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In this first comprehensive study of Latin America's literary vanguards of the 1920s and 1930s, Vicky Unruh explores the movement's provocative and polemic nature. Latin American vanguardism—a precursor to the widely acclaimed work of contemporary Latin American writers—was stimulated by the European avant-garde movements of the World War I era. But as Unruh's wide-ranging study attests, the vanguards of Latin America—emerging from the continent's own historical circumstances—developed a very distinct character and voice.
Through manifestos, experimental texts, and ribald public performance, the vanguardists' work intertwined art, culture, and the politics of the day to produce a powerful brand of aesthetic activism, one that sparked an entire rethinking of the meaning of art and culture throughout Latin America.
In Julio Cortázar's novel Rayuela (1963), a canonical work in Latin America's new narrative, the protagonist Horacio Oliveira concocts numerous games as paths to the existential insight and metaphysical unity he pursues. Two singular pastimes are linguistic. Horacio and his friends exhume obscure words from the "cemetery," their pet name for the Royal Academy's dictionary of the Spanish language. He and his lover, La Maga, communicate secretly in glíglico (or Gliglish), a language of her creation, and the novel's "Expendable Chapters" include samples of this enigmatic idiom. In a similar vein, the 1970 dramatic experiment La orgástula by Chile's Jorge Díaz presents two characters totally bound in gauze who communicate with an invented language conforming to the morphology and syntax of Spanish but otherwise unintelligible.
The linguistic strategies, antiacademic spirit, and implicit social critique of Horacio Oliveira's cemetery game have their roots in the literary vanguard movements that emerged throughout Latin America in the 1920s and early 1930s. The hermetic neologisms typical of Laorgástula and Cortázar's glíglico had made their Latin American literary debut in the word games of early vanguardist poets and, more specifically, in the verbal acrobatics of Vicente Huidobro's master poetic work Altazor and the rhetorical posturings of the politically manipulative marionettes in his 1934 play En la luna . In fact, vanguardist antecedents of Latin America's contemporary literary innovations are numerous. The confrontations between high art and popular or mass culturethat emerge in novels by Manuel Puig or Luis Rafael Sánchez or in Marco Antonio de la Parra's postmodernist dramatic exercises are anticipated by Roberto Arlt's novels and plays of the late 1920s and early 1930s and by Oswald de Andrade's 1920s collage narratives. Literary encounters between modernity and the autochthonous undertaken in Alejo Carpentier's Los pasos perdidos (1953), in 1950s and 1960s indigenist prose fiction experiments by José María Arguedas, Elena Garro, and Rosario Castellanos, and in Mario Vargas Llosa's 1987 novel El hablador were initiated several decades earlier in Mário de Andrade's Macunaíma (1928), Miguel Angel Asturias's Leyendas de Guatemala (1930), and Carpentier's own carly prose fiction and experimental performance pieces. The assaults on narrative subjectivity offered by such works as Juan Rulfo's Pedro Páramo (1955), Carlos Fuentes's La muerte de Artemio Cruz and Aura (both from 1962), Guillermo Cabrera Infante's Tres tristes tigres (1967), Osman Lins's Avalovara (1973), or Luisa Valenzuela's Cambio de armas (1982) are foreshadowed by Martín Adán's 1928 prose experiment La casa de cartón . Carlos Oquendo de Amat's typographically unconventional 5 metros de poemas (1927), printed on a single unfolding sheet, anticipates Octavio Paz's Blanco (1967). And the metatheatrical challenges to traditional spectator roles associated with contemporary playwrights such as José Triana, Emilio Carballido, Griselda Gambaro, and Díaz, among others, had already been undertaken in experimental theatrical exercises written in the late 1920s and the 1930s by Xavier Villaurrutia, Huidobro, Oswald de Andrade, and Arlt.
Recent scholarship has affirmed the historical importance of Latin America's interwar vanguard movements for the outstanding achievements of contemporary Latin American literature. But my brief exercise in parallelisms and antecedents in and of itself provides a limited and even distorted view of these movements. This is because Latin America's early twentieth-century vanguards may best be understood not in terms of selected canonical works or individual authors' careers but rather as a multifaceted cultural activity, manifested in a variety of creative endeavors and events and seeking to challenge and redefine the nature and purpose of art. André Breton himself characterized Parisian surrealism as a form of activity, and theorists and investigators such as Peter Büirger, Renato Poggioli, Matei Calinescu, Rosalind Krauss, Marjorie Perloff, and James Clifford have also approached the international pre- and post-World War I avant-gardes—the "historical" avantgardes, in Bürger's terms—as a type of activity that encompasses abroad range of phenomena: artistic experiments in many genres, polemics, manifestos, and public events and performances.
Between the late teens and the mid-1930s, vanguardist activity emerged throughout Latin America.1 This activity included several possible forms: the emergence of small groups of writers committed to innovation; the affirmation by groups or individuals of aesthetic or cultural positions often designated by a particular "ism" or more broadly as arte nuevo (new art) or vanguardismo; the dissemination of these positions through written manifestos or public manifestations; engagement by some groups in debates and polemics with others; experimentation in multiple literary and artistic genres and across generic boundaries; the publication of often ephemeral little magazines as outlets for both artistic experiments and cultural debates; the organization of study groups or seminars; and serious investigations by these study groups or by individual writers into language, folklore, and cultural history. These activities were unquestionably stimulated in part by the European avant-gardes of the pre- and post-World War I era, with key figures such as Vicente Huidobro, Jorge Luis Borges, Alejo Carpentier, Oswald de Andrade, César Vallejo, Evaristo Ribera Chevremont, and Miguel Angel Asturias serving as transcontinental links. But Latin American vanguardism grew out of and responded to the continent's own cultural concerns. Out of these multiple activities, there emerged a serious critical inquiry into ways of thinking about art and culture in Latin America. On the broadest level, the five chapters in this study examine the substance of that inquiry. Specifically, I analyze manifestos and creative texts from all genres to discern the changing ideas that these pose about the interaction between art and experience; about the purpose of literary activity and the changing roles of artists; about new roles for audiences and readers; and about connections between new aesthetic ideas and long-standing concerns about Latin America's cultural and linguistic identity.The Context and Character of the Vanguards
My approach to Latin American vanguardism as a form of activity rather than simply a collection of experimental texts exhibiting certain common features underscores the fact that vanguardists themselves often conceptualized art and intellectual life as action ordoing. The pervasive activist spirit that characterized much of this literary work was consonant with the historical context in which the vanguards emerged. Nelson Osorio, one of the more context-sensitive analysts of these movements, has called attention to the antioligarchic spirit of the era (MPP xxvi), an observation supported by the historical record. The years from the late teens through the early 1930s constituted an epoch of contentious encounters manifesting the changing alliances that accompany shifting economic, social, and political conditions. Latin American nations experienced the impact of World War I era economic changes, of political hopes generated by the Russian revolution and international workers' movements, and of the pervasive postwar disillusionment with European culture epitomized in Oswald Spengler's The Decline of the West (1918–22). Although specific situations varied from one country to another, certain features characterized continental life as a whole.2
Economically, the period was shaped by the consolidation of the export-import growth model (Skidmore and Smith) and the "neocolonialist pact" (Halperin Donghi). The years of the literary vanguards were marked by an intensification of rapid growth grounded in regionspecific dependence on one or two major exports and a consequent interlocking of Latin American economies with world markets and financial institutions. These developments were accompanied by a gradual shift in hegemony from Europe to the United States with regard to Latin America's economic—and often political—affairs. Economic expansion and demographic change stimulated the growth of major cities, including Bogotá, Havana, Lima, Mexico City, Montevideo, Santiago, São Paulo, and, most dramatically, Buenos Aires. Many of these also provided the sites of the limited industrial growth associated with consumer goods production and with the creation of infrastructures necessary to sustain export-import economies. This metropolitan growth exacerbated imbalances and tensions between urban and rural sectors. Large portions of rural populations continued to function at a subsistence level, on the margins of mainstream national economic life, and were vulnerable to the economic highs and lows produced by single-export economies controlled by outside investors.
