a contamination of genres. Perhaps, the most obvious cases to this respect be those of José Emilio Pacheco, Juan García Ponce or Salvador Elizondo; and more recently, Vicente Quirarte (1954), Jaime Moreno Villarreal (1956) or Fabio Morábito (1955), short story writers who belong to different generations that have been able to encompass a really wide spectrum in regard to the parallel exercise of literary forms.

For the last years of this century, authors such as Ángeles Mastretta, Carlos Montemayor (1947), Bernardo Ruiz (1953), Daniel Sada, Juan Villoro, Álvaro Ruiz Abreu (1947), Ana Clavel (1961), Guillermo Samperio (1948), Rosa Beltrán (1960), Carmen Leñero (1959), Carlos Chimal (1954), Fabio Morábito, Alberto Ruy Sánchez (1951), Jesús Gardea (1939), Agustín Monsreal (1941), Marco Antonio Campos (1949) and many others that I omit in order to not make this paragraph just a list of authors, have written single works, each one being very different from the others; they show the degree of maturity reached by the short narrative among recent Mexican writers; some of them do not enjoy popularity either nationally or abroad. These and many other narrators belong to the generation that, as this century declines, keep themselves very active and have already left an important imprint, by their own efforts, in the recent history of the short story in Mexico.

Among the main characteristics of Mexican short stories in the waning years of the 20th century we find humor and, above all, a very diverse irony. The tendency for farce and cultural parody sometimes adopts the carnival's mask. We will also see, however, a critical approach to the urban environment, the largest and most complex ever, focused especially on themes concerning the city, which is considered a scenario of life and death, of erotism and love --or what remains of the latter, according to some authors. The parodical trend is evident in short stories by Óscar de la Borbolla (1952), Francisco Hinojosa (1954), Rafael Pérez Gay (1957) or Enrique Serna (1959), some of which do not hide their closeness to modern classics in their own language, such as the Spaniards Ramón Gómez de la Serna, Wenceslao Fernández Flórez and Enrique Jardiel Poncela, as well as the Mexican Jorge Ibargüengoitia, the Uruguayan Felisberto Hernández or the Guatemalan-Mexican Augusto Monterroso. The interest in the urban topic, with different approaches which go from a raw or dirty realism to the creation of a fantasy around the city, is observed in the wide range of short narrative. Regarding this point I should mention of course Guillermo Samperio (1948), Emiliano Pérez Cruz (1955), Josefina Estrada (1957), Cristina Pacheco (1941), Juan Villoro, Fernando Curiel (1942) or Carlos Chimal, but in particular, for their venturous writing and their unique ways of approaching a topic, the narratives of authors such as Eusebio Ruvalcaba (1951), Fabio Morábito or Ricardo Chávez (1961).

Regarding the topic of the countryside and provinces, one of whose main representatives in Mexico is Juan Rulfo, the most significant work nowadays is probably that of Daniel Sada, who enjoys slipping into his prose, in an almost poetic cut, deep human and linguistic enigmas. As a complement and antithesis to this we find the topic of the border, recently undertaken by Carlos Fuentes; of drug-trafficking, by Federico Campbell (1941); or humor, by Luis Humberto Crosthwaite (1962). Love and erotism, in their different degrees of splendor or decay, have been fields of great interest among Mexican narrators. From the approaches of a modern classic, like Alfonso Reyes (1889-1959), to the current ones like those of Juan García Ponce, which encompass almost the second half of this century, many names have made of this practice a real tradition. Today authors ranging in a wide variety of ages are fully working in this type of narrative. Some of the best short stories of Rosa Beltrán, Carmen Leñero, Hernán Lara Zavala (1946), Alberto Ruy Sánchez, Armando Pereira (1950), Ana Clavel, Adriana González (1961) or Pedro Ángel Palou (1966) undertake the topic from very different points of view, although they sometimes coincide.