Political changes shaped by these demographic conditions included the growth of a more politically aware and active middle class and the development of significant workers' movements. In Argentina and Brazil and, to a lesser degree, in Chile and Peru, European immigration contributed to working-class growth, whereas in Mexico and Caribbean countries, Indians, mestizos, and slave descendants continued to be used as sources of cheap labor. Between the mid-teens and the late 1920s, workers' groups in Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Cuba, Peru, Mexico, Uruguay, and Ecuador, and to varying degrees in other countries as well, organized demonstrations or general strikes, activities that usually met with repressive official responses. In the Andean region, particularly in Ecuador and Peru, periodic indigenous rebellions intensified the ambience of class and cultural confrontation. Antiforeign reaction in cities like Buenos Aires or São Paulo with large immigrant populations produced additional tensions as well. And in Mexico, the intersection of urban-based pressures for liberal reform with a broadly based agrarian revolt produced the continent's most consequential contentious encounter of the epoch, the Mexican Revolution.
During this primarily reformist period of Latin American history, the middle class, from which many vanguardist writers emerged, experienced conflicting pulls. Its interaction with traditional oligarchies seeking to shore up their own power broadened political participation (far more in some countries than in others) and led to growth in the number and influence of political parties, franchise extensions (though notably not yet to women), and government-sponsored educational and social reforms.3 Activist pressure for change, though often harshly punished by a politically engaged military, intensified even under the authoritarian regimes of Gerardo Machado in Cuba, Juan Vicente Gómez in Venezuela, and Manuel Estrada Cabrera in Guatemala and the eleven-year reformist dictatorship of Augusto B. Leguía in Peru. This more politicized middle class at times directed its attention to social inequities. More radical developments included the formation of Latin America's first socialist and Communist parties (though some were not officially recognized until years later) and the emergence of the continent's first important Marxist thinker, the Peruvian José Carlos Mariátegui, who was also an active promoter of Peruvian vanguardist activity and a knowledgeable analyst of the international literary vanguards. Historians regard the continental university reform movement as a major component of the middle class's political awakening. This activity took shape in Córdoba, Argentina, in 1918, and national and international student gatherings followed in Mexico, Chile, Panama, Peru, Brazil, Cuba, Uruguay, Colombia, and Puerto Rico. In addition, Peru's Victor Raúl Haya de la Torre, founder of the nascent APRA (Alianza Popular Revolucionaria Americana) movement, traveled widely throughout the continent and abroad, and he and his followers oftenreinforced the political and intellectual contacts initiated at the university reform congresses. This network is documented in numerous vanguardist periodicals, through intellectual and political debates, and in editorial expressions of support extended from social activists in one country to those in another.
According to Osorio, the university reform movement went beyond immediate pedagogic concerns to seek "a new conception of culture and teaching in line with popular interests, national needs, and social transformation" (MPP xxvi). For Osorio, moreover, this movement provides a direct link between the antioligarchic spirit of the political and economic context and the work of the literary vanguards. But while not disagreeing about the "common character" of aesthetic and political calls for change, I would caution against seeking too literal links between political confrontations and class struggles played out on Latin America's streets in the late teens and 1920s and the contentious encounters with audiences, readers, and one another provoked by literary vanguardists through confrontational manifestos, experimental creative texts, and engaging performance events.
Since the early nineteenth century, international vanguardism had always embodied tensions and correlations between the cultural and the political. Matei Calinescu has carefully traced points of historical intersection and divergence between the two in the European concept of the avant-gardes.4 In Latin America, as Gloria Videla has observed, the lines between a political vanguard and an artistic one can rarely be sharply drawn.5 But neither do political and aesthetic activism of the period, while often intertwined, neatly mirror one another. Certainly many vanguardist artists and groups were at one time or another willfully engaged in the contentious encounters of politics as well as art. Cuba's Grupo Minorista, for example, whose members included the founders of the vanguardist journal Revista de Avance (1927–30), supported a broad program of social and political change in Cuba, protested U.S. involvement in Cuban, Mexican, and Nicaraguan affairs, and actively opposed the repressive measures of Gerardo Machado. As a student activist, Miguel Angel Asturias worked against Guatemala's dictator Estrada Cabrera and participated in popular education reform. In their later vanguardist years, Chilean Vicente Huidobro and Brazilian Oswald de Andrade both joined the Communist party. Peru's principal vanguardist journal Amauta was closed for six months by the Leguía regime for its prolabor positions, and police briefly detained the journal's editor, Mariátegui, who was also, as I have noted, the Marxistfounder of Peruvian socialism. Puerto Rico's atalayistas, in particular, the poet Clemente Soto Vélez, supported the incipient Puerto Rican nationalism and separatism being disseminated by Pedro Albizu Campos. Mexico's estridentistas called for their country's intellectuals to emulate the spirit of revolt embodied in the Mexican Revolution, and some members of Mexico's Contemporáneos group had, prior to its formation, supported educational reforms undertaken by José Vasconcelos. The vanguardistas' political activism was dominated by but not limited to progressive or leftist causes, moreover. Some Nicaraguan vanguardists, for example, supported Augusto Sandino's resistance to U.S. intervention in Central America and the reactionary nationalism of the first Anastasio Somoza as well. Leaders of Brazil's Verde-Amarelo group, who as artists endorsed a mystical kind of ultranationalism, later organized Brazil's fascistic Integralist party.
But the contentious encounters I explore in the chapters that follow unfold in the realm of culture and art. The "common character" of political and cultural activism is to be found neither exclusively in the concrete political acts of vanguardist writers (some were aggressively apolitical) nor in the explicit social content of their artistic experiments. Some avant-garde creative texts do actually incorporate obvious critiques of specific social conditions. But, in general, vanguardist aesthetic activism is profoundly different in kind from the literary realist's exposé. For Peter Bürger in Theory of the Avant-Garde, the most radical feature of the European historical avant-gardes was the assault on the role of art as an institution in bourgeois society. Within these movements, he argues, "the social subsystem that is art enters the stage of self-criticism" (22). Bürger uses institution here to indicate not only a "productive and distributive apparatus" for art but also the "ideas about art that prevail at a given time and that determine the reception of works" (22). In Latin American vanguardism, one rarely finds the absolute anti-art stance normally associated with European Dada. Institutionalizing literary traditions was a relatively recent phenomenon in Latin American cultural life, and, in some cases, the vanguardist movements themselves became enmeshed with the construction of national literatures or canons.6 But Latin American vanguardists were profoundly concerned with ideas about art prevailing in their own times and, even when taking ostensibly apolitical stands, seriously examined art's possible roles within the problematic social and cultural contexts surrounding its production. As they cast a critical eye on the value of their own artistic activities, they often imagined art as an integral partof an activist intellectual life. Aesthetic activism was manifested in the needling presence of vanguardist artists on the cultural scene, in engaging communicative modes (manifestos, broadsides, literary polemics, confrontational literary surveys, or public performance events), or in difficult literary experiments demanding new reader reactions.(Re)Reading Vanguardist Activity
Because I approach vanguardism as a form of activity rather than as an assemblage of individually outstanding texts, in this work I often examine the implicit dialogues that emerge between critical and creative endeavors, between manifestos or similar documents and creative texts. Although I do present close readings of numerous literary texts, the underlying premise is that a brief manifesto or a literary survey appearing in a short-lived vanguardist periodical may constitute as significant a factor in the dialogue of artistic and cultural ideas as a critically acclaimed creative work. My own approach has unquestionably been shaped by other recent scholarship. Once Latin American vanguardism was recognized as a significant component of the continent's literary history, investigators undertook individual studies of specific countries, groups, magazines, or major figures. Early studies also focused primarily on poetry. Although important work of this kind continues, the last ten years have witnessed a more comprehensive reassessment that has recognized the multifaceted quality of vanguardist activity and has generally pursued two lines of inquiry.
The first investigative line has sought a historical and bibliographical reconstruction of the period on a continental basis, yielding four major anthologies of vanguardist materials as well as a book-length bibliography. These include Hugo Verani's Las vanguardias literarias en Hispanoamérica: Manifiestos, proclamas y otros escritos (1986); Nelson Osorio's Manifiestos, proclamas y polémicas de la vanguardia literaria hispanoamericana (1988); volume two (Documentos ) of Gloria Videla's Direcciones del vanguardismo hispanoamericano (1990); Jorge Schwartz's Las vanguardias latinoamericanas: Textos programáticos y críticos (1991); and Vanguardism in Latin American Literature: An Annotated Bibliographical Guide, compiled by Merlin H. Forster and K. David Jackson (1990). The last two of these include Brazil in theirbroad scope. The titles of the anthologies underscore the eclectic substance of materials resistant to tidy classification; thus we have "other writings," "documents," or "programmatic texts." The ForsterJackson bibliography manifests the same resistance to neat categories, as primary sources from the vanguardist period include journals, creative works, and the elusive "other materials." These problems in classification reinforce the idea of vanguardism as a form of activity rather than an assemblage of canonical authors or works. In their very constitution, these collections also suggest that, to arrive at meaningful understandings of the vanguard period in Latin America, one must go beyond specific individual works, writers, or even genres.
The same premise emerges in a second line of inquiry in recent vanguardist scholarship, the search for comprehensive characterizations of the vanguards in Latin America as related to but distinct from the European avant-gardes. This second investigative line has produced articlelength studies seeking to define more broadly what Latin American vanguardism was actually like or about and to map out what kinds of approaches are appropriate for arriving at such definitions. Forster's 1975 piece, "Latin American Vanguardismo: Chronology and Terminology," constituted a fundamental step in this direction, and his "Toward a Synthesis of Latin American Vanguardism" (1990), introducing the Forster-Jackson bibliography, expands this line of inquiry. Other fundamental pieces of this type include Osorio's "Para una caracterización histórica del vanguardismo literario hispanoamericano" (1981; reworked in the introduction to his manifesto anthology); Haroldo de Campos's "Da razã antropofágica: A Europa sob o signo da devoraçã" (1981); Klaus Müller-Bergh's "El hombre y la técnica: Contribución al conocimiento de corrientes vanguardistas hispanoamericanas" (1982; second version 1987); Saúl Yurkievich's "Los avatares de la vanguardia" (1982); Jorge Schwartz's "La vanguardia en América Latina: Una estética comparada" (1983) and the introduction to his 1991 anthology; the introductory study to Hugo Verani's anthology of vanguardist materials (1986); and the introduction to Gloria Videla's Direcciones del vanguardismo bispanoamericano (1990).7
Much of this material shares certain premises that also underlie my own work: (1) that Latin American vanguardism was a continental development and should therefore be examined comparatively; (2) that the vanguards provoked significant changes in prose fiction and drama as well as poetry and, in fact, frequently challenged generic divisions;(3) that manifestos and manifesto-style texts constituted a primary outlet for vanguardist critical and creative expression; and (4) that Latin American vanguardism as a whole was simultaneously international and autochthonous in its orientation, as artists interacted with European avant-garde currents in keeping with their own cultural exigencies. In this vein, and unlike national or genre studies, my own work, based on close readings of critical and creative texts from all genres and from Spanish America and Brazil, seeks to establish the common ground among the sometimes quite diverse continental movements and activities in the ideas that they pose about art and culture in Latin America. In keeping with the definition of vanguardism as a form of activity, four of the five chapters also examine the complex interaction between manifestos or critical articles, affirming certain artistic positions, and the experimental creative works that both reinforce and undermine these positions. The selection criteria for particular works and critical documents examined also reflect the definition of vanguardism as a cultural activity. Thus my objective is neither to establish a vanguardist canon nor to focus on outstanding individual writers per se, although I do examine the work of many major figures pertinent to the artistic and cultural issues addressed. Instead, I tap the broad and eclectic range of materials through which the vanguards' complex and often contradictory dialogue of ideas was carried out. These chapters do not undertake a historical survey of vanguardist activity in Latin America, a project already carried out in some of the work described above. Finally, although I address the Latin American vanguards as a historically and culturally specific development, I also identify, when appropriate, interaction at the level of ideas with the international avant-gardes. Although this work constitutes neither a national nor a genre study, it is worth noting that important recent work of this kind has also addressed vanguardism as a form of cultural activity. Two of these studies in particular have had an impact on my own approach. Francine Masiello's book on the vanguards in Argentina, Lenguaje e ideología: Las escuelas argentinas de vanguardia (1986), employs a multigenre approach and examines the role of manifestos in constructing a particular critical climate for the production of creative works. Although it includes both Spain and Spanish America, Gustavo Pérez Firmat's groundbreaking study of the Hispanic vanguard novel, Idle Fictions (1982), addresses the interaction between prose fiction works and their contemporary critical reception.
The premise that Latin American vanguardism was a continental phenomenon provides my point of departure in the chapters that follow. Vanguardist activity actually encompassed a variety of national or regional movements that manifested site-specific peculiarities. But, as Forster has argued, Latin American vanguardists also knew that they were participating in a "common enterprise" (Vanguardism in Latin American Literature 8). In fact, even the most casual examination of little magazines and vanguardist documents reveals this awareness, documented through a continental network of magazine and creative work exchanges. Even very ephemeral little magazines participated in this exchange, which was also reinforced by the Costa Rica-based Repertorio Americano, a continentally circulated periodical that disseminated vanguardist currents.
But in exploring through these chapters the common ground of multiple literary vanguard movements, I do not dismiss national differences. Bringing together around specific topics materials from several countries invariably points back to singular contexts from which individual works emerge. A very brief review of those national contexts underscores the plurality of Latin America's vanguards.8 Avant-garde literary activity was most extensive in Argentina, Brazil, Cuba, Mexico, Peru, and, if one considers the impact of major figures rather than groups, Chile. Less extensive but significant activity also developed in Ecuador, Nicaragua, Puerto Rico, Uruguay, and Venezuela.