Contemporary short story in Mexico, as I said, goes beyond the place where it was written or the topics it covers; it is a cosmopolitan expression. Juan Rulfo did a deeply rooted work on his country after having read Swedish authors. Arreola wrote his after reading French works and having French experiences. Alfonso Reyes conceived his most personal narratives abroad in the middle of an immense stream of experiences that for him were merely the expansion of one same space in knowledge: the whole world of culture. And the books of these three important authors in the literature of this country are, undoubtedly, Mexican and universal. Writers such as Alberto Ruy Sánchez, Jaime Moreno Villareal, Francisco Segovia (1958), Vicente Quirarte or Alain-Paul Mallard (1970), just as their predecessors, follow today a line of cultural amplitude, with no restraints or prejudices. They also enjoy the erudite game where irony, together with topics of our own culture as well as a foreign one, develops through the contrast of plastic images and linguistic meanings continually being reinvented.

The parodical and carnival approach, not in the least innocent, which forms a good part of the Mexican short narrative, is represented by some of the authors mentioned above. However, it is perhaps in the works of three writers with more or less iconoclastic inclinations where we can fully see up to where the risk of this experimental excercise may go, full of tradition and always new. The names of these writers are Jorge Garcí­a-Robles (1956), Samuel Walter Medina (1953) and Luis Ignacio Helguera (1962).

The works of the authors mentioned throughout this essay do not represent the totality of the short story writers of intererst in Mexico. This is more than obvious. Today other ideas struggle to transmit an accurate view of this complex end of the century, particularly complex in countries such as Mexico. Writers born in the 60s and 70s with short works, in some cases finished with only the first few pages published, make their way openly or marginally. Born during the most difficult social and political crisis in recent Mexican history, and perhaps for this reason self-named the Cold Generation or Crack, some of them have proposed taking to the extreme certain traditional lines in Mexican narrative, but also breaking away from many of the "good styles" of our literature.

The Mexican short story of the end of the century is sometimes ductile and soft, but it may also be bitter and raw. For now, which makes it the more attractive, it expresses itself as an excercise in full evolution, as a frontier work within one and many territories that, with greater or less success, within the tradition or against it, has tried to destroy from the very heart all conventional forms. Individual works within the general panorama, but which reveal certain community spirit, show certain leakage lines which the Mexican short story could follow in the next century. 

The Short Story Online

The selection of short stories and even very short ones which form this web site, without being exhaustive, tries to leave evidence of many of the shared interests of current Mexican authors, as well as their differences. Explaining complicities or divergences, many times unforseen, which have existed throughout history among authors, as well as their works and intentions, might help value under a different light certain nuances found in between lines that make this Mexican narrative of the second half of this century become closer to its ancestral and contemporary roots, as well as to world literature, giving us something different and original: a delicate and purist expression, as well as a loud, violent, and revulsive one as to its form and content. In short, if there is something that this other type of Mexican literature has, it is that it is vital and hard to grasp. Perhaps that is why, as I said at the beginning of this essay, it has been marginated many times by the weight of the authors and the proportions of some works already considered as modern classics in our literature.

I must add that by this way of selecting materials I do not intend to classify the authors but, on the contrary, to show diverse angles in our recent narrative which are nevertheless related. I do not intend either to rely only on renowned short stories or authors or to bet on the upcoming work just because it is by young writers, but to collect a series of narratives through which Mexican writers have openly expressed themselves in this genre which is clearly limited by its briefness and constitutes for us readers a challenge to live it as much as possible. This, which does not respond to perfect formulas but to the attained work and express talent of the writer, will give a possible universality to literature. On a road in which tradition and the present and future perspectives meet halfway, the materials presented here today, as well as those which will continue feeding this site, are merely the portrait of an instant in Mexican short story history, as well as one of many of its possible points of view. In order to have a full idea of this division of our contemporary literature, we must compare this selection with other samples of this type of short stories, such as those compiled in the second volume of Antologí­a de la narrativa mexicana del siglo XX, by Christopher Domínguez; in Lo fugitivo permanec, by Carlos Monsiváis; in Cuento mexicano del siglo XX, by Emmanuel Carballo; in Jaula de palabras, by Gustavo Sáinz; or in what Julio Ortega selected for his Latin American anthology titled El muro y la intemperie. This will certainly let readers view some of the different approaches which have produced special creations, selective points of view which might be somewhat venturous in our short stories.

Fifty Years of Short Story in Mexico will also include a series of selected essays on the subject, written by experts of different generations and trends.

Centro de Estudios Literarios. Instituto de Investigaciones Filológicas. UNAM

Translated by Antonio Canizales González



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