Centered in Buenos Aires during the reformist presidencies of Hipólito Yrigoyen and Marcelo T. de Alvear, Argentine vanguardism presented an assortment of artistic and political postures that reflected the polemical atmosphere of a rapidly changing city marked by conflictive cultural and social diversity. Argentine vanguardist writers were highly active and visible, produced literary works in all genres, and participated in journals, publishing houses, and provocative public performances. In contrast to other countries, here the lines between aestheticist and political conceptions of art were more sharply drawn. Literary history typically classifies artistic innovation around the two major groups, Florida and Boedo. The more aestheticist Florida published the vanguardist periodical Prisma (1921–22), a broadside, Proa (1922–23; 1924–26), and the widely distributed Martín Fierro (1924–27). Its literary production included the ultraísmo poetry of Jorge Luis Borges and Oliverio Girondo, prose fiction by Eduardo Mallea and Eduardo González Lanuza, and the work of many other writers as well. Although women infrequently participated actively or visibly in vanguardist activities, Florida included the poet and prose fiction writer Norah Lange, who was married to Girondo. Members of the leftist Boedo group favored socially engaged art, published Claridad (modeled in spirit after Henri Barbusse's Parisian Clarté group), established a publishing house of the same name, and wrote poetry and prose fiction. Roberto Mariani's prose fiction is perhaps the best known of Boedo's offerings. Members also organized the enduring Teatro del Pueblo, which transformed Argentine theatrical production. But, as Christopher Towne Leland has pointed out, the lines between the two groups often blur, as in the figure of novelist and playwright Roberto Arlt, admired by both but allied with neither. It is also difficult to ascribe a consistent literary style to either group. Although Argentine vanguardists, particularly the Florida group, generally eschewed programmatic cultural nationalism, certain events manifested autochthonist tensions and concerns. These included intense discussions over Martín Fierro' s name (drawn from the title of the nineteenth-century gauchesque poetry classic), attacks on Florida by Boedo for the former's Parisian (rather than national) orientation, and Florida's adulation of Ricardo Güiraldes's 1926 novel Don Segundo Sombra, which transformed the vanished gaucho into national myth.9
Although the term modernismo designates the renovation of Brazilian literature from the early 1920s through the mid-1940s, the radically innovative activities of the 1920s paralleled Spanish American vanguardism. This period of Brazil's Old Republic (1889–1930) was marked by nascent (though not enormously successful) struggles against entrenched regional oligarchies, emergent middle-class pressures for governmental reform, attention to national self-definition coinciding with the 1922 independence centennial celebrations, and the preeminence of São Paulo among the country's autonomously developing individual states. This city also provided the center for vanguardist activity, although important manifestations also evolved in Rio de Janeiro and in Belo Horizonte and Cataguazes in Minas Gerais. São Paulo's Semana de Arte Moderna (Week of Modern Art) in February 1922, a multifield artistic celebration, coincided with centennial celebrations, a link that forecast the movement's strong inclination toward cultural nationalism. Characterized by its multidisciplinary nature, Brazilian vanguardist activity produced two subsequently canonized major figures: Mário de Andrade, poet, novelist, musicologist, folklorist, and literary critic, and Oswald de Andrade, manifesto writer, poet, novelist, dramatist, and cultural theorist. Other important writers included poets Manuel Bandeira, Raul Bopp, Ronald de Carvalho, and Carlos Drummond de Andrade, among others. Principal journals included Klaxon (São Paulo, 1922–23), Terra Roxa e Outras Terras (São Paulo, 1926), Festa (Rio de Janeiro, 1927–28), A Revista (Belo Horizonte, 1925–26), Verde (Cataguazes, Minas Gerais, 1927–28; 1929), and, the most important in its impact, the Revista de Antropofagia (São Paulo, 1928–29). Three women contributed notably to early Brazilian vanguardist production: cubist painter Anita Malfatti, who participated in the Week of Modern Art, painter Tarsila do Amaral, Oswald de Andrade's second wife, who made major contributions to the Antropofagia group's cultural critique, and poet Cecília Meireles, briefly associated with the magazine Festa . As in Peru, Cuba, and Nicaragua, Brazilian vanguardist activity was often strongly marked by local autochthonist concerns and, in many creative works, a broader Americanist cast.10
Chilean vanguardism emerged during a tense and haltingly reformist period, as workers and a growing middle class pressured traditional oligarchies for greater participation in public life. Underscoring the pitfalls inherent in characterizing Latin American vanguardism solely in national terms, Chile produced two outstanding figures whose forums for innovative activity were often more international and continental than national or local. Vicente Huidobro—poet, novelist, dramatist, and manifesto and film script writer—is widely regarded as both the precursor and the founder of Latin American vanguardism. An active participant in Parisian avant-gardes, he also published the journal Creación in Madrid from 1921 to 1924. Huidobro's antimimetic literary creed creacionismo extolled the virtues of autonomous art. But Huidobro's aesthetic and political activism sometimes overlapped, not only through his 1934 play En la luna satirizing Chilean political events of the 1920s but also with his own 1925 incursion into Chilean politics. Through his ephemeral journal Acción, he employed a vanguardist style to advocate programs for national reform. In the 1920s and early 1930s, Huidobro's compatriot, Pablo Neruda, one of the twentieth century's outstanding poets, produced verse with many surrealist features. Like Huidobro's Creación, Neruda's principal journal, Caballo Verde para la Poesía, was published in Madrid (1935–36). But Neruda was also involved during the 1920s, often in a highly contentious mode, withother vanguardist writers and periodicals in Chile. Writers more active in local activities included poets Juan Emar and Juan Marín as well as Pablo de Rokha and Rosamel del Valle, both of whom produced both poetry and prose fiction. Although María Luisa Bombal's prose fiction was first published toward the end of the vanguardist period, her work was strongly marked by her contacts with avant-garde activities in Paris, Chile, and Buenos Aires. Chile's in-country vanguardist periodicals included the politically contentious Claridad (1920–24) from Santiago and Antena (1922), Elipse (1922), and Nguillatún (1924) from Valparaíso. A nativist agenda characterized Nguillatún as well as the activities of Santiago's runrunista poets who emerged between 1927 and 1934, whereas the "Rosa Náutica" manifesto (1922), published in Antena, displayed more affinities toward futurism and Spanish ultraísmo .11
As a U.S. protectorate during the century's first three decades, Cuba experienced a tightening of U.S. involvement in its economic and political life and increasingly corrupt national governments. The seeds of the country's vanguardist activity, centered in Havana, were sown in the collective reaction of student activists, middle-class political reformers, and labor leaders against the repressive measures of President Alberto Zayas and the Gerardo Machado dictatorship that followed. Formed in 1923, the Grupo Minorista published a 1927 manifesto dedicating itself to multifaceted intellectual work, social reform, and aesthetic innovation. Several signers of this document—Alejo Carpentier, Martí Casanovas, Francisco Ichaso, Jorge Mañach, and Juan Marinello—also founded the influential and relatively long-lived Revista de Avance (1927–30), a major nucleus both for artistic innovation and Cuban cultural life. Conceiving social and aesthetic activism as components of the same intellectual enterprise, the Revista de Avance provided a dynamic forum for national, Latin American, and European writers, promoted modern developments in visual arts, celebrated the legacy of the Cuban nationalist and poet José Martí, and carried on an exchange with Latin America's other major vanguardist journals. The magazine also reflected the strong concerns for national self-definition and interest in autochthonous cultural forms characteristic of Cuban intellectual activity as a whole during this period, as in its publication of sections from Jorge Mañach's classic inquiry into Cuban identity, Indagación del choteo, or Juan Marinello's "El poeta José Martí" and "Sobre la inquietud cubana."12 Cuban vanguardist literary production, both within and outside of the Revista de Avance sphere, included Alejo Carpentier'searly prose fiction, poetry, and dramatic experiments, Nicolás Guillén's Afro-Cuban poetry, Mariano Brull's jitanjáfora linguistic experiments in verse, poetry by Manuel Navarro Luna, and the 1930s "gaseiforme " novels of Enrique Labrador Ruiz.13
Mexican vanguardism developed in the early 1920s in the interim between the revolution's most activist phase and the more radical efforts initiated by Lázaro Cárdenas in the mid-1930s to fulfill the revolutionary promise. Although undertaking significant rural educational reform under José Vasconcelos's direction, the short-lived 1920s presidencies sought to neutralize genuine labor or leftist dissent. Mexican vanguardism emerged in two principal groups: the estridentistas, more active from the beginning through the middle of the decade, and the Contemporáneos, identified ex post facto with the name of their journal published from 1928 through 1931. Although both groups operated primarily in Mexico City, the estridentistas were also active in Xalapa. Often regarded as the more politicized of the two gatherings, the estridentistas saw their cultural project as an extension of the revolution's activist spirit. Their short-lived magazines included the broadside Actual (Mexico City, 1921–22), Irradiador (Mexico City, 1923), and Horizonte (Xalapa, 1926–27). Members included the poets Manuel Maples Arce, Germán List Arzubide, and Luis Quintanilla, the prose fiction writers Salvador Gallardo, Xavier Icaza, and Arqueles Vela, and the artist Ramón Alva de la Canal whose woodcuts illustrated several estridentista publications. Other group work included multidisciplinary performance events organized by the ephemeral Teatro del Murciélago. The estridentistas saw themselves as a cosmopolitan movement, as in Arqueles Vela's short novel El café de nadie documenting the group's activities in the ambience of the modern city café. They also expressed internationalist political affinities, as in Maples Arce's long poem "Urbe" with the subtitle "Bolshevik Super-Poem in 5 Cantos" and dedicated to Mexico's workers. At the same time, they promoted explicitly autochthonous work such as Icaza's prose fiction and Alva de la Canal's woodcuts.
Although their principal journals Ulíses (1927–28) and Contemporáneos (1928–31) did not appear until later in the decade, several of the precocious young writers involved in these projects began their associations early in the 1920s. Although they are considered to have been less political than the estridentistas, some attended the International Student Congress held in Mexico City in 1921, participated in José Vasconcelos's far-reaching reform activities through the Ministry ofPublic Education, and contributed to the interdisciplinary and socially oriented magazine El Maestro (1921–23). Several also participated in La Falange: Revista de Cultura Latina (1922–23), edited by the future Contemporáneos leader Jaime Torres Bodet, which advocated strengthening Hispanic Latinist traditions against the incursion of North American culture. The group's widely distributed principal journal Contemporáneos, edited mainly by Bernardo Ortíz de Montellano, provided an intellectual and literary forum of superior quality. The journal's literary offerings included poetry, prose fiction, and plays. With the participation of additional group members, Celestino Gorostiza, Xavier Villaurrutia, and Salvador Novo also organized the experimental Teatro Ulíses. This gathering and the more enduring Teatro Orientación in which some group members also collaborated constituted founding events in the development of modern Mexican drama. Antonieta Rivas Mercado, a Mexico City cultural activist and aspiring writer who also participated in Vasconcelos's nationalist presidential campaign, provided creative and financial support for the Contemporáneos' theatrical endeavors. Other participants in the group included Jorge Cuesta, José Gorostiza, and Carlos Pellicer. Contemporáneos literary production included poetry, prose fiction, drama, travel chronicles, and literary criticism, and Novo, Torres Bodet, and Villaurrutia produced significant work in multiple genres. Although deeply concerned about Mexican and Latin American cultural life, most Contemporáneos participants came to avoid the kind of polemical cultural nationalism that characterized much Mexican intellectual life of their time.14
Peru's literary vanguards coincided historically with the eleven-year reformist dictatorship of Augusto B. Leguía. Leguía sought alliances between capital and labor and initiated cursory social and educational reforms while seeking to eradicate the significant dissent by labor movements and student radicals that had emerged in the century's first two decades. Literary vanguardism in Lima evolved around José Carlos Mariátegui's Amauta (1926–30). Designed in part to maintain the kind of open intellectual and political exchange being stifled by the Leguía government, this journal was comparable in its eclecticism and breadth to Cuba's Revista de Avance and, like the Cuban journal, conceptualized art within a broader context of cultural work. In contrast to Leguía's plans to assimilate Peru's large Indian population into mainstream Peruvian culture, Amauta affirmed the intrinsic value of indigenous culture and art forms. Numerous provincianos brought to the city by student reform activities participated in Lima's vanguards, and Perualso produced the most lasting regional vanguardist magazine, Puno's Boletín Titikaka (1926–30), dedicated, like its Lima counterpart, to an indigenist agenda.
Numerous other short-lived vanguardist magazines appeared in Lima, Arequipa, and Cuzco during the 1920s. Although he eschewed active involvement with local vanguardist activities and frequently criticized such efforts, César Vallejo, Peru's major vanguardist poet, coedited with Juan Larrea in Paris the short-lived vanguardist periodical Favorables Paris Poema (1926). Ironically, many of his compatriots regarded Vallejo's poetry as the prime example of the autochthonist vanguardism that they espoused and he ostensibly rejected. Other notable writers included symbolist José María Eguren, regarded as the key predecessor of Peruvian vanguardist poetry; poet Alberto Hidalgo, transplanted to Buenos Aires, where he founded his own literary creed simplismo; surrealist poets César Moro and Emilio Adolfo Westphalen; Carlos Oquendo de Amat and Alejandro Peralta, both of whom wrote avant-garde poetry with indigenist themes and motifs; poet and prose fiction writer Martín Adán; and Gamaliel Churata, author of surrealistindigenist prose. In keeping with the vanguards' redefinitions of art, however, it is fitting that Peru's principal resident vanguardist figure should be Mariátegui, not a creative writer but a cultural activist and literary critic. Also notable is the presence of women in Peru's vanguardist activities, including the poet and political activist Magda Portal, a cofounder of several little magazines, and María Wiesse, a film critic for Amauta .15
Although less extensive and enduring than movements in Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Cuba, and Peru, significant vanguardist activity or debates also developed in Ecuador, Nicaragua, Puerto Rico, Uruguay, and Venezuela. Ecuador in the 1920s was marked by intense liberal-conservative struggles, mounting pressures for progressive political change and social reforms, student activism prompted by a broadening class base in university attendance, and a brief dictatorship (1927–30). According to Humberto Robles, such events intertwined Ecuadorean vanguardist inquiries and experiments with prevailing cultural politics and polemics. Short-lived periodicals included Síngulus (1921), Proteo (1922), and Motocicleta (1924) (all from Guayaquil). Important literary experiments included Hugo Mayo's poetry and Pablo Palacio's prose fiction and brief dramatic experiments, and avant-garde techniques shaped the early poetry of Jorge Carrera Andrade, one of the country's leading twentieth-century poets. Still, vanguardist activity in Ecuador may perhaps best be characterized as a sustained debate about the pertinence of the new international artistic currents to the country's cultural situation. Robles has argued that polarized positions between classical and socially committed concepts of art allowed for little middle ground and that, by the decade's end, socially oriented art had become the norm. Social, Americanist, or indigenist concerns often marked the thinking of those who did support the idea of an avant-garde or undertook vanguardist experiments.16
Its late development notwithstanding, Nicaraguan vanguardist activity constituted a major event in the country's cultural life and the only sustained group effort of its kind in Central America. During the late 1920s and early 1930s, Nicaraguan conservatives and liberals struggled for power. Seeking an alternative site for the Panama Canal, the United States had intervened in the country's economic and political affairs for two decades, and Augusto Sandino emerged as a progressive symbol of national autonomy and resistance to U.S. involvement. Nicaraguan vanguardists, whose political allegiances ultimately spanned the spectrum, also opposed U.S. military involvement in their region. Although contact with U.S. poets was important for their creative endeavors, they also worked for their country's linguistic and cultural autonomy. The Nicaraguan Anti-Academy, a group of young poets from Granada, including Pablo Antonio Cuadra, Joaquín Pasos, Octavio Rocha, and José Coronel Urtecho, undertook this cultural project in 1931–32. Regular pages in Granada's daily El Correo, vanguardia and rincón de vanguardia, constituted the group's periodical. Its inaugural manifesto sought the cultural renovation of Nicaragua through dissemination of international avant-garde trends and the development of national art forms in every field. Like the associates of Amauta in Lima and Revista de Avance in Havana, the Anti-Academy resembled an activist study group. Its activities included debates and polemics, public performance events, and the collection of Nicaraguan folklore and popular linguistic, poetic, and musical forms to be incorporated in experimental works. Literary production included mainly poetry, some experimental prose, literary commentary, and performance pieces. The short-lived group's work profoundly influenced Nicaraguan artistic life for years to come, and Cuadra became one of the country's major contemporary writers and intellectuals.17
The "status" issue, that is, Puerto Rico's anomalous colonial relationship with the United States, has shaped the island's political and cultural life throughout the twentieth century. During the 1920s, political positions on this issue were being redrawn, paving the way in the early 1930s for renewed advocacy of autonomy or independence and for sustained manifestations of nationalism in politics and intellectual life. Puerto Rican vanguardist activity, which spanned these years, was marked by a comparable intensification of autochthonist concerns. This innovating activity included a rapid succession of "isms" undertaken by a relatively small groups of poets: diepalismo (1921–22), euforismo (1923–24), noísmo (1925–28), the Grupo Meñique (1930–31), and atalayismo (1929–35), probably the most enduring through its longterm impact on Puerto Rican poetry. Periodicals included the ephemeral Faro (1926), Vórtice (1926), and Hostos (1929) and the more broadly conceived Indice (1929–31). Major literary figures included poets Evaristo Ribera Chevremont, Puerto Rico's bridge with the European avant-gardes, José I. de Diego Padró, Luis Palés Matos, Vicente Palés Matos, Luis Hernández Aquino, Graciany Miranda Archilla, and Clemente Soto Vélez. As a whole, Puerto Rico's vanguardist activity was characterized by the predominance of poetry and linguistic experiment, by an Americanist continental orientation, by a gradually emerging focus on national and Antillean cultural motifs, and by the island's first literary affirmations of West African language and culture as significant cultural presences.18
Uruguay in the early decades of the twentieth century provided, by one account, "the happiest example of political democratization and social modernization in Latin America" (Halperin Donghi 326). Notwithstanding a sometimes marked division between Montevideo prosperity and the persistently latifundista -dominated countryside, the popular reformist president José Batlle y Ordóñez sought to reconcile urban-rural differences. This era was marked, according to Tulio Halperin Donghi, by an openness to change and an optimistic sense of national identity (323–26). In a comparable spirit, Uruguayan vanguardist activity of the 1920s was, as Gloria Videla has shown with regard to one of its principal journals, La Pluma (1927–31), both eclectic—open to a range of international and Latin American influences—and often nativist in its concerns.19 Experimental literary production was primarily poetic and included ultraísta, nativist poetry by Pedro Leandro Ipuche and Fernán Silva Valdés, the Americanist verse of Carlos Sabat Ercasty, afronegrista poetry by Ildefonso Pereda Valdés, ultraísta experiments by Nicolás Fusco Sansone, and eclectically vanguardist compositions by Alfredo Mario Ferreiro, creator of the 1927 collection El hombre que se comió un autobús: Poemas con olor a nafta (The Man Who Ate a Bus: Poems with the Odor of Naphtha). Felisberto Hernández contributed significant experimental prose fiction. Montevideo journals disseminating new artistic trends included Los Nuevos (1919–20), Pégaso (1918–24), La Cruz del Sur (1924–31), and Cartel (1929–31). But La Pluma, edited by Alberto Zum Felde and later by Carlos Sabat Ercasty, was perhaps the most comparable to other major Latin American vanguardist journals in its synthesis of international trends with continental connections and local concerns.
The dictatorship of Juan Vicente Gómez shaped Venezuelan political life in the 1920s and, through the growing dissent that it generated, marked the country's cultural life as well. Although group vanguardist activity in the country was relatively late developing and short-lived, according to Osorio, an ambience of student and intellectual resistance culminating in 1928 generated new thinking about art and culture with long-term consequences. The two significant periodicals were Elite (1925–28), disseminating information about international and regional avant-garde currents, and the single issue of válvula (1928) that included the manifesto "somos." The participation of young Venezuelan intellectuals and artists in the vanguardist network is also documented in comments on Venezuelan writers and political events in other journals throughout the continent. Innovative literary production included poetry by Antonio Arráiz, Luis Barrios Cruz (whose work presents autochthonous motifs), and José Antonio Ramos Sucre, as well as experimental prose fiction by Julio Garmendia and Arturo Uslar Pietri.20 Recent scholarship also suggests that the novels and intellectual life of Teresa de la Parra might usefully be reexamined in their complex interaction with vanguardist discourse.21
Vanguardist activities in other countries were either extremely brief, limited to a single work or writer, or too late in their emergence to be considered within the historical and artistic parameters normally defining these movements in Latin America. But a few others should be mentioned. In the Dominican Republic, the early postumista manifesto (1921) signed by Andrés Avelino and poetry by Domingo Moreno Jimenes anticipated autochthonous and Americanist concerns that emerged later in both Cuba and Puerto Rico. Critics have hesitated to characterize either the Colombian journal Los Nuevos (1925) or the group of poets that published it as vanguardists, but León de Greiff (through linguistic and musical experiments) and Luis Vidales wrote vanguardist poetry. Although no notable vanguardist activity developed in Guatemala itself, Miguel Angel Asturias's early prose fiction and dramatic experiments and Luis Cardoza y Aragón's poetry constitute major contributions to the movements. Both also participated in Parisian and Latin American vanguardist networks.A Rehumanization of Art
Regional differences notwithstanding, the common ground of these vanguardist activities throughout Latin America provides the focus for the chapters that follow. As detailed below, each of these presents its own thesis and conclusions. But the pieces are also connected by a concept that is useful for characterizing Latin American vanguardism as a whole: its drive toward a "rehumanization" of art. This phrase, of course, invokes and recasts the title of José Ortega y Gasset's landmark 1925 essay, La deshumanización del arte (The Dehumanization of Art). It also brings into focus three fundamental ideas about the vanguards in Latin America that weave through my own five chapters. The first of these is my contention, in keeping with Bürger's Theory of the Avant-Garde, that the vanguard movements, notwithstanding their promotion of artistic strategies that Ortega characterized as "dehumanized," sought an active reengagement between art and experience. In his descriptive essay, which was often misread as prescriptive, Ortega characterized modern art as a whole (not only the vanguards) as "dehumanized." This word was intended to highlight modern art's distancing and antimimetic quality, or its "will to style," that is, the propensity to stylize or "derealize" its human content or living forms (67; HW 25). In the modern mode, Ortega observed, an object of art is artistic only to the degree that it is not real. Whereas the average person, he asserted, prefers art that most resembles ordinary life, in modern art, a "preoccupation with the human content of the work is in principle incompatible with aesthetic enjoyment" (53; HW 9–10). To make his point, Ortega constructed the now cliché example of the windowpane through which we view a garden. While mimetic or realist art encourages the recipient to focus on the garden or the human content, modern art, in Ortega's view, turns perception toward the pane and the transparency inherent in a work of art.
In its focus on modern art's distancing strategies that shift perceptual modes, Ortega's concept of dehumanization is not unlike the early Russian formalist idea of defamiliarization (ostranenie in Victor Shklovsky's1917 essay, "Art as Technique") or Bertolt Brecht's alienation, or Verfremdungseffekt . In their emphasis on the change in reader or spectator habits of perception provoked by art that displays its own fabricated substance, all of these concepts are comparable on the simply formal level to what Bürger denominates in Theory of the Avant-Garde the "nonorganic" work of art. Here again Bürger is talking about the kind of art that calls attention to its constituent parts and resists the receiver's attempts to naturalize it or perceive it as a comfortably organic whole. But Bürger—and here Brecht may be considered his predecessor—examines the estranging or distancing quality of vanguardist art and comes to conclusions about its effects quite different from those we find in The Dehumanization of Art . This is because for Bürger the distancing effects of nonorganic art constitute far more than a matter of technique.
In the historical avant-gardes, Bürger argues, "shocking the recipient becomes the dominant principle of artistic intent" (18), a principle he situates within vanguardist activity as a whole. During the historical avant-gardes, he affirms, art entered a stage of self-criticism as artists questioned the category art and its claims to autonomy from nonart or life. Vanguardist activity, Bürger argues, involved far more than challenging the notion of a work of art and sought rather "the liquidation of art as an activity that is split off from the praxis of life" (56). In this view, then, it is precisely through the "dehumanization" that alters perceptions by calling attention to the Orteguian windowpane that the avant-gardes forced artistic recipients to think about the idea of art itself and its relationship to life. If we filter Ortega's metaphor through Bürger's view, we can argue that the vanguards challenged artistic recipients, notwithstanding the daunting optical gymnastics required, to focus on the interaction of the windowpane and the garden, a reflexive engagement of art with life. Thus the very distancing quality in modern art that Ortega called dehumanization turns the public toward, not away from, lived experience.
I have already argued that Latin American vanguardism conceived art and intellectual endeavors in activist terms. Extending Bürger's view, I would also argue more specifically that the drive toward engagement—intellectual, social, or metaphysical—was a defining feature of the international vanguard movements and that this was particularly true in Latin America. Artists employed antimimetic strategies, among a range of vanguardist activities, precisely in order to turn art toward experience in more provocative ways. By "engagement" I do not meanconcrete, politically motivated encounters, although, as I have already noted, many vanguardists did turn at particular moments to openly political causes. I use the term more comprehensively to designate various kinds of involvement or immersion, including confrontational engagement by artistic works or events with readers or spectators; critical or intellectual engagement through their work by artists with their immediate surroundings; or a desired metaphysical engagement with existence or the cosmos by artists seeking transrational plenitude. In Latin America, moreover, vanguardist activity, as I have shown for individual countries, was quite often critically engaged with what was regarded as specifically Latin American experience.
In this vein, the concept of a "rehumanization" of art alludes on a second level to a contemporary response within the Latin American vanguard movements to Ortega's essay, an averse reaction more to the word dehumanization itself than to the specific points raised in the piece. This negative response to a word or to what was perceived as the spirit behind it in no way minimized Ortega's contribution to the emergence of vanguardist activity in Latin America. Along with the transcontinental connections established by Latin American writers in direct contact with French or Spanish peninsular movements, Ortega's widely distributed Revista de Occidente was a primary source of information about the latest developments in modern art. This debt was frequently acknowledged, and Ortega's 1916 and 1929 visits to Latin America fostered enduring intellectual contacts. Nonetheless, there was a fairly widespread reaction in Latin America's vanguard movements to what was perceived, accurately or not, as the gist of Ortega's widely disseminated essay. Art, it was argued in countless manifestos and critical writings, even in its most modern forms, had everything to do with experience, and the words human and humanized became veritable buzzwords in Latin American vanguardist discourse. This did not always constitute a direct response to Ortega but sometimes simply expressed a particular artistic orientation or tone. But it is significant, for example, that even Vicente Huidobro, Latin America's most ardent advocate of autonomous art, who in his 1916 "Arte poética" urged poets to create their own roses rather than celebrate nature's, spoke of art's humanizing effects. Thus he argued that art should "humanize things" (OC 1: 680) and explained in the 1925 "Manifiesto de manifiestos" (published in the same year as Ortega's essay) that poets must have a certain dose of "singular humanity" with which to imbue their work (OC 1: 670). César Vallejo, whose poetry is often lauded for its humanqualities even when it sabotages reader comprehension, defined "human" art as that which made contact in some way with its creator's lived experience and urged artists to seek a "human timbre" in their work (MPP 242). The poet Carlos Drummond de Andrade, in the manifesto launching Brazil's A Revista in 1925, included in his plan for action the resolution to "humanize Brazil" and suggested that this would be accomplished by artists ready to "collide with real life" (GMT 338).
Although they did not necessarily delve as deeply as Ortega into the theoretical problems he had posed, other writers were clearly reacting specifically to his essay. In a 1927 piece for the Puerto Rican periodical Vórtice, for example, the poet Evaristo Ribera Chevremont argued passionately for a vitalist and engaged conception of artistic activity and suggested that modern art could best be characterized by substituting the prefix des - (as in deshumanización ) with the prefix super -. The new art, he argued, "does not become dehumanized but instead becomes humanized just as it penetrates the soul of humanity and nature" ("Trozos" 2). In his observations on surrealism, Alejo Carpentier explained that those using the term "dehumanization" (he did not mention Ortega by name) were accurately describing a modern turn away from sentimental, domestic intrigues. But he then went on to argue against characterizing the vanguards, surrealism in particular, as aloof or skeptical and to affirm that his was an era of passionate faith in the value of intellectual and artistic pursuits (HV 145–49). Martí Casanovas of Cuba's Revista de Avance and Magda Portal writing for Peru's Amauta both invoked humanized art with more explicitly sociopolitical tones. Casanovas attributed dehumanization to the bourgeois spirit and rejected artistic speculations of a merely formal quality because they lacked "human value" or "social transcendence." The best art of all periods, including the modern, he affirmed, responded to the "richness of its human content" ("Arte nuevo" 119). Portal argued in 1927, two years after the appearance of Ortega's essay, that while some new artists had failed to see a connection between innovation and social engagement, the more recent Latin American vanguardists had emerged in a milieu marked by the "humanization of art," conscious of a "double mission in aesthetics and in life" (MPP 208).
The two supporters of vanguardist activity who responded most directly to Ortega and revealed a careful reading of his central points were Jaime Torres Bodet of Mexico's Contemporáneos group and Mariátegui, editor of Peru's Amauta and one of Latin America's most discerning commentators on both Latin American and European vanguardism. In a 1928 piece appropriately entitled "La deshumanización del arte," Torres Bodet, who was then developing antimimetic strategies in his own prose fiction, challenged Ortega's assessment that modern art sought to "triumph over the human" (Contemporáneos 127). Art, he explained, should always make contact in some way with the "disorderly humanity" that Ortega believed modernity had exiled from the work of art. In fact, Torres Bodet argued, art, however modern, required by definition a "struggle" with the "human matter" that it sought to stylize (Contemporáneos 123–27). Torres Bodet further underscored his position in an essay on the new poetry affirming that "reality itself" would always supply the stimulus for a true work of art (Contemporáneos 29). In one of his most important essays, "Arte, revolución y decadencia," Mariátegui suggested that Ortega's essay, though on target with many points, was also responsible for fostering within the Hispanic world a misunderstanding about the nature of modern art. The concept of dehumanization, Mariátegui argued, responded primarily to modern art's detached spirit (decadent, he called it) but failed to recognize its simultaneously engaging and even revolutionary qualifies. In other writings, Mariátegui advocated for artists a synthesis of technical innovation and critical engagement with the world. Although he recognized the critical power of what he called "formal conquests," that is, of the vanguards' "dehumanized" strategies in Ortega's terms, he also argued that art's paradoxical relationship to life should be one of engaged autonomy.
A New World orientation permeated the work of both of these writers and of many of their contemporaries addressing the question of Latin American art's human substance. Torres Bodet spelled it out. "The Dehumanization of Art, " he wrote, "is a European book, with European facts, written for Europeans. This circumstance ... is a danger for the youth of America who have yet to venture to dream of an art of their own, free of sentimental heritages and biological servitude" (Contemporáneos 125). Mariátegui, too, while frequently criticizing his generation's utopian Americanism and guarded about what new creations might spring forth from his continent's soil, shared many of his contemporaries' attraction to Spengler's New World idealism and peppered his own assessment of postwar European culture with Spenglerian metaphors: a decadent civilization of "decrepitude" was facing its "twilight" and its "sunset." Thus the concept of a "rehumanization" of art alludes on a third level to the problem of Latin America's culturally specific relationship to the currents of modernity embodied in theliterary vanguards. I address this issue most directly in the third and fifth chapters, but the problem shapes the entire study. On the broadest level, my work is founded on the rather evident premise, to which I have already alluded in describing regional developments, that Latin American vanguardism, notwithstanding the interaction with European currents, unfolded within its own cultural contexts and that the life experience with which it openly engaged was often peculiarly its own. More specifically, some Latin American writers claimed vanguardism itself as a fundamentally Latin American phenomenon. As I explore in the chapters on Americanism and language, this move was actually quite different in kind from, even counter to, the broader claim that Latin American innovative art was more "humanized" than the European. Instead, Latin American vanguardist activity sometimes constructed images comparable to what Ortega would call dehumanization, or to similar ideas of estrangement or nonorganicity, not as mere aesthetic strategies or effects but as phenomena peculiar to Latin America's lived, historical experience.
To recapitulate, then, the concept of a "rehumanization" of art points to three broad ideas that underlie these five chapters: (1) that Latin America's vanguards sought a reengagement between art and experience; (2) that Latin American writers often sought to reshape and redefine, with various purposes in mind, what Ortega had identified as the dehumanized quality of modern art; and (3) that Latin American vanguardist activity sometimes recast vanguardism itself, in particular, the defamiliarizing features encompassed in Ortega's word dehumanized, as peculiarly Latin American phenomena. Framed by these ideas, each chapter addresses the more specific artistic and cultural problems investigated by Latin American vanguardists. In the first chapter, "Constructing an Audience, Concrete and Illusory: Manifestos for Performing and Performance Manifestos," I analyze numerous manifestos as well as creative works by Mário de Andrade, Xavier Icaza, Joaquín Pasos and José Coronel Urtecho, and Alejo Carpentier. Here I show first how vanguardist manifestos employ specific rhetorical strategies to act out a given aesthetic position as the dramatic confrontation of a dynamic speaker with two audiences, one participatory and one adversarial. In a comparable mode, the four generically hybrid manifestostyle performance texts examined here display the type of art that they espouse, portray art as a "doing" process that incorporates its recipient into the doing, and dramatize the desired spectator's participation inan encounter of conflicting artistic positions within a context of cultural affirmation.
Chapter 2, "Outward Turns of the Vagabond Eye/I: The Vanguards' Portraits of the Artist," examines, in addition to vanguardist manifestos and some poetry, prose fiction texts by Roberto Arlt, Jaime Torres Bodet, Martín Adán, and Oswald de Andrade. Here I demonstrate that, interacting with prevalent poetic images of the artist and drawing on modernity's technological and activist motifs, the manifestos recast the aestheticist tradition of lyric subjectivity and cosmic detachment into an artist figure of movement and action, still introspective but also marked by the dynamic images of the times. Intensifying these tensions, prose fiction portraits of the artist construct an urbanvagabond artistic persona. Marked by an elusive interior consistency, this artist's lyric inheritance—verbal virtuosity and a sharp inner eye—is often turned outward toward critical interaction with both literary tradition and a concrete world.
The third chapter, "'Surely from his lips a cockatoo will fly': The Vanguards' Stories of the New World," turns to problems of cultural specificity raised both in the manifestos and in creative texts by Mário de Andrade, Miguel Angel Asturias, Gamaliel Churata, Luis Cardoza y Aragón, and Alejo Carpentier. Manifestos with an Americanist orientation generally perpetuate romantic, organicist myths of America through images of an integrated, telluric body-continent, rooted to ancestral origins, a body for which the new American artist will provide a voice. On the surface, prose and poetic creative texts reinforce these images. But, playing with vanguardist motifs of originality, discovery, and totalizing quests, these works also undermine organicist New World myths and pose an America of the "radically disparate" (Bürger 63), in which vanguardism's dislocations and nonorganicity are recast as peculiar to Latin American experience.
Chapter 4, "On the Interstices of Art and Life: Theatrical Workouts in Critical Perception," returns in a more theoretical vein and through plays by Roberto Arlt, Xavier Villaurrutia, Vicente Huidobro, and Oswald de Andrade to the artistic recipient. The vanguards' attention to the interaction between art and experience is often manifested in an antimimetic impulse and a focus on the process of representation. Theater's palpable connections with that process offered singular opportunities for vanguardist inquiries. Through sometimes highly abstract dramatic texts, writers exploited the stresses in theatrical expressionbetween Artaudian antimimetic yearnings for immediacy and presence (as identified by Derrida), on the one hand, and the stage's "testament to what separates," on the other (Herbert Blau, The Eye of Prey 183), to explore theoretically the boundaries between art and life. Focusing on theatrical fantasies of personal or social transformation, the works examined tamper with performative conventions. In the process, they expose spectator complicity in the performance and reconstruct the act of watching a play as a strenuous exercise in critical perception, designed, if not to transform worlds, to challenge the ways that we see them.
Chapter 5, "From Early Words to the Vernacular Inflection: Vanguard Tales of Linguistic Encounter," readdresses the vanguardist focus on the autochthonous but with more specific attention to language and linguistic identity. Here I draw on manifestos and a wide range of poetic, prose, and dramatic works with language themes. As with the Americanist stories, the vanguards' focus on language becomes intertwined in Latin America with issues of cultural critique. On one level, the movement's linguistic thematics intersect with ongoing historical debates about the oral and the written. In addition, inventive and recuperative linguistic ventures, incorporating fabricated, "primary" languages or autochthonous linguistic artifacts into self-consciously modern texts, arc embedded in seemingly contradictory stories. On the one hand, artists seek their expressive power in the utopian notion of a linguistically pure, original space. On the other, they undermine this idea with a culturally affirmative poetics of linguistic impurity and estrangement, underscoring the foreignness of all language and the critical power of cultural translations.
Although the five chapters address major artistic and cultural problems posed by the vanguards in Latin America, this study does not pretend to present an all-encompassing or conclusive assessment of the movement. Other issues touched on here might well provide the focus for future work by the growing community of vanguardista investigators, for example, the complex and problematic relationship of women writers and intellectuals to primarily male-dominated vanguardist activities or the often contradictory vanguardist approach to popular or mass culture.22 Within the scope of the topics they do address, however, these chapters reveal the serious, intellectually rigorous, and sometimes theoretically dense nature of vanguardist activity in Latin America. The writers who participated in these movements asked themselves difficult questions about what art should be like and how artists should bespending their time in rapidly changing modern milieus, about how to make forceful contact of consequence with readers and spectators, about the unstable quality and elusive interior consistency of an artistically defined self, and about the pertinence of radical artistic experimentation to long-standing cultural and linguistic identity problems shaping Latin American life. Readers will find that their polemical, exploratory, contentious, and qualified answers point directly to many of the artistic, linguistic, and cultural questions that continue to mark literary and theoretical discourses in these, our own times.
Excerpted from Latin American Vanguards by Vicky Unruh Copyright © 1994 by Vicky Unruh. Excerpted by permission.
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|List of Abbreviations|
|Introduction: Contentious Encounters in Life and Art||1|
|1||Constructing an Audience, Concrete and Illusory: Manifestos for Performing and Performance Manifestos||31|
|2||Outward Turns of the Vagabond Eye/I: The Vanguards' Portraits of the Artist||71|
|3||"Surely from his lips a cockatoo will fly": The Vanguards' Stories of the New World||125|
|4||On the Interstices of Art and Life: Theatrical Workouts in Critical Perception||170|
|5||From Early Words to the Vernacular Inflection: Vanguard Tales of Linguistic Encounter||207|